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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter XXIX.—Schools and Schoolmasters

IN the First Book of Discipline (1560) the Reformers recommended that a school for "the first rudiments" of learning should be established in every parish, and " a college for logic, rhetoric, and the tongues" in every "notable town." In pursuance of this design, the Privy Council in 1616 enacted that in every parish a Grammar School should be established and supported by the heritors. This Act was ratified by the Parliament of 1633. Referring to Fettercairn, little is known except that, in 1567 and down at least to 1574, John Thom, as before stated, was reader and schoolmaster, at a salary of 24 merks, or less than 2 stg. It thus appears that Fettercairn, if not in the forefront, was not behind in carrying out the wishes of the Reformers. Concerning the school during the next hundred years, the traditional story of the Countess of Middleton's grant of land in 1666 to the schoolmaster, whose name is not given, and also the word "predecessoris" in a minute of 1674, supply sufficient evidence that a succession of schoolmasters was kept up, and that the heritors had assessed themselves in accordance with the enactments of 1616 and 1633. The minute runs as follows:—

1674, Ma. ij. last. The qlk day The Heritoris, Minister and Elderis did Receave Mr Alexander Morrice, Student of Divinitie in y* Marischall Collage of Abd. to be Schoollmaster, Precentor and Session Clerk, allowing such yeirlie sallarie as was formerlie payit to his predecessoris w* oyr casualties usit and wont; the list qr of is as followeth:—

In Nov., 1678, James Watson, a student of Marischal College, was appointed schoolmaster, session-clerk, and precentor upon the same terms as his predecessors. Three years afterwards he was suspended from office on account of a misdemeanour, and had to satisfy the Kirk Session by three public appearances in church. He was thereafter restored to office. Alexander Strachan was session-clerk at the time, but regarding the school nothing is stated. In the Commisariot of St. Andrews the name of James Watson appears as deceased in 1686. With no record for the next fourteen years, nothing is known about school or schoolmaster. But in March, 1701, John Gentleman attended a Presbytery Meeting at Conveth and signed the Confession of Faith as schoolmaster of Fettercairn. His appointment, however, was probably a year or two earlier, or soon after the passing of the Parish Schools Act in 1696.

Along with some other schoolmasters in the Mearns, who had favoured the Rebellion, he appeared by summons before the Presbytery at Ecclesgreig, on 16th April, 1716, and confessed that he had read in the church to the congregation three rebellious papers; but that he was forced to do so "by threats of parties belonging to Marr's camp"; the first paper being for cess, and the other two for levying men to follow the Pretender. "He thought he had got Mr Ramsay's authority," but this the latter denied. He partly confessed that two bonfires had been kindled at his house, "as rejoicings for the Pretender's safe arrival," and that he had drunk his health, "under the name and title of King James." He denied that he had fallen down on his knees, or blest the Pretender, or said, "it was the blaithest sight he had seen." He likewise denied that he had ever cursed King George, or that his scholars "had abused the minister or persons who owned the Government." He admitted that he kept a young man to teach his school and "did not do it himself, as he was factor to Balbegno, and was also obliged to keep a 'chaings' (public house), that he might be able to take care of his old parents." Whereupon he was deposed; and so were also, for the like offence, the schoolmasters of Fetteresso and Dunnottar.

Sir Alexander Ramsay and the other heritors empowered Mr Ramsay to look out for a well qualified person to be schoolmaster. Alexander Strachan, having testimonials from the Presbytery of Aberdeen, was examined, and admitted on 4th December, 1716. He held office for only a year and a half. John Ogilvie of Balbegno, in 1717, petitioned the Presbytery to restore John Gentleman to the office; and Sir Alexander Ramsay, in February, 1718, made a similar request, but both were refused, on the ground that the office was not vacant. On the 1st July following, Mr Ramsay brought up John Melville, from the parish of Birse, to be examined for the office, as Mr Strachan was about to leave. All this implies that he did not give satisfaction. Mr Melville, being found not fully qualified, was appointed for one year, " with a view to get ane act of admission according to his improvement.'' He succeeded, and continued till 1st April, 1737, when John Law was appointed and held office for only six months. The salary at this juncture was equal to 5 13s. 4d. stg. Mr John Gentleman acted as clerk to the heritors and Kirk Session. In October, 1737, Robert Milne became schoolmaster; and after his death, in 1741, the Kirk Session, on account of some failure of duty, refused, but were compelled at the instance of the Procurator-Fiscal to pay his last year's salary. James Bate, son of William Bate in Kincardine, a student of King's College, Aberdeen, was appointed schoolmaster, session-clerk, and precentor. It was in the last year of his tenure that the Brechin band, in their onset, burnt the school-house and destroyed the session records.

On the 4th November, 1747, David Niddry, son of James Niddry in Mains of Balbegno, laid a presentation from a majority of the heritors in his favour before the Presbytery ; but Sir Alexander Ramsay objected by letter, on the ground that Niddry was too young, not properly qualified, and not able to act as precentor; and besides, that the presentation was made without a formal meeting of heritors. Niddry was examined and found rather deficient, but was given a trial of the school for six months. John Gordon, schoolmaster, of Logie and Pert, was presented by Sir Alexander and certain others of the heritors, and was, after several meetings and correspondence with the Presbytery, appointed in 7th December, 1748; while Niddry in the meantime, supported by a petition from heads of families in the parish, made an unsuccessful appeal to the Synod.

Regarding the kind of school accommodation at this period, in contrast with that of the present day, some idea may be formed from entries in the Kirk Session Records, thus:—"1735, November. For a bed to the school, 6 6s." (Scots); and "1750, November. Got from James Stephen, in payment of the old school bed, '6 " (Scots). The bed was for "gangrel buddies"; and the school, mean in construction, and very much a hovel, was the poor's lodging-house. A rather uneducative arrangement.

Whether the schoolmaster had any allowance for lodging the beggars is not known, but to him another custom not quite so humane was a source of income. To the annual cock-fight, held on Handsel Monday or Shrove Tuesday in the school-room, the older boys brought each his bird and paid dues to the "maister." These dues were stated, in one parish (Applecross, Ross-shire), to be "equal to a quarter's payment of the scholars." The animals were set two and two to fight till the floor was stained with their blood. With them it was "the survival of the fittest," and the death of the weaker ones, which were handed over as a perquisite to the schoolmaster. The boy who owned the victorious cock was rewarded, "dubbed king of the school," and allowed for a time to do very much as he pleased. This barbarous custom was kept up in Fettercairn till the early years of the present century, and till a much later period in some other parishes. It continued at least till 1826, "the year o' the short corn," at the school of Clattering Brig, which, for the children of the crofters and lime-burners, [The limestone quarry became unworkable, and was given up about 1832. The farms and crofts of Glenburnie and its braes are now all run out in grass for sheep and cattle. Tbe only dwelling that remains is the gamekeeper's cottage seen in the picture at page 63.] was taught by an enterprising individual, "Dominie Young," who in one end of his biggin' had the school and in the other end a public-house, opened in opposition to the late inn of Knowgreens a little higher up on the Cairn o' Mount road.

The next schoolmaster of Fettercairn was John Harper, teacher of a school in Grlendye, who was appointed schoolmaster and session-clerk on 12th March, 1755. His tenure was of longer duration; but for a number of years before his death, in 1794, bodily affliction and blindness laid him aside from duty. Mr Foote, in his account of the parish written in 1792, refers to the school and the teachers as follows: "A new house and teaching room were lately built. The salary is 6 6s. 8d. stg., with half an acre of land and a small garden. The fees for teaching English are Is. 6d; for Latin and Arithmetic, 2s. 6d. (per qr.) The schoolmaster is a very old man, and has been blind for sixteen years. Several young men have served as assistants, but having no fixed salary they were always changing. The inconveniences arising from this state determined the heritors to secure an assistant by presenting him to the succession. To encourage a qualified person to accept, 10 stg. is given by a Lady (The Lady Jane Leslie) to the assistant, to continue during the life of the old schoolmaster; but on that account the assistant is to teach a Sunday school. The pious and respectable benefactress visits that school herself, and bestows suitable rewards upon such of the scholars as show a desire to profit by that useful institution."

The assistant and successor alluded to was David Adamson, who married the old man's daughter Barbara. The old people of the past generation who had been Adamson's pupils spoke with kindly feelings of "Bawbie Harper"; but some of their school reminiscences showed that now and again they loved frolic more than learning. Mr Adamson might be a good teacher, but his discipline was hardly a match for young Fettercaim. The teaching room, as Mr Foote called it, was small, only about 18 feet by 16, and thus it served till 1843. Its ceiling, not lofty, was constructed of joists and loose boards, above which were stored the master's peats and sods for winter fuel. The writers and counters sat vis a vis along both sides of a long table in the middle of the room; and on several occasions, when some learners more diligent than the rest were poring over their exercises, and the master's back about, an idle imp, watching his opportunity, with a stick or staff from under the table poked overhead to bring down a shower of dross and dust on slates and copybooks. Another wicked prank of theirs was to fill one of the peats which they brought every morning, with gunpowder, and have it on the fire to explode and scatter the embers. This happened more than once, when, of an afternoon, the master fell a-nodding on his desk at the fireside. Mr Adamson died suddenly in April, 1817. Under him, as in most of the parish schools, the only class books were the following, and they were used in this order, viz.: 1, The Shorter Catechism, with an A B C on the cover; 2, The New Testament; 3, Solomon's Proverbs; 4, The Bible; and 5, Barrie's Collection. The first graduated series of Reading Books was brought out in 1818, by an Association of the Parochial Schoolmasters of Scotland.

James Nicholson, son of the parish schoolmaster of Craig, was next appointed. He taught the school, and held the parochial offices till his death in February, 1843. He made himself popular in the parish; not so much by his teaching as by his lively, agreeable, and obliging disposition. He acted as secretary to the Fettercairn Farmers' Club.

His successor was Alexander Inglis, assistant in Montrose Academy. Hitherto, the school and school-house formed one building at "the Townhead"; but after Mr Inglis's appointment, a new school-room, of inside dimensions, 30 feet by 20, was built upon the site now occupied by the Public Hall. Mr Inglis left in 1845, on being appointed to the Parish School of Arbroath; and afterwards became Rector of Bathgate Academy. In 1860 he was appointed Principal of Charlottetown College, Prince Edward's Island. He was honoured with the degree of LL.D. He married Charlotte, a sister of the Rev. Alexander Whyte of Fettercaim, and their son is the Rev. John Macdonald Inglis, A.M., minister of Penninghame. Dr Inglis returned to Scotland, and died a few years ago.

The next schoolmaster was James Low, a native of Forfar district, and a licentiate of the Church, who had taught in the Douglas Academy, Newton-Stewart. He left in November, 1851, on being ordained as a missionary to Victoria. Returning to Scotland in 1871, he took up his abode in Aberdeen, and died there, leaving a widow but no family.

The writer of these pages was next appointed on 17th December, 1851, from the school of Meikleour in the county of Perth. He graduated A.M. in 1849 at Marischal College, and received the degree of LL.D. in 1888 from the University of Aberdeen. Holding a teacher's certificate, of date 1848, he introduced the pupil teacher system, and the school premises becoming insufficient, the present school was built in 1860, and enlarged in 1891. The heritors, with enlightened liberality, also erected the present commodious school-house upon the site of the old one in 1864. After nearly forty-four years' service retirement came at 1st October, 1895. With one exception, this tenure is the longest on record of any minister or schoolmaster in the parish. The Rev. Anthony Dow held office for nearly forty-nine years.

In August, 1895, Donald M'Kinven, from Rothesay Academy, a native of Campbeltown, was appointed. After a highly successful career as pupil teacher, he took the first place on the list of the Glasgow Established Church Training College, and graduated A.M. at the University. The high position taken by the headmaster augurs well for the continued success of the school.


In the Statistical Account written by Mr Why te in 1837, he states that, besides the Parish School attended by about 68 scholars, other four schools had an aggregate attendance of about 120; and some smaller places (dame schools in their own private houses) had about 40 children. A school at Dalladies, supported by subscriptions and school fees, was managed by the late Charles Durie the tenant, and taught by young men hired from year to year. It was given up about 1848.

A female school in the village was supported by fees and a small salary paid by Sir John and Lady Harriet Stuart Forbes. It was closed in 1861, on the appointment of a female teacher iti the Parish School.

The school at Inch of Arnhall was an adventure school, in a room rent free, with only the fees paid by the scholars. It was taught by male teachers; but at a later period Colonel M'Inroy paid a small salary, and for a few years down to 1872 it was ably conducted by Miss Hannah Gold, LL.A. of St. Andrews, now in the Public School of Alyth. Under the provisions of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1872, the Free Church School in the village, taught for a year after its opening in 1849 by Thomas Bruce, and from 1850 with marked success by Alexander Murray, was closed; and Mr Murray was transferred to Inch new school, and conducted it till his death in 1879. Mr Adam Moodie, from Landsend School, was then appointed; and he continues very successfully to keep up the efficiency of the institution.

The school at Oldmains of Fasque was taught for a number of years by male teachers. One of these was David Durward, A.M., a licentiate of the Church, who in 1842 became parish schoolmaster of Mary kirk and afterwards of Maryculter. Francis Birse was the next teacher and he left about 1856 to conduct a school in Luthermuir. Shortly thereafter a new and commodious female school and teachers' rooms were erected by Lady Gladstone. The efficiency and good reputation of the school have been well maintained by a succession of trained and certificated female teachers; and by none of these more thoroughly than by Miss Munro, who has for a number of years ably discharged the duties of headmistress.

In former times a large number of infants and young children were taught to read, knit and sew by elderly women, who, generally living alone, found it convenient to keep school at their own firesides. Fifty years ago some four or five of these humble seminaries flourished here and there in the parish; but according as the efficiency of the public schools increased, they one by one ceased to exist. In primitive fashion and with good intentions they served their day. The easier portions of the Bible and the Shorter Catechism were conned over, and by the older girls committed to memory. In the last of these schools, one day a little girl was set up to repeat to the parish minister the whole metrical version of the 119th Psalm. The good old and kind mistress, in another of the same, was not herself very proficient in pronouncing the proper names, even those of the New Testament. She was heard on one occasion to solve the difficulty of a young tyro with the name "Caesar Augustus," by saying: "Little ane, he wus a muckle man, king in the East; mak7 a pass-by o' him."

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