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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Haddington Old Sunday School


Instituted 20th May 1790.

IT was in the year 1783 that Robert Raikes, printer, proprietor, and editor of the Gloucester Journal in the city of Gloucester, first instituted Sunday schools. They are known to have existed before his time in different parts of England and Wales, but the credit must be given to him for having first proposed and organised the scheme, and placed Sunday schools on a solid basis. His philanthropic exertions resulted in the adoption of them in different parts of the kingdom, and in a few years they became very numerous. He was first led to bestow attention on the young heathens of the city of Gloucester by finding the streets and lanes of that city crowded on Sundays with groups of children, wretched and ragged, playing at “chuck” and other games, and spending their time in rioting and swearing. Aided in his endeavours by the Rev. Thomas Stock, a worthy clergyman of Gloucester, he started, at his own expense, a Sunday school in the parish of St Mary-de-Crypt. The good effects of the teaching in the school soon showed themselves. In a short time a visible reformation took place in the manners and habits of the young population of Gloucester. Instead of noise and riot, all was tranquillity and peace; instead of quarrelling and fighting, as heretofore, all was concord and harmony; instead of loitering about the streets in a state of indolence as painful to the observer as it was to themselves, they were now seen in decent regularity frequenting the places of public worship, evidently much happier in themselves than in their former state of irreligious idleness. Raikes raised Sunday teaching from a fortuitous rarity into a universal system. He found the practice local, he made it national. It is upon this ground that admirers of Raikes rest his claim to the honoured title of “Founder of Sunday Schools.” An excellent and interesting volume entitled "Robert Raikes, journalist and philanthropist—a history of the origin of Sunday Schools,” by Alfred Gregory, and published by Hodder & Stoughton, London (seventh thousand) 1880, will afford to the reader of it much pleasure.

It may be interesting to Haddington people and others, to know that on the 20th May 1790—seven years after Raikes’s movement—a Sunday school was instituted in Haddington. The promoters of it, no doubt following the good example of Raikes, wished to instil into the minds of the young folk of Haddington sound Christian principles, and make them good and useful members of society, and this at a time when the country was much agitated by French revolutionary principles, and infidel doctrines. The sederunt book of the school is still preserved in the Haddington Public Library, and can be seen and read. The minutes are written in a clear, distinct hand, and have been well kept. The first minute containing the sederunt, rules, and orders, dated 20th May 1790, is as follows :—“At a meeting of the subscribers for a Sunday school in this place, present—The Rev. Dr George Barclay, minister of first charge; the Rev. Mr Robert Scott, minister of second charge ; Messrs John Craw, writer and town-clerk; John Martine (provost, 1781), tanner; John Crombie merchant; John Banks, merchant; Robert Somerville, surgeon ; James Johnston, master of burgh school, clerk. Dr Barclay was unanimously chosen preses, and Mr Johnston, clerk pro tempore. A paper containing rules for the management and direction of the seminary having been read over by the preses, and these rules having been carefully considered, article by article, the following were agreed to:—

“Rules and orders for the government of the Sunday School at Haddington—1. The management and direction of this seminary shall be vested in committees chosen annually from the subscribers at large. 2. The general committee, to consist of seven, of whom four to be a quorum, shall meet in the Library the first Monday of every month, at twelve o’clock noon, in order to transact the public business of this institution. 3. A quarterly committee, appointed by the general committee, and consisting of two persons, shall visit the school every Sunday, and make their report, written down in a book kept for the purpose. 4. The general committee shall provide books for the use of the scholars, none of which shall be taken home on any account, except catechisms or hymn-books. 5. No child shall be admitted into this school under five years of age, nor without a recommendation from a subscriber; and subscribers are requested to be very cautious not to recommend scholars from a house which is infected with any contagious disorder. 6. The children shall attend from nine in the morning till the time of public worship, and then be conducted to church in due order by their teacher and a visitor, and from four to seven in the afternoon. 7. The children are all requested to come clean, upon pain of expulsion. 8. The number of scholars not to exceed forty to one teacher, who shall keep a list of their names, and have them regularly called over every morning and evening, that those who are absent be marked, the cause inquired into, and, if not sufficient, their absence reported to the visitors, who shall excuse, reprove, or expel, as they judge most expedient. 9. The teacher shall begin and close the day with a psalm or hymn, and prayer. 10. Swearing, lying, or any other profaneness, shall exclude from the benefits of this charity, if such vices are persisted in after reproof. 11. Those scholars who distinguish themselves, to the satisfaction of the visitors, by punctual attendance, diligent application, and due improvement, shall, upon the report of the visitors, receive some reward for their encouragement, at the discretion of the general committee. 12. That the exercises of the school be confined to religious instruction, and that the scholars be publicly examined every quarter in the church or school, by such ministers as the committee shall apply to. 13. That the master be found qualified to teach, of an exceptionally moral character, sound in the faith, and giving evidence of a mind under the habitual influence of divine truth. 14 The salary of the teacher shall not be under 5, 5s. per annum. 15. These rules shall be printed, and a copy hung up in the school, and regularly read every month.”

Then the meeting unanimously made choice of Mr John Hutton, assistant teacher in the Grammar School,

to be teacher of this seminary, and agreed that the first meeting of the school shall be on the first Sunday of June next, of which intimation shall be made from the pulpit of the different congregations of this place next ‘ Lord’s day. They further made choice of Mr John Banks to be their treasurer, and Mr James Johnston to be secretary for the ensuing year, both of whom to be members of the committee, ex-officio. The following subscribers were chosen as the general committee for the ensuing year :—The Rev. Dr George Barclay ; the Rev. Mr Robert Scott; the Rev. Mr Buchanan, Episcopal minister; Mr John Craw, Mr John Martine, Mr John Crombie, Mr Robert Somerville.

The first meeting of the above committee was appointed to be on Saturday, the 29th instant. We find from the monthly minutes that in the Sunday school list of committee and visitors were the names of the most respectable burgesses of the burgh. Besides those already given, there are the Rev. Robert Chalmers, of the Old Burgher Church; the Rev. Benoni Black, of the East United Associate Church ; David Smith, provost in 1785; John Fife, merchant; Bailie Robert Wright, baker; Bailie Robert Roughead, innkeeper; James Grieve, grocer; William Pringle, tanner ; James Pringle, tanner; James Roughead, seed - merchant (provost, 1801); Hay Donaldson, writer; Robert Burton, merchant (provost, 1778); Richard Somner, surgeon (provost, 1793); James Burn, wright; Robert Howden, Garleton; Thomas Howden, Ugston, &c. The school was supported by the voluntary yearly subscriptions of the most respectable persons of the town, in sums from 2s. 6d. to 1 0s. 6d. Among the gentry we find that the Earl of Wemyss subscribed 5; Lady Sinclair of Stevenson, 1, 1s.; Patrick Lindsay of Eaglescaimie, 1, 1s.; Mrs Sydserff of Ruchlaw, 1, 1s.; Captain Todd of Alderston, 1, 1s; the Incorporation of Shoemakers, 1, 1s.; Incorporation of Tailors, 1, 1s.; town of Haddington, 2, 2s., &c. A special collection at the church door amounted to 9, 13s. The subscriptions at 11th May 1791 amounted to 44, 6s. 11d., lists of which are inserted in the sederunt book. In 1792 the subscriptions amounted to 25, 14s. 2d. only. In 1793 they fell off to 17, 6s. 8d.

On the 5th June 1790, 20 scholars appeared at the first meeting. Their names are given. On 7th November 1791 the number had increased to 146. The scholars were, in addition to their regular lessons, instructed in church music at intervals. Bibles, psalm, hymn, and other good books were often given to the best scholars as premiums. The very successful commencement of the Haddington Sunday school in 1790 augured for it a long existence, but it is painful to note that in a few years it fell very much off, both in amount of subscriptions and number of scholars. We find the following minute of 20th October 1794:—“The visitors reported that the number of scholars since last meeting had not exceeded the dozen, and for the two last Sabbaths are become still fewer. Upon these considerations the meeting found it necessary to discontinue the school, and recommended to the ministers of the several congregations to intimate the same next Lord’s day; but to mention at the same time that if any considerable number of parents shall at any future period signify their wish to have it resumed, the managers are willing to do their utmost for the success of the school as formerly.” This appeal does not seem to have been very successful, for we find from the minute of a meeting held 1st February 1796, that the school was closed, and that the balance of funds on hand was distributed among poor persons, and that the old books belonging to the school were given gratis to the poor for their children. The meeting further appointed the minute-book to be lodged in the Town Library. The minutes were signed by Robert Scott, Benoni Black, John Martine, John Crombie, John Fyfe, John Banks, and James Johnston.

It is now difficult to give a reason for the breaking up of such an admirable institution as the Haddington Sunday school after such a short existence. We find in the minute of 20th May 1790, and in article six of the regulations, “that the scholars were to be conducted to the church in due order by their teacher and a visitor.” On 5th December 1791, the following is minuted :— “Messrs Scott and Martine, visitors of last month, reported that they had attended during their month, and were still pleased with the progress of the scholars; but that a practice was beginning to prevail among them of absenting themselves from the church, under the pretence of going at their parent’s desire to other places of worship.” This sixth regulation appears to have been too strict, in so far that it enforced the scholars to attend the Established Church. No doubt it was framed from a good motive, but it is well known that dissenters from the Church of Scotland were at that time very scrupulous in allowing their children to attend any other church than their own. Sectarianism was perhaps stronger in those days than now, although it is strong yet. The hours of attendance—morning and evening—were too long, viz., from 9 to 11, and from 4 to 7. One “yoking” might have been sufficient for young folk. These might perhaps have been two reasons for the dissolution of the school. During the existence of the Haddington Sunday school, the fact, however, came to be recognised that a Sunday school in connection with a Christian church was a necessary and valuable appendage. After the collapse took place, the different churches in Haddington opened Sunday schools of their own, and we believe they are kept up to the present time. They have done much good in their day to the young and rising generation.


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