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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Haddington Burgh Schools


THE Haddington Burgh Schools were established at a very ancient date. We find from history that they were in existence prior to the Reformation from Popery, that in 1559 the establishment of the Presbyterian form of church government was nearly perfected, and that schools were generally established throughout East Lothian. The schoolmasters of Dunbar, Spott, Haddington, and Prestonpans particularly distinguished themselves. M'Crie, in his life of John Knox, also notes that the schools of Aberdeen, Perth, Stirling, Dumbarton, Kill-earn, and Haddington are particularly mentioned in writings about the beginning of the sixteenth century. Robert Dormont is the first Presbyterian schoolmaster mentioned in the records of Haddington.

The Town Council seem at that early date to have paid much attention to education, and did their duty in placing efficient masters in their schools. We find that on the 6th October 1559, they thought it expedient to “ fee Mr Robert Dormont to be skoillmaster of the burgh, with 24 merks in the year, payable off the common gude; and allowed for ilk town bairn I2d termly of schoolhouse fee, and 4d termly from the parents or friends of the bairn, as use and wont was. The Council to find Mr Dormont ane chalmer and skoill-house made free.” Mr Thomas Cummyng was appointed in December 1563. According to a written agreement he was taken bound to “ leir and instruct, all and sundry, the bairns of the inhabitants of the said burgh diligently in grammatical letters, in latyne tonge, and moralie vertues, at his possibilitie shewing himself by good life, honest behaviour, and conversation, example to others, as well as in his instruction and doctrine, as God will give him grace during all the days of his lifetime.” His salary was to be 90 merks, “gude and usual money of the realm. Ilk bairn he learns and instructs ”was to pay“ ilk term xij of skoilings silver alanerlie.”

In 1571 the office of minister and schoolmaster was conjoined, and the gift of the common school was granted to Mr James Carmichael, minister of the Kirk of Haddington, with all the commodities and profits pertaining to it. In February following, Mr Walter Bancanqual was appointed reader in the church, clerk of session, and doctor in the school. He afterwards became a celebrated preacher in Edinburgh. In 1575 it was found necessary to separate the offices of minister and schoolmaster, and in 1577 Mr James Panton was appointed. He was allowed by *the town“ ten pounds of money of fee quarterly for his stipend, with a chalmer free and a school free, and the said Mr James to have of ilk town bairn, xiijd of stipend in the quarter, and the doctor to have iiid; and the said Mr James to be at his advantage of ‘outlandis bairnis' and the doctor to have his meat of all the bairnis his day about ; and that he shall find a sufficient doctor under him in the school for teaching and holding of them in good order, and in case the town finds any' faile or fault with the same Mr James, he shall remove at the quarter end, his entry to be at Whitsunday next to come.”

In 1579, Mr John Kerr was appointed. In 1591, Mr John Callender was appointed, and it was enacted that the said Mr John should “ diligently, lelelie, and truly learn and instruct the said school, and haile baimis to be put to him sufficiently in the Latyne and Greek Grammar affairs, and in all classic authors necessary.” Numerous future appointments were made up to 1724, when Mr John Lesley was made master. In his time it was the custom for the scholars to perform plays and dramatic amusements—the expense of fitting up the stage with trees and dailes and other necessary arrangements being paid by the town. On one occasion the prologue and epilogue before and after the play of Aurengzebec and the Drummer, which was written by the celebrated Scottish poet, Allan Ramsay, was spoken by Masters Charles and Maurice Cockburn, sons of Colonel Cockburn.* Allan Ramsay testified in a note that John Lesley was a gentleman of true learning, who, by his most excellent method, most worthily filled his place.

* For Allan Ramsay’s verses, &c., see Miller's History of Haddington.

It is curious to note that it was the fashion at that time to hold cock-fights, and to have matches at football at Fastern’s Even, in which the scholars and masters took part. This practice continued till 1783, when it was abolished; but it was revived again in 1792. It was only in 1750 that a proper teacher of English was appointed in the person of Mr Alexander Grant. Before that time Latin and Greek were chiefly taught, and it was about that time that the English school was built In 1756 the practice of the magistrates and clergy visiting the schools on the examination day was introduced, when premiums were given to the duxes, and a bag of sweeties to each scholar, a practice continued up to a late date. Various appointments were made from 1724 up to 1765, when Mr John Abernethy, formerly schoolmaster of Gifford, was appointed. Under him and his successor, Mr Johnston, the heads of the old Haddington families of Wilkie, Roughead, Martine, Donaldson, Neill, Forrest, Veitch, Pringle, Haldane, Smith, Brown, Banks, M‘Claren, Carfrae, &c., were educated. In 1783 Mr James Johnston, formerly schoolmaster of Bathgate, was elected rector. He retired in 1800, and went into a grocery business which had been carried on by Mr D. M'Claren, who was one of the principal merchants in Haddington at the time. David M'Claren’s shop was in a tenement in Market Street, called Blair’s Castle, now taken down and rebuilt. Old Haddingtonians still living recollect Mr Johnston. In 1786 Miss Janet Halyburton was appointed by the Council teacher of sewing to young ladies in the burgh. In 1798, Richard Hay, of famous memory, was master of reading, writing, and arithmetic. He published a book called the Beauties of Arithmetic, which had a fair reputation at the time.

In 1800, Mr William Graham, schoolmaster of Dirleton, was elected rector of the grammar school on the resignation of Mr Johnston. Mr Graham retired in 1838. He was a very successful teacher, and although a little pedantic, was much esteemed in society. He had always a large school from the town and country, mostly farmers’ sons and landed gentry, and often twenty and thirty boarders from all parts. Many of his scholars, on going to Edinburgh University, obtained high honours. It is curious to note that Mr Graham’s predecessor applied to the Council for liberty to let part of his house, as being too large, while Mr Graham applied for additional accommodation for his boarders. They marched in order to the parish church every Sunday, and filled one of the large square seats. An annual dinner of his old pupils used to be held yearly for a long period.

In 1809, the mathematical school, which was long felt as a want, was erected. Mr John Martine, then Provost of Haddington, interested himself much in its establishment. Professor Leslie, of the Edinburgh University, being applied to for a suitable teacher, recommended Edward Irving, “a lad of good character and of superior abilities.” He presented his letter of recommendation to the magistrates in the town’s library, and they being struck with his appearance of superior and intellectual ability, at once appointed him master of the mathematical school. His afterwards celebrated career fully justified Professor Leslie’s recommendation, and the magistrates' choice. Living authorities still testify that his scholars adored him, for his endearing qualities of mind and intellectual gifts. Mr Patrick Shirreff was one of his favourite pupils.

Irving’s future history is recorded in the list of eminent Scotchmen. From this appointment of Irving to be master of the mathematical school of Haddington, many interesting and important events in the literary history of the country have had their rise. Irving introduced his friend, Thomas Carlyle, to his distinguished pupil, Miss Jane Welsh, who soon after became Mrs Carlyle. From her intellectuality and her lively disposition she was, from the day of her marriage to the day of her death, her husband's great solace, encouraging him in his close and severe literary studies, which he abundantly testifies to in his delightful reminiscences. If the happy incident of Carlyle's introduction to Jeanie Welsh, through Irving, had not taken place, his fame as one of the foremost of Scotland's literati would probably not have become an established fact, nor would the Craigenputtock bursary, founded by the will and direction of Carlyle in the University of Edinburgh, ever have taken place.

In 1813, Mr James Brown was elected successor of Mr Irving, who had removed to Kirkcaldy. Mr Brown afterwards became minister of the Scotch Church at Calcutta.

In 1815, Mr Thomas Cumming was appointed to the English and mathematical school, with Mr Wood as assistant. He used to be called “Timmer” by the scholars. He studied for the Church, and became minister of the Scotch Church at Sunderland. In 1822, Mr Patrick Hardie, a native of Kelso, succeeded Mr Cumming. Mr Hardie had for some years conducted a private school in St Ann's Place. He was much esteemed, and made excellent scholars, who, after his death in 1837, erected a handsome tombstone to his memory in Haddington Churchyard, in grateful recollection of his talents, acquirements, and zealous perseverance as a successful teacher of youth. Many now scattered in all parts of the world, but whose numbers must now be very small, both male and female, will no doubt hold Patrick Hardie in their remembrance. On Mr Graham's retirement in 1838, Dr William Maxwell Gunn was appointed rector, to the entire satisfaction of all the inhabitants of Haddington. He resigned in 1844, having been appointed one of the masters in the High School of Edinburgh. He was also very successful in training many young minds to become eminent.

The long-continued celebrity arid glory of the Haddington Burgh Schools departed after the unfortunate appointment of Rector Whyte in 1843. It is to be hoped that under the new scholastic laws their former celebrity will be resuscitated, and confer substantial benefit on the old burgh and adjacent country. The promoters of the Knox Educational Institute, with Mr Brook, their energetic convener, deserve much praise from the community for their exertions, which, it is to be hoped, will be crowned with complete success.

After this rapid and imperfect sketch of the old preceptors of the Haddington Burgh Schools, it is perhaps right that some of the eminent men of a former age who were educated at these schools should be noticed. First and foremost, then, stands the name of our illustrious townsman, John Knox. We learn from Marie’s history that his parents were able to give him a liberal education, which in that age was far from being common. In his youth he was put to the Grammar School of Haddington, where he acquired the principles of the Latin tongue. This must have been somewhere about the years 1518 and 1520. It is quite rational to think it was in the Grammar School of Haddington that the foundation of his learning was laid, and his ardent and intellectual mind received its first impressions of the necessity and advantages of sound educational principles, which his after gigantic efforts in the cause made so successful, viz.:—that a Protestant school be established in every parish in the kingdom of Scotland. Viewing, then, Knox’s exertions in the cause of education at the time he lived, as those of a true patriot, it is but right and fitting to contemplate with much satisfaction the successful movement in the burgh of Haddington to erect and establish an institute of education to his memory. Such a memorial was too long delayed, but every leal and true-hearted Scotchman must now rejoice that a lasting testimony has been erected in Knox’s native town, which will be handed down to distant generations as a testimonial to his indomitable courage in the cause, not only of education, but in that of civil and religious freedom.

Walter Bower, a native of Haddington, and an eminent scholar, was elected Abbot of Inchcolm in 1418. He was educated at the Burgh School of Haddington. He was the friend and disciple of Fordoun, whose great work, Scotichronicon, or General History of Scotland\ he finished after Fordoun’s death. It is probable that John Mair or Major, a distingished writer in scholastic theology, was taught at Haddington school. He was born at Gleghornie in this county about 1446.

Many of the Maitlands of Lethington and Cockburns of Ormiston, contemporaries with Knox, were educated at Haddington.

The Rev. Dr John Witherspoon, President of the College of New Jersey, U.S., was born in the manse of Yester. He was sent to Haddington Grammar School at an early age. He was an eminent scholar and a great theologian.

Dr Andrew Mylne, late minister of Dollar, and author of several educational works, was a native of Haddington, and educated also at the Grammar School. His father was tenant of the old wauk-mill of Haddington.

Sir Peter Laurie, Lord Mayor of London, was born at Sandersdean, near Haddington, and educated under Mr George Abernethy of the Grammar School.

Richard Gall was born at Linkhouse, near Dunbar, in 1776, and sent to be educated at Haddington School. He was a promising young man, and wrote many sweet poems and songs, which should be better known and appreciated in Haddington ; but he died at the early age of twenty-five in 1801. He enjoyed the friendship of Burns, MacNeil, Campbell, and Bruce. A volume of his poems was published in 1817 by Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh, but has now become scarce. In his “Address to Haddington,” he describes the scenes “where once his careless childhood strayed, a stranger yet to pain,” in beautiful language, and in a tone of refined and tender feeling.

The late Rev. John Brown of Whitburn, an exceedingly good and worthy man, along with his esteemed brother, Ebenezer, minister at Inverkeithing, sons of the great John Brown of Haddington, were educated under Abernethy and Johnston. Also their other brothers at a later date—Thomas, minister at Dalkeith; George, minister at North Berwick ; and Samuel, merchant in Haddington, whose memory still remains fresh in Haddington, on account of his zealous endeavours in diffusing knowledge by means of his itinerating libraries. He was also one of the chief founders of the Haddington School of Arts.

The late much-lamented Rev. John Brown Patterson, minister of Falkirk, was a pupil of Mr Graham. He gained the highest distinctions in the High School and University of Edinburgh in almost every branch of learning. He gained the £100 prize given by the Government of that day for the best essay on the national character of the Athenians, which is a masterpiece of elegant and classic writing. It attracted the notice of Sir Robert Peel, who, unasked, presented him to the ministry of the parish of Falkirk. Mr Patterson died in the prime of life, sincerely lamented by all who knew him, and by the whole religious and literary world.

Dr Alexander S. Patterson, of Glasgow, a brother of Mr Patterson—both grandsons of John Brown of Haddington—was also a pupil of Mr Graham. Dr Patterson is well known as an able divine and Biblical exegist.

The late Dr J. G. Lorimer of Glasgow, a native of Haddington, and a worthy, good man, was also a pupil of Mr Graham.

Colonel Vetch of Hawthorn Bank, a distinguished Indian officer, and a literary man of eminence as a poet, &c., was educated under Johnston and Graham.

Dr Samuel Smiles, our celebrated townsman, was a pupil of Patrick Hardie, and has proved himself, by his numerous, interesting, and able works, to have been his most distinguished scholar.

The late lamented Dr Samuel Brown was a distinguished pupil at the school. Possessed of great natural abilities) which may be called hereditary in his family and name, he died like his lamented relative, John Brown Patterson, in the prime of life, but not before he had acquired for himself a European reputation as a master-mind in science and literature. He may be justly named one of the eminent men of Haddington.

Many other names might have been mentioned, eminent in science, literature, and art, reflecting honour on the town of their birth and education, but enough has been said to justify the fact that the Burgh Schools of Haddington have in their day produced many able and eminent scholars.

The grammar school was built in 1755. The sum expended on building was £5906 Scots, about £492 sterling. In April 1756 a brewhouse was added to it —a very useful appendage. The town of Haddington was greatly indebted to Andrew Fletcher, Esq. of Salton, their representative in Parliament, for his exertions in getting it built. Dr Barclay, one of the ministers of Haddington, stated that it contained the best accommodation for boarders of any he knew in this part of the United Kingdom. The English school and library were built by a decree of the Council, 1760. The mathematical school was built in 1809-10. The estimate was £290.


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