Meadowbank and St Margaret’s School, Polmont

Meadowbank estate was part of the Lands of Redding and the estate seems to have been formed in the late 18th century by Henry Johnston.  Roy, in the mid 18th century, shows the area as moorland and the name of Meadowbank appears to date to the time of Johnston’s arrival.  It changed hands through sale several times:

1780sHenry Johnston
1822William Johnston (son)
1841John Johnston (brother)
1851sequestered by Commercial Bank
1852John Glassford Hopkirk (purchase)
1865Matthew Waddell (purchase)
1883Helen Waddell married Charles Arrol
1892Blairlodge School (purchase)
1895St Margaret’s School (purchase)
1947Stirling County Council (purchase)
Illus 1: Ordnance Survey Map of 1862 (National Library of Scotland).

Henry Johnston was a wine cooper in Calcutta in the 1780s and returned to Scotland to invest the money that he had made. He acquired property in Redding, Middlerigg Whitesiderig and Reddingrig, including collieries. A small mansion was built to the north of the farm of Meadowbank and a walled garden was added along the east side of that steading. The mansion seems to have been modest and is probably that depicted on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1860 which the surveyors described as “A neat mansion with offices attached, all two stories, slated and in good repair.” The main approach drive was from the Salmon Inn Road to the north, with minor avenues along the long ridge to the west and east. The Union Canal was cut across the southern part of the lands of Meadowbank in the period from 1818 to 1822. Henry Johnston of Meadowbank died on 10 May 1822 aged 69 years.

Illus 2: Grassom’s 1817 Map showing several country seats in the area of Polmont.

His eldest son, William Johnston, was a coal owner and dealer. His heritable estate included subjects in Middlerigg, such as the colliery, and others in and around the commonty of Whitesiderig and Reddingrig, such as Summerhouse and Glenend collieries. These business ventures seem to have been troubled and William Johnston ran into substantial debt. He died in April 1841 and the estate was sequestered. His brother, John, inherited the estate and its problems. Some money must have been recouped by the sale of land for the construction of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway in the early 1840s. John had the nearby estate of Blairlodge where similar mining operations were also proving financially crippling. Surveys showed that the coal and ironstone on the Meadowbank estate could be worked with a substantial profit and John obtained a loan from the Commercial Bank to allow him to continue. In May 1844 some of the outlying mineral rights were sold off. These included parts of the Muir of Muiravonside formerly called Wainrigg, then Moss-side, and Weedings Moss extending to 8 acres. John’s failure to repay the bank loan at the agreed stages caused the Bank to sequester both estates in August 1851.

Meadowbank was purchased by John Glassford Hopkirk of 75 Great King Street, Edinburgh. The following year he sold some of the oak, ash, elm and beech trees on the estate. That year the lease of Meadowbank Farm came to an end and Mr Marshall, the tenant farmer, decided not to renew it. It was advertised to let:

“DESIRABLE FARM IN STIRLINGSHIRE TO LET. THE FARM OF MEADOWBANK in the Parish of Polmont, is to be Let for 19 years, with Entry at Martinmas 1852.
The Farm contains 110 Imperial Acres, or thereby, well adapted for the growth of all Crops. The Steading of Offices contains a Dwelling-House, a Thrashing Machine, and everything else suitable. The Farm is situated close to the Polmont Station of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, which, as well as the Union Canal, intersects the Lands, and they are thus most advantageously situated for the cheap conveyance of produce and manure…”

(Stirling Observer 29 January 1852, 1).

There was a deplenishing sale of Marshall’s farming stock and implements which provides us with a good indication of the agricultural regime on the farm:

“MEADOWBANK GROWING CROP, HAY, DRAUGHT HORSES, AND IMPLEMENTS OF HUSBANDRY, ON SATURDAY THE 14TH AUGUST, 1852. To be Sold by Public Roup, on SATURDAY the 14th August. 1852, on the Farm of MEADOWBANK possessed by Mr Marshall, THE whole of the very splendid GROWING CROP, Hay, Horses, & c, on the above Farm, comprising –
1 Two-year-old DRAUGHT COLT,
1 Five-year-old DRAUGHT HORSE,
1 Seven-year-old DRAUGHT HORSE,
1 Eight-year-old DRAUGHT HORSE,
2 Close-bodied Carts, with Wheels and Axles; 3 Iron Ploughs by famed makers – Borrowman, & c; 2 pair Grain harrows, 2 Sets of Cart and Plough Horse Harness, 1 pair of Hand Fanners, almost quite new; with the whole barn and Dairy Utensils, Stack Props, & c. Likewise a quantity of excellent HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE…”

(Falkirk Herald 5 August 1852, 1).

The new tenant was John Mitchell. Three years later an incident occurred, which was echoed on 30 July 1984. On 26 December 1855 three of Mitchell’s cattle found their way onto the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway and an early train ran into them. Unlike the later disaster the train was almost unaffected – two of the cows were killed on the spot and the third so severely injured that it had to be put down. In 1984 thirty passengers died.

Illus 3: Meadowbank Farm in 2003 with the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway to the right.

Hopkirk lived in Edinburgh and so Meadowbank House was put up for let.  Henry Jardine Street, formerly of the 79th Highlanders, took up residence.  His stay, however, was quite short, and he died at the house on 12 October 1858 aged only 33 years.  John Glassford Hopkirk, writer to the Signet, died 2 August 1859 and his property was sequestered in April 1860.  The following month the high class household furniture at Meadowbank House was sold by public roup.  The house was let unfurnished and the first tenants appear to have been the Smith family.  It continued to be let, on and off, until 1865 when it was put up for sale:

 “BY PRIVATE BARGAIN. THE LANDS of MEADOWBANK, WHYTESIDE, and CROSSGATEHEAD, all lying in the parish of Polmont, and county of Stirling. These Lands do not adjoin, but are in the immediate vicinity of each other…

MEADOWBANK consists of 109 acres, or thereby, of good quality.  The MANSION-HOUSE is beautifully situated, and is near the Polmont Station of the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway.  There are a good GARDEN and GROUNDS attached, and the House affords accommodation for a large family.  The rest of the Estate is Let in One Farm.  The Farm-house and Offices are in good repair, and suitable for the Farm…”

(Stirling Observer 31 August 1865, 1).

It was bought by Matthew Waddell, railway contractor.  It was probably no coincidence that the two adjoining estates next to Polmont Station should have been purchased by such professionals (John Miller of Millfield being the other).  However, Waddell was a native of Falkirk and was born there in 1815.  He had served his time with his father as a mason and at the age of 14 years wrought at the building of the Red Lion on the High Street which was being erected by his father’s firm of Waddell & Dunn.  After that he spent time with his father on other jobs.  It was at this period that the railway network was being constructed and he worked on the Cowlairs Tunnel of the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway as a foreman of works.  He then got an engagement at Troon Harbour works before superintending the making of the Mossgiel Tunnel.  Thereafter he entered into the Waddell & McNaughton partnership, starting operations by a contract for the Clyde Trust, banking up the south shore of the river above Govan.  He also worked on the railway at Creetown, but the main work for which he was best known was the Clelland and Mid-Calder Branch of the Caledonian Railway.  He then retired and resided at Meadowbank.  He enthusiastically threw himself into public life and subscribed to improvements to Falkirk Parish Churchyard.  In the summer of 1873, masons were hired to execute alterations to Meadowbank House.  A projecting two-storey wing with a bay window was added to the west.  It presented a steep-pitched gable to the south which was matched by a new gablet in the centre of the old house.  A single storey wing with a bay window was also added to the east.

Illus 4: Meadowbank House looking north-west, c1910.

Matthew Waddell was a self-educated professional man and collected a large library of books related to architecture, engineering, building and construction. He was also interested in science, history and archaeology and his library reflected this. Amongst the four hundred or so tomes he collected were valuable books such as the three volumes of Ruskin’s Stones of Venice and Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture.

John Mitchell, the tenant farmer at Meadowbank for 19 years, went the way of so many connected with the estate – in February 1872 his property was sequestered.  He had actually been declared bankrupt in 1863 as a result of losses on a contract that he and his brother took out to clean the streets of Edinburgh.  He had valiantly soldiered on paying his creditors for almost ten years, but it proved too much.  His crops, stock and agricultural implements were sold.

Matthew Waddell died at Meadowbank House on 2 February 1879 aged 63.  The estate was then run by trustees.  His daughter, Helen was in Burma where, in December 1883 she married Charles Arrol son of late James Arrol of Johnstone.  The two eventually made their way back to Meadowbank where they started to settle the affairs.  The estate was put on the market:

“The desirable residential estate of Meadowbank, extending to about 123 acres.  The mansion house is less than ten minutes’ walk from Polmont Station on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, where nearly all trains stop.  It contains Dining and Drawing Rooms, Parlour, Library, Smoking Room, and Observatory (in tower), 14 bedrooms, and other accommodation.  There are suitable offices including Stable, Coach-house, and Coachman’s House and gardener’s Lodge.  There is a fine Walled Garden, with plantation and policies, extending to over ten acres, attached to the house.

The farm of Meadowbank extends to about 110 acres of good dry field land, with a suitable steading, and is let on lease to substantial tenants.”

(Falkirk Herald 4 September 1886).

No buyer was found.  In August 1889 the books and furniture of her father were sold (Falkirk Herald 17 August 1889, 4).  The furniture included:

Drawing room. Inlaid walnut cabinet with Ormolu mountings, drawing room walnut suite, viz, 2 couches, 2 easy chairs, and 6 small chairs, 2 easy chairs in sewed work and 2 small stuff-backed chairs, walnut table, inlaid walnut work and chess table, walnut davenport, excellent cottage pianoforte in walnut by Kirkman, with stool, inlaid walnut music cabinet, large mantelpiece mirror in gilt frame, 4 pictures, 2 sets repp window curtains, draught screen, 2 telescopes, coal scuttle, fire irons and a number of ornaments.

Dining room.  Enclosed sideboard with mirror back of specially selected and beautifully marked mahogany, mahogany telescope dining table, 8ft 8in, dining room suite of choice mahogany in Morocco, comprising sofa, 2 easy chairs and 16 stuff-backed chairs, round mahogany card table, 3 oil paintings, large draught screen, 2 sets crimson window curtains, sofa blanket, coal scuttle, fire irons, & c.

Library and parlour.  One first-class oak chest of drawers, with bookcase or press above; oak painted office press fitted with pigeon holes and drawers; case of small drawers and pigeon holes, mahogany chiffonier, round mahogany table on pillar and claw, 2 side tables, mahogany sofa in haircloth, 12 chairs in do, square pianoforte in rosewood with stool; 13 pictures including a few engravings, sewing machine, coal scuttle and fire irons.

Bedrooms.  Two very handsome mahogany half tester bedsteads with crimson curtains (1 set repp and 1 set damask), walnut Parisian bedstead, 3 iron and 2 birch French bedsteads, 6 feather beds with bolsters and pillows, hair mattresses, straw palliasses, down quilt, flock bed, splendid mahogany three-doored wardrobe with mirror centre door, 2 mahogany two-doored wardrobes, 1 walnut two-doored wardrobe, and 1 richly marked birch two-doored wardrobe, 2 mahogany chests of drawers, mahogany, walnut and birch basin stands (several with marble tops) and ware, mahogany, walnut and birch toilet glasses and tables, bedroom chairs, towel rails, and other bedroom furnishings; crimson damask and white window curtains, oak pedestal table with drawers.

Entrance hall & c.  Oak table and 2 chairs, oak hall stand, bronzed hat and umbrella stand, large painted press, croquet set, 2 washing machines, clothes wringer, tubs, grindstones, 2 vices and a variety of other effects.

The empty house and grounds were let on a short-term lease to Blairlodge School – a prestigious boy’s boarding school.  Before long they were on sale again:

“RESIDENTIAL ESTATE NEAR PLMONT, To be Sold by Public Roup, in the FACULTY HALL, Glasgow, on WEDNESDAY 20th January, 1892, at two o’clock Afternoon.

The Desirable RESIDENTIAL ESTATE of MEADOWBANK, extending to fully 124 Acres.  The Mansion-House is a few minutes; Walk from Polmont Station, on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway,  It contains Dining and Drawing Rooms, Parlour, Library, Smoking-room, and 8 Bedrooms, besides Half-Attics.  It is surrounded by fine old Trees, the Garden and Policies extending to over 10 Acres.  There are suitable Offices and a Good Walled garden.

The Remainder of the Lands are in one Farm let to a substantial Tenant and in good order.  The Steading has just been put into thorough Repair.

From their proximity to Polmont Station and nearness to Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Lands are very suitable for Feuing.

The Mansion-house is Let on Lease, with a mutual break at Martinmas next, at £160, and the Farm at £175.  Total rental £335.

In order to ensure a Sale and close a Trust, the Property will be Exposed at the Low Upset of £6500.

For particulars apply to Mr CHARLES Arrol, Meadowbank Farm, Polmont…”

(Falkirk Herald 19 December 1891,1)

The estate was acquired by a consortium led by James Cooke-Gray, the headmaster of Blairlodge School.  In 1895 a new company was established under the name of St Margaret’s School for Girls Company (Ltd) and under the patronage of Her Grace the Duchess of Montrose the share capital was soon taken up.  J Cooke-Gray was the first chairman of the Board of Governors.  The success of Blairlodge School had already shown that the general location mid-way between the populous centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh was suitable.  The Falkirk area too was becoming quite prosperous and attracting many of the new businessmen to set up homes in the area.  Meadowbank was, as the advert says, less than ten minutes walk from the railway station.  The grounds of Meadowbank were extensive and well laid out with ample space for recreational facilities and walks.  In a short article that the company evidently planted in the local newspaper the setting was described: “The present buildings, standing high above the carse of Forth on a dry gravel soil, are thoroughly substantial, and the rooms are large, lofty, and airy.  Very considerable additions will be made to both buildings and grounds, and new class rooms and a large gymnasium (convertible into a concert hall) will be connected with the present premises by a glass corridor.”

The account goes on to say that the school “aims at providing for girls an intellectual, moral and physical education of the highest type.  The Governors, recognising that on the headmistress will depend the character the institution is to take, have appointed to the post Miss M Daniel, classical lecturer at Girton College, Cambridge, a lady whose character and attainments will immediately indicate the high standard of education aimed at, and the general tone that may be expected to pervade at the school.  At St Margaret’s the attempt will be made so to train girls that they may afterwards lead happy, cultivated, and useful lives.  The education given will be in the widest sense liberal, and it follows from this that while the school will aim at the higher learning, it will encourage the practice of needlework and domestic duties, and womanly accomplishments will be allowed their proper place alongside of mental cultivation.  We are assured that everything will be done to make the school as homelike as possible, and to maintain the health and happiness of the girls.” 

Illus 5: Meadowbank House, c1920, looking north-west.

The boarding school opened on 1 October 1895, attracting residents from a wide area. Like its parent school at Blairlodge these included the children of families serving abroad. From the beginning it also took in day pupils, six in the first month of opening from Polmont Parish.

Illus 6: Ordnance Survey Map of 1897 (National Library of Scotland).

The new facilities were not long in coming.  In April 1897 estimates were sought for lifting turf, levelling ground, and re-laying the turf for a tennis court.  The new lodge at the end of the north drive was completed that July – too late to appear on the Ordnance Survey map published in the same year.  That map shows how extensive the alterations and extensions to the main building had been.  The classrooms were housed in a long wing built onto the north-west side of the house.  It turned eastward at its northern end to create a large courtyard.  A & W Black served as the architects for the building work, including the laying out of the school fields.  At the time the water supply was from a private well and in 1898 the headmistress lent her support to a public water scheme for the area.

Illus 7: Advertisement for the first School Sports Day, Falkirk Herald 21 August 1897, 1.

The first of many annual sports days was held that August in the grounds of St Margaret’s School and attracted 600 visitors. Local children took part in the races and £30 was dispensed as prize money. Further entertainment was provided by an exhibition of dancing by the Braemar Female Highland Dancers, who also appeared the following year along with the Wallacestone Pipe Band. Sport was to remain a central plank of the school’s activities – healthy bodies and healthy minds.

Illus 8: The Tennis Court at St Margaret’s stood on the middle ground with Netherfield below.

In April 1898 estimates were obtained for the earthworks and drainage of a cricket ground at St Margaret’s School.  It is interesting to note that the school was not hidebound by the conventional allocation of this game to boys.  Hockey was perhaps the great favourite at St Margaret’s and in 1910 it was noted with some pride that the captain of the Scottish Ladies’ Hockey team for previous three years had trained at St Margaret’s School, as had several other members of the team.  Lacrosse and Fives were also played, the latter requiring a three-walled court.

Illus 9: The Walled Garden.

The grounds were maintained by a gardener and his boy who also grew vegetables for the table. The walled garden of Meadowbank, as well as providing fruit, was a peaceful space for walks. A longer walk was provided by the path along the top of the wooded ridge which went past the walled garden towards Polmont Station.

Illus 10: Netherfield looking south-east from the Lodge.

There was a relatively large staff of mostly female teachers and it appears that accommodation was initially provided for some of these at Ashbank on Salmon Inn Brae. In 1898 a double villa was erected within the grounds of the school fronting Salmon Inn Road and called Netherfield. It was a substantial building with two large bay windows set under gables facing the road. The various bays were stepped back and down providing what architects call “articulation.” The building was designed in such a way that if the school closed it could easily be sold off as two separate dwellings.

Character development and confidence were highlighted as among the main goals of the school. One consequence of this was that uniforms were not worn, which also promoted a more homely atmosphere. The school believed that artistic and practical subjects were as important as academic ones leading to examination results. It was one of the first to start first aid lessons in 1907. Dr Wyse, who acted as the medical attendant for Blairlodge School, was also the doctor for St Margaret’s, which had its own medical room. Influenza was a common problem in boarding schools, though St Margaret’s managed to avoid many cases by abandoning matches against schools where it was rife. Given the fact that Blairlodge School had been forced to close as a result of a particularly serious epidemic it is not too surprising to see that the lodge building at St Margaret’s is denoted as a “Sanatorium” on the 1917 OS map. It was essentially an isolation ward. Such places were attracting much attention at the time. The National Insurance Act which prompted local authorities to construct sanatoria was only a few years old and the Burgh of Falkirk was one of the first to open its own premises to the south of the infectious diseases hospital on Slamannan Road on 16 October 1916. It treated diphtheria, enteric fever, puerperal fever and scarlet fever.

Illus 11: Ordnance Survey Map of 1917 (National Library of Scotland).

The impact of the First World War on private schools varied according to the local situation.  In many ways Polmont was well away from most of its influences, though the number of pupils showed a decline.  The governors lost interest in the school project and in 1915 the organisation was restructured to ensure its survival.  Netherfield House had probably been built as a speculative venture into the development of feus along the street frontage and it was now ripe for asset realisation:

THE COMMODIOUS DOUBLE VILLA, known as NETHERFIELD, excellently situated near POLMONT STATION. While hitherto occupied as one house, it was constructed with a view to being converted into two houses, and this can be done at trifling cost.  Each house contains Three Public Rooms (one very large, which could be divided), Six bedrooms and Servants’ Room, Two Bathrooms, Two lavatories, Kitchen, Scullery, etc.

Extent of feu, 1 Acre 11 Poles 16 Yards.  Whole Feu-Duty, £11 5s 1d.  UPSET PRICE, £2500….” 

(Falkirk Herald 16 January 1915).

It failed to find an offerer and the following month the upset price was reduced to £2,000.  Miss Worsfold had been appointed as headmistress in 1909 and she now took over the ownership of the remainder of the school property.  Adverts in the local newspaper became more frequent, such as this one from 24 April 1915:

ST MARGARET’S, POLMONT.  Headmistress – Miss Worsfold.  This School, which has been re-furnished and re-equipped, is situated in a healthy position on the main line between Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Modern education for girls 7 to 18 years on Public School lines.  Fully qualified residential staff.  Visiting masters and mistresses from Edinburgh.  Prep. For music and university exams.  Annual inspection by Oxford and Cambridge Joint Board.  Large, extensive buildings and grounds, playing fields for cricket, hockey, lacrosse, tennis, five courts.  Fees from £66 to £73 a year.

The old St Margaret’s School for Girls Co Ltd went into voluntary liquidation, but the school continued under the ownership of its headmistress.  Miss Worsfold, like all of the teachers at the school, was unmarried, and dedicated her life to the institution.  She was a native of Dover and had been sent to St Leonard’s School in St Andrews as a pupil where she became an assistant mistress.  In 1908 she moved to St Margaret’s as house mistress and a year later was promoted to principal.

Under Miss Worsfold St Margaret’s continued to thrive and theatrical performances were particularly encouraged as a confidence-building pursuit.  The young ladies were taught elocution, deportment, drama and dancing.  Shakespeare’s plays were a favourite, though many classics were performed in front of audiences composed of parents and members of the general public.  Usually these were open-air, but in poor weather the gymnasium was used.  The teachers helped with the costume design and production – needlecraft was one of the subjects taught.

Illus 12: The Gymnasium.

During the First World War Miss Worsfold encouraged the girls to develop their civic responsibilities by helping the war effort. They supported the Red Cross and in 1916 the school adopted a bed at the Star and Garter Hospital at Richmond. As the name reflects, this was a public house that had been taken over during the war for use as a permanent home for paralysed and disabled sailors and soldiers. It took £80 a year to maintain the bed and the school did so until 1924 by which time they had raised over £480 for the purpose.

The girls also sponsored a cripple girl in the Cripple Girls’ Home at Edinburgh and frequently prepared and sent off parcels for the patients of the Glasgow Sick Children’s Home. The money was raised by charging for the plays and concerts at which tea and cakes were also sold. The girls also went into the local community to collect further funds.

Amazingly, St Margaret’s School came out of the First World War even stronger than it had been before.  Miss Worsfield was able to purchase Netherfield and bring it back into the usage of the school.  It now contained all the class rooms whilst the old building was utilised as the dormitories, gymnasium, library, music room, common room and so on.  Netherfield was also used to stage exhibitions of the art and handicraft of the pupils, particularly for the annual speech days.  These were held each July and always featured a prominent figure connected to public life.  The use of pupils’ parents was convenient in this regard.

Illus 13: A Bedroom in the old Mansion used as a Dormitory with curtain dividers.

Miss Constance Marjory Worsfold died 23 September 1924. Provisionally her sister, Mrs L E Campbell MA, formerly house-mistress and head of the Mathematical Department at St Leonard’s School, took over as head mistress at St Margaret’s. Before long Miss E Stent was appointed to that post.

Over the years the headmistresses of St Margaret’s were:

1895M Daniel
1909Constance Marjory Worsfold
1924E C Stent
1931Mary E Nimmo

Miss Stent pulled off a bit of a coup when, in January 1926 she was able to arrange for thirty of her pupils to meet the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, on the platform of Polmont Station. He had been staying overnight near Stirling and caught the 12.40 train from Polmont to Newcastle on 27 January. The prime minister and his wife shook the hands of all of the girls. They were photographed and exchanged pleasantries. The meeting had been possible because by 1926 the school had built up a network of old girls and fully exploited its contacts with their families. This group also contributed to the school’s finances, allowing two scholarships to be awarded. In 1930 these were worth £30 a year for 3 years. The recipient had to sit an examination. In 1934 it had gone up to £40 a year, offered to a Girl over 11 and under 14. An extra £20 was available for musical ability.

Music had now become more dominant than drama. One of the more well-known pupils was Evelyn Dewar who entered St Margaret’s in 1922 at the age of eight. She was from a musical family in Larbert and two years later gained a distinction certificate for violin playing from the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music, London. At the age of 18 she had two songs published and appeared to have a promising career as a concert violinist. Her story can be found in Calatria.

Illus 14: Two views of the Music Room at St Margaret’s.

Illus 15: The Dining Room at St Margaret’s in a single-storey hut on the north side of the courtyard.  The Latin banner, presumably the school motto, reads “QUACUNQUE HONESTA” – ‘Whatever Things Are Honourable/Virtuous’ (read by A. Ronald).

Physical exercise was not neglected and throughout the 1920s and 1930s the girls often put on displays of gymnastics and formation drills to raise money for their chosen charities. 

Illus 16: Lady Whitson presenting the Athletic Cup and also the Senior Tennis Cup to Miss A Bowie.  On the left is Miss M Stein, the Junior Tennis Champion.  On the right Miss Nimmo, Principal of the School (Falkirk Herald 15 July 1933).

The number of boarders at St Margaret’s continued to hover at just below the twenty mark and it was the twenty day pupils who kept the school viable.  A Polmont taxi firm did some of its best business taking them to the school as well as transporting the families visiting the boarders from much further afield.  In 1937 the opportunity presented itself of amalgamating with St Anne’s School which was located at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. 

St Anne’s had been a successful preparatory school since 1919 but its founder, Miss Marjorie Jameson, found that her house was not large enough to increase the number of boarders, and had been waiting for some time to move her school to larger premises in the country.

Netherfleld seemed to both Miss Jameson and Miss Nimmo to meet such a need.  Together they hoped to increase the number of boarders, so that there would eventually be about twenty in each house.  Following upon meetings of parents, former pupils, and friends of the school, a company (limited by guarantee), under the name of St Margaret’s and St Anne’s Schools, Limited, was formed.  One of the special features of a company limited by guarantee was that any profit earned had to be devoted to the promotion of the objects of the company and not distributed as dividends.  The articles of association of the new company also provided that the directors would not receive any remuneration for their services.  Financial support came from parents, former pupils, and friends.  The general policy was settled by the board of directors, but the actual management of the school was in the hands of a board of governors.  These included important educationalists – Mr Ross T Haddow MC, CA, chairman of board of directors of St Margaret’s and St Anne’s Schools Limited; Mr JR Peddie CBE, D. Litt, Chief Executive Officer of the National Committee for the Training of Teachers in Scotland; Margaret MacDonald (nee Kidd) MA, LL.B, who was Scotland’s first lady advocate; and Dr Crawford, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools for the Southern Division.  St Anne’s School became the junior school under the direction of Miss Jameson.  Miss Nimmo continued as headmistress.  All seemed set fair for the next decade.

Illus 17: The Main Building looking north in 1936.
Illus 18: Open-air Theatrical Performance on the grass Tennis Court at St Margaret’s at the 1938 Speech Day.

Some of the Teachers at St. Margaret’s:

1898Miss Drummond
Miss Fuller
1911Miss Saint
1921H Mansfield
1923Mademoiselle Kaltbrunner (French) 25 years at St Margaret’s, left 1923.
Miss Brotchie
Miss Walrond (vice-principal) over 20 years at St Margaret’s, retired 1931 due to ill-health.
1926Mr. Walker
Mr Stuart (Geography)
Miss Bain (French)
Miss Dent (Science)
Miss Hopper (music) pianist
Miss Cowan (music)
Miss Hulme (elocution)
Miss Grant (sports)
Miss McMordie (handwork)
1933Miss Christian MacNab
1935Miss Warwick (music)
Miss Barnfather (French) 2 years at St Margaret’s, left 1935.
1936Miss Halliday 4 ½ years at St Margaret’s, left 1936.
1939Miss Key (French) left for Malaya.
Miss Cockburn (French) acted as assistant editor-librarian.
Miss Partick

In September 1938 the Munich Crisis focused the public’s mind on the imminent threat of another world war.  Over the next year, schemes were put in place to evacuate children from major towns.  St. Margaret’s and St Anne’s School made its own plans.  War was declared on 3rd September 1939 and the following week the school moved to Muckairn near Taynuilt in Argyllshire for the duration, confident that it would endure the war as it had before.

The course of the war, however, did not go well for Britain and as part of the retrenchment in 1940 the school buildings at Polmont were requisitioned by the army.  399 Searchlight Battery from Birmingham moved in.  The searchlights were set up in a field on the other side of the Union Canal and the crew made an improvised raft so that they did not have to take a detour around the waterway via Polmont Station.  In 1942 it was replaced by 348 S/L Bty.

Disaster struck in April 1941 when a fire began in an outbuilding on the north side of the courtyard made of corrugated iron and wood.  It rapidly spread to other outside buildings.  The flames had already spread to the main building, having burned their way through a doorway, and engulfed the staircase, by the time that the Falkirk Fire Brigade arrived.  Under firemaster JT Davidson, the firemen concentrated their first efforts in successfully preventing the further spread of the fire.  After several hours they mastered the fire and extinguished it.  An estimated £3,000 worth of damage had been done.

There was an anxious exchange of correspondence between the school and the army and it slowly became evident that the school would not be able to repossess the buildings immediately upon the cessation of hostilities.  From the government’s point of view it was probably going to be cheaper to buy the property than to restore it to its former condition.  Meanwhile, in August 1942, the Secretary of St Margaret’s and St Anne’s Schools, Ltd, Falkirk, sent instructions to an auctioneer to remove and sell the following:

Large number of single, folding, and camp bedsteads; hair and wool mattresses, pillows, blankets, folding tables, culinary utensils, scales, mincer, school books, bedroom ware, large lot crockery, duplicators, large number of chairs (various), pigeon-hole cupboards, filing cabinets, sponge trays, electric bulbs, set science sales, ladder, lot desks and stools, boot, hat and coat racks, soiled linen baskets, paraffin heaters, large oil-cooking stove, umbrella stand, preserving pails and basins, tea urn, steamer, shovels, blackboards and easels, 3 upright pianos, games equipment, photographic and laboratory equipment, 5 violins, metronome, drawing boards, table mats and cutlery, stirrup pump, gas boiler, Acto motor lawnmower.

In September a second consignment was taken:

five small oak bedroom suites, odd chests of drawers, wardrobes, several small desks, commodes, soiled linen baskets, carpets, rugs, 4ft oak roll-top desk, 4ft pedestal desk, upright piano in mahogany case, Windsor and other chairs, 9 marble-top washstands, night commodes, easy chairs, leather couch, kitchen and other tables, set science scales, etc.

And in October two further consignments:

12 dressing chests, wardrobes, bentwood and other chairs, Pembroke and other tables, upright piano in mahogany case, folding tables, 2 large blackboards, 2 umbrella stands, 12 metal kerbs, 24 small desks, ping-pong table, marble top tables 8ft 6in by 2ft 6in), chests of drawers, glazed case with under cupboard, carpets, soiled linen baskets, etc. 

66 pairs sheets, mattress covers, 28 pairs pillow cases, 247 face, bath and kitchen towels, 39 tablecloths, 32 bed covers, 42 table napkins, 5 large tables, roll of red stair carpet, grand piano.

The buildings were now empty.  The Polish section of the Special Operations Executive had been established at Audley End House in England to run clandestine operations in Continental Europe and quickly set up specialist courses relating to wireless and cipher expertise.  Some took place at the radio workshops at Stanmore and Anstruther before being relocated to St Margaret’s School.  Here they were joined in early 1944 by “P51 Polish General Staff,” which seems to have been a cover name for a commando unit.  As well as the operation of radios, the men were taught the use of a wide variety of explosives, hand to hand combat, assassination techniques and parachuting.  It was a Polish School for Counterespionage and Sabotage where the lessons taught were how to kill.  The men were billeted in the old house where there was a canteen and recreation room.  Wooden huts were built on concrete platforms on the east sides of the road leading up to it, with a football pitch adjacent.  The classrooms at Netherfield were used for the lectures.  The lodge building was used as an office and a new guard house was erected opposite to it.  It had a direct telephone line to the colonel’s desk – the man in charge was Colonel Bednarczyk.  Three flags flew from the flag staffs outside the school – the Union Jack, the Polish flag, and the stars and stripes of America – and the Polish eagle was depicted in the ground below.

Illus 19: Polish Soldiers in front of Netherfield House.

Later St Margaret’s was taken over by a transport unit and the men already there were put to work maintaining structures on the coastal defences for the British Army. The signals people were moved to the HQ at Kinross and then to Brechin. Approximately 400 Polish soldiers from St Margaret’s attended the Brightons Sports Day in June 1945. Sport provided a common connection with the local population. The troops remained at St Margaret’s throughout 1946 and some were still there in May 1947 when a football match was organised by the Old Folk’s Committee of Old Polmont at Harvey Park between a Polish XI and Carron Primrose.

Illus 20: Polish Soldiers marching along Salmon Inn Road with the Saluting Platform at the entrance to St Margaret’s with the Lodge in the background.

That June St Margaret’s and St Anne’s Schools, Ltd, went into liquidation – members’ voluntary winding-up. John G Carse, CA, of Glasgow was appointed as the liquidator. The Polish army cleaned up the site which was sold to Stirling County Council, which intended to build a school on the football pitch. The priority, however, was new housing. The council had also acquired the land on the other side of Salmon Inn Road and proceeded to erect twenty prefabricated houses there which were completed in April 1948.

This was the first part of an extensive housing scheme which, rather confusingly, was called the St Margaret’s Scheme and the new road for those first houses was named St Margaret’s Crescent. The next road was Netherfield Road.

Despite the dire need for housing and the consequent squatting campaign, Stirling County Council chose not to convert the buildings at St Margaret’s School into flats. The site was cleared in preparation for the new school. Both the main building and Netherfield were demolished and in October 1948 the doors, windows and stone were sold off. The site remained empty for decades and today is occupied by the Meadowbank Medical Centre, Meadowbank Library and Stevenson Avenue.

The legacy of St Margaret’s School for Girls persisted in the careers of its pupils, as well as in the place names of the area and that of a new primary school. The girls were blazing trails for themselves and women throughout Britain. Close to home an ex-pupil, Dr Jessie KM Main LRCP&S, DPH (Edinburgh), was appointed as the first female Assistant Medical Officer of Health for the Burgh of Falkirk in September 1951. A year later she had to resign when she married Mel Gray as the council did not employ married women! One of the school’s most famous pupils was Sheina Macalister Marshall (1896-1977) who became a marine biologist. In 1928 she went with the Scottish Marine Biological Association to study the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland. Local girls also had an influence. Evelyn Dewar has already been mentioned. Alice Harvey, the daughter of Captain Harvey of Weedingshall, helped many local charities and became a missionary. Perhaps the best known of the St Margaret lasses was Miss M Gray-Buchanan from nearby Parkhill who did so much to establish early day nurseries in the Falkirk area. It was as leading citizens in local communities that these women made their greatest contribution – providing relief to the poor, aid to the sick, recreational facilities for children and generally improving the lives of the population of Britain.

Sites & Monuments Records

St Margaret’s SchoolSMR 1347NS 9278 7835


Anderson, W.F.T.2012‘Evelyn Dewar,’ Calatria 28, 65-79.
Valentine, I.2004Station 43: Audley End House and SOE’s Polish Section.

G.B. Bailey (2020)