Early Days

The coat of arms and the motto, Tempori parendum , were not adopted until the early twentieth century, but they well illustrate the origin of the school, and its adaptability. The coat-of-arms shows Queen Margaret, richly habited and crowned bearing in her right hand a sceptre and in her left a book all proper between two trees of knowledge, to remind us of the remote 12th century, when a bishop of St. Andrews, in whose diocese Stirling was, gave to Queen Margaret’s Church of the Holy Trinity of Dunfermline the churches of Perth and Stirling and their schools. The wolf, couchant gardant, at the Queen’s feet is taken from the “Small” Burgh seal, and reflects the early interest in education taken by the magistrates of the Royal Burgh, for later charters speak of scholam de Striuelin, and Scholam ejusdam ville, which suggest that the ‘Church’ school fairly soon became the town’s school. We can only speculate where this early school was situated, as all the buildings, except the castle, of the old town were destroyed by fire in 1406.

15th and 16th Centuries

Until the Reformation in 1560, the Abbot of Dunfermline appointed the Magister, buttheTown Council assumed other practical responsibilities, and about 1450, built a thatched single storey school, on the south-east of the Castle Hill, where the school remained until 1856. Here the Master, a graduate, as his title implies, taught Latin, assisted by a Latin ‘Doctor’ and a Scots, later English, ‘Doctor’, who eventually also gave lessons in writing and arithmetic. Boys only were enrolled at the age of eight, although ‘six’ is mentioned in various local edicts prohibiting private rival seminaries. Five years was considered long enough to master these subjects, although occasional enthusiastic masters undertook a sixth year class, who were for the most part sent to study by themselves in the attic. When in more recent years, Class VI have been located on the roof of the Tower or in the ‘Sink’, it appears they were merely following an old custom. (Miss Thomson here is referring to some very small classrooms located in the tower above the Academy road entrance into the 1856-1962 school – A. McK.)

Thomas Buchannan, nephew of the celebrated George, was master in the Stirling School from 1571 to 1578, and it was one of his ‘boys’, Robert Rollock, who became the first Principal of the newly founded University of Edinburgh (1592). Possibly it was Thomas Buchannan who began the study of Greek in Stirling. At any rate it had become part of the School’s curriculum by the early seventeenth century.

17th and 18th Centuries

James VI and I returned to Scotland in 1617, and took part in a great scholastic disputation at Stirling. So pleased was the King with this display of Latin oratory that he announced his intention of founding a ‘free college’ in Stirling. Alas, the King did not fulfil his promise, in spite of the laudatory Latin poems presented to him by Master William Wallace (1612-17), and his grammar school pupils; otherwise Scotland’s fifth university would not still be a subject of discussion. ( Note : the decision to build Stirling University on the Airthrey Estate was taken in the summer of 1964, two years after Miss Thomson’s essay was written – A. McK.)

Until 1694, the school day began at 6 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. – Saturdays included. In that year, Stirling Town Council ordained that their school should commence at 7 a.m. In 1696, the High School of Edinburgh changed its hour of opening to 9 a.m., and the rest of the country followed its good example.

One of the great masters of the seventeenth century was Master David who presided over the Grammar School here from 1624-42, was lured away to Glasgow, but returned to Stirling in 1649. The Council built for him in 1633 a new two-storey building, roofed with slates. He stayed in the top flat. Later in the century, other properties were added: a byre, a brew house, a yaird and a coalhouse. Both salaries and fees were increased, the master’s emolument being augmented by legacies from local benefactors, such as John Cowane. During the eighteenth century this second building decayed, but the number of pupils increased. Instead of erecting a bigger and better building, the Council, in 1740, disjoined the English (Writing and Arithmetic) School and made it a separate establishment. In 1747, the Writing and Arithmetic masters and pupils hived off to form an independent, successful venture on their own.

Later, since the town was expanding, the English School was itself divided and a ‘branch’ opened in Baxter’s Wynd (Baker Street). Thus four official burgh schools were by then in existence, all controlled by the Town Council. These ‘break-aways’ moved from one lodging to another, until, in 1787, the Merchant Guildry, along with their old rivals, the Seven Incorporated Trades of the Burgh, jointly paid for erecting a two-storey school on the former Greyfriars ‘Yaird’ (where the High School now stands [ now in 1995 used as a hotel – A. McK.] in Academy Road but a much smaller place). The original English School was housed on the ground floor, while the top storey was given over to the teaching of writing and arithmetic.

In 1788, the Council built the third, and last grammar school on the Castle Hill site, where it remains, having been, in turn, an army store and school. Just recently, it has been converted into a shop and tea room, the “Portcullis”. Beside it, stretched the former tournament ground of the Castle, a rough but ready playing field for primitive games of footba’ and club (shinty) which were gladly abandoned when the equally primitive circuses and their ‘fules’ (clowns) paid their annual visit, along with the Horse Fair, and filled the ‘Valley’ with sound and fury.

The 1856 – 1962 School

In August 1854, the foundation stone was laid with full Masonic ceremony. Stirling was en fete for the occasion which received nationwide recognition. One of the local papers stated: “Not even when Royalty graced our ancient town was there ever witnessed a finer spectacle than that which was seen this Third of August at the laying of the foundation stone of the school.” But this enthusiasm did not extend to subscribing the full sum of money to implement the plans for the collegiate building originally envisaged. Only the west front was ready by 1856, and that was only achieved with financial assistance from the Town Council. The site was again the Greyfriars’ Yard, where the English and Writing Schools had been demolished to make way for the new “High School”, which was entered from Academy Road by a great archway under the central tower. To north and south of the entrance stretched two huge class-rooms, each with a large stone fireplace. That on the left housed Mathematics, that on the right, English. At either end were two storey buildings, to the north, a gymnasium with an art room above it; to the south, a modern language ‘school’ on the ground floor, the Classics room being upstairs. The entrance was for many years graced, on either side, by trees growing in swards of green grass, all of them, with their protective railings, victims of the Second World War.

Even a century later, one must needs regret the grand design for a great galleried hall extending down Spittal Street on the north, and a library and museum on the east of the quadrangle, which never took tangible shape. The site chosen was admirable for the mid-nineteenth century, when Stirling’s chief citizens still lived at the ‘tap o’ the toon’ – in the Broad Street, beside the Tolbooth and the Market Cross – still the focal points of municipal life and within sight of the awe inspiring eastern apse of the Church of the Holy Rude.

The masters were then paid, in addition to fees, 60 pounds per annum, except for the newcomer, the Modern Language master, who received much less. Drawing, gymnastics and dancing were new, but popular, subjects. The Art Department under the guidance of Mr. Leonard Baker (1857 – 1909) began its long and successful career, which has continued to the present day, under such masters as Mr. Edmund Baker (1909 – 27) (son of Leonard); Mr. James MacGregor (1927 – 32); and Mr. James Atterson, whose accidental death in July 1961, saddened the whole community.

With the passing of the Education Act (Scotland), in 1872, the School passed from the control of the Town Council, but the Provost still attends prize-givings to present to the dux of the school the Randolph Medal, gifted to the Royal Burgh by Charles Randolph, Marine Engineer, Glasgow (1809 – 78), who was educated in the Stirling schools.

The 20th Century

Since 1896, a succession of able Rectors has striven, under the pressure of ever-changing social conditions in Stirling itself, and constant readjustments of educational policies at national level, to retain the highest standards of scholarship inherited from a more leisurely age – Dr. George (‘Cocky’) Lowson, M.A., B.Sc. (1902 -21), who had only to emerge from his room and say, ‘Quietly now, boys, quietly’, for every boy within hearing to disappear without trace; and Mr. A.S. Third (‘Thirdy’), M.A., B.Sc. (1921 – 35), the most dynamic of Mathematics teachers, were the first non-classical headmasters. That dynasty was restored in the person of Mr. A.J. Tait, M.A., who loved to escape from form-filling to take a class in Greek or Latin. Of him it might be said, ‘The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up’, for he devoted himself unsparingly to the promotion of the academic success of the School. During his time the roll of the School rose from 380 to 670, while the number of Group Leaving Certificates gained went up from nineteen in 1935 to sixty in 1946 – after six years of wartime conditions!

Both world wars cost the school many valuable young lives. Under the guidance of Mr. Tait, part of the Primary School building was set aside as a shrine in 1949. Its beautiful stained-glass windows, Roll of Honour, and Book of Remembrance, which, very properly, preceded the rest of the school to Torbrex, now also serve as a memorial to Mr. James Atterson, Art Master, who designed them.

On Mr. Tait’s retiral in October 1954, his successor, Mr. James Geddes, M.B.E., T.D., M.A., B.Sc., soon discovered that all his mathematical ability and military training would be required to marshall the School through one of the most momentous periods in its long history. By that time it was only too apparent that the total school-accommodation, provided by all the additions, including huts, grouped around the ‘quad’, was quite inadequate for the numbers seeking admission. The roll steadily increased until by 1962 it stood at 1108. The only real question to be settled was whether the older buildings should be drastically reconstructed, and extensions built in St. John’s Street, or whether an entirely new site should be sought. By great good fortune, the Education Committee secured a site at Torbrex, almost adjoining the Sports Field and Pavilion, and there, in the most modern architectural idiom, arose the new High School.

The decision to leave the venerable old ‘School on the Rock’, whose every stone reflects the skill of some longvanished mason, caused considerable heart burning among those who had trod its cloisters, and gazed admiringly on the names of their great predecessors engraved on stone and wood and brass. Within its walls have been educated an extraordinary succession of gifted men (sic), ranging, within the 20th century, from Major General Sir David Bruce, K.C.B. (1855 – 1931) who left school at fourteen to become, eventually, a pioneer bacteriologist, through ‘first’ bursars, gold medalists and Snell-Exhibitioners. It is to the present day pupils’ credit that he hears of famous personalities, such as Sir Gilbert Rennie, Dr. John Grierson and Muir Mathieson and wonders which of his contemporaries is likely to reach national, let alone international, renown. (To Miss Thompson’s list, I must, from Canada, add the name of Norman MacLaren, pioneer animator and long prominent in the Film Board of Canada. – A. McK.)

Miss Thompson’s essay ends with the quotation from Dr. D.A.R. Simmons, M.D. in describing a hope for the future of the school as :
‘A vital community of teachers and pupils, living and learning together; committed as the school motto ordains, to the service of its own day and generation.’

The old High School also has a telescope in the observatory tower. The telescope has recently been refurbished, and is now in use.