The Introduction of Compulsory Education and the First School Board's Troubles in getting possession of the Subscription School - New Schools and Successive Masters.

The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 brought compulsory education into force in 1873, when in the month of April of that year a School Board of seven members was elected to manage the school affairs of the landward part of the parish of Bathgate, of which Armadale forms the greater part.  This Board, then as now, was elected by the cumulative vote of the ratepayers. Mr. William Johnston, solicitor, Bathgate, acted as returning officer, and at the first meeting held in the Parish School, Bathgate, on the 12th April, 1873, declared the following gentlemen duly elected:- Sir William Baillie of Polkemmet, Baronet; Thomas Watson, Esq. of Bathville, Armadale; Robert Martin, Esq. colliery manager, Armadale; Duncan M'Dougall, Esq., draper, Armadale; John Waddell, Esq. of Easter Inch, Bathgate; James Shields, Esq., farmer, Byres, Bathgate; and the Rev. John Scott, Established Church minister, Armadale.  Mr. Waddell was duly elected chairman during the Board's term of office, and Thomas Dodds, Esq., solicitor, Bathgate, was elected clerk and treasurer to the Board, and a resolution was passed allowing representatives of the press to attend the meetings.

A few meetings were spent by the Board in putting their house into order, and the first step towards providing for the education of the children in the landward part of the parish was to ascertain the available school accommodation, attendance, etc., in the parish.  At the same time the trustees and managers of the Armadale Subscription School were considering the course they should take, and while anxious to be relieved of the burden of providing school accommodation and education for the children of the district they were loath to part with the Subscription School without reserving to themselves a claim and certain privileges.  In order to ascertain their position, they instructed their secretary, John M'Donald, to write the secretary of the Board of Education, stating their case, and the following is the reply received:- "Board of Education, Scotland, 5th June, 1873. - Sir, - I am unable to inform you whether, in the event of the Armadale Subscription School being turned into a public hall, you would be at once free of teacher and pupil-teachers, because the answer to your question depends, among other things, upon the terms of the engagement between those parties and the managers of the school.  As to your contemplated arrangement with the School Board, I can only say that the Board of Education will carefully consider the case when it is regularly and fully submitted to them by the School Board in accordance with the provisions of the statute. - I am, sir, your obedient servant, James Taylor, secretary.  Mr. John M'Donald secretary, Subscription School, Armadale."

On receipt of the above, the trustees and managers met to consider the course they were to pursue, when they came to the conclusion that it would be better to hand the school over to the School Board, reserving certain privileges to themselves.  Accordingly, George Brown, John Simpson, and Maurice Thomson were appointed to wait on the School Board at their first meeting, and make them an offer.

At the Board meeting, held on the 10th June, the deputation was introduced. and stated, on behalf of the trustees and manager of the Subscription School, that they were willing to transfer the school to the School Board on condition that the trustees and management have liberty to use the schoolroom any lawful day after 5 o'clock and all day on Sundays.  The Board's answer to the deputation was that their representations would be considered.  A committee was appointed thereafter to deal with the matter, the Rev. Mr. Scott being convener.  On submitting his report in connection with the transference of the Subscription School, the conditions were found of such a nature that. the Board agreed not to accept of them, and the clerk was instructed to write the managers of the Subscription School stating that the Board could not accept of their offer and at the same time to inquire if they intended to carry on the Subscription School, as the Board must at once determine what school accommodation must be provided.

As the result of inquiries made, letters were read at the Board meeting held on the 17th July from Messrs John Watson and Sons Bathville, and the Monkland Iron and Coal Company, stating that they were agreeable to discontinue their works schools if the School Board promised to provide sufficient school accommodation for the children in the district.  This was a subject the Board were unable to enter into until they had come to an agreement with the trustees and managers of the Subscription School.

A census of the children of school age in Armadale was taken, when it was found that there were 187 between the ages of 5 and 7 years, and 477 between 7 and 13 years of age - in all 664 children to be provided for, and no place to put them unless they came to terms with the managers for the Subscription School, which was capable of accommodating 350.  The other schoolrooms in the town were Bathville Works School in Bathville Row, and the Monkland Works School, at the top end of Mount Pleasant Row.

The efforts of the Board to obtain possession of the Subscription School under satisfactory conditions having failed, the Board began to consider ways and means for providing the necessary accommodation for the children, and after due consideration, by the month of November it was proposed to build two new schools.  The members, however, were not unanimous on this project, and a great deal of time was lost in fighting the battle between the two divisions in the Board.  By February, 1874, the majority gained their point when It was resolved to order plans to be prepared for a school capable of accommodating 400 children to be built at the south side of the Established Church, and also a schoolmaster's house; and a second school and master's house at the south boundary of Barbauchlaw estate, on the Whitburn road, the second school to accommodate 350 children.

On the School Board refusing to accept the first terms of transference of the Subscription School, the managers of the school intimated to their teacher, Mr. Thomson, and the pupil-teachers that their engagement would terminate on the 1st of October, 1873.  The Board, however, not having yet provided for the accommodation of the children, Mr. Thomson continued to carry on the school on his own behalf.

The subject of the school became the only topic discussed by those parents who had children attending school.  The private schools had lost their interest, and the ratepayers were beginning to think they were about to be burdened with heavy rates to pay for the building of two new schools, while they considered the school accommodation in the town was quite sufficient if the School Board and the Subscription School managers could be brought to terms.  Accordingly a meeting of those interested in the matter was held in the school on the 20th January, 1874, and after much discussion it was agreed that the School Board be again written to in the following terms:- "To the School Board of the Parish of Bathgate - Gentlemen, - At a meeting held in the Subscription School on the 20th January, it was the unanimous opinion of the householders and parents that our children are not receiving a sufficient education, and as we have not the means at present to assist or provide for the teaching of the children, we appeal to you as the School Board, to see that our children be sufficiently learned the needful education. - We are, yours respectfully, (signed) John M'Donald, John Jeffrey. 31st January, 1874."

This set the ball a-rolling, and several meetings were held between the Board and the managers and trustees of the school, with the result that the Board, on receiving the committee's report from the Rev. Mr. Scott, convener, on the 12th March, 1874, resolved to take over the school on the conditions offered until such time as the Board schools were built.  The clerk was instructed to write the managers of the Subscription School, through their secretary, that the Board had agreed to take over the school on the terms offered, and also to write the Education Department for their approval.  The Department's sanction having been granted, the Board resolved to advertise for and appoint a complete and efficient staff of teachers.  At the same time they requested the managers of the Subscription School, now the Public School, to have the school locked up and the keys handed over to the Board.  This was done.  The Board, in answer to an advertisement for a male teacher at £150, with an allowance of £20 per annum for house rent and a female teacher at £70 a year, received many applications, when they appointed James Rae, Carluke, and Miss Susan W. Miller, Renfrew, and the school was opened by the Board on the 20th May. 1874.

On the representation of Sir William Baillie, the building of the south school was abandoned meantime, as the Subscription School which they had got possession of could accommodate 350 children, but it was resolved to hasten on with the building of the north school.  Plans and specifications were prepared for the north school and master's house, and sent to the Department for approval.  At this time, the month of September, the Rev. Mr. Scott complained of the backward state of education in Armadale, as, according to the compulsory officer's report, the attendances had fallen from 262 to 150.  On Mr. Thomson losing the Subscription School, he opened a school in the rooms vacated at BathviIIe as the Works School, and many of his pupils followed him hither.

On the 5th November, 1874, it was resolved, on the motion of Mr. Waddell, not to proceed with the erection of the proposed school, but to erect a school capable of accommodating 400 children at a cost not exceeding £1500, and a master's house not to exceed £500.  Mr. Rae, the schoolmaster, resigned on the 31st December, and Archibald Galbraith, Glasgow, was appointed as teacher.

Another attempt was made by the Board to arrange a transference of the Subscription School.  On the 21st January, 1875, the Rev. Mr. Scott wrote Daniel M'Donald, who had succeeded his father as secretary to the managers of the school, as follows:-"Sir, - I have to request you, as secretary to the managers of the Armadale Subscription School, to call a meeting at as early a date as possible of the gentlemen who acted as managers of said school for the year 1873, to meet a committee of the Bathgate Landward School Board, and of which committee I am the convener, with reference to certain important matters connected with the said school and to give me timely notice of the date of meeting. - I am, sir, yours truly, John Scott, convener.  P.S -  In case of any mistake, I send a similar note to Mr. John Jeffrey, chairman of the Armadale Subscription School."  Mr. M'Donald's answer:- "Armadale, 27th January, 1875. -  Rev. Sir, - Your note to hand, but your request is quite impracticable.  Should you desire a meeting with the committee of the Subscription School, just say so. - I am, yours truly, D. M'Donald, secretary.  To the Rev. John Scott, convenor. Landward School Board Committee."

Mr Scott wrote in reply:- "After a week's delay I have received your reply of date 27th  curt.  It seems to me as if you had written it on your own responsibility.  I have again to request you to call a meeting - at as early a date as possible - of the managers of the Armadale Subscription School for the year 1873, to meet a committee of the School Board, of which committee I am convener, for the purpose of obtaining from them information as to the amount of money received from Government for said school and as to the character and efficiency of the then teachers of said school.  If I do not hear from you by two o'clock tomorrow, Friday, 29th, that you will call a meeting as requested, and for the purpose mentioned, I shall take it for granted that you decline to do so, and that the foresaid managers refuse to meet our committee on the subject, and shall proceed accordingly."  Mr. M'Donald replies:- "28th January, 1875.  Rev. Sir, - I have just now received your letter, and beg to say that the reply of which you complain was authorised by the committee of the Armadale Subscription School. - D. M'Donald, secretary."

Nothing further transpired in connection with the transference of the school in question until Mr. M'Donald again received a letter on the 11th March as follows:- "Mr D. M'Donald.  Dear Sir, - I , have to request you, as secretary to the managers of the Armadale Subscription School, to call a meeting at as early a date as convenient, in terms of the following motion as agreed to by the Parish School Board, viz., ‘That the Board again propose to the managers of the Armadale Subscription School to take it over as a public school.'  You will oblige by acquainting me when they can meet the committee appointed by the Board, and of which I am convenor.  The committee will consider it a favour it they have the terms on which they will hand the school over written out ready for discussion. -Yours truly, Duncan M'Dougall."

The committee instructed their secretary to reply as follows:- "Armadale, 23rd March, 1875. - Mr Duncan M'Dougall. Dear Sir, -At a meeting held last night I was instructed by the committee of the Armadale Subscription School to inquire at the Bathgate Parish School Board that, in the event of the committee handing over the Subscription School, would it prevent them from erecting another school in this district? - I am, yours truly, Daniel M'Donald, secretary."

Mr M'Dougall replied on the same date that the committee would be happy to answer any questions at the meeting that the school managers may ask on the subject.  At a meeting of the Subscription School managers, held on the 30th March, they resolved to meet the committee from the School Board on the 6th April, and the secretary wrote Mr. M'Dougall accordingly.  The School Board committee .and the managers of the Subscription School accordingly met on the 6th April in the school, at 7.30, as reported to the School Board meeting held on the 19th April by Mr. M'Dougall, when there were present representing the managers John Jeffrey (chairman), Matthew Wilson, Thomas Wilson, George Brown, Alex. Hutton, Joseph Syson, and Daniel M'Donald (secretary); and as representing the Board James Shields, Robert Martin, and Duncan M'Dougall (convener).  The chairman, Mr. Jeffrey, called upon their secretary to read the minute of the last meeting, which was to the following effect:- "That the managers of the A.S.S. offer to the Bathgate Parish S.B. the use of this school for another year, or until such time as they have a school built, and that at our annual meeting next January we will submit the matter of transference to the subscribers for their approval or otherwise".  After a desultory conversation, lasting for some time, the managers ultimately agreed to the following resolution:- "From the explanation made by the committee of the Board, the managers of the Armadale Subscription School entertain the proposal favourably, and agree to call an extraordinary meeting of the subscribers at an early date, and recommend to them the transference."

The promised extraordinary meeting of the subscribers was held on the 4th May, and the next day Mr. M'Dougall received a letter from Daniel M'Donald, in which he said he was instructed to write him that a meeting of the subscribers was held last night, and that on the votes being counted the majority declared that the school be not transferred.  The committee, the letter stated, met immediately thereafter, and agreed that the School Board might have a lease of the said school for another year upon the same conditions as at present.  Several other meetings between the-School Board committee and the managers were held, but no progress was made.  Mr. M'Donald left Armadale, and Alexander Hutton, ironmonger was elected secretary to the-managers, and had his first experience with the School Board on the 3rd June, 1876, when the Rev. John Scott, who had become chairman of the Board at the first triennial election on April, 1876, made another effort to secure the Subscription School for the Board as a public school.  The managers of the school were thoroughly tired of the whole business, and when Mr. Scott wrote Mr. Hutton on the 3rd June, 1876, requesting him as secretary to call a meeting of the managers to confer with the Western Committee of the School Board in connection with the transference of the school, Mr. Hutton replied on the 6th June acknowledging Mr. Scott's letter, and stating that the managers of the school unanimously declined to transfer the school.  Again Mr. Scott wrote on the 8th June, requesting Mr. Hutton to call a meeting of the trustees, and asked to be furnished with the names of the trustees and the managers.  Mr. Hutton did not answer this letter nor the other two that followed, and at last Mr. Scott directed his request to Mr. Jeffrey, and received the following  reply from him:- "Armadale, June 26th, 1876. - Mr J. Scott.  Sir, - A letter from you was handed to me on Saturday last requesting me to call a meeting of the trustees of the Armadale Subscription School.  In reply I, as a trustee and member of committee, beg to state that I decline to call any such meeting at your request, simply because the rules and regulations of said school does not sanction any minister or clergyman of any denomination whatever to interfere with the management of said Subscription School. - I am, sir, yours, etc., John Jeffrey."

Mr Scott also addressed a letter to George Brown, shoemaker, as a trustee of the school, but Mr. Brown refused to interfere in the matter.  A bad feeling was engendered between the managers of the Subscription School and the School Board, which resulted in the managers sending a letter to the Board of a rather startling nature, as follows:- "Armadale, 1st August, 1876. - To the Clerk of the School Board of the Parish of Bathgate.  Dear Sir, - I beg to inform you that at a meeting of the committee of management of the Armadale Subscription School, held last night, it was unanimously resolved that the liberty which has for some years past been enjoyed by the School Board of carrying on a school in the Subscription School buildings shall be withdrawn at Whitsunday, 1877.  I beg further to inform you that the committee have decided to provide education in said school as formerly, and to appoint duly qualified teachers for that purpose.  Your laying this before the Board at their first meeting will oblige. - Yours, Alex Hutton secretary".

The Board, on receiving the intimation from Mr. Hutton, resolved to leave the matter over for future consideration, and continued to push on with the arrangements for building a new school and master's house.

The agitation among the ratepayers against the proposed burden of a new school building grew apace, until on the 27th February, 1877, a meeting of the subscribers and trustees of the Subscription School was held to consider anew the transference of the said school, with a view to preventing the new school from being built.  The meeting resolved to offer the school to the School Board on condition that certain privileges would be reserved to the public, and Mr. Dodds, solicitor, Bathgate, was appointed to represent the managers and trustees in conducting the transference, Mr. Chas. Allan, solicitor, Bathgate, having succeeded him as clerk to the Board at the last election.

The School Board, on receiving the offer, accepted it, and the transference was duly carried through.  But this did not prevent the Board from proceeding with their preparations for building their proposed school and master's house, and a storm of indignation arose over the project, that resulted in a petition being prepared and signed by 350 ratepayers, and sent to the Board of Education, Edinburgh, in the following terms:- "Unto the Honourable the Chairman and Members of the Board of Education, Edinburgh. - The petition of the ratepayers in the landward portion of the Parish of Bathgate humbly sheweth that your petitioners, rate-payers of the Parish of Bathgate, at a public meeting held within the Armadale Subscription School on the evening of Friday last, 13th March, resolved to petition your Board not to sanction the extravagant, uncalled-for, and un-necessary proposal of the School Board of this parish to erect a new school in this district and that for the following reasons:-

"First -That the trustees and managers of the Armadale Subscription School have agreed to hand over to the School Board for educational purposes their school building, of which the School Board have had the use since March, 1874.  This school has accommodation for 200 scholars, and an enlargement of it would amply meet all the requirements of the district.

"Second - That the site of the present Subscription School is the most governable from its standing on an eminence, and from its central position, and we feel assured that there will be no difficulty in getting sufficient ground on this site for all school and playground requirements.

"Third - The district of Armadale has been declining for a number of years back in consequence of the best of the minerals being worked out.  The population in 1861, according to the census returns, was 3562, in 1871, 3187, and from the number of houses lately taken down and others standing unoccupied, the population at present may be safely estimated as not exceeding 2500.  The future of the district is therefore anything but encouraging, and your petitioners consider that it would be highly injudicious to run any risk of needlessly burdening the parish with the erection of a new and costly school.

"Fourth - The ground on which the School Board propose to build the new school slopes so very much that the expense of levelling alone and of sunk building would go far to meet the expense of the enlargement of the Subscription School.

"Fifth - That two separate schools would necessitate a double staff of teachers, whereas your petitioners believe that in one building the work would be as efficiently and more economically done.

"May it therefore please your honourable Board to withhold your sanction for the erection of this new school, and when thereof to approve of the enlargement of the Subscription School, and our petitioners will ever pray.  Dated March, 1877."

The Rev. Mr. Scott, who had set himself the task of seeing the new school an accomplished fact, fought hard against the opposition and gained his point.  The original plans of the school were extended to accommodate 530 children and approved of by the Educational Department on the 23rd June, 1877, and in a short time the contracts were set, and the work of erection begun.  Mr. Galbraith resigned his position as master of the school towards the close of 1877, when preparations were being made to build the new school, and during the time the Board was looking for a suitable headmaster they had three interim teachers - Messrs Culvart, M'Donald, and M'lntyre - after which they engaged Mr. Arthur Livingstone at £200 a year and a house.  On the 11th April, 1883, Mr. James Veron Brown, from Alva, succeeded Mr. Livingstone at a salary of £250 a year and a house, and on the 19th August, 1884, Mr. John Matheson, of Helensburgh, was appointed to succeed Mr. Brown.  Mr. Scott, the chairman, came in for much abuse, and on being told that the new school would be an empty building by ten years, he replied that by that time they would require to build an addition to accommodate the children, and his prophecy proved correct, and the third addition to the school, which has the appearance of a small town, to quote the words of one of H.M. Inspectors, was opened in June of the present year, and the children on the roll number nearly 1300, and are taught by a large staff of trained teachers, of which Mr. John Matheson, F.E.I., if the head.  One of the features of the school closing for the summer holidays is the exhibition the children give immediately before the distribution of prizes, when all their talents are brought into play and a high standard of efficiency brought out in such a way as to delight the hundreds of parents that assemble to witness it.  Hundreds of prizes in books are awarded to the scholars by way of encouragement, in addition to two silver watches awarded by George Readman, Esq. of Barbauchlaw, to the dux boy and girl of the school, and two silver watches awarded by James Wood, Esq. of Wallhouse, late of Bathville, to the most advanced boy and girl in Class VI.

The boys and girls who may feel inclined to avoid the school are seen to by ex-Colour-Sergeant Fredk. Murray, who also is the janitor of the school, and drills the boys at intervals in the playground.

On the School Board having no further use for the Subscription School, Mr. Roadman, the proprietor of the estate, bought it back from the Board in 1896, and presented it to the burgh, when it was made into a Town Hall at an additional cost of nearly £700.

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