Early Blantyre Education

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Extracts from the book, “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018

17th Century School Blantyre

17th Century School Blantyre

Many people in Blantyre will remember their old schools, most of which have been demolished in the last 40 years. Before the Primary and Secondary schools, you may even have heard of an old school existed during the 1800’s at School Lane, High Blantyre, or indeed at the Village works school near Monteiths Mills.

At a general meeting of the Heritors of Blantyre, held on the 18th May 1731, the following minuted action was passed “The Heritors taking to their consideration that notwithstanding by the 9th Act of the session of the 5th Parliament of King William, it is expressly stated and ordained that the Heritors of each Parish meet and provide a commodious house for a school, yet they have never had any such school, and in order to supply the defect they have agreed to build a house 22 feet long and 18 feet wide on the South side corner of the Kirkton Churchyard, at a cost of one hundred pounds Scots“.

This is that same old Kirkyard School that Rev Wright writes about in 1885 in Annals of Blantyre book. He comments “what a school room it was, where our forefathers were taught! None of your palatial edifices as we have now (Nessies School, School Lane and High Blantyre) but a low thatched roofed hut, standing at one corner of the Kirkton graveyard, where the snow and the rain found an easy ingress even to the very “hearthstone” and the cold wind, “blawing loud wi angry sugh” was kept out by urchins as best as they could, for they stuffed an old hat of the maisters and a bonnet of one of the boys into the broken panes.“

This timber “Adventure” Kirkyard school was obviously gone by 1885 and the School Lane one in use as early as 1850s.

I thought I was doing well, when I uncovered the aforementioned need for an early Blantyre school, but there was one thing puzzling me. There is a stone in the perimeter wall of Old Parish Church, directly opposite the door of the boiler house which is inscribed “John Dunlop School Mr 1704”. This stone was obviously once part of an earlier school, even earlier than the 1731 Adventure School in the Kirkyard. Gordon Cook once told me, “After the Reformation, John Knox, and later Andrew Melville pushed very strongly to get a school in every parish.”

Gordon referred me to this page, which comes from the Atlas of Scottish History to 1707, edited by Peter G. B. McNeil and Hector L. McQueen from Edinburgh University, (Scottish Medievalists and Geography departments. It was published in 1996, and the page attached is in the section called “Distribution of Lowland Schools before 1633” it is page 439. The page indicates that a school in Blantyre existed even earlier tan 1731, indeed as far back as a hundred years before that! This also brings up another question, how old was that school, was it in fact pre-reformation or was it opened in deference to the reformer’s ‘Book of Disciple’ of 1560 which advocated schools in every parish?

This is indeed the earliest mention of any school in Blantyre.

The Scottish Reformation resulted in major changes to the organisation and nature of education, with the loss of choir schools and the expansion of parish schools, along with the reform and expansion of the Universities.

In the seventeenth century, legislation enforced the creation and funding of schools in every parish, often overseen by presbyteries of the local kirk, like the former 1731 Adventure School in the Kirkton Graveyard.

Prior to the Education Act of 1872, schools were provided by the landowner, heritors, or proprietors of large industrial businesses such as Blantyre Mills. Not all children were provided with an education but the Act made education compulsory and established School Boards in every district whose remit was to construct schools in every parish in the country.

The Education Act of 1872 set up board schools for all children between 5 and 13. These were built in Scotland by over nine hundred school boards. It was the first national system of state education, overseen by the Scotch Education Board, and it was compulsory. This act marked a watershed in Scottish education and had an immediate effect on teacher training.

The existing parish and burgh schools were taken over by the state and managed by locally elected School Boards. The new system was co-ordinated nationally by the Scotch Education Department with the curriculum emphasising the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic (the three ‘Rs’). The churches and organisations made a crucial contribution to the new system by handing over their schools without charge to the School Boards. At this time the Free Church supported 548 schools across Scotland together with 584 teachers.

In Blantyre this meant the handover of the Parochial School at Kirkton and the handover of the Blantyre Works School.

Construction of 2 new schools in Blantyre commenced right after the Act and High Blantyre Public School and Stonefield (Low Blantyre) Public Schools replaced the former two schools.

By 1883 the school leaving age rose to 13. Pupils had a chance to progress to college, university or other training, via the Leaving Certificate set up in 1887.

From 1889, fees were abandoned and educational provision was free but many children left school at the earliest opportunity as they needed to earn money to help support their family. The Scottish education system underwent radical change and expansion in the 20th century.

In 1918 Roman Catholic schools were brought into the system, but retained their distinct religious character, access to schools by priests and the requirement that school staff be acceptable to the Church.

The school leaving age was raised to 14 in 1901, and although plans to raise it to 15 in the 1940s were never ratified, increasing numbers stayed on beyond elementary education and it was eventually raised to 16 in 1973. As a result, secondary education was the major area of growth in the inter-war period, particularly for girls, who stayed on in full-time education in increasing numbers throughout the century.

New qualifications were developed to cope with changing aspirations and economics, with the Leaving Certificate being replaced by the Scottish Certificate of Education Ordinary Grade (‘O-Grade’) and Higher Grade (‘Higher’) qualifications in 1962, which became the basic entry qualification for university study.

There are currently 5 Primary Schools – 3 non-denominational, one of which houses a unit for children with special needs and 2 Roman Catholic. There is 2 secondary schools Calderside Academy and the denominational John Ogilvie High in Burnbank, which is just outside Blantyre.


Pictured is Old Schoolhouse Lane at High Blantyre a few years back. These was the lane that has seen a couple of different schools over the centuries. This photo from 2007 shows the small grass area in front of Old Schoolhouse Lane, although it looks slightly different today. The rosebeds are gone, now grassed over and one of the tall pine trees is now heavily storm damaged. Looking at this photo, it was a time when the council actually trimmed the hedges every month, rather than the infrequent number of times it happens today.