New Subscription School's Chequered Career - Private Schools and Works Schools - Subscription School placed under Government supervision

Towards the end of the fifties the public works had developed to such an extent and the population so increased that the limited accommodation in the old school was taxed to its utmost capacity.  This will be admitted when it is stated that children were even seated on the wide hobs of the old-fashioned fireplace, and so close were they packed to the fire that one boy's pinafore once caught fire, and serious injury was only averted by the teacher whipping out the flames with his tawse, which he always carried in his hand and used freely when occasion arose.

The pressure of school accommodation was somewhat relieved by a Mr. Hare opening a private school in Macdonald's Hall, in West Main Street, now the property of Mr. Chas. E. Gillon.  But still the population continued to increase, and on the 9th February, 1857, the committee met specially to consider the extension of the school, and again, on the 2nd March following, it was resolved to lay the condition of affairs before a general meeting of the inhabitants of Armadale, when a deputation was appointed to visit all the ministers in the parish and ask them to intimate the meeting over their pulpits.  The desired meeting of the general public was held on the 17th March when it was agreed, first, to raise a fund to meet the necessary expense, and for this purpose subscription sheets were prepared and sent round the various works, and to all those who had an interest in the movement.  Subscriptions were freely given by all the workmen, according to their ability, and on the 20th of July, 1858, a large meeting of the inhabitants was held, presided over by Mr. John Wilson, of the Armadale Inn, when it was unanimously resolved to build a new school, and for that purpose a Committee of Management, with full powers, was elected as follows:-John Wilson, innkeeper, Armadale, Preses; Thomas Harvie, farmer, Barbauchlaw Mill, Treasurer; Robert Waugh, farmer, Middlerigg; James Marshall, farmer, Birkenshaw; Thomas Brock, farmer, Barbauchlaw Mains; James Calder, contractor, Woodend; William M'Kinlay, Provost of Bathgate; David Giffen, storekeeper, Bathville; John Johnston, contractor, Polkemmet Cottage; John Blyth, manager, Monkland Works; Walter Gibb, oversman, ditto; John Waddell, contractor, Armadale; John Jeffrey, contractor, Armadale; John Simpson, wright, Armadale; George Sinclair, writer, Bathgate; John Beith, manager, Cappers; George Brown, shoemaker, Armadale; and David Milne, cashier, Bathville House.  This committee, having been vested with powers to add to their number, and to make regulations for the management of the new school, set to work at once, and secured a free site from Mr. Dennistoun at the east side of the road, on the top of the hill.  At the following meeting, held two weeks later, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Waddell each submitted a plan for the new school, when Mr. Waddell's was accepted, and instructions given to have it extended and specifications prepared for the next meeting.  At this meeting it was made a condition that all future assemblies were to be intimated by notice in writing, and signed by the Preses, and posted on the Toll-bar.

The committee having received the plans and specifications for the new school from Mr. Waddell, they gave Mr. Sinclair, writer, who acted as secretary to the committee, instructions to advertise for offers to build the school.  On the 12th August, when the various offers were laid before the committee, they agreed to give the contract to David M'Nair, Torphichen, his offer to complete the undertaking for 328 being the lowest.  Mr. William Young, railway contractor, residing at Standhill, was appointed inspector of the mason work, and Mr. William Bryce, wright, Bathgate, inspector of the wright work, both with powers to allow any little alteration they saw necessary.

The erection of the new school was soon proceeded with, after the ground had been cleared of wood, and on the first Sunday in the month of March, 1859, the Rev. Mr. Syme, of Bathgate, opened the school with divine service.

The committee, when they were prepared to open the school, approached the trustees of the old school building, and were given power to sell it, and on its being advertised for sale, Mr. Robert Love, Woodhead, Bathgate, was preferred as the purchaser, having offered the largest price, namely, 50.

The committee began to receive numerous applications for the use of the new Subscription School, on Sundays, by various denominations.  The first to apply for its use were the teachers of the Sunday School, who did so before the building had been properly commenced, and were granted the use of the building; free of charge.

The school being now ready to receive its scholars, the committee, in accordance with the rules and regulations drawn up, appointed a Board of Management as follows: -John Wilson, Chairman; Thomas Harvie, Secretary and Treasure; John Johnston, George Brown, William M'Kinlay, John Waddell, David Milne, and John Jeffrey, which Board afterwards appointed four of their number as a Sub-Committee.  The next act of the committee was to appoint Mr. Alex. Gardner, the teacher in the old school, to be teacher in the new school from the date of his entry thereto till the second Tuesday of January, 1861.  On the opening day the scholars met in the old school, gathered their books and slates together, and, headed by their teacher, turned their backs upon their old class-room, and marched in procession to the top of the hill, where they gleefully took possession of their new quarters.

One would suppose that all scholastic troubles would have now been at an end for some time, since the public had subscribed sufficient funds to build the new school, but not so.  The School Committee, by providing in the regulations they had drawn up, that those subscribing five shillings and upwards were only entitled to vote in the election of the committee, found a large section of the subscribers up in arms against them, with the result that a strongly-worded petition was drawn up by the subscribers and sent to the committee with a view to getting them to reduce the amount of the qualifying subscription, and also cancel the engagement of Mr. Gardner as teacher.  The committee, believing that they had acted in the best interests of all concerned, refused to alter the regulations, and gave as their reasons for engaging Mr. Gardner to be teacher in the new school the fact that he had taught for several years in the old school, and that no complaint had ever been made against him at the public meeting.  For a time the committee staved off the subscribers, but at last they agreed to call a meeting of all those who had children attending the school during 1861 and 1862.

The Chairman, Mr. Wm. Watson, of Bathville, in opening the general meeting, stated that the object of the meeting was to ascertain if they were satisfied with the teacher, but the meeting lost no time in making known to the committee their dissatisfaction at the rules not being altered as requested at the public meeting held previously.  Mr. Watson left the chair, and, along with the committee, retired, to allow the meeting full scope.  Mr. M'Phurphy, Polkemmet was called to the chair, and after much indignation had been expressed against the committee for ignoring the desire of the subscribers, a deputation was appointed to wait on the committee and urge upon them the desirability of the rules being altered according to a form drawn up by the general meeting.

The committee, on learning the result of the public meeting, met in private to consider what they would do - resign or continue in office - when it was resolved to continue in office till the following year, but to request Mr. Gardner to hand in his resignation.

The deputation appointed by the general meeting - Messrs James Johnston, William Shierlaw, and John Simpson - appeared at the following meeting of the committee, and laid before them a set of nine questions, with a request that the committee would give them their immediate attention.  The deputation withdrew for a short time, and the committee resolved to give the wishes of the public meeting some consideration.

The following are the questions put to the committee by the deputation, and also the answers from the committee:-

First - "Will you reduce the present system of five shillings subscriptions for voters to one shilling in future or not?"

Second - "Will you allow the committee to be elected from one shilling subscribers?"

Answer - "These two queries being the same, the committee unanimously agree to reduce the sum to two shillings and sixpence."

Third - "In case of petitions being presented by the inhabitants, will you pay attention to thirty names adhibited, or how many?"

Answer - "The committee agrees to modify the number to thirty-five."

Fourth - "If subscriptions were obtained to clear off the debt of 38 (and the debt to be cleared off), would you allow the whole eight members of committee to be elected annually?"

Fifth - "Under present circumstances, will you allow three of the committee to retire annually, and three new members to be elected instead, and the three retiring members to be eligible for re-election?"

Answer to this and preceding questions - "We cannot accede to this at present, till next year, when these points will be considered."

Sixth - "Will you cause all parties who use the school to pay for it?"

Answer - "Certainly, except when a meeting is for a benevolent purpose."

Seventh - "Will you allow any ministers to examine the school privately, and use their opinion publicly afterwards?"

Answer - "The committee cannot prevent them, but need not pay any notice to their written reports when handed in, except when these ministers are appointed by the committee to examine the school."

Eighth - "Will you give an annual statement of financial affairs to the annual public meeting?"

Answer - "Certainly."

Ninth - "Will you take into consideration the changing of the present teacher, whose fault is not teaching properly, and allowing children to teach each other?"

Answer - "This is being taken into consideration."

The deputation, on being recalled to receive the above answers to their queries, requested, and were granted, the use of the .school to hold a meeting of the subscribers to lay before them the decision of the committee.

Mr Gardner, the teacher, at this point, resigned, agreeing to terminate his office as teacher on the 27th May, 1862, when the committee granted him the following certificate:- "The Committee of Armadale Subscription School hereby certify that Mr. Gardner has been teacher in the above school for the last five years, during which time, so far as the .committee are able to judge from the reports of the examiners appointed by them to examine the school from time to time, he appears to have discharged his duties faithfully and efficiently.    On behalf of the committee, (Signed) William Watson, Preses. Armadale, 17th February, 1862."

Before deciding to advertise for another teacher, the committee caused inquiry to be made into the amount of school fees that were paid to the teacher.  The largest number of .scholars belonged to workers employed in Russell's works, and by arrangement come to by the manager for Messrs James Russell and Son, the school fees were kept off in the pay office, and other pupils paid their fees monthly.  By inquiry at Messrs Russell's office it was found that in 1860 the sum paid to the teacher was 61, and in 1861 98.  The average attendance at the school was 250, and the fees one shilling a month per pupil. With this information the committee agreed to insert the following advertisement twice in the-"Scotsman", "Glasgow Herald", and "North British Advertiser" newspapers:-"Teacher wanted for Armadale Subscription School, qualified to teach all the branches of education commonly taught in a country school.  He must possess a Government certificate, and also provide a properly qualified assistant and a female teacher also.  The average attendance of pupils has been 250, which might be increased.  Applications, with testimonials, to be lodged with Mr. Watson, Bathville, by Bathgate, on or before 25th March next.

Numerous applications by various Christian' bodies, who were granted the use of the school on certain conditions, were frequently being made for a reduction of the charges, and on one of these occasions a deputation from the "Armadale District Mission," who sought to make terms with the committee for meetings being held by Mr. Brown, the missionary, took the opportunity to take the committee to task for the manner in which the last new members of their body had been elected.  The minds of the committee were so disturbed over the matter that they forthwith resolved to call a meeting of the subscribers to discuss the subject.  The meeting was accordingly held on the 9th April, when Mr. Watson, the chairman, absented himself, and Mr. Thomas Durham Weir of Boghead was called upon to preside.

The subscribers claimed the right to elect three members to the committee every year, a privilege that had been denied them at the proper time.  The object of the meeting having been stated and discussed with some heat, the meeting set aside the selection of the committee and proceeded to elect three members to serve until the second Tuesday of January, 1863.

At this time it was discovered that the Monkland Company's workers, who were the most liberal subscribers, were deprived of the privilege of a vote, since the total subscription from the works had been handed in without the list of names, and the offer to put their names on the list on payment of two shillings and sixpence each was indignantly refused.

Meantime applications were flowing in in answer to the committee's advertisement for a teacher, until twenty-seven were received by the closing date.  The committee selected from them a leet of ten who, in the presence of the committee and a large number of the subscribers, were examined on the 30th April by Mr. Adam Smith, rector of Bathgate Academy, and the Revs. Mr. Cooke and Fairbairn, Bathgate.  The examination over, on the committee receiving the examiners' report they unanimously elected Mr. James Thomson, of Millar's School, George Street, Glasgow, to succeed Mr. Gardner.  A copy of rules was thereupon drawn up to be observed by Mr. Thomson, who, on his approval of them, attached his signature thereto, and agreed to open the school on Monday, 3rd May, 1862, at 10 o'clock, intimation of which was made on Sunday by the Parish Church and Free Church ministers.

The workings of No. 7 Pit, close by the school, at this time began to show its effect upon the school building by cracking the east gable, and shortly afterwards the school had to be closed.  So great was the danger of the roof falling in that the committee requested the manager of the pit to push on with the workings under the school as fast as possible, in order to save the building from tumbling down.  As the workings proceeded, the walls began to part to such an extent that they had to be girded round about with long iron bars, bolted to thick planks of wood.  Mr. Watson, the chairman, was appointed to interview Messrs J. and J. M'Lelland, of the Monkland Iron and Steel Company, with a view to getting them to subscribe towards the repair of the damage done by the workings of their pit, when the modest sum of 10 was asked for and granted, and Mr. Clark, the company's local manager, supplied wood to put under the ceiling to prevent the plaster from falling upon the scholars.  The account, however, when it was rendered by Mr. Cameron, of the Bathgate Iron Foundry, who had the belting of the school with iron bars, amounted to 32 12s 2d, a sum that far exceeded the expectations of the committee and put them into a dilemma as to how it was to be met.  It was resolved to send the account to Messrs M'Lelland for settlement, since it was their mining operations that had created the damage, but no further entry appears in the minutes as to how this account was met.

Gradually, as the workings got beyond the foundation of the school, the building righted itself, and the iron belt around it was removed, and the necessary repairs made.

Several private schools became established in the village, and succeeded in getting a share of pupils.  Mr. John Gillespie succeeded Mr. Hare in M'Donald's Hall about the time the new Subscription School was built; David Drysdale taught in Mary Campbell's Hall, adjoining the Railway Tavern, now the "Masonic Arms", in South Street; and Allan Gray in Edward's Hall, next to the "Old Armadale Inn," to the west.  Educational rivalry became keen, and many were the stone battles between the scholars of the neighbouring schools during recess.

Towards the end of the sixties the various mining companies began to realise their duty to their workers by introducing works schools.  Messrs Watson and Sons, of Bathville, by knocking two houses into one in the centre of Bathville Row, instituted a school for the children of their workmen, into which Mr. Cornelius Cowan (who had in turn been miner, Methodist preacher, and colporteur) was installed as schoolmaster.  The Monkland Company provided a school at the top end of Mount Pleasant Row by making two houses into one, and secured the services of Mr. Allan Gray as schoolmaster, with the assistance of his sister Elizabeth as female teacher.

Competition between the schools was great.  Class medals were introduced, and worn by the dux of the classes, hung round their necks from a coloured ribbon, and the winner of the medal had often to fight for it with the one whose breast it had previously adorned, once they got outside the school.

The introduction of the works schools had its effect upon the Subscription School, and an attempt was made to get Mr. Henry Aitken, of Messrs Russell and Son, to raise the fees stopped from their Armadale workmen's wages, but without effect.  A grant of 15 annually was at last, after considerable correspondence obtained, and the school placed under Government inspection, the first inspection taking place on the 28th January, 1868 by Mr. Middleton, H.M. Inspector of Schools.

Mr Robert Jamieson, mining manager to the Shotts Iron Company at the Cappers, was chairman of the School Committee, and carried out the negotiations regarding placing the school under Government supervision.  Mr. Jamieson was exceptionally proud of his achievement, since several had failed in the attempt before his entering the committee of management.  All the available literature in connection with the subject was procured by him, and studiously read until he became, in his own estimation, the only man in the locality in a position to give advice in school government.

School matters continued uneventful until the compulsory Education Act came into force, when Armadale was deeply stirred before the newly-elected School Board succeeded in getting matters into smooth working order.


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