Schooling in Banffshire by Meg Mackay, interviewed by Isobel Shanks

Q  You have lived in the Parish of Botriphnie most of your life. You attended Botriphnie School yourself as did your children. I would like to hear something about your schooling and also any information you have regarding schools in the past.

A  As you said I attended Botriphnie School as a pupil and I will come to that later. I would like to tell you something about how education developed within the Botriphnie Parish. This will be similar to what has happened in other parishes around Scotland.

Much of my research was done in “The Schools and Schoolmasters of Banffshire”, which gives considerable insight to the Education system in this area for many years.

The Parochial School has been the backbone of education in this country and was constituted under an Act of Parliament of 1696. As early as 1494 the Scottish Government wished all barons and freeholders of substance to put their eldest sons and heirs to school for eight or nine years; for these boys to remain at Grammar School until the be competently founded and have perfect Latin; and thereafter that they remain three years in further education so that they may have an understanding of law so that they may have the ability to administer the law and help the poor people settle differences etc. In 1633 it was ordained that every parish should have a school and these would be linked to the church. A few years later it was decreed that pupils should be taught reading, writing and religious studies.

Q  What happened after 1633?

The Act of 1696 stated that a school should be settled by the heritors and the minister. The heritors were to build a school and provide a salary of not less than £5.60 per annum. In 1803 an act was passed that schoolmasters’ stipends were to be increased and that this should be reviewed every 25 years. It was declared that the salary should be not less than £16.70 and not more than £22.25.

The Parish Minister was appointed Superintendent of the Parochial School but the real power was vested in the Presbytery. If a teacher was appointed by the heritors and the minister he had to appear before the Presbytery after having taken an oath to the Sovereign before a Justice of the Peace and be examined by its members as being right for the post in respect of morality and religion. If a complaint was brought against the teacher regarding immoral conduct, neglect of duty or cruelty and enough evidence was available then the teacher could be reprimanded, suspended or dismissed. Members of the Presbytery could visit a school at any time and this they did on a fairly frequent basis. By 1861 the examination of Schoolmasters was transferred to a Board of Examiners appointed by the Court and each of the four universities.

Burgh Schools or Academies had also been established in royal burghs from an early date. Dame Schools also flourished in many areas. They catered for the needs of girls and sewing was an important part of the curriculum.

The Education Act of 1872 revolutionised the whole system. It made the provision of Parish School Boards universal in the country and these bodies became responsible for the property and control of existing burgh and parish schools. This Act laid down that every child should attend school from the age of 5 years to 13 years and the School boards had the power to enforce this. Before this, great work had been done in many rural parts of Banffshire through the work of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge who either established or aided by money grants to quite a number of schools in the County. The Act of 1872 also put Training colleges on a constitutional basis.

In the Course of the School Board era the system of free elementary education came into being. There was also established in each county in Scotland a Secondary Education Committee.

By the Education Act of 1918 there were 945 School boards and 38 Secondary Education Committees in existence. These were superseded by 38 Education Authorities. In Banffshire an Education Authority of 30 members took over the functions of 25 School Boards. Colonel J G Fleming, who had long experience as clerk of several School Boards in Banffshire and who had also been Clerk of the Secondary Education Committee in Banffshire was appointed Clerk to the authority.

Teachers were provided with houses as part of their salary and this continued in the case of Head Teachers and some teachers, right through until the 1970s/80s. As well as being provided with houses schoolmasters enjoyed small salaries as Session clerks and Registrars


Botriphnie School

In 1642 the presbytery decided that the parish needed a schoolmaster and a James Rany MA was appointed. By 1648 it was discovered that he was over fond of the drink and soon after he moved to Grange unknown to the Presbytery. For the next 7 years there was no schoolmaster. Up until 1678 there were periods when the school had a schoolmaster and times when it did not. There are no records giving exact details.

In 1678 a Robert Mitchell was schoolmaster and may have been for a few years. On 22 October of that year the Bishop of Moray visited the parish and was told that Mitchell was a drunkard and by the 30 October he was forbidden to continue his teaching. By 1680 Mitchell had mended his ways and was reinstated. He continued in post until 1716, although he was 83 years old. During the following years various schoolmasters came and went, some of them going into the ministry. By 1793 Thomas Donald, who had only been in post for 3 years was dismissed for drinking, striking children and bad language with the role having dropped from 50 – 60 to 2 or 3.

In 1804 the Strathbogie Presbytery laid down that from March 22 until the harvest holiday school would begin at 7 in the morning and end at 5 in the afternoon. Breakfast would be from 9 -10 and dinner from 1- 3. The harvest holiday would last for 4 weeks and would begin when the harvest began in the parish. From the end of this holiday until March 22 school would begin at 9 in the morning and finish at 3 in the afternoon with half an hour break at midday. It was also agreed that the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism must be taught on Saturdays and school would be dismissed at 1 o’clock. Attention had to be paid to the morals and cleanliness of the children and the school must be swept twice a week.

In 1809 Peter Cameron was appointed schoolmaster and remained in post for 50 years. By 1819 the Presbytery discovered that there were 20 pupils in the school. One pupil was being taught Latin in addition to Arithmetic, English and Writing, which was being taught to the others. In1827 it was discovered that Latin and Greek was being taught in all Parochial Schools except Botriphnie and Rhynie. Botriphnie School was in a poor state by this time and there were only a few pupils attending. By 1828 a new school was being built. The school was on the ground floor and the schoolmaster’s accommodation was on the upper floor. By 1846 it was noted that the school role had fallen and an enquiry was held. The most prominent fact was that a number of Dames Schools were in the parish. There was a church school at Forkins and later at Blackball, which catered for the 3 Rs supplemented with sewing. It was also discovered that Cameron’s work was not up to standard because of his age and physical condition.

By 1853 Alexander Carmichael became schoolmaster. A native of Botriphnie, he was educated at Keith and was a first bursar at Aberdeen. By 1857 it was agreed that there should be no school on a Saturday. Carmichael died in 1859; he had been in ill health for some time.

In 1860 Donald Stewart became schoolmaster. His father was farmer at Davidston House on the Drummuir Estate. He resigned in 1867 and went on to be a valued minister to King Edward.

In 1874 John Hunter was appointed schoolmaster. Under his guidance there was a distinctive upward move in higher education. He had great success with evening classes. He was also a writer and had many articles printed in periodicals. His father was employed at Balmoral and he himself had been a page for a time. He died at the early age of 45 and was a great loss to the parish.

From 1878 until the early 1900s a number of female teachers were also employed and by 1906 a third teacher was appointed to the school.

You have touched on Dames’ Schools and said that there were several in the parish, can you give me more information on these?

They flourished in the latter part of the 18th and early part of the 19thcentury. With their simple methods and modest equipment they served their day well.

There was ‘Cissy’ Wilson’s school at Sauchenward which was sited within sight of the present Botriphnie School.

The `Foggy’ school was at Forkins. This school was said to have been built by the father of the teacher, Miss Grant. It was called this because it was built of stone and turf. For many years this was the female school of the parish. Later a more substantial building was built at Blackhall by Major Duff of Drummuir. It was known as the ‘Timmer’ School where Miss Grant continued to teach and some years later a stone and lime building took its place.

Across the road was a female sewing school which was taught by Miss Panton and later on by Miss Black.

Perhaps older was the Allenach School taught by Miss Anderson. She taught lessons in Reading and Spelling and her only textbook was the Bible.

The Bodinfinnoch district of Botriphnie also had schools as this area was thickly populated with crofts.

A school was begun at Gateside, facilities being created by Admiral Duff of Drummuir to James Mclntosh, a Waterloo veteran formerly of Newburgh Croft. He was old and retired but he felt that the area needed a school. He died at the age of 90 and is buried in Botriphnie churchyard.

After that a female school was carried on by Miss Annie Kinnaird in a small hill croft on the borders of Drummuir and Auchlunkart estates.

Can you give us some information regarding the school in your own lifetime?

In the late 1940s, before I started School, the 3 roomed Horsa Hut was built to accommodate the extra pupils as the leaving age was raised. These buildings were meant to be temporary buildings but they remained in use in various places until recently – Botriphnie and Keith are both examples familiar to us. At Botriphnie this Horsa Hut housed P1/2, P3/4/5 and also a Cookery Room for the Secondary Girls at this time.

At this time there were over 100 pupils in the school from 5 years to 15 years. The only pupils who went to Keith Grammar School were those who were to take languages and go on beyond the age of 15.

When I started school in 1951, there was no school bus as the secondary pupils went by train. At that time there was also a Halt at Towiemore. I lived 3 miles from school, going by road. There was a forestry track over the hill which was a short cut that I was expected to take. As a 5 year old on my own this would have been an extremely dangerous journey. My father refused to allow me to take this road. At that time a 5 year old was only expected to walk up to 2 miles. This meant that I needed transport for part of the way if going by road. After some deliberation with the authority it was agreed that I would walk 1¼ miles to the main road and be taken by taxi the rest of the way. The taxi was the local shopkeeper Bob Sutherland. This lasted form May 2nd until the summer Holidays. In the August the School Bus started and that was my method of transport from then on. The pupils who had gone to Keith by train also used the bus.

During my years at Primary School the meals came from Keith and were served in the School Hall. They were kept warm in 2 large ovens at the end of the Hall. I felt quite privileged in P7 when I was given the daily job of switching these ovens on and putting on the kettle for the teachers’ cup of tea at breaktime.

I enjoyed my Primary School years. Because I lived on a remote farm the only time I could meet up with children other than my sisters was when I went to school.

The winters were more severe in those days and days off school were fairly common. The worst year was 1955 when I was unable to attend for 5 weeks. Today some children would be quite happy but I did not like missing so much time. Other areas of life were hard at this time as it was not easy to get food supplies etc.

Botriphnie School was the first School in Banffshire to have a television set – the early days of technology that we now take for granted. The Queen’s Coronation in 1953 was a highlight as the whole school was taken across to the village hall to view this historical event.

The annual School Trip in June was an important event for the whole community. Several buses taking children, parents, grandparents etc would set off for Hopeman, Nairn or some other exciting seaside destination. This was a day looked forward to and enjoyed by all.

Instead of a Christmas party the school would set off for the annual pantomime in Aberdeen. In the early years we also had a high tea but that stopped, probably due to cost. The children used to count all the Christmas trees in the windows of the houses. There was usually a competition to see who saw most. I am sure quite a few fibs would have been told regarding totals!

There also used to be regular school concerts when all children took part and relatives and friends all turned out to view their talented offspring.

Q  Your children also attended Botriphnie School. How had things changed when their turn came?

By the time they went to school the school was for Primary pupils only. The Secondary Department closed in 1958 for girls and in 1962 for boys. In 1962 Mr Shand was Head Teacher. He was transferred to Aberchirder, where he taught until he retired. Mrs Jaffray, who taught P5 – P7 became Head Teacher at Sillyearn until it closed in 1967. She then came to Keith Primary as Assistant Head the year I began my teaching career.

The numbers had reduced which meant that the school went down from a 3 teacher to a 2 teacher school. Methods had changed considerably by this time. The 1965 Primary Memorandum had been the biggest change in the approach and methods of teaching. Of course there have been bigger changes since then with the introduction and revision of 5 – 14. Like everything else change is necessary but if we are to be honest not all changes are necessarily for the better.

By the time my family attended school the school had its own kitchen and meals were made on the premises and were of a very high standard.

Sadly the school once again has the meals transported from Keith, which is a sign of the times regarding funding.

What is important is that education is still considered to be important for the youth of today just as it was in the past centuries in the parish.

Radio Script for 23/01/2004