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Perth Grammar School

Cowan, the historian, tells us that the old Grammar School of Perth was founded in the 12th century, in Malcolm IV’s reign. An early reference to the school in the “Registrum de Dunfermlyn,” refers to it as the “principal grammar school of the borough of Perth,” clearly indicating that there was more than one such
school in Perth in early days. We gather from additional meagre reports that the school was “well conducted.” The normal attendance was 360 boys, the sons of noblemen and rich burgesses and those pupils who intended to follow a career in the Church.

The magistrates appointed the Rector and the “doctors” (i.e. teachers), and also paid their salaries. Early teachers in the school were churchmen, as the schools were “an integral part of the Church.” Their teaching was largely oral—until the invention of printing in the 15th century, when books became more plentiful. The school was called a “Grammar School” because Latin grammar was the main subject taught—other subjects in early days being music and arithmetic. The Latin text book used for many years in grammar schools was the “Donat,” written by Aelius Donatus in the 9th century. A notable rector of the Grammar School, Andrew Simson, in 1587 publisheda new grammar, which was generally adopted in
place of the Donat. The Grammar School week at the beginning of the 17th century included all the days of the week. On Sundays the scholars marched to church. Then afterwards they marched back again to school, where the masters questioned them—to find out whether they had paid due attention to the sermon.

At first there were no seats for the scholars in the church, and the boys were restless and inattentive. Seats were eventually provided, and this, we are told, “put a stop to their tumult and running through the church.

”Games played by the Grammar School pupils were tennis, golf, and football, in spite of the fact that neglect of archery practice in Scotland had made the authorities decree, in 1424, that “nae man was to play at the futeball under the paine of fiftie shillings.” The school practised archery on the South Inch, and there a knoll,
known as the “Scholars’ Knoll,” in former times marked one end of the butts.

The introduction of gunpowder and firearms did away with the need to practise archery. The scholars, however, continued to parade through Perth on certain days with their bows and arrows. On Candlemas Day the pupils presented gifts to the Rector and teachers—of whom there were normally three. Each boy usually
gifted a sixpence or a shilling, the sons of the wealthy giving more. As each pupil came forward with his gift the master called out the amount in Latin. There was keen competition among the boys to give the highest amount, as he who gave the most was dubbed “King” for the day,
an office that carried certain privileges. At the conclusion of the presentation ceremony a general holiday was granted, and the boys marched through the town carrying the “King” at their head. There was not always complete harmony between the “King” and the teachers. Thus, on March 16, 1710, we find the “King,” Lord George Murray, writing to his father, the Duke of Atholl: “May it please your grace, when I was in school this forenoon there was a grandsone of Lady Rollo who was whipt, and I, by the privilege I received at Candlemas, went to protect him, but the master would not allow me. “He ordered me to sit down, that it was none of my business.
After he had done me this affront I resigned all the privileges I had.”
History does not relate what the Duke thought, but it is interesting to note that Lord George Murray later led the army of Prince Charles Edward in Scotland.

In the early 17th century the Grammar School stood on a site bounded to the north by South Street, and to the east by Speygate. It was apparently a long, low building entered from South Street by the Schoolhouse Vennel.
The Grammar School scholars of the day had a lively time supporting the coronation of Charles II at Scone, which had been chosen for the ceremony because an outbreak of fire had made Holyrood Palace unsuitable.

The school was destined to pay dearly for their display of loyalty to King Charles. When Cromwell entered Perth later in the year he gave orders that several buildings were to be pulled down to provide material for his new Citadel; and to teach the scholars a lesson, the Grammar School was one of the buildings thus destroyed. After this demolition of the school it was some time before
another site was secured. This was at the south-west corner of St. Ann’s Vennel, fronting South Street and entered from the Vennel. There were two floors in the building. The school occupied the upper one, and there were two shops on the ground floor. An old history book comments: “The Grammar School Vennel leads to the South Street, and in a garden on the left-hand side there once was a chapel dedicated to St. Ann, the mother of the Virgin.”

The spotlight of history from time to time illumines the names of various Grammar School rectors, for widely differing reasons. Thus Rector Patrick Johnstone apparently had trouble getting regular salary payments, for he is on record writing to the town council “that thair is owing to me fyfe terms’ dewtie.” In 1637 we find Rector John Row initiating a correspondence with the authorities, who agreed to his request “that the Grammar
School earthen floor shall be laid with boards, thus making the school warm and dry.”

Again, we read that Rector Andrew Anderson, in 1646,
complained that “weemin’s schools” were taking pupils from him— with the result that the council decreed that such schools should not admit boys over seven years of age. In 1753, Rector Cornfute applied for an increase in salary, on the grounds that, “in addition to Greek and Latin, he was teaching English, Writing, Arithmetic, Book-keeping, Geography.” He surely deserved a sympathetic hearing! A 1709 resolution of the town council changed the school holidays from autumn to early summer—”it being hurtful to young children, scholars at the Grammar School, to get the vacance at the end of the moneth of August, and some weekes in the beginning of Septem-
ber; when they had occasione of getting of grein fruit and peise, which do occasione diseases and is destructive to the health.”

Doubtless holidays have been altered before and since with less reason! In 1710 the new Academy was opened to provide a more up-to- date education than the Grammar School, which was, naturally enough, chiefly concerned with promoting old traditions. In 1807 a new building to house the various institutes of higher
education in Perth was completed at Rose Terrace, at a cost of £7000. In September of that year the Grammar School moved from South Street to Rose Terrace, where it ultimately merged with the Academy.

Return To Perthshire History



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