The Toll and the Tollman's House - The First School and its Poetical Master - The First Subscription School.

In the course of nearly a quarter of a century, Armadale had been slowly growing, until by 1819 a nice little posy of houses nestled on the face of the hill, along the side of the great road, on the west side of the Cross.  There the Tollman's house formed the principal rendezvous of the villagers.  The Toll was the chief institution and news agency of the place, and old John, the keeper, was a jovial, good-natured fellow, a fine story-teller, and as good at collecting news as the rates from those who had occasion to pass that way.  Up to the passing of the Forbes-Mackenzie Act to regulate licensed places, as has already been stated, the Tollman was privileged to sell beer and spirits, and the weary traveller could have the finest ale or the ‘real M'Nab’ to quench his thirst.  It was also a dairy, and supplied milk to the teetotal portion of the community, and when any of the village dames were thought to smell rather strong, or their tongues wag rather freely, they were generally twitted with having been too often to the Toll for milk!

It was at the Toll where all public matters were discussed before they took practical shape, and here we can imagine a small group of parents discussing the advisability of having a School where their children might be taught to read and write and a little figuring.

At this time the want of a School became so much felt that a committee was formed to have such an institution established.  It was at once arranged to rent, for that purpose, the original straw-thatched house that stood on the site of the house at present occupied by Mr. Alex. Hutton, ironmonger, West Main Street, about a hundred yards west from the Cross, behind which stood Thomas Rankin's blacksmith shop.


Schoolmaster and Poet.


In the search for a schoolmaster, a young man named William Cameron came under the notice of the Committee.  Mr. Cameron, who was born at Denny, in the county of Stirling, on the 3rd December, 1801, was the son of a woollen manufacturer, who in time was proprietor of woollen mills at Slamannan, Stirlingshire; Blackburn, near Bathgate; and Middle Strath, on the River Avon, in the parish of Torphichen, Linlithgowshire.  Chas. Roger, Esq., LL.D., F.S.A. (Scot.), in his ‘Modern Scottish Minstrel’, published in 1855, says of Mr. Cameron:- "While receiving an education with a view to the ministry, the death of his father in 1819 was attended with an alteration in his prospects, and he was induced to accept the appointment of schoolmaster at the village of Armadale, in the parish of Bathgate.  In 1833 he resigned this situation and removed to Glasgow, where he has since prosperously engaged in mercantile concerns.  Of the various lyrics which have proceeded from his pen, 'Jessie o' the Dell' is an especial favourite.  The greater number of his songs, arranged with music, appear in the 'Lyric Gems of Scotland', a respectable collection of minstrelsy published in Glasgow by David Jack".

Mr Cameron himself puts the hall-mark of genuineness on this by transcribing it on to a page in his book of manuscripts presented to his son, Campbell Lorne, in 1874, but many songs and poems have, since Dr Roger wrote these lines, been added to Mr. Cameron's list of productions.  If the death of his father robbed Scotland of a preacher, it gave to it a song-writer who has perhaps reached the hearts and endeared himself to a larger circle of friends than is the lot of most ministers.  The greater number of his songs were written .after he left Armadale, and although he appears to have left the village without a grudge, he seems to have had many fond memories of pleasant scenes in the district and friendships formed there.  Barbauchlaw Burn and Glens are among his scenic themes, and his principal friends were Mr. William Shaw, the laird of ‘The Trees’, and Mr. William Brock, the farmer of Barbauchlaw Main, then known as ‘The Place’, from its close proximity to the site of the old Manor House of that name.  Miss Helen Harvie, the miller's daughter, early aroused a love passion in the young dominie's breast, which excited him to indite a poem to' her thus:-


Fond wishes of mortals, how seldom they seem

With the councils of fate to agree;

Yet still there is something that whispers within,

That Helen was formed for me.


‘Tis not the fine colour that glows on her cheek,

Nor the love in her languishing eye;

'Tis not all her sweetness and beauty so meek,

Like a Venus new dropt from the sky;


O, no, it is something more endearing still,

'Tis the warmth of her pure loving heart;

Those dew-drops of love from her lips that distil,

And such magical fondness impart.


Sweet world of delights to enfold in my arms,

And on her soft bosom recline;

If that kindest of hearts, if that empire of charms,

If Helen, dear Helen, were mine!


Has nature in forming an object in view

Some one for some other to be?

Then, Heavens! for this I would earnestly sue,

That Helen was destined for me


That one spark of love her young bosom to move,

Should arise or be cherished never,

Till once she loved me, then 0, let her love

Me only, and love me for ever!


These lines were written at Armadale r the year 1827, when Helen's uncle John's coal pits were attracting to the Glens a number of young men, whose freedom about the Mill threw them very much in the company of the Miller's family, and Helen, being young and frolicsome, enjoyed such company, and was often found romping about the Glen with some favoured collier laddie.  The young poet-schoolmaster viewed these scenes with the disapproval of an ardent lover whose advances had been treated with contempt, and so we find him when he takes leave of Armadale pouring out his wrath upon Helen and her collier companions.

Jessie Harvie was later more favoured with the poet when severing his connection with Armadale, and of her he wrote the most widely known song of the many universal favourites that have come from his pen, namely, "Jessie o' the Dell."  "Jessie o' the Dell," Mr. Cameron tells, was Miss Jessie Harvie, daughter of Mr. Thomas Harvie, farmer and miller, Barbauchlaw Mill Farm, near Armadale.  The original version of this famous song was "Jessie o' the Mill" but, as the late Mr. Robert Gardner, who was a close personal friend of the poet's, once told the writer, when Mr. Cameron submitted the song to his printer friend and critic, he suggested the "Dell" being substituted for the "Mill," a suggestion that Mr. Cameron readily fell in with, and altered the rhyme to suit.  The song as we know it was soon set to music and published in pianoforte score by Mrs Brown, music-seller, Wilson Street, Glasgow, in the year 1835, and in a remarkably short time it had a worldwide reputation.  The words in brackets will show both versions of the song:-


O, bright the beaming queen o' night

Shines in yon flow'ry vale,

And softly sheds her silver light

O'er mountain path and dale.

Short is the way when light's the heart.

That's bound in love's soft spell,

[And love inspires the will]

Sae I'll awa' to Armadale,

To Jessie o' the Dell [Mill]


To Jessie o' the Dell [Mill]

Sweet Jessie o' the Dell [Mill]

The bonnie lass of Armadale,

Sweet Jessie o' the Dell [Mill],


We've pu'd the primrose on the braes

Beside my Jessie's cot,

We've gathered nuts, we've gathered slaes

In that sweet rural spot.

The wee, short hours danc'd merrily,

Like lambkins on the fell [hill],

As if they join'd in joy wi' me

And Jessie o' the Dell [Mill].


Sweet Jessie o' the Dell [Mill], etc.


There's nane to me wi' her can vie,

I'll love her till I dee;

For she's sae sweet and bonnie, ay,

And kind as kind can be.


This night in mutual kind embrace,

[hearts will thrill],

O who our joys may tell;

Then I'll awa' to Armadale,

          To Jessie o' the Dell [Mill].


          To Jessie o' the Dell [Mill], etc.


Other songs by Armadale's first dominie are ‘Mary Shaw’, the subject being the daughter of Mr. William Shaw, who owned and farmed ‘The Trees’, and ‘Bonnie Ann o' Tippethill’, the daughter of Mr. Mathie, the tenant at that time of Tippethill Farm, between Armadale and Whitburn.  Both songs are in Mr. Cameron's well-known strain, but it must not be inferred from that that he was, when he wrote these songs, deeply in love with his heroines, because the first was written in Glasgow in June, 1834, or a year after he had left Armadale never to return.  ‘Bonnie Ann’ was written as late as 1872, from recollections of more than forty years before, as Mr. Cameron puts it in a footnote, and when he had his own ‘Bonnie Mary’ and a large family of which he was exceptionally proud.

Love themes and pen pictures were Mr. Cameron's forte, although no subject came amiss to him, but the most important of his many early pieces written in Armadale while he was schoolmaster there were his lines "TO THE REV. JOHN BROCK" on his becoming a Licentiate of the Church of Scotland in November, 1827.  A few lines at random will suffice to show the style of this lengthy and eloquent expression of hope:-

          "May Heaven to thee such gifts impart

          As strengthen and rejoice the heart,

          And fit thee for the blessed art

                                      Of winning man

          To God. Be thou, if not thou art,

                                      Thro' life's short span,

          A Solomon in wisdom found,

          A Paul in eloquence renown'd,

          A zealous Peter, a Simon sound,

                                      A favour'd John,

          With every gift, all graces crown'd,

                                      Ut Magnus Non."


The parish minister was not above Mr. Cameron's notice, and the Rev. Samuel Martin, the parish minister of Bathgate, comes in for anything but flattering comment.  Samuel, Mr. Cameron tells us, squinted badly with both eyes, and the character of man he was as shown in the lines given under the title-


Of Bathgate, 1827.


          From the kingdom of Fife on the shores of the Forth,

          Which cannot be said to be far in the north,

          By the will of the lord - a lord, I should say,

          Young Samuel came squinting to Bathgate one day.

          He had seen, thro' the shadowy vista of years,

          A method of living thro' life, it appears;

          He was right, and although it may greatly surprise,

          We all must allow he had capital eyes;

          And he still has the same ones for aught that I know,

          Unless his old friends or new foes mean to show

          That his vision's impaired, while they beat and abuse

          Him, for getting his stubborn wee head in the noose.

          But O, ye his friends all, and O, ye his foes,

          Have mercy on merciful men with your blows,

          And allow the poor body to snooze out his dream,

          Let him get at the skim, he's but tasting the cream.

          Now, somehow or other this same Samuel prig,

          Tho' an humble disciple, looks always so big,

          And so haughtly struts thro' the streets of the borough

          As if he'd be laird of the manor to-morrow;

          So say the censorious, but I should decide

          It to be but his honest Levitical pride,

          But why does the old son of Bacchus refuse

          To allow Sam's right of his neck to the noose?


          Brave Sam, a rich specimen thou art of more

          Than of hunters of fortune or lovers of lore;

          Thy noble and firm aristocratical soul

          Beams out in its strength like a lord's on the whole,

          And might teach the vile vulgar submissive to stand

          By our friends the conservative ones of the land.

          O, those are the noble, the just, and the wise,

          Who only are worthy in Samuel's two eyes;

          He sees not, he hears not, the wild raving rad,

          In the depth of his wisdom he knows they are mad,

          Yes, mad to suppose as they have done of late,

          The yoke should be thrown round the necks of the great,

          As well as the poor - Why, the poor ! they were born

          To be just what they are! They may rant, they may scorn,

          But he who would say that a poor, ragged weaver

          Can think for himself is a wicked deceiver!


          Samuel, wise Sam, stretch they brave arm abroad,

          Try to stem revolutionary floods on our sod,

          With thy back to the Kirk and thy feet to the foe,

          Cry, odi communi vulgus et Simul arccol


Mr Cameron continued to teach in his small school for thirteen years, and it must be said to his credit, with considerable success, since many of his pupils became very successful business men, and retained a warm place in their hearts for their poetical schoolmaster.  Armadale, however, at that period of its history, was unable to provide a sufficient number of scholars to yield a teacher of Mr. Cameron's talents a large enough salary to induce him to remain against the many chances offered in the city, and so we find Mr. Cameron taking his departure for Glasgow to start out in a new and profitable pursuit, that of a pawnbroker.  As he stepped on to the stage-coach at 'Armadale Inn’, and moved away on his journey to the great city of the west, we can imagine him looking back upon the scene of his youthful labours, with the resolve never to return again, and allowing the hardship he had endured to eke out a living to come uppermost in his mind, along with many pleasant and unpleasant recollections, against a time when he would set them down on paper to perpetuate his leaving of his first charge. Thus we have his



          Farewell for aye, Barbauchlaw Lands and Vale;

          Farewell for aye, ye huts of Armadale,

          Where frigid Boreas blows like Tam's full bellows,

          At making shoes, or girding stubborn fellows;

          Or in a fretful, gusty, fussy fashion,

          Just like wee Tammy's spiteful, spitfire passion;

          Where peace and kindness, true exotics, grow,

          As scarce, for once suppose, as vines in snow;

          Where slander, malice, all their deadly orders

          Luxuriate like annuals in hot borders!


          Clear spout your springs upon your rushy fields

          Of Babylonish clay, where peesweep builds

          Or scrapes her stingy nursery, fit haunt

          For snipes and peesweeps, misery and want!

          Scene of my youthful labours past, farewell;

          Where oft thy smutty, boggy, hazel dell

          I've wonder'd thro', nor 'scap'd fae miry tracks

          Of pigmy heifers, and of tag-rag blacks;

          Not blacks of Ethiopian breed, the boast

          Of Afric's sable sons, Angola Coast,

          Or thick-lip'd Hottentot; but like that race,

          Vile, dingy imps, with coal-enamell'd face,

          Array'd in robes of raggy filth, not gold,

          As that tribe are and were in times of old.


          Yet still some sylvan spots within thy vale,

          Or Scotch-Orcadian bowers, old Armadale,

          May well invite a miller's simple daughter

          To lounge with clodpolls, and - to wade the water.


          Poor, silly thing, and all thy swarthy kin,

          Adieu! Nor e'er again amid the din

          Of dusty corn-mills and their noisy clatter,

          Of gushing back-falls and of roaring water,

          Of cackling barn-fowl and of lowing kine,

          Of barking collies and of grunting swine,

          Your sland'rous tongues may bid me welcome more,

          Or charge for proffer'd meals, as once before.


          Queen of the Armadalian serfs, the bag

          Of Judas fits thee well, grim, tawny hag!

          Thy tongue's the sting of vipers, and thy heart

          The den of demons! cut-throat villain's art

          Thy pleasing pastime! Ah, some dismal hour

          Of darkness and of death will crush thy power

          On earth, and hurl thee thro' the ambient air

          To - some one place or other, don't know where!

          Yet now, and once for aye, adieu.  Queen Nell,

          A very willing and a long farewell!


          And thou, wee Johnny "Sichear," simple body,

          Adept at knapping stones and drinking toddy;

          Health to thee, Johnny, till thy head grow hoary,

          Aye wondering vastly at each idle story.

          But let not vixen Jean keep all the purse,

          Else thou must doubtless feel the greatest curse

          That drunkards know - a horrid, parched palate,

          With empty pockets, worse than empty wallet!

          Adieu, now, Johnny, with thy son-in-law,

          A gaping, laughing fool, a man of straw,

          Once dubb'd an elder - "sic hear!" what a famine

          Of honest men, and men of proper stamen.


          And fare thee well, Laird, true and honest friend

          As e'er trod Christian soil, friendship shall end

          And every tie of social life give way,

          Like gloom descending on the falling day,

          Darkness be chang'd to light, the varied year

          Revers'd, ere thou prove aught like insincere.

          May peace within thy pleasant home abide,

          Fixed like ‘THE TREES’ around thy home remain,

          To bless thy fireside o'er and o'er again.

          Some wise and worthy of a worthy race

          Still shine as guiding beacons in ‘THE PLACE’,

          Like oases amid the desert land,

          Or warning lights upon the rocky strand,

          Oh! were it not for these, and such as they,

          Such stubborn Jews might worship calves of clay.


          And O, thou shade of him whom all revere!

          For whom have many shed the bitter tear;

          For whom the widow with the orphan smarts,

          And sighs in common with a thousand hearts;

          Who value modest worth shall wish to thee

          Peace, peace, thou tenant of eternity!


          Again adieu, Barbauchlaw Lands and Vale,

          Again adieu, ye huts of Armadale,

          Ye bosky dingles and ye old corn mills,

          Ye old coal levels and ye new coal hills,

          Ye danky hazel dells and Scotch-fir clumps,

          Ye big moss-hags, ye belts of rotten stumps,

          Ye mossy old face-dykes, fit ferret dens,

          Ye wild fox haunts in Craggy-hill and glens,

          Ye fields of thick-ribb'd clay, ye goose-grass knolls,

          Ye darksome ingaun-ees and old coal holes,

          Ye curling-dubs all, and ye whinny braes,

          Ye ominous magpies, and ye chattering jays,

          Ye peesweeps, plovers, snipes, and wild curlews,

          Ye brush-tail'd squirrels, and ye cushie-doos,

          Ye wild or tame that haunt the field or dell,

          Or wing the fluid air, now fare-ye-well!


          Ye honour'd and ye wise, ye rogues or fools,

          Whom honesty or dark deception rules,

          Ye good or bad, ye friends or foes, adieu!

          Nor aught I bear can prove it which of you;

          Then part as we met, so none can tell,

          I wept to say, for ever, fare-ye-well!


Since Mr. Cameron had left off teaching, the parents of the children attending the village school gathered together to consider what was to be done, with the result that a young man from the neighbouring village of Whitburn named William Wilson, was invited to take up the vacant position.  Mr. Wilson accordingly took up the duties, and in the course of six years he found his pupils increasing with him to such an extent that the small house was unable to contain them, and so the villagers began to let it be known that they would have to meet the exigencies of the times by building a school.  Mr. Alex. Dennistoun, the proprietor of the estate, was made aware of the state of affairs, and through his factor, Mr. Bankier, he intimated his willingness to grant a free site for a school, and also provide the stones and timber for the building.

On the 20th day of November, 1838, the parents held a meeting to consider Mr. Dennistoun’s generous offer, when it was unanimously agreed to proceed with the building of a school.  For the purpose of raising the necessary funds to meet the expense, it was resolved to set a subscription-sheet on foot, the following day, and the following committee was appointed to carry out the after proceedings to the best advantage of all concerned:- John Wilson, colliery manager, Barbauchlaw; Robert Twaddle, miner, Barbauchlaw; David Thomson, labourer, do.; George Wilson, miner, Armadale; Richard Snedden, do., do.; Wm. Brock, farmer, Barbauchlaw Mains.  The committee appointed Mr. Wm. Wilson, teacher, to be clerk, and instructed him to write to Mr. Waugh, farmer, Birkenshaw, and Mr. Bell, farmer, Whitockbrae, making them aware of what had taken place, and asking them to become members of the committee with a view to forwarding the success of the subscription list.  Mr. John Wilson was elected president, and after the titles for the school site had been secured and placed in the Rev. Samuel Martin's keeping, the erection of the school was proceeded with at the south end of "Castle Poorie", a short distance below the Cross, in North Street.

By the month of April in the year 1839, the new school was in course of erection, and on the 17th day of that month a general meeting of the subscribers was called by the committee to consider a draft of the following regulations proposed to be enforced:-

Regulation 1st. - That the affairs connected with the erection of the school and its after management are to be entirely under the control of six directors, including president and secretary.  These are to be elected to office, the first time by a majority of votes of a meeting of subscribers held for that purpose, and in all time coming to be elected at the general meeting to be held annually in the schoolroom on the second Tuesday of January, notice to be given of this meeting ten days previous to its taking place.

Regulation 2nd. - Two of the directors are to go out of office annually, and their places are to be filled up by two newly-elected, those who had fewest votes at the first election to go out of office first, and are not to be eligible to be re-elected until they have been one year out of office.

Regulation 3rd. - The mode of election to be as follows:- The person who has the greatest number of votes is to take the chair as president, and to have a casting as well as a deliberative vote in case of a parity.  The person having the next greatest number of votes to be secretary, reserving to him the right to appoint a substitute to write for him, but this substitute to have no vote or say in the committee at any time.  Any person of good moral character, and whose residence is not more than 1½ miles from the school, shall be eligible to become a member of committee.

Regulation 4th. - No person or party, lay or clerical, has any right to interfere in the affairs or management of the school, it being wholly vested in the committee, as provided in Regulation 1st, yet the committee shall at all times (if civilly asked) report to subscribers, donors, or any person having an interest in the school, as to the annual increase or decrease of the scholars, or any other information.

Regulation 5th. - The teacher is to be elected by the committee annually, or for such term as he shall give general satisfaction.  The rates of fees to be fixed by the committee, but they do not become bound for payment.  Should the numbers attending the school at any time be so small as not to be adequate to support the teacher, he is to be relieved from his charge.  The committee are to observe the teacher's external conduct and mode of teaching.  If in any of these points of duty he is thought to be hurtful to the morals or bearing of his pupils, he is to be kindly admonished to desist, but should he obstinately persevere to act contrary to the practice of a teacher in any well-regulated and approved-of seminary, a general meeting of all persons having an interest in the school is to be called to take place in the schoolroom twelve days thereafter, and if three-fourths of those attending this general meeting are of opinion that he is wrong, they are to suspend him from the office of teacher there.  The teacher, when engaging, shall be required to give consent to conform to the provisions of this fifth regulation specially.

Regulation 6th. - Should the number of the committee be reduced by death, or sickness, or any unforeseen cause, the remaining members of the committee, if unanimous, may fill up the vacancy or vacancies ad interim, until the first general meeting.  Should the committee not be unanimous, a meeting of the parents of the scholars to be called to elect what is necessary to fill up the committee.

These Regulations were adopted, and Mr. Wilson engaged as schoolmaster, and the school being soon finished, the pupils entered into their new college with as much ceremony as they could create.

On the 17th of August, 1839, the Committee held a meeting to examine their accounts, when it was found, after everything had been balanced, that they were only 6s 1d in debt, a sum which was readily paid off by the Committee raising amongst themselves the amount by a further subscription.

By. 1842 things were beginning to get a little better in the village, and Mr. Wilson, the teacher, felt so encouraged as to be bold enough to ask the Committee to provide Maps for the school.  After the Committee had given the application serious consideration, it was agreed to grant the teacher his request, and accordingly a subscription was again solicited, and the necessary funds forthcoming to purchase the Maps.

At the meeting held in January, 1845, the. Committee were made aware by the Trustees of Bathgate Academy that they were prepared to grant £6 to assist the Armadale School, £3 of which was allowed to go to Mr. Wilson, the teacher, to compensate him for his past labours, and £3 to pay for the teaching of five poor children for one year.  But by July, 1846, the income to the teacher fell so low that Mr. Wilson resigned his position, and Mr. James Sutherland, of Whitburn School, was engaged.  The committee, in order to encourage Mr. Sutherland to remain as the teacher, made a rule that all the children attending school must pay their fees every week, or at most every fortnight, those failing in this not to be admitted.  They also entered upon an agreement with Mr. Sutherland that should the number of scholars fall so low as not to yield him 8s per week, he would be at liberty to withdraw, but before the year was out Mr. Sutherland obtained a more lucrative situation, and the Committee were good enough to relieve him in the first week of December, after about five months' teaching.  Mr. Archibald M'Kinney, from Bathgate, was the next candidate, and after giving two days' teaching as a sample, he was engaged, and again re-engaged at the annual meeting in January, 1847, but by the month of July Mr. M'Kinney caused the Committee again to meet to consider the engagement of a teacher by accepting a more profitable appointment.  The Committee unanimously agreed to request Mr. William Wilson, who had given great satisfaction as teacher for a number of years, to return to the school, and Mr. Wilson accepted the invitation, and again became schoolmaster.  At this period the Rev. Mr. Byers, parish minister, Bathgate, is reported to have granted the school £5 out of the Calder Fund to pay for the teaching of seven poor children in the parish - a grant that was continued for a number of years - and in January, 1851, the feu charter which was deposited with the Rev. Samuel Martin, the Parish Minister, who came out at the Disruption in 1843, was obtained from him and lodged with Mr. William Brock of Barbauchlaw Mains.  At the end of 1856 Mr. Wilson intimated to the Committee that his health was in such a state as to cause him to resign his position as teacher, and on the 9th January, 1857, the Committee engaged Mr. Alex. Gardner, of Bathgate, who continued to teach until the old school became too small, and the inhabitants had to again take into consideration an extension of the old school or the building of a new one.

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