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Social History - Education
The Auld Kirk School

Prior to the turn of the 19th century the major impetus behind the development of education in Scotland was provided by the Church.

The history of the early Church shows the growth of formal education taking place after the landing of St. Columba in Iona in 563AD. The Celtic and Roman churches founded schools as an extension of their work and worship. The Reformers also saw the importance of education both in its own right, and as a means of strengthening Protestantism. Even into the nineteenth century parish schools were controlled by the Church of Scotland. Throughout this period learning depended much on the vision of the Church. The aim of education was primarily one of training those who would be participating in church services.

During the Reformation many Scottish schools were destroyed. The Reformer’s vision was the establishment of a school in each parish which would be accessible to all children alike, whether rich or poor, male or female. Robert Owen was among those who regarded education as much as a right for working class children as for their middle and upper class contemporaries, pioneering a gradual change in attitude.

Most children began their schooling at the age of five. The normal leaving age varied considerably, from as low as nine in Libberton and Crawford, to as high as fifteen in other parishes. Corporal punishment (using the tawse), was common throughout Lanarkshire; indeed schoolmasters maintaining discipline in this way seem to have been respected.

Since 1872 educational provision in Lanarkshire, as in Scotland as a whole, has been expanded to meet an increasing range of needs. The first stage involved ensuring that as many children as possible who were of school age in terms of the 1872 Act, actually attended school. The second stage of education provision involved organising an effective system of secondary education.

As the standards of provision have improved, so public expectations of the education service have increased throughout the century. The upheaval of two world wars and the social deprivation between the wars created in people a desire for change. Significant Education Acts were passed in 1918 and 1945/46 and the prevailing philosophy of the 1960’s also fostered innovation.

The earliest record of a school in the parish dates to around the beginning of the eighteenth century, From the parochial records we note that on May 13th 1701 a Mr Richard Steil was recommended by the presbytery of Hamilton to take the post of school master in Stonehouse.

There being no objections from the church, he took the post. On November 3rd 1702 the church session met to discuss; “That there should be three schools in the parish, one in Kittiemuir, the teacher of which is to have forty merks of the sellary allowed him; another at Tweedyside, the teacher of which is to have twenty merks of the sellary; and the principal school to continue in the town of Stonehouse, as before”. Richard Steil is said to have “quit” the school at this meeting to make way for William Walker of Stonehouse as schoolmaster. Where this school stood is uncertain but the earliest clue to its siting is again from the parochial records which in May 1708 state; “The school was being held in the kirk till a fit place could be had. The committee appear to have latterly got a schoolhouse from Thomas Cure”. In 1716 the schoolhouse is said to have been in a state of “ill condition” and needed to be thatched. William Walker resigned as schoolmaster in this year to be replaced by Walter Weir.

In 1780 there existed a school very near to where the present Townhead Street School is situated. From the Statistical Account we are told that the school masters’ house was at 44 King Street with the school a little further up the street. The school and school masters’ house are said to have cost £40 to build, paid by the parish. The school house is said to have been low roofed, ill ventilated, and earth paved but reasonably well attended. The working conditions, however, did nothing to improve the health of the children. This may have been the first school built in the village, as it appears prior to this educational establishments were merely rented. Records further state, besides the parochial school, there were others at the head and sometimes the foot of the parish. These were probably temporary dwellings rented due to a lack of permanent premises.

In 1790 the parochial school master was paid the sum of 3 pence per quarter by 47 contributors, though this money apparently was often difficult to collect. According to the minister at the time children often left school at the age of nine or ten to start work. The fact that schools were run predominantly by the churches for their congregations, may in part be responsible for the large attendances and influence the church had within the community. However the Education Act of 1861 greatly reduced their power. This Act established an Inspectorate, where schools were visited by inspectors who encouraged improvements in teaching, school management and record keeping. In 1876 William Borland was Chairman of the Local School Board.

In 1803 an Education Act was established to improve the quality of education by enlisting the services of more qualified teachers and offering better conditions of service. The Act stated that each school master should be provided with a house and garden. This may account for the next parish school in Stonehouse to be built in Boghall Street, about 1808, with a room and kitchen house above for the school master. Originally a single storey building, Camnethan Street School had a second storey added in 1898. One of the first headmasters to teach there was ‘Dominie’ Robert S. Wotherspoon (also session clerk) who died in 1891. Some may still remember Mr Alexander Anderson who succeeded Mr Wotherspoon and retired in 1924.

In 1836 there were five schools in the parish attended by some 300 scholars. Two of these schools were subscription schools. A new parish school was erected a short distance from the original school in Townhead Street in the year 1853, later enlarged in 1870, 1881 and 1912. A house was also built for the teacher near the Free Manse called Sauchrie Cottage.

The new Education Act of 1872 introduced a revolution in the educational affairs of parishes, where control of education was handed over to the state. Responsibility for the parish schools and burgh schools were transferred to newly created School Boards, which later gained control of many non-parochial schools. This Act also instructed that attendance at school should be compulsory for all children between the ages of five to thirteen. Exceptions were made for children over ten, whose family circumstances made it necessary for them to find work.

The school board of Stonehouse acquired Greenside School formerly a subscription school, built in 1853, and then converted it into an infant school. In 1895 children who were five year old, were taught at Greenside School which consisted of two rooms. Both teachers were women, and thus, it became known as the ‘lady school’. The children were taught reading, writing and arithmetic until they reached the age of transferring to either Camnethan Street or Townhead Street where they were taught other subjects such as geography and history. Greenside later became a school for woodwork and domestic sciences.

The Free Kirk School in Hill Road was opened in the year 1851 and was run by the congregation until 1880, when it was disposed of under the Free Church of Scotland School Properties Act, 1878, and became private property. The school board rented Hill Road School from the proprietor for one year intending to build a new school but their lease expired and they rented the E.U. Church until the new school was erected at Townhead Street in 1881. Unfortunately Hill Road School was destroyed by fire in November 1936.

Children of the Victorian era were expected to buy their own books, and it was common place for books to be handed down through the family as was so often done with clothing. On the wall at the corner of Sidehead Road can be seen quite a number of worn grooves in the stonework, caused by children sharpening their pencils to be used on slate.

Few will remember one of Stonehouse’s most popular headmasters Alexander McIntosh who earlier in his life was fortunate to escape from the Tay Bridge disaster in 1879. Initially employed as a monitor he was promoted to an appointment at the Free Church School in Hill Road, before being appointed to headmaster of Townhead Street in 1882. Mr McIntosh was also a very active member of the community before retiring in 1914.

Another popular teacher was the late Kit Small who resided with her sister Jen at Holmwood Cottage, Lanark Road End. Born in Swinhill on 21st June 1906, Kit trained at Jordanhill College and graduated at Glasgow University in 1927. Briefly working for a short time in the old county buildings, she was successful in obtaining a post at Camnethan Street School in 1929. For a time, Kit taught the infants at Greenside School, before moving to Stonehouse Junior Secondary at Townhead, where she ended her long distinguished career in 1971.

Kit was probably Stonehouse’s longest serving teacher (42 years), and is often fondly remembered for her teaching. Kit was greatly admired and loved by one and all who were privileged to know her. A woman of great attributes in teaching English, History, Arithmetic, Poetry and Prose, Kit possessed the natural ability to communicate to children with enthusiasm and a passion for her work. Both in and out of work she was a teacher of learning and wisdom, whose knowledge of life was an influence on those she encountered, including myself. Her door was always open, and few who visited failed to return.

During the 1930’s and indeed into the late 1940’s, many children were still without footwear. For this reason a ‘boot fund’ was established to provide footwear for all children. Attendances at the schools were affected all year round. Vaccinations were not as common as they are today, thus diseases such as measles, mumps, flu, diptheria and scarlet fever were not uncommon. During the Winter these ailments took their toll, as did the weather which badly affected transport and road conditions. In the Summer, pupils were often granted absence for ‘potato gathering’ or to help with the harvest.

Until the late 1940’s all Catholic and Protestant children mixed together at both Camnethan Street and Townhead Street schools. During the second world war many children from all over Glasgow, including Carntyne and later Clydeside, were evacuated to Stonehouse and matched with appropriate families for the duration of their stay. All of the initial intake (229 from St. Thomas’s) were Catholic and were used to being taught in separate schools in Glasgow. These children also brought with them their own teachers and a priest, who insisted they were taught separately. The priest was surprised to find that in Stonehouse all children were taught together. When the war concluded, the priest then pursued having Catholic children transferred to St. Mary’s in Larkhall and St. Patrick’s in Strathaven, where today the majority of our Catholic children are taught. Many children could not settle into their new surroundings and were either redeployed or returned to Glasgow. During the war years Alexander Anderson was headmaster of Camnethan Street School and Robert Leggate, a former pupil of his was the headmaster of Townhead School.

Camnethan Street School, more affectionately known as the ‘Dominie’ (Scots for school master) was closed in 1947 with the children being transferred to Townhead School. It was briefly opened on occasion while renovations took place to Townhead School in 1950/51 and as a dinner hall and overflow of classes from Townhead. In 1956 the school was sold to the Congregational Church and demolished to make way for a housing development in March 1995.

Today classes of 30 are regarded as too large, yet in the 1950’s, classes of over 50 were not uncommon; in 1958, there were four classes of such a size. With pupils of all ages still being taught in Stonehouse, school rolls were large. The logbook of Townhead Street School in 1958 had 530 pupils on the roll. It wasn’t until June of 1953 that both Camnethan Street School and Greenside School removed all its pupils to Townhead School to be taught under one roof. The growth of the village after the Second World War, and the developments of the gas, electric and Westmains housing schemes, found there was a need for a second school in the village. Thus, in August 1979 Newfield Primary was opened.
The Auld Kirk School
Early records of education in Stonehouse are difficult to ascertain as the Session Minutes of the parish only date from 1696. From the time of the Reformation, the church in Stonehouse was served by several readers, all of whom are recorded in ‘Damn few an’ they’re a’ deid’. Whether or not any of these readers served as schoolmasters is uncertain. The earliest recorded account of a schoolmaster in the parish dates to 1694, when the parish was said to have given twenty nine shillings as its portion from the Presbytery to William Simpson, a poor schoolmaster. It is unclear as to whether or not he taught in the old kirk or elsewhere, but a visitation by the Presbytery of Hamilton to the parish in this year indicated that both the kirk and the manse were in a dilapidated state.

In Scotland ‘teachers of youth’ were recognised and placed under regulation by statute in 1597. Parochial schools in Scotland were established by law in 1696.

In 1697, Session Clerk James Clerk of Partickholme farm is recorded as having sent a letter to the then Laird, Stevenson, on behalf of ‘precentor and schoolmaster’ John Watson. This letter requests the sum of ten pounds Scots, from the vacant stipends in Stevenson’s hands, to provide for Mr Watson’s ‘straightened circumstances’. The Stonehouse Kirk Session Minutes stated that since the church had been vacant for the past two years, the church accepted that its stipends should be available for education in the event of an emergency. As the schoolmaster was not being paid the legal salary under the Act of 1696, the laird had no choice but to make provision for Mr Watson.

As there was no legally administered salary with respect to the schoolmaster in Stonehouse, the position became vacant by the 18th century, after John Watson left in 1700. Richard Steel took the post briefly, on the legal minimum salary of 100 merks. However, he was later to discover the salary was intended to be divided with others and thus vacated the position. The Presbytery of Hamilton grew impatient with the failure to fill the position and Rev. Archibald Foyer of the Church in Stonehouse was instructed to call a meeting of the session and the heritors to appoint a schoolmaster. Rev. Foyer intimated to the Presbytery that no heritors had appeared at the meeting, thus he was unable to appoint a schoolmaster. It would appear that this situation was a recurring problem with the heritors and resulted in a procession of many short term schoolmasters, who simply moved on when a better opportunity prevailed.

In 1702 the kirk session agreed that the school at the kirk did not adequately serve the needs of the whole parish. It was thus agreed to erect three schools; at the Kirk, Kittiemuir and Tweedieside. From the legal salary of 100 merks, 40 went to the teacher at Kittiemuir, with a further 20 deducted for a man to serve at Tweedieside. This decision by the kirk session was regarded as highly irregular, whereby teachers on appointment were asked as a condition of employment to swear an obligation to ‘voluntarily’ decline the sum of £60 merks to their appointed school. A further condition stated that if no Winter classes were held, then the principal schoolmaster would receive the full salary of 100 merks. Richard Steel being informed of such conditions, left his appointed position within a few months. As a result of the kirk sessions unpopular conditions, finding willing schoolmasters to take on such poor terms of employment proved difficult, leaving the school without a schoolmaster for four years.

According to session records Robert Naismith wrongly indicated that William Walker replaced Richard Steel after his departure. In 1706 Robert Donaldson of Roseneath was chosen by the kirk session to fill the vacancy but on learning of the kirk sessions conditions, chose not to appear before the Presbytery for further consideration regards his personal qualification for the post. James Hamilton of Vicars was chosen as interim schoolmaster until an official appointment could be made. After serving in the post for one year he was approved by the Presbytery and appointed schoolmaster. However, despite satisfying the kirk session and heritors of his abilities, the parishioners were less than pleased with James Hamilton, as he was said to have continued his studies at Glasgow University and neglected the school during the Winter months until he completed his studies in 1710. He was further said to have neglected his obligations to the school by undertaking ministerial duties outwith the parish to supplement his wages. Shortly before his departure, the schools at Kittiemuir and Tweedieside were left deserted, thus under the kirk session agreement of 1702, the legal salary reverted to the schoolmaster at the kirk. This renewed calls from parishioners regards the suitability of the kirk school and the session agreed in 1706 to look for a suitable alternative whilst the kirk was being used.

After Mr Hamilton’s departure, Thomas Mutter took the position of schoolmaster on a salary of 100 merks, but he felt he was unable to sustain a living from the salary provided to him. He was replaced in 1711 by William Walker, whose parents were said to have been regular complainants regards the poor condition of the kirk school, which they claimed endangered the lives of the children.

A local heritor Thomas Aire is said to have gifted a schoolhouse to the parish, but the cottage was found to be badly constructed and finance for its completion was soon lost to its continuing need for repair. The kirk session known for its own interpretation of the law governing the salary of the schoolmaster decided to utilise the mort cloth money to undertake repairs to the roof of the schoolhouse.

“The Session do appoint Robert Marshall to cause to pull 60 threive of heather for thatching it and allow William Callan to give him 5s 6d out of the mort cloth money to pay the person that pulls it.”

Throughout the 18th century kirk sessions and ministers often failed to attend kirk session meetings and obey the rule of law governing education. Stonehouse was a renown offender of such practices, which in turn hindered the progress of education in the parish. The presbytery found it increasingly difficult to supply Stonehouse with a minister from 1712. William Walker departed his position in 1716, only one year after the parish is recorded as having taken part in a national fast because of the Rebellion of 1715. Finding a suitable replacement proved difficult until principal heritor Lady Stevenson, nominated Walter Weir for the vacant position. Walter Weir, like James Hamilton, also studied divinity, though studying at Edinburgh University. Approved by the Presbytery, he served at the schoolhouse until 1716.

After the 1715 Rebellion the unsettled nature of the country led to a greater choice in the number of schoolmasters. This resulted in the appointment of several schoolmasters throughout the 18th century including; Thomas Clerk (1721-35), Robert Donovan (1735-56?), James Gillespie (1774) and Thomas Smith (1799).

In 1735 Robert Donovan was responsible for the collection of £13:4:6 from the parish of Stonehouse, as was his duty for the Presbytery of Hamilton. This is recorded as being a significant contribution considering the small size of the parish and recent bad
harvests. Under law the Presbytery of Hamilton had to ensure all schoolmasters were qualified and taken the oaths of government. With respect to Robert Donovan they were unable to assure the authorities that he had taken such an oath. Robert Donovan’s headstone is located in the old cemetery dating to 1771. His memorial however, contradicts the information given before, as his epitaph clearly states he taught in the parish for 41 years, not 21 years as suggested by a previous researcher.

An Act of Parliament in 1752 ensured that the parish kirk provided a building for education until such times as a school house could be found.

In 1793 the schoolmasters salary of 100 merks was paid by 47 individuals. The school was attended by around 50 scholars, paying 1/3 per quarter with one third deducted for the vacation quarter. The schoolmaster could earn no more than £18 annually and according to the historical accounts of the year in question, great difficulty was had in obtaining such monies from those using his services. As the parochial school could not meet the demand for educational needs in Stonehouse, two subscription schools were located at either end of the parish. The cost of these establishments were met by the parents of the children attending the schools.

In 1799, the Presbytery of Hamilton demanded that each parish provide a written account of their educational facilities, including an account of subject matter, number of children attending, how the schools were funded and whether or not classes were held on the Sabbath. The parish minister Rev. Morehead being unavailable to provide such, Thomas Smith the school master was said to have given an ‘inadequate’ report on such matters. He informed the Presbytery that, as well as teaching the parochial school, he also taught a Sunday Evening School financially supported by a donation from Mrs Lockhart of Castlehill. A private day school was also reported to have been taught by Thomas Gilmour, a seceder student of the Anti-burgher persuasion.

In 1795 a Dissenters Church was formed in Stonehouse, namely the Associate Congregation of Burgher Seceders. Rev. William Taylor was the first minister of the church in 1798 and is recorded in the minutes of the Hamilton Presbytery, as a Sunday School Teacher. He was understood to be one of only two teachers providing evening classes in the Presbytery in 1799. According to the minutes, Rev. Taylor was known to be ‘non-conforming’ to orders given by the Presbytery. He is recorded as refusing to appear before Presbytery, nor would he take an oath of allegiance to the government. As a result of his disobedience, a parish officer was appointed to issue him a summons. Rev. Taylor continued to ignore the Presbytery’s demands, and was forced to relinquish his school.

By 1803 the parochial schoolmaster was paid a minimum salary of 300 merks. The school and its house were said to have been in a dilapidated state, built only 19 years previously in 1781, at a cost of £40.

Another teacher whose memorial rests in the kirk yard is that of John Walker, who died in 1809

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