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Dunkeld Schools and Education

Dunkeld being one of the earliest civic and ecclesiastical foundations in Scotland, it is but natural to assume that it had also educational facilities at a very early period. It is probable that even in prehistoric times, judging from the stone monuments in the district that the Druid priests expounded and taught their doctrines in Dunkeld; it being a capital of Mid Pictavia or Caledonia, would be a natural centre of such learning.

Church schools were founded in Atholl and Strathtay by early missionaries, but the educational history of Scotland is generally imputed to have had its beginnings in the days of St. Columba, who first founded schools in lona and elsewhere.

The "Muintir Kailli-an-Find" or Collegiate Church, founded by the Dalriadic Scots near Dunkeld about 600, would send apostles or teachers all around. The establishment afterwards of a monastery, and a church foundation about 800 would certainly make the beginnings of a school in Dunkeld, for neophytes at least, as the church was then the great agent of progress and civilisation, also the repository of learning. The celebration of church services required a certain degree of education only to he found within the walls of such establishments. Music would be taught; the Columban monks chanted their Psalms in a peculiar manner, generally in the open air; this service of praise was even sometimes called the "Dunkeld Litany." A knowledge of Latin was essential, and the monks, in addition to copying the Scriptures and other books, gave training in art. They also gave secular instruction and taught many useful things.

Many of the Abbots of Dunkeld were noted men of learning, such as St. Adamnan, the biographer of Columba; "Edelrade," Abbot of Dunkeld and Earl of Fife, a son of Malcolm IlL, encouraged education to such a degree that in a document dated 1100, he gave grants for the maintenance of learning to the Culdees in Lochleven, where there was a famous library.

In 1127, although the Culdees lost their power, on the changing of their Monastery into a Cathedral Church, the Bishops appointed to the See of Dunkeld were mostly notable scholars, who, by their example, gave an impetus to learning. There were amongst others Thomas Lawder, who wrote the life of a predecessor, and the famous Gavin Douglas.

Canon Myln, writing in 1515, gives an account of a school founded by the Chancellor of Dunkeld Cathedral, which may be regarded as the precursor of the Royal School. He says— "Mr George Brown, a near relative of the Bishop’s.....in honour of our Lady of Consolation, erected in the Church of St. George, a scholastic chaplain and headmaster of a grammar school. The church may expect many good grammatical scholars from this establishment if kept up."

Of the Prebendary of Muckersie, another member of the Chapter of Dunkeld, Myln tells that at his own charger he educated some good men. So did another, Mr. Alexander Richardson, who "educated promising young men at his own expense, some for monks, some for priests, and others for the service of the quire as he found they had a turn." Various officials are also commended for their skill in grammar.

The school established by Chancellor Brown in the Cathedral Chapel of St. George may probably have been carried on until the Reformation, when the Chapel fell in the destruction of the Cathedral. Seven years afterwards, in 1567, King James VI. made a Grant for the erection of a Grammar School at Dunkeld, and it was endowed under a Royal Warrant of that date.

In the Charter granted then, the King gave the Earl of Atholl and his successors the patronage of the school.

Changes, of course, keeping pace with the varying educational requirements of the nation, have taken place in the administration of grants and endowments.

Under the Educational Endowments (Scotland) Act 1882, a scheme was drawn up for the administration of the endowments known as the Royal School of Dunkeld, hitherto held and administered under a Royal Warrant, dated 2nd February 1567, and the Bishopric Rents of Dunkeld, hitherto held and administered under a grant by King William III., dated 29th February, 1696. This scheme was approved by the Queen in Council, 15th October, 1889. A governing body was then constituted called the Governors, consisting of five persons, one of whom was His Grace, the Duke of Atholl, another appointed by him, and the remaining three by the School Boards of Caputh, Little Dunkeld, and Dunkeld and Dowally district. During the many educational changes which have occurred, this endowment has been retained. At one period, however, its withdrawal was threatened by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, who administer the Crown revenues. In conjunction with the Perthshire Authority and the Dunkeld Parish Council, the Governors sought legal advice. On the intimation that there was a legal claim to this grant in perpetuity, the Commissioners agreed to continue the payment.

This 1696 grant by William III. was made with the consent of the Lord Commissioners of his Treasury and Exchequer. The extract from the report throws a light on the times: "Considering how useful and necessary schools of learning are for instructing all youth in the knowledge and practice of a religion, and for introducing civilitie and policie and order, and that the rents belonging to the late Bishops in our ancient Kingdome of Scotland, and now fallen into our hands, are most propper to be applyed for the ends and uses aforesaid ...... and that throw the neglect and iniquity of times past schools have not been erected as they ought to have been in the bounds of the Highlands of Perthshire ....... nor sufficient fees and allowances appointed for the masters and teachers in the few schools that have been erected."

In Hunter’s "Diocese of Dunkeld" there are several allusions to the schools in the Presbytery, amongst them Dunkeld and Little Dunkeld. Acts of Parliament passed in 1633 and 1641 regarding schools and maintenances for schoolmasters were not obeyed in this Presbytery, any more than in any other parts of Scotland, but after the Act of 1696 some efforts were made. The Presbytery reports in 1707 that there are schools at Dunkeld, Douly, Caputh, and other centres. In 1716, it was reported that in Little Dunkeld, Caputh and other parishes, there was no salary for a schoolmaster according to law.

Notwithstanding the Endowment Grant of 1696, educational matters in Dunkeld could not have been altogether satisfactory, for in a Memorial of 1716 to the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, the Dunkeld Presbytery, stating their opinion as to the educational requirements in the Highlands of Atholl, make the following suggestion with regard to Dunkeld: "The toun of Dunkeld, situate at the foot of the Highlands, where there is good accommodation for schollars, would be a most proper place for gentlemen and others in the Highlands, for ane nigh to send their children to be educated and well instructed in Latine, Greek, Arithmetick, which for the present has no legal sallary, in regaird there are little arable lands circumjacent. So that there being nothing but houses and gardens in the said toun no competency hitherto could be obtained for a schoolmaster from the inhabitants; wherefore it is our humble opinion that were there a fixed schoolmaster with due encouragement there, if it were but to the value of twintie pound sterling, and five pound sterling for an under teacher, it would tend much not only to the advantage of the said Highlands, but also to that of many parts of the low country near adjacent."

It appears as if such a salary ought to have been forthcoming. In the deed of the foundation of the Royal School, 1567, reference is made to various prebends, and the sums payable yearly from them for the support of the schoolmaster is quoted in Hunter’s "Diocese." The chaplainry of Invar was charged with payment of £10, others with £4, and so on. Before the Reformation it was stated that some of this money, with £4 of the rental of the hospituim of the Bishop of Dunkeld in Perth had been applied to the support of certain boys called "blew freiris," who served in the Cathedral choir.

In the Statistical Account of Dunkeld, 1798, the Grammar School is mentioned with the salary of the schoolmaster as £34 sterling, dues payable to the Chaplain of St. Ninian’s, and an official dwelling-house. These dues were 20 merks Scots, 2 bolls of coal and 2 dozen of poultry. From the circumstance of the Rector of the Royal School thus receiving dues payable to a chaplain, he also received the title of Chaplain of St. Ninian’s. This chapel, built in 1420, had been endowed out of the rents of Mucklari.

At the burning of Dunkeld in 1689, the school building was, of course, destroyed, but the scholars were accommodated for some time in another attached to the east gable of the Cathedral, which still shows the marks. For a considerable period afterwards the Royal School was held in a building facing the Tay, in Cathedral Street, but in 1891 another change took place, and this building ceased to be the Royal School, becoming in later days the headquarters of the Scottish Horse regiment.

Culloden House, opposite the Fountain, where the Market Cross once stood, was converted into school buildings, and became the Dunkeld Royal School. It was an old, roomy house, once an inn, but a private house when brought into school use.

The Dunkeld Royal School has therefore had a long and honourable history; and as an educational centre, it may be seen that Dunkeld occupied a place of importance in the county. Until railway facilities opened up the country, giving easy access to larger towns in the south, this school gave good education to the sons of many of the ancient Highland families, and scholars travelled long distances.

In a list of the Schoolmasters of Dunkeld, 1659-1686, given by Hunter, one is "Mr. Andrew Malloch," who had been a "Doctor of the Grammar School of Perth," whilst another, Mr. James Ross, was, on leaving Dunkeld, appointed Master of the Grammar School at Perth. He was succeeded by Alexander Robertson, who afterwards entered the ministry. Robertson was designated preacher at Little Dunkeld in 1684, but still retained his office of schoolmaster at Dunkeld; then was fully admitted minister of Little Dunkeld two years after. These masters figured largely in the law deeds of that period as witnesses. One, Andrew Creichtoun, is designated as Schoolmaster of the Grammar School in Dunkeld, 1648.

Jerome Stone, schoolmaster in Dunkeld in the next century, contributed his quota to the Ossianic translations. He is mentioned in Brown’s history of the Highlands as a. native of Fife, who had acquired a knowledge of the Gaelic language during some years’ residence in Dunkeld, where he kept a school. He was the third person who collected several of the ancient poems of the Highlands, and the first who called attention to their beauty in a letter from Dunkeld addressed to the "Author of the Scots Magazine." This letter is quoted in full in the `History' as displaying considerable talent." In 1752, Stone contributed to the Scots Magazine an English version of Bishop Douglas’ Prologue to the Twelfth Book of the AEneid, "A Morning in May." In 1756, his rhyming translation of a Gaelic poem appeared in another number of the Scots Magazine.

Another literary Rector was Dr. MacCulloch, who flourished in the beginning of the 19th century and whose "Course of Reading" was long popular in schools throughout Scotland. He published "The Highland and Western Isles" with "Guides to Perthshire and Dunkeld." These were elaborate works, and contain very fine descriptive writing. He entered the ministry, and went to Greenock.

The Statistical Account of Dunkeld tells that a Sunday School was founded in 1789 by Jane, Duchess of Atholl. There were fees for this, paid partly by the Duchess and partly by parents. One of the rules was that the pupils had to walk in regular order on Sunday with the master to church, where they were allotted seats. A public examination was also held of this Sunday School. This same Duchess founded a "Female School," where sewing and tambouring (a species of embroidery) were chiefly taught. However, a lesson in English was read daily. The mistress here also was paid partly by the Duchess and partly by parents.

Although originally the Royal School numbered amongst its pupils girls as well as boys, the custom had fallen into disuse, probably because of the establishment of such Female Schools and also for want of space. A Girls’Industrial School was erected by the Duchess of Atholl at her own expense in 1853. A plain but good education was given there, although at first a very large portion of time was devoted to industrial work, the pupils being supplied with yellow calico aprons trimmed with red braid for that purpose. Another feature, too, of the school was that for a number of years it was regarded as almost a church school, and pupils of Free Church parentage, though not refused admittance, were debarred from certain privileges, such as becoming pupil teachers. A more enlightened policy, however, soon prevailed, and the school was largely attended and appreciated. The last teacher was Miss Illingworth, a lady of powerful personality, long remembered as an excellent teacher. In 1898, on the death of the Duchess Dowager of Atholl, in whom Dunkeld lost a friend, the Girls’ Industrial School was merged into the Royal School, where the old scholastic reputation is fully maintained. The present Rector is Mr Henry Crombie, M.A.

In 1910, an interesting event, forming a. link in the Empire chain, occurred in the school history. This was an exchange of flags with the Dunkeld State School, Victoria, Australia. Across the sea the Dunkeld Royal School sent the Union Jack "in a casket designed by a Dunkeld boy (William Campbell Borrie), and made by an old Dunkeld boy (Hugh Robertson) from an old Dunkeld tree." This old Dunkeld tree was one of the parent larches which was cut down in 1908, and the wood for the casket was gifted by the Duke of Atholl. In return the school children of Dunkeld, in Australia, sent the Australian flag in a polished blackwood case.

The Higher Grade department was instituted in 1907 and has justified its existence. That the pupils, too, have nobly fulfilled the school motto, "Forward with Honour," given by the present Rector, is evinced by the School Memorial, unveiled in 1922 by the Lady Helen Tod, for those who fell in the Great War. This artistic and beautiful memorial was designed by William Campbell Borrie, L.R.C.P., and SE., a former pupil of the school, who also composed the verse graven on it beginning,

"Shell-shattered France enfolds thee to her breast."

There are thirty-two names upon the Memorial. The memorial was erected by public subscription, mainly through the efforts of the present Rector, supported by the various members of the staff, former pupils, and a standing committee of three, viz., Misses E. Stewart, J. Bruce and F. Macdonald.

The Perthshire Education Authority have it in view to close this school and erect a combined school for Dunkeld and Birnam, near the Cross Roads, Little Dunkeld, not far from which there was, in former days, the Parochial School. This latter was closed on the passing of the Scotch Education Act in 1872, and the pupils transferred to Torwood, Birnam, where the Free Church School was held. Both schools were thus united.

Other schools there were in Dunkeld - ladies’ schools, Gaelic schools, Dame schools—those latter principally for infants. The memory of one of these is still green. It was in, or near, the Cross Wynd, and the teacher, Isabella Robertson, is best remembered by the soubriquet given her by irreverent pupils, Tibby Toddles. She taught all her pupils in one room out of one Book, the Bible. Occasionally, the Shorter Catechism might be used. She required to fear no Inspector and studied her own ideas of pronunciation. For long, her pupils were recognised by words such as se-pul-chre or Cap-er-naum, and when a very hard word appeared her comment was, "That’s Latin, dawtie, pass on." A beautiful and touching description of this old lady and her pupils is found in James Stewart’s sketch, "Eppie Broon," and as an example of ordinary education in the early days of the 19th century the poem is worthy of quotation.

"Imagine a woman, o’ threescore and ten,

Leanin’ owre a bit staff wi’ a pike at the en’!

Gie a sow-backit mutch and an auld-fashioned goon,

An’ there’s something before you like wee Eppie Broon.

She fends frae the swirls o’ poverty’s shock

By skuilin’ the bairns o’ hard-workin’ fock.

For weekly, uncawkit, as Monday comes roon’

There’s tippence sent wi’ them for auld Eppie Broon.

When time’s at your wairin’, oh, spend a half-oor

To see a’ her scholars ranged roon on her floor,

Her kingies and queenies, her tots and her cocks,

A’ bizzin’ an’ bummin’ like bees in a box.

Wee Curly Mary is puzzled at D,

An’ gleg little Janet is scratchin’ at E,

But Charlie’s a hero, an’ braks a’ the toon

He’s forrit at izzit, wi’ auld Eppie Broon.

There’ a class for the Bible, the Carritch, the Psalms,

Whase dux is preferred to a seat near the jambs.

Verse aboot’s read aloud—some hae to spell

Faster than Eppie can weel dae hersel’.

And, oh, how delighted the wee totums stand

when she tells o’ the joys o’ a heavenly land.

It’s no wrang to say that our Maker looks doon

Wi’ a smile a’ approval on auld Eppie Broon."

Such schools are things of the past, but they, too, had an honourable place.

Dunkeld an Ancient City
Elizabeth Stewart
Dunkeld, 1926

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