SCHOOLS IN PRESTONPANS - Veronica Wallace
(Local History librarian based in
The First parochial school was founded by Rev John Davidson. minister
of the Parish Kirk. who built the church, the manse and the school,
largely at his own expense, at the end of the 16th century. When
he died in 1604 he left all his money to endow the school.
Latin. Hebrew and Greek were taught and Alexander Hume became
master in 1606. He later wrote a Latin textbook which was the
first to be accepted by the Scottish Parliament for use in all
schools. Another famous schoolmaster was John Cunningham. alias
Dr Fian. who was indicted of witchcraft and tortured during the
North Berwick witch trials in 1660. He was burnt at the stake
in 1661 at Castle Hill. Edinburgh.
In 1616. a Privy Council Act recommended the establishment of
a school in every parish and this was ratified by Parliament in
1633. A further Act in 1646 required the provision of a "commodious
hous for the schole". plus a stipend for the schoolmaster
of not less that 100 merks nor more than 200 merks. to be paid
yearly at two terms. However, in 1674/75 the presbytery was informed
that in Prestonpans "ye master of ye gramer school hath but
a mean provision and that 80 merks gch (which) have been formerlie
payed by the heritors to the schoolmaster arc now withdraw".
By 1674. there was an "official" English school in Prestonpans
as well as the Grammar School and James Reid was master, while
Waller Buchanan was "doctor" of the Grammar School.
There were also several private teachers who were paid by the
kirk session for admitting the children of the parish poor to
their classes. One of these was Elizabeth GulIan who received
quarter-payments consistently from 1675 till the end of the century.
An Education Enquiry ordered by the House of Commons in 1834 reported
that there were four private schools in Prestonpans. three kept
by men and one by a woman teacher. Each taught English and Writing.
There was one schoolmaster at the Parochial School who was paid
34 pounds 5 shillings, with 50 pounds in school fees. He taught
English Writing. Arithmetic and Geography. However, the Inspector
commented that: "Education in this parish is at a low ebb.
Amongst a large number of the parents there is a meIancholy indifference
to the instruction of their offspring, which cannot be soon remedied.
Infant Schools are much needed and natural history ought to be
A Report published by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools in 1841/42
mentions four schools. The Parochial School was the biggest with
a school roll of 130. then there were two female schools with
rolls of 65 and 20 respectively and finally, one adventure school
with 36 pupils. Adventure schools were usually set in towns where
the state schools could not cope with the large numbers or where
the established teachers were inefficient or unpopular. The Report
described the school as being built of stone and lime with a slated
roof. in good repair, but far too small, the schoolroom measuring
only 27 feet by 22 feet. and 10 feet in height. The only apparatus
was a blackboard supplied by the Heritors but there was a playground
and also a residence for the schoolmaster who. at this period,
was Mr Thomas Fargie. a former carpenter, who had trained at the
Edinburgh Sectional School and had started teaching six years
earlier. He was unmarried and earned an annual stipend of 34 pounds
10 shillings, plus school fees which amounted to 60 pounds. The
Inspectors described his character and method of teaching as "favourable".
On the day of the inspection there were present 50 boys and 49
girls out of a total school roll of 130. The children were described
as "neat and clean". They started school at four or
Five years of age and left at 13 or 14. They were taught Arithmetic.
Geography. History' and Etymology. Quarterly fees were charged
of 2/6d for English Reading, four shillings with Writing and Five
shillings with Arithmetic. The children had to take an annual
examination set by the presbytery and were given an autumnal vacation
of six weeks.
The original Grammar School building was replaced in later years
by another one. erected on the same site in Kirk Street. When
the new public school was built in 1881 the old school was vacated
and was purchased by the Co-operative Society in 1883.
Until 1881. there were three separate schools: the Parochial School
whose headmaster was Mr George Hunter: the Free Church School
whose head teacher was Mr James Wallace: and a Works School at
Morison's Haven, where the teacher was Mr Sinclair. When the School
Board was set up in the 1870s. it was decided that Prestonpans
would be better served by one large school with suitably qualified
teachers. When the new school was opened. Mr Hunter retired and
Mr Wallace was appointed headmaster, while the Morison's Haven
School continued for a time.
The new school was considered a very Fine building with a playground
that was second to none in the county Indeed, His Majesty's Inspector
of Schools recommended Newbattle School Board to examine the pIan
of Prestonpans School when constructing their own new building.
The number of
pupils increased so rapidly that by 1900, the building had been
enlarged twice, and there were eight teachers besides the headmaster
and a large staff of ex-pupil and pupil teachers.
The school became known as the "Grey School" to differentiate
it from the Red School and the White School which were the buildings
added later to house the growing number of pupils.
In 1924. a secondary school, Preston Lodge, was opened. It was
highly selective and soon gained a high academic reputation. In
1954 it became Comprehensive and in 1967 the building was destroyed
by fire. A new Comprehensive School was built in 1969 costing
well over a million pounds. and a new Primary School was built
in the grounds of the burnt-out Secondary School.
In 1970, the old Junior School became an Infant School and the
older children moved to the new Primary School. A new Roman Catholic
Primary School was built in 1968. replacing the old Cuthill Junior
School. The Grey School has been demolished, the Red School is
used for other purposes and the White School houses the infants.