School (1716 – 1966)

Illustrated Essays

Though the first Strathblane parish schoolmaster was appointed in 1716, it was many years before the school was housed in a permanent schoolhouse. This was finally built in 1781 at Thorn of Cuilt, at Netherton, which is the area now known as Blanefield.  This first building was so inadequate that it was demolished and rebuilt on the same site in 1854. The present Strathblane Primary School was built in 1966.

The First Parish School

There was no formal school in Strathblane until the 18th century, despite the fact that three Acts of Parliament were passed in the 17th century: the ”School Establishment Act” in 1616, the “Act for founding of schools in every parish.” in 1646 and the ”The Act for settling of schools” in 1696, each decreeing that every parish in Scotland should establish a school with a schoolhouse and a school master . These schools were to be supervised by the church. The funding was to be provided by the heritors in each parish who were the proprietors of lands or houses with a liability, written in their title deeds, for the payment of public burdens. 

The main source of information about the early schools in the parish is John Guthrie Smith’s book “The Parish of Strathblane and its Inhabitants from Early Times” published in 1886. There are copies of this book in the Thomas Graham Library in Strathblane, or you can download the whole book from the Publications and Resources section of this website here: The Parish of Strathblane and its Inhabitants from Early Times (1886) by John Guthrie Smith. His chapter entitled “The School and Schoolmasters of Strathblane” paints a picture of prolonged procrastination on the part of the heritors.

The way was finally paved for the creation of the first Parish school at a meeting of the Kirk Session on 3rd February 1714. The meeting was a visitation of the Presbytery of Dumbarton. The handwritten Kirk Session minutes of the occasion are held by the National Records of Scotland.

Transcription “And further ordains the Heritors at their first meeting to settle a School and a stipend for the School Master in the Terms of the Act of parliament made their anent And the Minister to report to the presbytery in June.”

Strathblane Kirk Session Minutes 1714
Strathblane Kirk Session Minutes 1714. Reproduced with the permission of the National Records of Scotland.

Guthrie Smith tells us that there was still no school or parish schoolmaster two years later in 1716 when the Kirk Session finally appoints a schoolmaster:

“Two years after this time, there being no schoolmaster in the parish, Mrs. Craig of Leddriegreen engaged Mr. William Bowie from Glasgow to teach her children, and on the 26th February, 1716, the Session appointed him precentor and schoolmaster, and apparently then or soon afterwards the school was kept in the church.

John Guthrie Smith, 1886.
Strathblane Kirk Session Minutes 1716. Reproduced with the permission of the National Records of Scotland.

The Kirk Session Minutes of 26 September 1731 record, however, that the school was still meeting in the church and the Kirk Session made another attempt to get the heritors to build a school.

Transcription. “In regard that the school cannot be kept in the Kirk as it used to be the Session appoints the Minister to intimate the next Sabbath that the whole Residing heritors meet with them upon the 8th of October at the Manse and that the Minister write to the Lords of Carbath and Law of the said meeting to consider where and how a schoolhouse for the East end of the parish shall be builded”

Strathblane Kirk Session Minutes 1731
Strathblane Kirk Session Minutes 1731. Reproduced with the permission of the National Records of Scotland.

Guthrie Smiths tells us that this request was evaded, and for some time the school was taught in the little cottage to the east of the church gate, then the stable of the Kirkhouse Inn, the house on the other side of the gate. According to Guthrie Smith, this state of affairs continued right up until 1779 when the Kirk Session took exception to some of the heritors appointing a schoolmaster without consulting them.

The righteous indignation of the Session had a good effect. The principal heritors now took the matter up, and at a meeting held in the Kirkhouse, 7th February, 1780, resolved to allocate a legal salary of £8 sterling, and also to build a school and schoolmaster’s house on a site to be obtained somewhere “betwixt the Thorn of Cuilt and the Kirkburn or churchyard.” They also resolved to choose a schoolmaster at their next meeting. All this was done; the school and schoolhouse were built in due time on their present site at the Thorn of Cult, Netherton.”

John Guthrie Smith, 1886.

The 19th Century

The Parish School at Thorn of Cuilt, Netherton

The building of the school and schoolhouse seems to have been completed in haste in 1781 and Guthrie Smith reports ongoing problems with the building.

In 1803, when they were building the new church, the school and schoolhouse were refurbished using materials from the old church, raising the walls of the school and the schoolhouse by six feet.  This seems to have done little to improve the comfort of the building and it was demolished and completely rebuilt in 1854.

“ The old schoolhouse of 1781 must have been but a sorry affair, for despite the raising of the walls six feet in 1802 and the sinking of the floor “to increase the height of the roof” in 1818, it remained a very airless, uncomfortable place till it was swept away in 1854 and the nucleus of the present commodious school built. A room for a girls’ school was also added and Miss Ann Auld was the first female teacher. “   

John Guthrie Smith, 1886.
An early postcard showing the school buildings built in 1854

Schoolmasters

The heritors appointed John Reston as the first schoolmaster of the newly built school on a legal salary of £8 sterling per annum, double the previous stipend. He resigned in 1783.

His successor Andrew Miller only stayed until 1787. Guthrie Smith gives us a long description of ways in which this schoolmaster supplemented his salary with forced “gifts” and even cock fighting. In winter the scholars were expected to bring a peat each day to keep the school fire burning.

Benjamin Hepburn – “habitual Drunkard and Curser, Swearer and Blasphemer

The next schoolmaster was Benjamin Hepburn. By 1796, however, the Session and heritors had received numerous accusations of his neglect of the children and intemperance and they wished to remove him from the post. Having failed to remove him from his post or to persuade him to mend his ways, the Heritors of the parish finally petitioned the Presbytery of Dumbarton in December 1811. There followed multiple delays, including petitioning the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland..

The Heritors finally drew up a Libel which ran to 37 items which filled 19 pages of closely written text in the Dumbarton Presbytery minutes. The postscript to this list reads: 

You are a habitual Drunkard and Curser, Swearer and Blasphemer, and for many years past, have been almost every day in the house of this said Daniel Campbell, or in some other public house in the said parish or elsewhere drinking. All or part of which being found proven you the said Benjamin Hepburn should be deposed from and deprived of the said office of Schoolmaster of the parish of Strathblane which should be declared vacant. In witness whereof this libel consisting of this and 19 preceding pages and the subsequent list of witnesses for approving the said Libel written on the eight following pages.

Minutes of Presbytery of Dumbarton. ScotlandsPeople Virtual Volumes.
A few of the offences in the Libel against Benjamin Hepburn

The Libel was duly served. In September, Benjamin Hepburn appeared at the Dumbarton Presbytery meeting with his agent John Fleming. They presented written answers to the Libel and discussed these with the Presbytery, who decided that there were so many articles it was impossible for them to decide on the relevancy of the whole and they therefore delayed any decisions until their December meeting.

It was not until February 1813 that Benjamin Hepburn finally resigned. His resignation went on to say that he would continue to possess the house and draw the salary until Whitsunday next.

During his time as schoolmaster Thomas Hepburn would have benefitted from the Parochial Schools (Scotland) Act that year. In Strathblane the salary was set at 350 merks Scots, £19 8s 9d sterling. The schoolmaster was also provided with a garden as a result of this Act.

The Parochial Schools (Scotland) Act 1803

In 1813 the new schoolmaster, Mr Gavin Cullen, taught more branches (subjects) than his predecessors and so a new scale of fees was sanctioned. We are told that he taught Latin and Greek. 

He was succeeded by Andrew Kessen in 1818. In 1829 his salary was fixed at the maximum allowed by the 1803 Act.

The next schoolmaster to be appointed was Parlane Macfarlane in 1838. It was during his time as schoolmaster that the school building was demolished and rebuilt.

The poet Thomas Thorpe has painted a nostalgic picture of his school days in his poem ‘Parlanes Schule’ which can be found in our Poetry section. The Poems of Thomas Thorpe

He was succeeded by John J McEwan in 1862.  When Guthrie Smith’s book was published.in 1868 he refers to him as the “ present esteemed master.”

The School Logboook 1864-1984

Until 1864, the main sources of information about the school are John Guthrie Smith’s book and the original handwritten Kirk Session Minutes. The school logbook now adds a welcome new dimension to our knowledge of the history of the school.

The school logbook is a single volume covering the years 1864 to 1984. It affords a fascinating insight into the daily life of Strathblane School. The original logbook is in the care of Stirling Archives. It can be consulted in their reading room, along with the School Board minute book for the years 1911-1922.  Unfortunately they do not hold the school admission register. For the payment of a small fee it is possible to take photographs of the logbook entries and this is the source of many of the images used to illustrate the life of the school after this date .http://www.stirlingarchives.scot/

It was the headteacher’s task to make observations in the logbook, initially on a daily basis. The entries cover a whole range of topics. In 1864 the schoolmaster, John J McEwan, commented on the school roll, attendance, staffing, holidays, pupil attainment, pupil behaviour and discipline. The entries are interspersed with observations on the local weather and national events.

Examples of entries in the 1860s

School Logbook entries from June 1864

The admission of new pupils and those leaving are recorded, though no names are given.

An entry in September 1864 tells us that some pupils had “Gone to Blanefield.” Presumably this refers to the school provided at the Blanefield Print Works.

1864- Several Pupils left to go to Blanefield

In the late 1860s few girls were enrolled and the majority of pupils were boys, as this entry shows.

Number of girls and total number of pupils

Teaching and Learning

The main subjects were reading, writing and arithmetic. The logbook also tells us that the pupils studied Scripture History and Catechism which they were expected to prepare at home. There are frequent comments regarding how well work had been prepared. Testing was carried out monthly and failure was punished.

Failure to prepare work properly resulted in corporal punishment

Attendance and Absenteeism

Attendance was a major concern and the reasons for absenteeism make fascinating reading. It’s not surprising that there was a lot of absenteeism on Saturdays which was a normal school day at that time. It was not uncommon for the older pupils to miss school in order to help with the harvest. and other agricultural activities. These examples are from 1864 and 1865.

The Education (Scotland) Act 1872

This act of parliament revolutionised education in Scotland. For the first time, school attendance became mandatory for all children between the ages of 5 and 13 and parents had a duty to provide their children with elementary education in reading, writing and arithmetic.

Parents still had to contribute to the costs of the school in the form of fees. Those who couldn’t afford the fees (set by each school board) could apply to their local parochial board who were obliged to assist.  Poverty was no longer a barrier to attendance. 

School fees were not finally abolished until 1880. In an entry in the logbook in 1878 the schoolmaster notes that pupils were allowed to remain despite their parents being unable to pay the fees on time.

One result of the act was to oblige children employed by the printworks to attend school regularly. Mr Coubough, owner on the Blanefield printworks raised objections to the prospect of having to send children to school more than twice a week for four hours at a time, because the block printers had to stop work when the child workers were not there to assist!

The School Board

The 1872 Act made provision for a School Board made up of elected members who had the task of running the school. This was formerly the responsibility of the Kirk Session and the heritors. The results of the elections show that the school board members continued to be prominent members of the local community. The first school board included two members of the Coubrough family who owned the Blanefield Print Works.

The results of the first three School Board elections

The Building and Accommodation

In her book “Strathblane 1870 – 1970: A Century of Change” Alison Dryden reports that

One beneficial task undertaken by the first school board was to draw attention at long last to the state of the school building. It was not unusual if the weather was stormy for the school to be closed on account of damage being done. On 13 March 1875 the new school room was opened. Anthony Park Coubrough, the printworksowner and chairman of the school board, was very involved in further improvements in 1878. Following his death in 1883, the school was further extended in his memory and his sons erected a school plaque, that still survives in the present school, in his memory.”

Alison Dryden.

The poor condition of the building was regularly reported in the school logbook, with the report of an inspection in 1883 highlighted overcrowding:

“ …………. The Head Master has too much to do, having all above the third Standard under his charge, taught together in a room greatly overcrowded, a state of matters that must lower efficiency”

1883 Inspection Report

The School Staff

There were three members of school staff in 1874. John McEwan was the schoolmaster, Annie Auld the female teacher and William Laidlaw was a pupil teacher. He went on to become fully qualified and left the staff in 1866.

1874 – Members of staff

School Inspections

The School Board carried out inspections and clearly took their responsibilities seriously. Here is a  rather scathing report of an inspection of the Infant Department carried out by Colonel Graham Stirling, a member of the School Board, in 1874.

Report on the Infant Department in 1874

This report from 1877 is somewhat more positive. It lists three members of staff: the schoolmaster, a female teacher and a pupil teacher. 

This report in 1877 includes the names of the staff.

This more detailed report is dated 1882. The staff now includes a paid monitor.

1882 – Inspection Report

These logbook entries for 1875 show the wide variety of topics recorded including the fire at the Blanefield print works in May.

The 20th Century

The 1900s

By the beginning of the 20th century the nature of the entries in the school logbook had begun to change.

On 5 January 1903 there was an unusual entry recording the results of a Pigmentation Survey, This is presumably part of the anthropological survey“A Pigmentation Survey of School Children in Scotland,” carried out under the auspices of a committee of the Royal Society and reported in “Nature” journal in 1908.

1903 – Results of a Pigmentation Survey

Several entries recorded special events and extra holidays.

According to John K Campbell, attendance was particularly poor on 19th Feb 1910 when the printworks chimney was finally demolished. Some Impressions of Village Life in the Parish of Strathblane during the First Decade of the Twentieth Century by John K Campbell

It was some years after all activities ceased in the works that they were finally demolished. The highlight of the exercise was the taking down of the large Chimney Stalks. The largest of these, known as “Great Chimney Stalk,” was one hundred and sixty feet high and it had been built at a cost of Five Hundred Pounds. So compelling was the prospect of witnessing the taking ‘down of this giant that many of the older boys played truant from School. The schoolboy term for this practice was known as “Plunking.” It matters little how the practice was defined but it is certain that the dominie of that time was in no doubt how it should be treated. He was indeed very angry bur years afterwards he confided in me that this was partly due to the fact that he himself was unable to witness the spectacle

John K Campbell

The 1910s

Many entries now recorded visitors to the school.  There is evidence of a strong interest in the health of the pupils. The school medical officer, the dentist and the district nurse were regular visitors, but visits were also made by a podiatrist and even a physiotherapist. In November 1910 the school medical officer tested the air of the room.

1910 – Visit of the school medical officer

By 1911 a new classroom had been built for the practical subjects of woodwork and domestic science. Only the boys were taught woodwork. The girls learned to cook and sew.

1911 – A new classroom
Class photo from around 1916/17

The First World War

The outbreak of the First World War did not prompt any comment in the school log. However, as the war progressed the pupils became more involved in the war effort. They sold Parma Violet sachets in aid of Belgium Famine Relief, and the 12 March 1915 entry says that two Belgian children were enrolled that week. Pupils were also encouraged to take part in the War Savings Movement.

Alison Dryden

The end of the Great War in 1918 was underlined and the next day was a holiday.

1918 – The end of the Great War
This note on a small slip of paper has been preserved inside the School Logbook at Stirling Archives.

The New Local Education Authority

There were changes in how schools were managed after WW1 when the Education (Scotland) Act 1918 replaced the School Boards with specialist local education authorities. In September 1919 the new education authority displaced the parish school board.

One of the first issues that they had to face was a matter of alleged brutality by the schoolmaster to a pupil. In 1920 for a number of months a correspondence continued in the Stirling Observer over this incident. One letter signed ‘Residenter’ stated that the boy deserved any punishment that he got and expressed the view that the deterioration of manners and indeed morals among children in certain parishes is melancholy and bodes ill for the future! A good spanking when required is absolutely necessary if our boys and girls are to grow up decent citizens, the letter claimed. The reaction of the readers was varied, but concern was expressed about what had happened. It is interesting to note that the school log is strangely silent on the whole matter.

Alison Dryden
Strathblane School 1922
Strathblane School 1922

Stirling Archives has a School Board minute book dating from 1911 to 1922. The following extract includes an interesting table of the number of children of different ages and where they attended school. It also makes reference to the new Authority.

An extract from the School Board minutes in 1922
The steps to the front door were a favourite location for class photographs
Strathblane School 1926
Strathblane School 1926
Strathblane School 1926
Strathblane School 1926

The 1930s

In 1934 the introduction of the school milk scheme was recorded in the school logbook.

1934 – The Milk in Schools scheme began

In 1935 another innovation was the advent of school radio broadcasts.

1935 – The first school radio lessons
Strathblane School 1936 seniors
Strathblane School 1936 with headmaster Mr Webster,

On 25 March 1938 His Majesty’s Inspectors reported that electricity had been installed and that the heating had been improved.

1938 – Electricity

The Second World War

The start of the Second World War saw huge changes at the school. In September 1939  the school was closed for a time while hasty arrangements were made for the arrival of 89 evacuees and their teachers. 

Alison Dryden tells us:

“In September l939, 89 evacuees arrived from Maryhill in Glasgow with four teachers, outnumbering the local pupils by one, and the school was closed for a few days to make the necessary arrangements. The Co-operative Hall was used as additional accommodation. After the initial Phoney Warscare, many of the evacuees began to return to Glasgow and in April 1940 two of the teachers who had come with the evacuees terminated their duties at the school and returned to Maryhill. A note was kept of the number of evacuees during the war years. For some time the number was static around the mid twenties and it is likely that many of these evacuees were relatives of people living in the village. By the end of the war only two or three remained.”

Alison Dryden 2012.
September 1939 – the arrival of evacuees and their teachers

By the spring of 1940 a majority of the evacuees had returned to Glasgow and were followed by two of their teachers.

1941 – Teachers return to Glasgow

On 16 March 1941, the second night of the terrible Clydebank blitz, two landmines were dropped on the village. One exploded at Sunnyside, killing two of the evacuee children, Isabella and John Wood, and their mother, who had fled Clydebank.

The blast from the bomb smashed a number of windows in the school which was closed for a week while repairs were carried out. The logbook entry for the next Monday only mentions that repairs were necessary.

Report of the Council Property Sub-Committee
Report of the Council Property Sub-Committee

The damage from the Sunnyside bomb

 You can read more about this in the Second World War article in the History and Heritage section of the website. here: World War Two

With so many men away at war, in October 1944 pupils who were absent at the potato harvest were granted an exemption.

1944 – Potato Harvesting exemption

In August 1945 the school closed to celebrate the Victory in Japan.

1945 – Victory in Japan

The Post War Years

The inspector’s report of 1947/48 recorded that the tone of the school was very pleasant. The good manners of the children, their willing responses to oral questioning, and their diligent application in written exercises created a very favourable impression. 

Alison Dryden

The 1950s

Class photo around 1950. The teacher was Miss Higgins

Repairs to the fabric of the buildings were ongoing

Repairs in 1950

Major events such as the king’s death and the coronation featured in the log. In June 1953 all the pupils were taken to Milngavie to see the film ‘A Queen is Crowned’. 

Alison Dryden

Several entries in the logbook in the 1950s refer to the collection of rose hips by the pupils. These would be gathered in the evening or at weekends and taken to school in the morning. The pupils were paid by weight and the rose hips were sent to be made into rose hip syrup, an important source of vitamin C in post war Britain.

Rose Hips
Strathblane School 1953
Strathblane School 1953

In 1954 Mr George Allen was appointed headmaster.

Appointment of a new headmaster in 1954

See school pupils crossing the road and playing in the playground on film in 1957 or 1958 here: This Is Our Parish 1957 -1958 by Harry & Helen Arnold

The 1960s

Plans for a new school began in the early 1960s, when the post war baby boom made it increasingly difficult to house all the pupils in the old school building. This logbook entry for 1960 details the dimensions of the 4 classrooms, the number of pupils in each year group and the names of the teachers.

School logbook 1960

Alison Dryden reports,

“By the early 1960s the question of a new school was raised. The old one was located in a very dangerous place on the main road next to the smithy. The classrooms had high ceilings and were difficult to heat. There were still some outside toilets, though there were also some indoors. A decision was taken to build a new primary school and work was begun building it at the junction of the newly created Southburn and Kirkburn Roads.”

Alison Dryden 2012

Improvements to the fabric of the old school were still recorded. One expects there was some excitement on 26 August 1963, the first day after the summer holidays, when pupils were  summoned from play by the ringing of the new electric school bell. Many former pupils still have happy memories of proudly ringing the hand bell when they reached Primary 7.

1963 – an electric school bell
Probably P4/5 around 1965 shortly before the move to the new school

The New School 1966

On 24th October 1966 the pupils walked along the road to the new school carrying their schoolbooks. The minister, Mr Lugton, cut a ribbon and declared the new school open. As well as spacious classrooms and indoor toilets the new school offered space for gym and even the production of pantomimes. Mr Allen was still the headmaster. He didn’t mention the move in the school logbook but noted that on 20th December Christmas parties were held in the school hall!

The current school was opened in 1966
Christmas parties were held in the School Hall!

Memories of the School – Mrs Georgina Marshall

Georgina Marshall, who still lives in the village, was a teacher at the school when the new school opened in 1966. Before that she taught at the old school. She was also a pupil at the old school!

She was enrolled in the school as a pupil when she was four and a half years old. Her teacher was Miss Higgins. She remembers that in P5 the children were obliged to learn half a page of the Bible by heart every week and they were belted if they failed. She remembers that in P7 they got to ring the bell.

Having left the school in 1957 to go to Balfron, she was back teaching at Strathblane School in 1965, with the same headmaster. She recalls that at that time the school was badly overcrowded and one could barely move between the desks. There were limited facilities for gym and the piano was pushed from room to room. Some of the toilets were still outside. Georgina remembers the move to the new school in 1966. She continued to teach there until she retired.

Read more about Georgina’s memories here Education, Education, Education…Georgina Marshall in conversation with Anne Balfour

Mrs Marshall with her class in the new school

Do you have any memories or photographs of the old school you would like to share on this website? If you do, please get in touch with us on the contacts page here: Contact Us

Follow this link to read some memories from former pupils: Memories of the Old School

The old school and schoolhouse at Thorn of Cuilt are now private homes

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