The History of Schools in Queensferry

In South Queensferry, in 1635, James Livingston was appointed ‘Parish Dominie’ – the term for a Scottish schoolmaster, usually of the Church of Scotland, beginning a long association between church and school.  Lessons were often held in Church towers or the schoolmasters house. There are Schoolmasters and Mistresses recorded in Queensferry since 1635, up to and beyond, the first school being built.

The first school in Queensferry was at the top end of the churchyard of the Old Parish Church in the Vennel. In July 1671, it was decided to build a school using local stonework, at the south end of churchyard.  The school was ready for occupancy in 1672 and still stands today as the Masonic Lodge.

Queensferry History Group Archives

In 1696 the Education Act, passed by parliament in the reign of Mary II and husband William, ordered that locally funded, church supervised schools with a schoolmaster, be established in every Parish in Scotland.   Education then was seldom free but parents tried hard to give their children some education if only for a short time.

The “Wee School” Queensferry History Group Archives

From 1866, Queensferry Primary School, or ‘the Wee School’ was on the land beside the Library in the west end of Queensferry. It was erected by the Dundas family in memory of Mary Shaw who was a faithful nurse in Dundas Castle for 50 years. There is a memorial plaque to Mary on the wall in front of the Library.

The Education Scotland Act 1872 made education compulsory for 5 – 13 year olds.

Queensferry Primary School, image: Harry Kelly Collection – Queensferry History Group Archives

In 1883, Teacher in the school, James Maxwell, was appointed ‘Precentor’ (one who leads the congregational singing, usually the Schoolmaster) in the Parish Kirk and in July he became Session Clerk.

In 1875 Queensferry Public School was built at the top of the Loan and extended in 1910. This is now Queensferry Nursery in the Primary School grounds. Among subjects taught were Music, Art, Science, Gardening, P.E., Woodwork, Latin and French, while cookery classes were held in the ‘Wee School’. Education was interdenominational until St Margaret’s RC Primary School was opened in 1959.

The school garden was well used and a model of the outlook tower at Schonfeld near Carlsbad, Czechoslovakia, was built in the school garden by Czechoslovakian refugees as a gesture of thanks to the community of Queensferry for their care and help after their evacuation from Czechoslovakia during WW2, with the start of occupation by Germany. This tower held items in a time Capsule. School records of May 1939 say “a casket, containing a scroll and some Czech and British coins, was built into the model today”. Later in May, “The model in school garden finished today. A medal and an address in German were presented to the builder, in presence of the pupils of advanced division and Czech children”.
The tower and capsule disappeared when the new primary school was built.

The grass area to the end of the school was a reservoir with a second one in the Rose Gardens, now called Station Road Park, just across from the school.

Queensferry History Group Archives

October attendances were regularly affected by children not attending due to gathering potatoes. In fact from 8th – 25th October 1915, the whole school was closed as the Farmers needed the assistance of the children for potato lifting!

Library Archives, Canada (couldn’t find an appropriate Scottish image)

In 1916, it was proposed that children would have two weeks taken off their summer holiday to allow them to help on farms during the potato-picking season in October. This suggestion was not popular with parents and school boards. The need for children to help out on the farms was mainly due to the lack of farmers and farm labourers during the First World War.

Reasons for Absences other than Truancy, included Coughs and Colds, outbreaks of Scarlet Fever, Whooping Cough, German Measles, Mumps and Diptheria. Also lack of boots during very wet and cold weather, many children were barefoot then!

In November 1914 the Military took possession of the Cookery Class premises at the West End (Wee School), so Cookery was held in Dalmeny Primary School.  Pupils were also taught in the Old Kirk, the Wee School and Masonic Hall.

Dalmeny Primary School on the right – courtesy of National Archives

The Military eventually took over all the school buildings and Teachers and Pupils were dismissed until further notice. Schooling resumed in January 1915 and was held in Queensferry Parish Church and Dalmeny Primary School (which is now Dalmeny Church Hall) each for half a day.
 In February all older classes were moved to the Masonic Hall and the West End School building, and the Infants and Juniors were in Queensferry Parish Church.

Queensferry Parish Church -Image Harry Kelly Collection – Queensferry History Group Archives

In March, the Military vacated the School buildings and all children went back to their normal classrooms. However in 1916 the Military require the West End building again so Cookery classes returned to Dalmeny Primary school.

The Headmaster, Mr James Maxwell, retired after 44 years in Queensferry  Primary School, in July 1922. He was living in the School House, Dalmeny, with his wife and 6 Children.  His successor was John Mason (later to become Dr.) , Headmaster of Ecclesmachan Public School. Dr John Mason was founder of Queensferry Museum. He was a Historian, Researcher and Writer, writing the unpublished ‘History of Queensferry’ in 1963 aged 77, which the History Group use for much of their research. He was also a pioneer of Outdoor Education. John Mason retired in 1954 and was succeeded by Peter Somerville.

Memories from former pupils recount some of the teachers.

Queensferry Public School (now Queensferry Nursery)

Queensferry History Group Archives

Miss Laura Davidson was daughter of Provost Davidson, “you couldn’t have a better person to start school life”.
Miss Simpson was “a grand person and a very able teacher indeed”.
Miss Gregor was “a lovely fresh looking person, a good teacher, and she married Dr John Mason, Headmaster, in Edinburgh in 1926”.
Miss Dishart “Dirtyshirt” was “a good straightforward teacher”.
Granny Forbes “had grey hair worn in a high hairstyle, a bit Edwardian, she wore a blouse with a high collar. She was a nice, efficient teacher”.
Miss Gauld “wore gold rimmed spectacles. She shouted and pinched you on the arm to get over what she was teaching, but she was a good teacher”.
Wee Prosser never smiled, she would bite her lips when giving you the belt. She was quiet and not very effective”.
Miss Sutherland  at the’ Quallie’ (Qualifying Dance – forerunner of todays “Prom”), wore high heels to impress she was taller, a wee smasher with black hair, loaded with jewellery, but she could swing that tawse (belt). She was no good at imparting knowledge!”

Dux members of Queensferry Public School, 1923 – 1938,
 the board is now in Queensferry Museum

Queensferry Primary was extended again in January 1971 and opened by Provost James Milne.
Until 1970 Higher Education was in Bo’ness or Linlithgow Academy, or St Mary’s in Bathgate
Queensferry High School was built in 1970 and opened by Princess Margaret. The High School Arms was granted by Lord Lyon, King of Arms. It consists of a gold cross between four gold Martlets (birds) on an azure shield. This is the badge of the Atheling family to which Queen Margaret belonged. The Martlets are birds of English Heraldry, mythical creatures which represent the ceaseless pursuit of learning, bravery, virtue, endeavour, and hard work to earn your own way in the world. The chief or upper part of the shield is in white with three primroses taken from the early arms associated with Primrose of Dalmeny. Motto, ‘Mente et Manu’ –  “With Mind and Heart”

This school was demolished in 2020 when a new high School was built in the playing fields, due to the need for increased capacity and modernisation.

 “The new school is a great example of how we are innovatively building schools for the future to support greater accessibility and inclusion for all young people.”Councillor Alison Dickie, Vice Convenor Education Children and Families, City of Edinburgh Council.

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