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The History of Glasgow
Volume 2 - Chapter XII - The Song Schools and Grammar School


IN the first volume of this history occasional reference has been made to the early schools of Glasgow. These schools were probably of more importance in the life of the community than the casual mention in the various early records might seem to imply. The Rule of Sarum, or Salisbury, which was adopted as the ritual of the Glasgow bishopric almost from its restoration in the twelfth century, ordained that the chancellor should regulate schools and the precentor provide for the instruction and discipline of the boys serving in the choir. [Regist. Epis. Glasg. i. 270, No. 211.] Abundant evidence exists in the early Scottish chartularies of the provision of schools by the clergy throughout the country as early as the twelfth century itself. [Charters and Documents, i. 44; Grant's History of the Burgh and Parish Schools of Scotland.]

In connection with Glasgow Cathedral there must have existed from the very first a song school for the musical instruction of the boy singers of the choir. Its location was probably at the hall of the vicars choral on the north side of the cathedral, from which Vicars' Alley, the passage between the Royal Infirmary and the graveyard of the cathedral, still takes its name. ["Hall of the Vicars Choral," by Archbishop Eyre, in The Book of Glasgow Cathedral.] Among other references to this song school there is the deed by which, in 1539, John Panter, "formerly preceptor of the song school of the metropolitan church of Glasgow," settled certain rents of a tenement and yard on the east side of Castle Street on the master of the cathedral song school and others for the performance of anniversary services at certain altars. [Charters and Documents, ii. Appendix, No. xxi.] Under the various Acts which followed the Reformation, the revenues of the Vicars Choral were transferred to the provost and bailies of Glasgow, the need for training boys in the elaborate Latin services of the cathedral came to an end, and the song school of the metropolitan church ceased to exist. Accordingly, in 1590 John Panter's nephew, Sir Mark Jamieson, life-renter of the tenement above mentioned, went to the Tolbooth and delivered to the provost and bailies the documents of his uncle's gift " in ane litill box, to be keipit in the commoun kist." [Glasgow Burgh Records, i. 155.] The cathedral song school had served its time, and had laid the foundations of a musical taste in Glasgow and its cathedral which has never since died out.

Meanwhile, at a much later date, a second song school had been founded in the city. When the Church of St. Mary of Loretto and her mother St. Anne, now the Tron church, founded by James Houstoun, vicar of Eastwood and sub-dean of the cathedral, in 1525, [Charters and Documents, ii. pp. 494-7.] grew into a collegiate foundation, the magistrates and council endowed it with sixteen acres of the Gallowmuir and nominated the third prebendary, whose duties were to have charge of the organ and to carry on a song school. [Lib. Coll. pp. xv.-xxv.] After the Reformation the Trongate church and churchyard were sold by the bailies and council, but it says much for their good taste and enlightenment that they carried on this school as long as they could. In the deed of 1570, conveying the church and churchyard to James Fleming, "the common school called the Song School," standing immediately to the west of it, is not included. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. pp. 140-142.] The Town Council seems to have gone still further, and to have accepted some responsibility for carrying on the school. Towards the support of the teacher, one Thomas Craig, in 1575, the "burgess fines," or entry money of a new freeman, John Cumming, were assigned—a somewhat frequent method of making payments at that time. [Burgh Records, p. 43.] A few days earlier the town's accounts show a payment to Thomas Craig, of twenty-three shillings for straw and thatching of the "New Kirk scule." [Burgh Records, 457.] Three years later, in February, 1578, appears a payment of ten pounds "to Thomas Craig for his support in teicheing of the new kirk scole." [Burgh Records, 465.] In June, 1583, again, occur payments—forty shillings "to Mr. William Struthers for to pay the maul (or rent) of ane sang scole," and eight pounds "gewin to Thomas Craig, maister of the Tronegait scole, for his chaplainrie." [Burgh Records, i. 472.] In 1588, however, the town council found itself in money difficulties. To meet these it decided on feuing certain of its common lands and other properties, Among these last was "the scuile sumtyme callit the Sang Scuile." [Burgh Records, i. 125.] It does not appear, however, that the school was actually sold, and eleven years later there is a record of a burgess fine being given "to Johne Craig scholemaister for his service done be him." [Burgh Records, i. 187.] It seems likely that the school had been removed to new premises, for payments of forty shillings are recorded in 1577 and 1583 for the rent of a chamber "to be ane sang scole." [Burgh Records, i. 462, 472,] In 1626 the council made an agreement with James Sanders to give instruction in music to all the children of the burgh who might be put to his school for a salary of ten shillings a quarter to himself and forty pennies to his man, and at the same time forbade all others to teach music in the burgh. [Burgh Records, i. 354.]

At a salary like that it is evident that the music school master must have had other means of livelihood. In the next entry regarding the Song School, twelve years later, Sanders is mentioned as "reader," so it may be gathered that the pre-Reformation office of the third prebendary of St. Mary's, who was appointed by the magistrates, and whose duties were to have charge of the organ and to carry on a song school, had been perpetuated in a readership in the Tron kirk with the same musical duties attached.

The entry alluded to, on 5th May, 1638, sets forth that the music school within the burgh was altogether decayed, "to the grait discredit of this citie and discontentment of sindrie honest men within the same who hes bairnes whom they wold have instructit in that art." The magistrates accordingly called Sanders before them, and with his consent appointed Duncan Burnet to "take up the said school again." [Burgh Records, i. 388.]

Still later, in 1646, the town council engaged John Cant at a salary of 40 per annum for five years to raise the psalms in the High Kirk on the Sabbath and in the Blackfriars at the weekly sermons, "and for keeping ane music school." [Burgh Records, ii. 96.]

These facts should be enough to show that, whatever may have been the effects of the Reformation in other parts of the country in killing and discrediting love of the fine arts, the art of music at any rate continued to find approval and substantial support from the magistrates and the people of Glasgow.

Equally creditable is the support which appears to have been given from very early times to the maintenance of a grammar school in the burgh. It is true that the first reference to that Grammar School occurs only in 146o, but there is every likelihood that, as enjoined on the chapter of the cathedral by the ritual of Sarum, the school had been set up before the close of the twelfth century. Bishop Jocelyn, the energetic and enlightened prelate who began the building of the present cathedral in 1175, and secured from William the Lion the charter of a burgh and a fair for his episcopal city of Glasgow, set his seal, in the year ii8o, to the deed confirming the Abbot of Kelso in possession of the churches and schools of Roxburgh, and was not in the least likely to overlook the duty and the advantages of setting up a grammar school in his own new burgh on Clydeside. When the Grammar School of Glasgow is first referred to, in 1460, it was already a long established institution. It is notable that the deed by which Simon Dalgleish, precentor and official of Glasgow, conveyed to Master Alexander Galbraith, rector and master of the school, and his successors, a tenement on the west side of the Meikle Wynd, or High Street, to be held by the master and scholars for certain religious services, declared that the provost, bailies, and councillors of the burgh were to be patrons, governors, and defenders of the gift. [Glasgow Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. p. 436.] It does not seem likely that this was the first official connection of the town council with the school; but real authority in appointing and dismissing the master of the school still lay with the chancellor of the cathedral. In its well-known judgment of 1494, the chapter of the bishopric solemnly declared that Master Martin Wan, the chancellor, and his predecessors of the church of Glasgow, had been, without interruption and beyond the memory of man, in peaceable possession of the appointing and removing of the master of the grammar school, and of that school's oversight and government, and further, that it was unlawful, without the chancellor's permission, to keep a grammar school in the town; and accordingly that "a certain discreet man," Master David Dun, presbyter of the diocese, who had set himself to teach youths grammar and the elements of learning within the city, had no right to do so, and accordingly must be "put down to silence in the premises for ever." [Charters and Documents, i. 89, No. xl.]

The magistrates nevertheless made certain claims. In 1508, when Mr. Martin Rede, then chancellor, appointed Mr. John Rede to be master, the provost, Sir John Stewart of Minto, and others, protested and claimed for the magistrates the right to admit Mr. John and the other masters of the schools. The matter was decided by reference to the foundation and letters of Mr. Simon Dalgleish in 1460. [Diocesan Registers, i. 427, ii. 267.]

For his stipend the master of the Grammar School seems to have had to look, not to any direct remuneration for the work of teaching, but, after the manner of the church of that time, to the revenues of some other office. In connection with St. Ninian's leper hospital at the south end of Glasgow bridge, William Stewart, a canon of the cathedral, had built a chapel near it at the corner of Rutherglen Loan, and in 1494 he endowed it with certain annual rents and a tenement on the south side of the Briggate. At that time the chaplain was the master of the Grammar School, and from certain provisions it appears to have been intended that the two offices should be held in perpetuity by the same individual. [Reg. Epis. Glasg. No. 469.]

Further, on 8th January, 1572-73, when the Provost and town council made over to the University all the kirk livings which had been bestowed on the burgh by Queen Mary in 1566, they specially exempted the chaplainry of All Hallows or All Saints " granted formerly by us to the master of the Grammar School," and ordained that it should remain for ever with him and his successors. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. P. 161.]

Stimulated perhaps by the kindly interest of the town council, the attendance at the school appears to have increased, for in 1577 Robert Hutcheson and his wife renounced their right to a house and yard on the west of the school in order that these might provide more accommodation. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. P. 447.] At the same time the town's master of works was instructed to " mak the grammar scole wattirfast, and at the spring of the yeir to mend the west parte thairof." [Burgh Records, i. 64.] On 16th November the accounts show a payment of 48s. "for XII threif of quheit straye to theik the Grammer Scole," and on 12th May following one of 8 "gevin to James Fleming, maister of work to mend the grammar scole." [Burgh Records, i. 465, 466.]

The first actual record of the appointment of a master by the town council occurs in 1582. On 13th November Mr. Patrick Sharp, master of the grammar school, appeared before the council and resigned his office, along with the chaplainry of All Hallows altar and all other rents and duties belonging to it, and the provost and council instantly, with advice of the regents of the University, elected Mr. John Blackburn to the mastership and chaplainry. [Burgh Records, i. 99.]

Blackburn proved to be an energetic manager. Money evidently was needed, and he approached the town council with the proposal that the front schoolhouse and yard should be sold. He offered to pay the council a hundred merks and odds if they would allow him to sell the property; or, alternatively, he offered to accept two hundred merks for his consent that they should dispose of it. In the end they agreed to pay him two hundred and ten merks, and, this being agreed to, they sent round the drum on three several days, as was customary, to advertise the sale, and finally disposed of the property to Bailie Hector Stewart, the highest bidder, for four hundred and seventy merks and an annual payment of five merks. [Burgh Records, i. 176, 177, 178.]

Four years later drastic action had to be taken with the schoolhouse itself. First the council appointed a committee to visit and report on the repairs required. [Burgh Records, i. 208.] The committee reported the school to be altogether ruinous. The minute of 23rd August, 1600, contains a fine outburst of generous sentiment: "It is condiscendit be the provest, bailleis, and counsale that thai think na thing mair profitabill, first to the glory of God, nixt the weill of the towne, to have ane Grammer Schole." Then as always, however, Glasgow was prepared to back its sentiments with solid deeds, and the council gave order that "the haill stanes of the rwinus dekayit fallin dovne bak almonshous pertenyng to the towne" should be devoted to the rebuilding of the school, and that Blackburn should report every council day on the progress of the work. [Burgh Records, i. 210.] Money was required for the job, and Blackburn was authorized to pay to the master of works for the purpose four hundred merks, of the legacy left by "Hary the porter" of the college. [Burgh Records, i. 217.] Other funds were got from the feuing of the common lands, while 800 were raised by means of a tax. [Burgh Records, i. 218.]

In the midst of the enterprise Blackburn received a call to the ministry of a kirk in some other part of the country. Reluctant to lose him, "that is and hes bein ane guid and sufficient member in instructing of the barnes of the towne and vther effaires of the kirk thairinto," the council appointed two members to see the presbytery, and promise Blackburn any "benefit " about the town when it should happen to fall vacant, in order that he should be retained as master of the school. [Burgh Records, i. 226.] These persuasive efforts were successful, and four years later we find the council dealing with a certain Robert Brown, gardener, for delay in paying to Blackburn "sax pundis money" for the Martinmas term's rent of the All Hallows chaplainry due from .a house and yard he occupied, belonging to "ane noble and potent Lord Hew erll of Egglingtoune." [Burgh Records, i. 343.] A year later still, in 1606, it became evident that among the "benefits" conferred on the schoolmaster to induce him to remain in the town must have been a certain number of burgess "fines" or dues. William Balloch, maltman, is made burgess and freeman of the burgh as "one of Master John Blackburn's burgesses granted to him by the provost and baffles of the burgh for his service in the Grammar School." [Burgh Records, i. 246.] By and by this source of revenue appears to have been interfered with by an ordinance declaring that burgesses were no longer to be admitted in favour of any person by reason of his office, but only by the dean of guild. Blackburn complained that this meant an annual loss to him of two burgess fines, and requested that the loss be made good by a payment from the burgh treasury. As an equivalent he was granted a yearly sum of forty merks. [Burgh Records, i. 310.]

In 1611 it was arranged to feu further ground belonging to the Grammar School, and Blackburn, appearing before the council, very adroitly declared that while he believed the whole of the money thus obtained belonged by right to himself, yet he would submit to the will of the city fathers in the matter. After discussion it was decided that "the said maister John" should have half the money, the other half being assigned to the use of the town. [Burgh Records, i. 318, 319.]

Nothing more is recorded of Master John Blackburn, but the town council continued to take a vital and kindly interest in its Grammar School. In 1624 the accounts show a payment of 80 to "Maister William Wallace, scholmaister." [Burgh Records, i. 477.] The school must now have grown beyond the powers of one man, however, for in 1629, with Wallace present, the council deputed two city ministers, the Principal of the University, and four, well-known citizens to visit the school and report, and four months later we find other two individuals named as masters of the Grammar School. The council ordered forty merks each to be paid to John Hamilton and James Anderston, in that capacity "for helping the ministers to preach in their absence at divers times." [Burgh Records, i. 370, 372.] A year later the council recorded its approval of the efforts of Wallace, who " hes thir divers yeiris by past, sen his entrie thairto, exercet his office faithfullie and treulie in training of all scholleris putt under his chairge," and they therefore earnestly requested and desired him to renew his engagement with them. [Burgh Records, i. 376.] Eight years later still, in 1638, it was ordered that he be paid all the rents due to him out of the "hous of manufactorie" and that the burgh officers help him to collect the rest of the dues belonging to him as master of the Grammar School. [Burgh Records, i. 391.]

At that time the school and the town evidently suffered from a certain looseness in the management of their affairs. In 1639 the attention of the council was drawn to the fact that small rents due to the town and school from a number of houses, barns, and kilns in the city had gone out of use of payment, and that others were likely to follow. It was therefore ordained that such rent and dues should be engrossed by the town clerk in all future sasines. [Burgh Records, i. 397.]

After the abolition of episcopacy by the famous General Assembly held in Glasgow Cathedral in 1638, an effort was made to secure a competent allowance out of the revenues of the bishopric for the maintenance of the High Kirk, the Bishop's Hospital, and the Grammar School. [Burgh Records, i. 431.] For these purposes King Charles I. actually signed a deed by which the teinds of Glasgow, Drymen, Dryfesdale, Cambusnethan, and Traquair were handed over to the town. [Charters and Documents, i. pt. ii. p. 480.] This deed was ratified by Act of Parliament, but was rescinded in 1662 after the Restoration of Charles II. and episcopacy. [Act. Parl. Scot. vii. 372.]

As a token of the town council's special interest in the Grammar School, the scholars were in 1648 appointed to sit every Sabbath day in the college seat of the Blackfriars Kirk, which stood nearly opposite the school, on the east side of High Street. [Burgh Records, ii. 156.]

The Grammar School was not, however, the only school in Glasgow. In 1604 the presbytery complained of a plurality of schools, and considered "the school taught by John Buchanan and the Grammar School quite sufficient, and in 1639 the town council ordained that nae mae Inglisch scoolles be keipit or haldin within this brughe heirefter bot four only, with ane wrytting schooll"; [Burgh Records, i. 397.] and though in 1658 the council directed the bailies to inhibit "the womane that hes tackine vpe an schole in the heid of the Salt Mercatt at hir awin hande," [Burgh Records, 20th Feb.] two years later an order was made "to tak up the names of all persounes, men or weomen, who keepes Scots Schooles within the toune, and to report"; and three years afterwards no fewer than fourteen persons, eight of them women, were permitted to keep Scots schools, "they and their spouses, if they ony have, keiping and attending the ordinances within the samyne." [Burgh Records, 20th Oct. 1660 and 14th Nov. 1663.]

Altogether it does not seem that Glasgow was at any time ill supplied with means of education for its rising generations.


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