Cynthia Stephens (nee Dale, 1953) – schooldays at Miss Duncan’s Academy, Belhaven, 1957-1962

Children at Miss Duncan’s Academy, Belhaven

I am the daughter of William Paterson Dale and Kathleen Ann Simpson, and I spent my childhood at Lochhouses farm near Whitekirk. Both my parents were from East Lothian farming families, my father having been brought up at Auldhame and my mother at Highfield.

I remember how I came to school in Belhaven to what was essentially a Dame school (known as Miss Duncan’s Academy) in Belhaven Villa. It was run by Miss Duncan (Anne), and her sister Miss Helen.   Miss Duncan had been the governess to the children of a member of the Reckitt family of ‘Reckitt’s Blue’ fame (Reckitt & Coleman). She brought the Reckitt girls to Dunbar at least once c 1945 and when she left the family she came to Dunbar and established her school. I was there from 1957-1962. It closed sometime soon after, probably in 1963. My siblings and I were taken by car either to Tyninghame or to the Knowes.   Together with John and Rosie Hume from Tyninghame and Sheila and Peter Cochrane from the Knowes, we were taken by an adult to the Knowes junction to catch the bus to Belhaven, and in the afternoon we were always met off the bus at the top of the Knowes road by an adult who would see us safely across the A1. At the school, we joined a group of children mainly from other local farms. Many of the children remained friends into adulthood. The school photo suggests thirteen as the maximum at any time, but there may have been a few more.

Amongst those attending the school were my siblings, Anne Dale, Mary Chase (née Dale) and Robert Dale from Lochhouses, as well as Mary and Martin Gibson from Drylaw Hill, Patricia Stephen from Phantassie, Julie Dunlop from Stevenson, Michael Brander (known as Macky,) from Whittingehame, Charles and Stella Spence (the first pupil) from Pitcox, Jamie and Clare Caldwell from Belhaven Hill School, Fiona Rennie from South Belton, David and Susan Rennie from Little Pinkerton, Mike Rennie, Richard Blake (the last pupil), Hazel Bowe from Skateraw, Jane Cowley from Crowhill, John MacFarlane from the East Linton market garden, and Hamish Jeffrey from the Halls.

The school was a happy place. The Misses Duncan were perceptive about children’s interests. Miss Duncan attended to the teaching of ‘the three‘R’s’. She taught with flash cards. History and geography as such were not taught. Miss Helen taught hand work in the other room in the afternoon if we were not out learning about nature at the wee bridge at Belhaven or thereabouts, where we sometimes also played rounders.   Miss Duncan believed that work in the morning was enough for little children. The school went to the nearby Manor House at Belhaven (then a hotel) for a lunch, sometimes of whole pea soup. At a later stage, we went for lunch to Kirklands, where there was another little school. I had my own chickens at home and I remember taking eggs as a present for the Misses Duncan. I expect other children made similar offerings. When I caught measles, for which I had to have three weeks off school, the Misses Duncan realized that I was not right before I was really ill – they understood children.

When the Misses Duncan retired, they moved to the lower flat at Number 2 Westgate. When the school at Belhaven closed, Alec, my youngest brother, went to school at Kirklands by the railway station. He remembers that his special friend there was Roddy Forsyth from the Dolphin Hotel. Kirklands had a large garden in which the children could [play. It subsequently became the town plant nursery and later the site of the medical centre. The school had been established by Anne Rennie, just before the Misses Duncan retired, and was run by a Mr and Mrs Honeyman, who had come from the Falkland Islands. There were two other teachers, Mrs Jenners and Mrs Brookes, a South African. Mrs Rennie wanted somewhere for her son, Hugh, who was younger. David and Susan Rennie moved there in 1963, as did Robert and Alec Dale. However, Alec was younger and he was moved to a small school in North Berwick called Dunavon, near the Marine Hotel. Children went to Kirklands until they were able to travel by train to Edinburgh or elsewhere. As the children moved on, they were not all replaced and the school had closed by 1968. In the short term, Mrs Cowley and Mrs Dewar established a small school in the Abbey Church Hall which was taught by Mrs Jenners and Mrs Brookes. This continued until 1970/71 when Hugh Rennie went to Gilsland in Edinburgh and Wendy Cowley to St Leonard’s in St Andrews.

I have degrees in English and Spanish from Newcastle and Cambridge Universities. I have lived out of Scotland for about 30 years but now live in Dunbar and work as a Spanish translator.