North Berwick | Education

Reminiscences (primary school) | Reminiscences (secondary school)

The period 1945 to 2000 has witnessed major changes in educational provision in North Berwick. To an extent these have been the product of local trends, notably an increase in population. External factors, such as switches in national educational policy, new legislation, technological developments and local government reorganisations, have been even more influential. The effects have been seen in buildings, in the numbers and ages catered for, in courses offered and the methods by which they are delivered.

An important and comparatively recent development has been provision for pre-school age children. In 1945 there were no facilities for this age group. It was the changing social patterns (eg more working mothers) and new ideas of the 1970s, which led to the opening of North Berwick Nursery School. In September 1974 a mobile unit was set up in the grounds of the Community Centre, Law Road, to which the first children were admitted a few weeks later. The present premises, at the rear of the Community Centre, opened in January 1977.

By 2000 a private nursery school (the Beehive) had also started, on the site of the former Brentwood Hotel at the corner of Marmion Road and Clifford Road.

Most primary age children in the town attended the local authority school. In 1945 this was located in Law Road, in the building that had been the High School from 1894 to 1941. Both primary and secondary departments shared the same rector (headteacher). This arrangement continued until summer 1973. On the retiral of rector Tom Davidson, the primary school was separated from the high school. Jack McKay was appointed as first headteacher of the primary school.

Law Primary School, North Berwick, built 1975

Law Primary School, North Berwick, built 1975

In January 1975 the school (now called Law Primary School) moved into new purpose-built accommodation near the foot of the Law. At the same time staff and pupils from Kingston Primary School joined them. The single-storey building was organized in semi-open plan teaching bases. In June 1998 an extension was added, made necessary by growing pupil numbers. Latterly some pupils had been taught in mobile units in the adjoining high school grounds.

The General Inspection of 1948/49 recorded that there were 137 infants and 246 primary stage pupils in the school. In 2000, the school roll was 646. Average class sizes are about 30 pupils. From 1957 there were two classes for every primary year group. Now the average has risen to three, with four P7 groups.

Inevitably there have been many changes in the education delivered by the primary school. In the earlier times, much learning was by rote, yet the 1948/49 General Inspection reveals that both individual and group methods were used with infants.

In recent years primary curricular change has been rapid, in line with national policies. Target-setting, the 5-14 Programme and the spread of IT have all had major effects on the curriculum. For example, since the late 1990s pupils from P6 have been taught French. In English equal significance is attached to reading, writing, talking and listening. The timetable has been influenced by the need to balance pupils’ time in the elements of language, science, mathematics, environmental studies, expressive arts and moral/religious studies. IT provision in particular has grown very fast. It is now possible to timetable whole class groups to use laptops and have access to the internet.

Testing pupils’ ability has undergone transformation. In 1945 pupils were tested at the end of their primary schooling in arithmetic, English and verbal reasoning. The ‘Qualifying Examination‘ of P7 was used to ‘stream’ them for progression on to secondary school. Testing is now done at various stages throughout primary, according to national 5-14 guidelines, to ascertain levels of attainment. From P4 some classes (eg mathematics) are ‘set’ but most subjects are studied in classes arranged in several ability groups.

Mention must be made of primary pupils with special needs. They are now catered for very differently from the early days of the period under review. Then they might have attended Tyninghame school (until its closure in 1961) or struggled along in class. A few years ago East Lothian’s inclusion policy led to the setting up of a support base for the North Berwick cluster of primary schools. Most of the pupils concerned spend the majority of their time in the classroom, with the help of a support-staff teacher or an auxiliary; the rest of their time is spent in the support base, where they receive individual help.

So far attention has centred on the local authority primary school. However, there were also in the town alternatives catering for this age group. Miss Walker and Miss Rhind both ran private schools, which were joined together in the late 1940s. St Baldred’s School, as it was called, was based in a house of the same name at the corner of Dirleton Avenue and Hamilton Road. Later Miss Rhind joined forces with Mrs Airs, who ran the school at Springfield in Fidra Road.

Carlekemp Priory School, south elevation, main building

Carlekemp Priory School, south elevation, main building

Better known was another private school in North Berwick – Carlekemp Priory School, run by the Benedictine Community at Fort Augustus. An earlier Abbey preparatory school, St Andrew’s in Canaan Lane, Edinburgh, had been evacuated to Fort Augustus during the war, when its buildings and grounds were taken over by the Royal Signal Corps. In September 1945 the school faced a predicament – the Canaan Lane building was still not available, and too many boys had been enrolled for Fort Augustus to accommodate. Lord Carmont’s house in North Berwick presented the solution. Carlekemp Priory School opened on 9 October 1945.

It was run on English lines, preparing its 70 or so boys for the Common Entrance Examination. Many of the staff were monks; a good proportion of the boys moved on to Fort Augustus to complete their education. Sport (rugby, cricket, golf and hockey) played a key part in the school’s life. Home national and international rugby teams regularly practised on the Carlekemp fields before facing Scotland at Murrayfield. The Open Golf Champion Sir Henry Cotton kept a close association with the school.

In 1977 Carlekemp closed its doors because it was no longer paying its way.

North Berwick High School, c1955.

North Berwick High School, c1955.

North Berwick’s secondary pupils (12+ years) were taught in North Berwick High School in Grange Road; this had first come into use in September 1940, and was fully open from autumn 1941. In 1948 the school roll was 324; in 2000 it stood at 765.

Two major building phases extended accommodation at the high school. In 1960/61 a technical block, new science and art rooms, a homecraft flat, an extra domestic science room and a new gymnasium came into use. Growing numbers led in 1973 to the delivery of the first three mobile classrooms that mushroomed on the edges of school grounds until the late 1990s. From the l970s the school and the PTA kept up pressure for new, purpose-built accommodation to replace these mobile units. This bore fruit in the late 1990s, with the addition of a new music suite, library, teaching block and a programme of refurbishment throughout the school.

Pupils entering the high school in 1945 had been ‘streamed‘ by the P7 qualifying examination. Children in ‘A’ stream were taught two languages (Latin and French); ‘B’ stream pupils studied one language (French); ‘C’ stream pupils followed more practical courses, including domestic science (cookery, laundry and needlework) for girls and technical subjects (woodwork and metalwork) for boys. From 1959 there were five streams in both S1 and S2, leading to the need for more and better domestic science and technical accommodation. In 1962 an intensive commercial course started.

A major force for change has been the raising of the school leaving age, in 1947 from 14 to 15 years and again, twenty-five years later, from 15 to 16 years. The consequent increase in school roll necessitated not only more teaching-space but also fresh approaches. In 1973 the school timetable was restructured as S1 moved towards a comprehensive course. For RoSLA (raising of the school leaving age) students new ‘Brunton’ (practical/vocational) courses were devised.

In the post-war years special needs pupils stayed on in the primary school or were schooled at Tyninghame school. When the latter closed in 1961, a special class (ten pupils at the start) opened in the high school. Its pupils were mainly taught by a single teacher, Miss McNeil, but joined with their contemporaries for music, gym, etc. The special class closed in 1978, on Miss McNeil’s retiral. This decision was taken because the intake had dropped to less than one pupil per year, and because modern education theory had moved against segregation. Instead, remedial support was provided, to individual pupils and within class groups. In 1985 Lothian region introduced a policy of co-operative teaching whereby learning support departments worked directly to support teachers in the delivery of courses to pupils with special needs. This was implemented in North Berwick High School in 1992. By 2000, special needs pupils were integrated within classrooms, with the help of classroom auxiliaries as well as specialist learning support teachers.

Until the 1970s few pupils who left school at the earliest leaving date had prospects of formal qualifications. Some were entered for ‘O’ grade examinations. A number of departments organized CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) courses which were moderated by the English-based Northern Universities Joint Board. The introduction of Standard Grade courses in 1989, with their three levels (Foundation, General and Credit) meant a far greater number of youngsters could leave school with a nationally recognised qualification.

From the start of the period, the percentage of North Berwick pupils who stayed on beyond school leaving age was above the national average. Of these a significant proportion were presented by the high school for national/public examinations eg the Scottish Certificate of Education Examination Board (Highers and Lowers), the Scottish Examination Board (‘O’ Grades then ‘S’ Grades, Highers and CSYS) and latterly the Scottish Qualifications Authority (Standard Grades, Revised Highers at three levels and CSYS).

Curricular changes here reflect national trends. In the early days of this study, Higher and Lower examinations were usually taken in one diet in spring of S5. They were designed for the more able students; examinations could be completed within a fortnight. From the 1960s the pattern was to sit ‘O’ (later ‘S’) Grade in S4, Highers in S5/6; CSYS was available in S6 for ‘high-flyers’. The expansion of both the range of subjects and the levels at which they can be sat has meant that now examinations last four to six weeks in early summer. Most students are entered for the subjects they study through the school year, at the appropriate levels.

The demand for adult education has also had to be met. Evening classes were available for adults from the post-war years. Early courses were mainly work-related (commercial courses, technical/craft courses) or leisure-orientated (art, crafts, local history, conversation in modern languages). Certificate courses and, more recently, IT and personal development courses have been offered, both at the high school and the community centre.

For a few years after 1989 a small number of adults studied Certificate courses within the classroom, alongside senior students. This has been overtaken by the availability of both day and evening classes run by East Lothian’s Adult Education Programme, in North Berwick, at other centres through the county and at the East Lothian Centre for Lifelong Learning at Haddington. Another opportunity is the University of the Third Age; the East Lothian U3A was founded in April 1999. It is one of ten separate U3As in Scotland. Occasional lectures and meetings are held in North Berwick.

As the need to provide education, for a wider age group and in a growing range of subjects, has increased, education has been a major charge on local finances. For a number of students and their families it has also meant a burden of cost. A range of grants has, over the years, helped alleviate this in particular cases. Third year bursaries were available from the second world war. The log-book entry of 13 May 1942 refers to a meeting of the Third Year Bursaries Board. These were awarded on grounds of need.

Until the 1960s a small number of pupils entered the bursary competitions run by the various Scottish universities. These were won on ability, by examination. As well as offering money, the bursary competition also provided a focus for study for pupils in their last months at school, before moving on to university. The introduction of the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies and of Advanced Higher has changed the situation, and pupils no longer sit bursary competition examinations.

In modern days Higher School Bursaries are available for S5/6 students. These are means-tested; students also have to fulfill criteria (eg follow a full programme of study, record satisfactory attendance) in order to be eligible for an award.

The East Lothian Trust has also over the years provided help to both school and post-school students. It operates in two ways – a sum of money is allocated annually to the school, based on the roll; special requests can also be made by parents or the school to support individuals on special projects.

Responsibility for education

A number of other changes deserve consideration in the context of educational provision. In 1945 responsibility for running schools lay with East Lothian County Council and its director of education. This continued until 1975 when regionalisation saw East Lothian absorbed as a district into the much bigger Lothian region. Advantages included access to a wider range of services, but there was less local autonomy. In 1996 Lothian region was broken up in a further reorganisation. East Lothian Council is now responsible for running North Berwick Nursery School, Law Primary and North Berwick High Schools.

Parents now have greater involvement in the running of schools. In the past fifteen years PTAs and school boards have encouraged this.

Pupils’ experience of school has been affected by other changes too. The school day, week and year have been modified. In 1945 school opened at 9am and closed at 4pm. Now the day starts and closes a little earlier, with shorter breaks. Pupils do not attend school on Friday afternoons (to facilitate staff in-service training). There is a full week’s holiday in October.

The large classes (perhaps as many as 40+) of the 1940s and 1950s no longer exist. A national teachers’ contract of 1976 fixed maximum class sizes, according to school-stage and subject, at between 20 and 33.

In the 1950s two valuable additions to the education service appeared. From 1950 youth employment officers have worked with and advised pupils in the secondary school. Library provision was extended. The reorganized high school library was opened in 1951, to acclaim as a model of good practice. In 1979 the first school librarian was appointed to the school.

When considering more than half a century of education in the parish of North Berwick, it is clear that a number of key developments have made a particular impact over the years 1945 to 2000. Among these the raising of the school leaving age (twice) has had major consequences on the need for accommodation and on the design of the curriculum offered to senior pupils. Highers and Lowers, which were targets for only a minority of pupils in the 1940s and 1950s, have been replaced by a national examination system that includes a much larger proportion of young people. In the 1950s in North Berwick, S6 comprised a handful of students who in S5 had achieved sufficient certificate passes to qualify for university entrance. In 2000 the number staying on to S6 is approaching 100.

The impact of technology has been huge. In the 1940s and 1950s filmstrip projectors (later slide projectors) were the only technological aids, and radio schools programmes had to be taken ‘live’. Now all classes have access to television and video. Contrast this with the situation in 1970 when the director of education and an architect visited the primary school to decide on the placing of a television set.

Computers have had an even greater impact. Since 1988 courses and rooms have been dedicated to computer-based studies. Computers are key tools for staff pupils and library, supporting study, research and production of materials. In 1986 SCAMP (Schools Computer Administration and Management Project) was introduced.

There is now greater uniformity in courses taught, both in the primary and secondary schools. Largely this has been the result of national legislation, the 5-14 Programme and new certificate examinations. There has been a corresponding decrease in schools’ autonomy in designing their own teaching programmes.

The provision of new buildings has been of obvious importance.

Equality of opportunity for girls and boys is now the policy of East Lothian Council. This means, for example, that there are no longer separate entrances and play areas for boys and girls, nor are there gender-restrictions in subjects studied.

The years spent at school have extended in North Berwick, as elsewhere. The norm is no longer from 5 years to 14 years. The system now offers nursery education (with its own targets), primary, secondary and lifelong learning.

Ex-pupils share their memories of their school days


Bare walls painted with much varnished wood on partitions, which were usually kept closed to form individual classrooms. [I wore a] grey flannel shirt, navy short trousers, grey long socks, black shoes, jacket and navy cap. I was given ? pint bottle of milk from Bass Rock dairy farm, each day. I walked to and from twice each way each day. [Subjects included] arithmetic, composition, spelling, dictation, history, geography, nature study, mental arithmetic, music, drawing and gym. Physical exercises [took place in the] in gymnasium with games outdoors such as rounders in the playground in summer. [Sports day was held] at high school sports field. Grass was always newly cut and I would suffer hay fever.

Teachers: [we had] one or two teachers for each year plus one or two specialist teachers, eg PT, music. In primary 2 (1941-42) our teacher was a Miss Cameron who was strong on teaching arithmetic. She did this by using strings of beads in groups of 2, 5 and 10, which could be strung together in any number up to 1000. Another favourite was to do multiple addition and subtraction sums with all members of the class, taken in rotation to take one’s turn. This meant one had to remember whether or not your preceding neighbour had any tens or units left over and when your time came you incorporated the appropriate number. This of course was all written up on the blackboard, and if you managed to get it wrong you were chastised, not with the tawse for six-seven year olds, but with a thick blue correcting pencil she marked jotters with, across the knuckles.

[In spite of this I enjoyed my schooldays] I liked reading.

Games: hide and seek; ‘cockydunty’. This was a game played by boys in the playground sheds, where one boy is ‘het’. It is his turn to hop on one leg with arms folded across his chest, whilst all the other boys hop the length of the shed. Any boy being knocked over by the hopping boy joins his ‘side’ and so on until other boys have been knocked over or forced to place both feet on the ground at one time, until all the boys are on the ‘het’ side.

I was not bullied: it was very rare.

The senior class ‘the qualie’ (qualifying examination) was in the art room in the primary school (pre-1940), which had a magnificent view north over the town and the Firth of Forth, especially in the summer of 1947 when the US Atlantic Fleet lay offshore for about a week.

P.E. Rooney – primary 1940s

A small group of about eight to ten was admitted to school after the Easter holidays as they had become five years of age. Our teacher was Miss Black who was also teaching a large group of P2 children (eight-nine year olds) in the same room. To a young child this was a large square room but in reality it was quite a small classroom. The wall-mounted blackboard was on the same wall as the door; the next ‘wall’ was three high windows; one window and wall for the third wall of the square; in front of the fourth was a double cupboard. We could not see out of the windows because of their height. Between the bottom of the windows and the floor were narrow cupboards with a ledge on top where any flowers given to the teacher were placed in a vase or glass jar.

As it was wartime when I first went to school; I carried a schoolbag and my black gas mask in its cardboard box with my name and address on the top. The gas mask boxes sat on the window ledges during the day.

In the playground air raid shelters had been erected but I do not recall ever having to use them. However, I do remember that after the war we used to play at playtime inside these shelters, which were rather dark places with a musty smell.

In Infant I and II we used slates and slate pencils (probably because of the wartime scarcity of paper) to do written work. In Infant II, I remember in particular arithmetical work on slates, which the teacher corrected with a tick using white chalk. As children we called this work ‘sums’ regardless of addition or subtraction.

In Infant I, reading was taught by a mixture of Look and Say and Phonic (sic) work using the Radiant Way Reading Scheme. In the infant department number work was taught with the help of counters (blue and red cardboard disks) and coloured beads which were threaded with wire.

In Primary I we were delighted to be taught ‘real writing’ (joined script) and in P2 we had ink writing lessons which were rather messy as the ink (from a well in the desk) was very watery and the pens which had scratchy nibs were difficult to hold as the metal nib attachment jabbed one’s fingers.

From P3-5 we had five to six ‘spelling words’ to learn at home from the Schönell Word Lists and by P4 we regularly had dictation when the teacher dictated a short passage which we had to write down. The ‘learnt’ spelling words were also written (on dictation, usually daily). Spelling mistakes for the ‘learnt’ spelling words and the dictations had generally to be written out correctly three times underneath the work with the mistakes.

Much number work was done by rote learning, particularly the learning of multiplication tables and from P3-P5 each day had a short period of mental arithmetic.

In P4 an intelligence test was sat and in P5 we had the dreaded ‘Qualie’ – the qualifying exam, which consisted of three papers, English, arithmetic and another intelligence test. These tests were taken in March and the results were used for grading in Class I of the secondary school.

Barbara Montgomery – North Berwick High School Primary Department, 1943-50

[There was] wooden grooved panelling halfway up walls; painted above. Blackboard at the front of the room. There were wooden and glass partitions dividing some rooms. ‘Sit up and beg’ desks for two pupils.

Classrooms smelt of chalk, plasticine, and on wet days smelt of damp coats. On the walls were maps, pictures from educational magazines and some pupil-work. Windows tended to be set higher on the wall in primary school (an older building). We got ? pint of milk at morning break, and took an apple or biscuit. Sometimes I took school dinner.

We studied arithmetic, reading, history, geography, drawing, nature study, music. On Friday afternoons we had drawing and stories were read. There was also sewing and knitting for girls. Music and PE were taught by specialists. In summer we went outside for nature study, to the Lodge grounds. We did exercises in the gym, and in summer we played rounders outside.

Teachers: Miss Watt, who first led me to see I could do well. Miss Ross – very firm discipline; I had the belt every day for a year (at the so-called ‘wailing wall’ – blackboard) for talking, but she made learning great fun and brought me on enormously by her encouragement. She could really motivate pupils. Mr Lonie who taught P7 was the only male teacher. Admin took up a lot of his time – we heard a lot about sailing round Canada!

At playtime I played endless games and varieties of ‘tig’. Hide-and-seek and skipping were also popular.

I was bullied in primary school. I had long hair (plaits), and a brother and sister in my class waylaid me regularly on my way home and one jumped on my back while the other pulled my hair.

Even though we were streamed before entry to high school we still kept up friendships formed in primary school. My experience of school was a very happy one.

Margaret Costa – North Berwick High School Primary Department, 1945-53

Maps and pictures on walls. Single desks and chairs in infant dept, from P4 desks and chairs were for two pupils. Ink wells and pens. Windows too high to look out. Stale smell. Clothes were assorted skirts, jumpers etc. occasionally gym slips and white blouses. No refreshment given. Sandwich at break, sometimes an apple. I walked to and from school. [We had] all the usual subjects. Friday afternoon painting. Sometimes went into the Lodge grounds or round about the school for nature study. Autumn colour changes in trees, different nuts etc.

[There was] general PE in winter. Dodge ball and rounders in the playground round the back of school in summer. Sports in primary just consisted of a few races in the back playground.

I remember all my teachers in primary. There was one teacher for each class.

I enjoyed my school days at primary. I was interested in learning and tried to do my best. Unfortunately I got very worked up and nervous at exams especially the 11+ in primary 7 which gave your grades for high school. With the result I didn’t get into the class I had hoped for which was very disappointing especially as I had achieved prizes for excellent work before this exam.

I enjoyed playtime. We played skipping and peevers, high-tig and low-tig, singing games, two balls against the walls, sometimes one ball against wall with two, three or four girls in a line singing Mrs Dunlop (sic) and jumping over the ball at end of song for other girl behind to catch it.

I was bullied in primary for a short time by a girl in my class who was much larger than myself. She sat beside me in class, would dip the silver top of the milk bottle in the inkwell and put it down my back. Would nip me or push me off the seat when the teacher wasn’t looking. However, with a push from my gran telling me to stand up to her even if she was bigger than me, we had a real go at each other and ended up the best of friends.

[A special event I recall was] watching my sister who was in primary 1 presenting the bouquet to Mrs Brown the headmaster’s wife on his retirement. Writing and presenting a play to end my teaching (sic) in primary seven.

Anon – North Berwick Primary School, 1946-53

I remember the smell of primary school as old dusty wooden floors. The classrooms were furnished with old oak desks. The walls were sometimes covered in art works but mostly it was a barren type of room and a bit dingy. I always wore school uniform, and always walked to school. We were given milk but in those days it was not chilled and I didn’t like it.

Gym was mostly indoors, climbing ropes and jumping over horses. In primary 7 we had netball. We had gym at least twice a week.

Sports day: we had races, sack race, egg and spoon, three-legged. At [playtime] we would play team skipping and tag, or hide and seek.

Teachers: in Primary 6 I had a Mr Johnston. He used to have us run a parliament and we had a debate on a Friday against an opposing team. I always remember setting a question to our top classmate and he couldn’t answer it. I thought, well lady you really aren’t as stupid as you think. I did not enjoy primary school and felt that teachers didn’t encourage us enough. I think the teachers thought I was a dimwit. I don’t think I was bullied and I would have retaliated if I had been. I was a wild child but I don’t remember bullying anyone.

Bernice Graham, nee Woodburn, primary 1953-57

The old primary was a law unto itself. In torrential rain it closed at one. If it snowed, playtime could last forty minutes to let us all go round to the back for snowballing and making slides. In class we sat at wooden double desks. Walking up in twos to the high school to go to the library or see a play was a highlight. Corporal punishment was administered using the tawse. In Primary 4, I was once belted for reading “Bruce and Wallace ” instead of “Wallace and Bruce.” However, fortunately, in Primaries 5, 6 and 7 I had a new young teacher, Miss Draffan, and an older lady, Miss Walker, and I loved school.

In earlier classes I had been glad to be able to do the work, as life had been hard for those who could not keep up. They were given rows and at times ridiculed. Also there had seemed to be a less caring attitude towards poorer children. Childhood here wasn’t all tennis lessons, horse riding, Aertex shirts and Boots’ library tickets.

Today, fifty years on, one of the things most evocative of my primary school days is hearing the Radio 4 United Kingdom Theme if I’m ever awake at 5.30am, that is. We must have learned the words of its every song from “Early One Morning” to “Rule Britannia”. They encapsulate the feel of those times in such a way that I can almost smell the wood and chalk dust.

Anne Cowan – primary in the 1950s

I remember all classrooms in the primary school had very high windows with frosted glass on the lower panes – impossible to see outside. School uniform was a pinafore dress – navy, shirt, cardigan and red/black striped tie – in winter navy blue nap coat. I took my own snack for ‘playtimes’, and came home every day for lunch. I walked to and from school.

I have very little recollection of subjects taught! [We had] one teacher for each year: a two-stream school. I specifically remember P2 teacher physically rubbing her knuckles over my cheeks when I made a mistake with oral maths!

Sports days were a big event with both primary and secondary schools combining events in high school playing field.

I remember skipping/chanting games and ‘tig’. No recollections of any bullying.

Jacqueline Dillon, primary 1955-60

My first day at primary school still sticks firmly in my mind almost 42 years after the day in question. Unlike our children who have had the benefit of playgroup and nursery school, I was not really prepared (at the age of five) for being separated from my Mum and Dad and I well remember being in floods of tears for most of my first day at school. My teacher (Mrs Kerr) tried to console me by getting me to use a toy telephone but my memory suggests that her efforts failed.

I did know some of the other children in my class as they lived near to our house but some of them had been attending Dunedin (a private nursery on Fidra Road) and they seemed to be much more confident than I was. Happily, those initial apprehensions soon passed and I went on to enjoy my seven years there.

The primary school was situated at that time in what is now the community centre but which had previously been used (in my father’s time at school) as the high school. In many ways I don’t think the building had changed much since Dad went there in the 1930s and indeed today, it is still possible to see what the building was like with its tiled walls in several parts.

In the playground at the front, there were a couple of concrete air raid shelters, which had presumably been used during world war two. While these were ‘blocked off’, it was possible to get in and to play in the narrow corridors. These were eventually demolished (possibly to make way for the first mobile classrooms which I believe appeared in about 1966).

The playground also had a boys’ shed and a girls’ shed where we could shelter during inclement weather. I have no recollection of ever being allowed to stay in at playtime when the weather was bad.

Each morning we were provided with a glass bottle [of milk], which was usually warm and not very palatable. I believe, however, that we were expected to drink it. The smell left by the dregs of milk, slowly going off in the bottle in a crate in a corner of the classroom, lingered on.

Travel to school was only ever by foot, as my parents did not own a car until I was well into secondary school. The walk was not too far although the journey had to be done four times each day as I never had a school dinner during my entire time at school. School dinners in those days were generally only taken by those who stayed in the country and came to school by bus and also the children from the Dr Barnardo’s home in the town (of whom there were a number in my class throughout primary school).

Most of the desks which I remember were large, quite old, wooden affairs with fixed seats on a metal frame. There were usually two pupils to each desk unit and there was sometimes rivalry as to whom you sat beside in class. In at least one class, a hierarchical system operated with the seats in the top right hand corner being reserved for those who did best at tests. One could challenge someone sitting in a higher-placed seat if one achieved a higher mark in a particular test than they did. If the challenge was successful then you swapped seats and so it went on. I seem to remember that I was usually in one of the top few seats although occasionally was knocked out of position unexpectedly. These desks also had ink wells. I recall a comical occasion one day when one of the clowns in the class (other than me) drank ink from his ink well. We all thought that this was hilarious.

I recall that several teachers operated a type of points or rewards system which were wonderful incentives to work hard. Rewards typically included sweets. Physical exercise was not terribly frequent and was usually led by a visiting gym teacher who would take the class for about 30 minutes or so. The exercise usually involved hula hoops, benches and climbing ropes.

In my years at primary school I had seven teachers (one a year) and most of them had taught at the school for many years. Almost all were still there when I moved on to the high school. Only one of my teachers was male (in Primary 7) and I believe that there were never more than two male teachers in the school at any time during these years. There were two classes for each of the years (Primary 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and so on).

Robert D Burgon, North Berwick Primary School, 1960-67


In first year there were four graded classes A, B, C, D, the more able pupils being in 1A and studying French and Latin. The B class were taught French, while the C and D classes were given a basic education with the boys also being taught woodwork and technical subjects and the girls were taught domestic science – cooking, sewing and laundry.

At the end of third year, leaving certificates were presented to all pupils as they could legally leave school at age 15. Those of us who were continuing our studies had to choose at the end of third year which subjects we were going to take for the higher leaving certificate, commonly called ‘The Highers’. These exams were sat in March and in June the headmaster called the fifth year to their form room and read out the results to the candidates. The actual certificate with the results was sent out later.

Barbara Montgomery, North Berwick High School, 1950-55

Classrooms – all wood panelled to a height of approximately 1200mm, as were the corridors. The plastered walls above were generally painted a mustardy colour. All had blackboards. The walls only had the odd notice pinned up but the geography room had the scroll type maps of the UK and the world hanging on the walls.

Science labs – all had benches with lab sinks with standing wastes. Bunsen burners were attached to the gas outlets. Stools were provided – not very comfortable. Fume cupboards were present. Small brass scales sat on the bench next the windows. The rear wall had glass-fronted cupboards containing bottles of chemicals, etc, even 100% proof spirit (tasted by one 5th year pupil).

Windows – you could generally see out of them, the most interesting view being over the adjacent field when the bull was let loose among the cows.

School wear – school uniform was worn every day consisting of long grey flannels, grey shirt, school tie, grey pullover in winter, black blazer and black shoes or boots.

Refreshment – I recollect that milk was provided (? pint bottles). I suffered school meals for I think a year then carried sandwiches. The food provided for school meals was generally pretty awful – Irish stew where the grease floated on top of the container several inches thick, watery mince with greyish mashed potatoes, bricks, ie shortbread with chocolate covering (you almost needed a hammer and chisel to break it into pieces) with lumpy custard, and other ‘delights’. I think the pigs did well considering the amount of waste scrapped into the bin.

As I stayed in Gullane I travelled generally on the school bus. On the odd occasion in summer I cycled.

In the first three years I can remember being taught English, history, geography, maths, science, French, Latin, art, music and woodwork in the 1st year only. I seem to recollect that I was about the only one in my class that enjoyed woodwork. To this day my wife thinks I am at my happiest when working with wood. In 4th, 5th and 6th years I ‘studied’ English, history, maths, science and French. I would have much preferred to have taken technical drawing rather than French, which was not my favourite subject at the time but in which I now regret not taking greater interest in the subject.

I recall that I had two periods of PE per week and one period of sport. PE was virtually the same all year round but Mr McAlpine varied the exercises or maybe threw in a game of basketball or similar. Outdoor sport was rugby in winter and cricket and athletics in summer.

Prior to Christmas, Country Dancing was taught in preparation for the Xmas dance.

Sports days were always held approximately two weeks before the summer holidays on a Thursday afternoon. They were well organised and many parents and friends attended giving the event a good atmosphere.

There would bein the region of 24-30 teachers in the whole school, some you liked others you hated. Some you thought taught well, others you thought were hopeless. On reflection some of the teachers must have had an impact on my education otherwise I may have ended up sweeping the streets rather than working in an office with a professional qualification behind me. Some days were enjoyable others were not. In my case I would say a lot had to do with the subjects being taught and by whom.

At playtime I cannot remember games being played. I seem to remember I chatted to my pals about football, other sports and the previous evening’s radio programmes (The Good Show and other such programmes).

At lunchtimes football would generally be played on the playing field or you would ‘wander down the town’. I was not a bully and was never bullied.

During the year there were a number of special events, the main ones being the leisure work exhibition and the Xmas dance.

The exhibition took place not long before the summer holidays. Pupils displayed items they

had made, painted, knitted, etc. in their leisure hours throughout the year. The items were judged and points awarded to your house (either Law, Glen or Craig).

Each year a painting was awarded to the house gaining the most points from the leisure exhibition, from inter-house rugby, hockey, cricket, netball, etc. matches and from sports day events. Each picture was hung in the school corridors with a little brass plaque attached inscribed with the year and winning house.

There was an annual cricket match and hockey match against the staff each year. It gave the boys a chance to bowl body-liners at the members of staff you did not like and a chance for the girls to whack them with their hockey sticks. Sometimes, of course, the tables were turned.

Other memories – The things that come to mind are pranks pupils got up to on their last day at school.

Two involved the music teacher’s car, an Austin 7 if I remember correctly. One year it was lifted up the steps and deposited in the entrance vestibule of the school and another year taken to the far side of the playing fields where it was covered in grass cuttings from the cricket square etc.

I personally was involved in a prank on my last day at school. During the staff meeting (we always thought they extended the playtime to have a glass of sherry) four or five of us sneaked into the science room and concocted a stink bomb. This was then hidden behind a ventilator in the ladies staffroom. Unfortunately, unknown to us, we were spied by the janitor and later summoned before the head and given a lecture and told how we should act as responsible people now we were going out into the big wide world.

After school hours some of the teachers gave up their time to hold leisure activities for pupils who wished to attend. You could take part in drama, photography, etc, and also various sports activities’.

James Walker, North Berwick High School, 1952-58

Desk and chairs single in rows. One fountain pen. Windows still too high to look out unless you were standing up. Stale smell. [We wore] navy skirts and jersey or cardigan or navy gym slip, white blouse, school tie, white socks, black shoes, navy burbery coat with hood.

No refreshment given. Biscuit or banana at break. I walked to and from school.

[Lessons included] all the main subjects plus cooking, domestic science, drama, singing etc. Gardening for boys in a plot at the bottom of sports field. General PE climbing ropes, wall bars, somersaults etc. in winter also hockey and rugby for boys. Athletics for all pupils in the summer in playing field.

Sports day in secondary was a big event with parents invited along to watch races of all kinds including novelty races such as the slow cycle race. High jump, long jump, hop, step and jump. The school canteen was open for teas and Luca’s ice cream van was sited near the pavilion. Points were given to the houses, Craig, Glen and Law, for the winners and trophies.

I remember all my teachers at secondary. We moved on at the end of single or double period to a different teacher and subject. There was a cloakroom and lockers and we had assembly in the hall with service.

I enjoyed my schooldays at secondary even more than primary. I especially enjoyed cooking and baking and went home to try these skills out to the pleasure of my parents. I really enjoyed after-school drama club with Mr Stenhouse. Must have been a great influence on me as at the age of 60 years I am still an active member of the Drama Circle. During my few years at North Berwick High School I received a number of academic awards at our yearly prize giving ceremony. I would have loved to stay on at school and gone on to further education. However that was not to be, as my parents couldn’t afford anything like that, and arranged for me to work in Aitkens the drapers the week after I left school.

In secondary we sometimes played skipping in first year, but this gradually stopped and you just had a chat with your friends in the girls’ quad about what you were doing that evening or at the weekend. I was never bullied in secondary school.

[Important events included] prizegiving in June every year and gaining extra points for Craig House. The school Christmas dances and being asked to finish it off by singing a Christmas carol. Being selected to compete for North Berwick high in the county sports.

I think what I remember from primary and secondary was the discipline. The belt was used in both schools – sometimes the whole class would get it if there was talking when a visitor came into the room, sometimes for homework that wasn’t done in time. But all in all it was a happy time of my life. When I was in primary we celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. We all had a holiday with games and races in the Lodge grounds and every pupil was given a coronation mug marking this date.

In secondary we went for a trip down the Clyde. We got an early train from North Berwick to Glasgow. Walked from the station to the river Clyde where we boarded the ship The Duchess of Hamilton. We sailed down through the dockyards (John Brown was only one of many) and into the Firth of Clyde to Rothesay, round the Kyles of Bute, having both lunch and tea on board, then returning in the train in the evening. A most enjoyable day was had by all, teachers and pupils alike.

Anon – North Berwick High School, 1953-1956

[The walls were] wooden paneling with pinboarding above. Mainly box-top desks and double ‘sit up and beg’ desks. Tables weren’t introduced till the 1970s. [I wore] a white blouse, school tie, dark cardigan; a navy box-pleated gymslip, then plain gymslip and [later] a navy skirt. In winter wore black shoes, woollen stockings or ¾ socks; in summer wore brown Clark’s sandals and white ankle-socks. White Aertex blouse worn in summer.

I walked to school. Some pupils came by school bus; Drem children came by train and got out a few minutes early (we all envied them for that!) I can’t recall any coming by car though some cycled.

In high school I studied English, maths (algebra, geometry, arithmetic, trig), French, Latin, history, geography, science (chemistry and physics), PE, art, singing, sewing (S1 only). Most [subjects] were the same summer and winter. We had gym throughout the year. In winter we played hockey; in summer there were athletics and netball.

At break times we were outside until S3. From S4 we had the use of a classroom or the library at break; chatting took up most time.

Sports day was held on a Thursday afternoon in June (Thursday so that parents and townsfolk could come on the local half-day). Heats were held in the week before. Duplicated programmes were on sale. About 100 events took place. Teas and ices were on sale. It was a great social event. Cups and prizes were presented at the end. Points scored were entered in the inter-house competition.

Teachers: Hector Macpherson was very neat and particular in his habits, but he was a most caring and encouraging teacher. He had excellent relationship with pupils. He ran the library. Douglas Stenhouse was an absolutely inspirational teacher of English and history. John Marshall (rector) and Wallace Monaghan (depute) worked hard to ensure a liberal education was experienced as well as the first-rate delivery of their own subjects. Miss Mackenzie made Latin fascinating. I never heard her raise her voice to a pupil, and none thought of being cheeky to her. Bill Brown- his Latin classes (S6) were extraordinary. Music, philosophy were as much in the agenda as Ovid. I was walked round the playing field because he believed Cicero should be declaimed out of doors. My confidence in myself grew a great deal from the level of discussion he encouraged.

High points

In June 1953 the entire high school went on a trip ‘Doon the Water’ to Rothesay. A special train left North Berwick about 8am and took us direct to Glasgow. It was a wonderful day in every sense. I have some scenes on video, made from old cine film of the occasion.

The annual leisure-work exhibition held every June was another highspot. Townspeople came to see it. Everyone was expected to contribute – knitting, sewing, woodwork, art, photography, boats, all sorts. The points awarded by the judges (teachers) counted towards the yearly inter house competition.

I enjoyed my schooldays very much because you were encouraged to form views, to argue a case. I didn’t much enjoy maths where the teacher felt I wasn’t trying; I was, it just was the one area where I was weak. Until S5/6 I was not a confident person.

Margaret Costa – North Berwick High School, 1953-58

High School was lighter [not as dingy as primary] and the smells I remember were of young girls trying out different perfumes. At high school PT was usually a double and single period. In the double we would play hockey or badminton. In June we had track sports; I liked sport at school.

Sports day was a big event. I was never a prize-winner but I did once get a swimming first, also first for diving. I did like high school and enjoyed moving to different classrooms and also the variation in subjects. I liked science best.

I sang in the choir at school and remember Miss McKintyre taking us to the Usher Hall and we won first place. I also liked taking part in gymnastic events.

Bernice Graham, nee Woodburn, secondary 1958-64

School uniform – still ‘school uniform’ but always tried to interpret this in a fashionable way. I walked home every day for lunch even though school lunches were provided. I specifically remember English, arithmetic, maths, French, art, home economics, dress and design, biology, physics, chemistry. [Also] PE lessons – 2 hr per week – hockey, country dancing, athletics. I particularly remember art and dress and design teachers – smaller classes and practical.

Enjoyed the camaraderie – especially enjoyed 6th year at secondary when I was made a prefect. I was part of the secondary school drama group – good memories of putting on plays in school hall’.

Jacqueline Dillon, secondary, 1961-68

I remember that the biology lab always smelt funny, when I was about 14 or 15 and taking my standard grades. I would be regularly sent to the sick room with migraine. The sick room was small with only two beds and one toilet and it was seldom quiet.

The biology lab was large and light with about four or five long, high tables. They were probably pine and they had names and other types of graffiti scored into them from years of pupils. There were many windows. The smell in the lab came from the skulls and bones of animals on the rack down the left hand wall as you walked in. The smell gave me migraine attacks.

When I was twelve, I started at North Berwick High School. My parents bought me a school uniform – black shoes, black skirt (girls were not allowed to wear trousers), black tights, white shirt, black and red striped school tie, and a blazer complete with school badge. When I got to school I discovered that hardly anyone else except the ‘geeks’ were wearing blazers. I got a severe ‘slagging off’, verging on bullying, for wearing a blazer. I had many arguments with my parents about refusing to wear it. They didn’t understand that I badly wanted to fit in and be invisible.

I usually took a packed lunch to school. Mum and Dad didn’t have an endless supply of money. Dad, being a minister, didn’t make a great deal of money. When I started high school Mum began teaching as a history teacher again (she gave it up when my younger sister and I were born). The money situation gradually got better. Sometimes I had money to buy school lunches.

My friends and I had doughnut-eating competitions in the cafeteria (across the playground – attached to the primary school). The object of the game was to eat the doughnut without licking your lips. Try it! It’s harder than it sounds and very messy – so brilliant fun.

When she was old enough my sister joined me in the walk from home to school. We lived in May Terrace. To get to school we had to walk through the railway station, past the fire station, up Trainer’s Brae (surrounded by fields of cows and sheep at that time) with an endless stream of other kids and then we would come out at the playing fields and the school. We only got a lift in the car if we were horribly late, but that hardly ever happened. Mum was strict about waking us and sent us to school even if we felt unwell. She wasn’t mean, she just didn’t encourage us to ‘skive off’ school.

My favourite (and best) subject was music. Our teachers were Mr Holden (head of department) and Mrs Medine (a quick wit, and a talented pianist), who I preferred – she was kind but firm. Mr Holden would tend to be more vindictive. It can’t have been easy for him – we could all be real pests when we wanted to.

The mobiles that we were taught in were as cold as ice in winter (we had to keep on our coats) and like a furnace in the summer. I loved it there despite the conditions. I remember when my friend Alice brought in her bagpipes. Three or four of us tried to play them. One squeezing the bag, another blowing, another fingering – we couldn’t get a sound out of it!

In PE we played hockey for the girls and rugby for the boys. I played midfield as I could run quite fast and didn’t mind tackling. We had to wear ridiculously tiny little pleated red skirts and white and red socks that came up to your knees and a red shirt (I think). In the winter you froze! I remember once the hockey team played Musselburgh High School. The referee was their coach and there was a great deal of cheating and dirty tackling from the Musselburgh team. I went to tackle a girl that was heading for goal and she whacked me extremely hard on my right shin. I was only twelve but I swore at the top of my voice. I got sent off, got 100 lines and had to write a letter of apology to the Musselburgh coach.

There were lots of teachers at our school – two or three in each department. I didn’t realise how hard they worked until I had left. I was quite fond of some and despised others.

I remember our office and information studies teacher. She had to teach us how to type and carry out basic secretarial duties. She was quite shy and sweet when she started. The class was very fond of her but took terrible advantage of her good nature. I’m sure we had her in tears. Children can be terribly cruel. She would rely on my friend Beverley and I at the front of the class to apprehend (sic) the rest, but sometimes it was irresistible to join in the nonsense. We regret it now.

I did not enjoy my school days. There were good times but I spent most of my teenage years feeling paranoid, unpopular and terrified. I don’t think I had such a bad time really – there were just some injustices. I didn’t feel listened to by teachers sometimes and I made stupid mistakes because I was young. I wouldn’t go back!

During playtime we played hopscotch and we threw a ball against a wall in the Quad. Sort of like squash but without bats. When I was older we just hung around and giggled between ourselves or at boys, or in winter we played at snowball fights. I remember a great deal of snow covering the playing fields. It was really cold when you got snowballs shoved down the back of your shirt. It took all afternoon in class for it to dry. Your scarf never seemed to dry at all.

I remember a fun run for charity. I don’t remember very much about it. It was summer, near the end of term. We had to run out of the playing fields, past the Law, through (it might have been Athelstaneford ) a village, past the caravan park and back to the school. I was one of the last. I was never one for sport at school.

The most exciting part of high school was the school dances. Every year around November in PE instead of normal sport like basketball, hockey, rugby or softball, we would learn Scottish country dancing for the school dance at the end of term. This was very nerve-racking and exciting at the same time. All the girls would line up one side of the hall and all the boys along the other side when the games teacher told us we had to pick each other to dance. Most of the time the boys had to do this. Sometimes it was ladies’ choice. It was always very humiliating for both sides. Everyone was dressed to the nines for the school dance and sometimes romance blossomed but most of the time we just tormented each other; I was once dropped on the floor in my new dress!

I was bullied at school by a group of boys. My friends and I tried to stick together but that wasn’t always possible so it got pretty nasty. There was a culture at school not to tell on your classmate. I did not feel at the time that I could confide in my parents or my teachers.

Gillian E Lindsay, North Berwick High School, 1988-94

Muriel N. Shiel muses on changes – she was a pupil (1927-39; 1939-45) and then teacher (primary 1955-90) in North Berwick

Primary schools used to be overly strict establishments. Mine evokes strong memories of fear of the tawse. (I only was ‘belted’ once and that was for the way I wrote down the long division sum. Certainly the classes were all over 40 and discipline had to be maintained but, for the non-academic children, it was a nightmare as they were frequently strapped for their poor results not for their bad behaviour as they were far too scared to be naughty. Oddly, many of the teachers ‘picked on’ children with red hair. Mine was fair for which I was extremely thankful.

The children walked, cycled or were bussed from the farms to school; if any child had been driven to school the whole playground would have been open-mouthed. Incidentally there were many children from farms all the way through school but, with mechanisation, they are few and far between nowadays. On wet days the smell of wet clothes and hair permeated the atmosphere.

There was milk provided at the morning interval. On warm, sunny days it had a disgusting taste but on frosty days we found it highly amusing as the milk froze solid in the playground and arrived in the classroom with a long cone of frozen milk ‘growing’ from the bottle with the silver cap perched on top. PE at the primary was held in the playground as there was no gym. Summer and winter (in freezing cold) we made 4 lines in the playground and performed army type drill and exercises.

I do not remember any form of uniform at the primary but at the high school the majority of the girls wore blazers, white blouses and gym costumes or navy skirts. The boys wore blazers, white or grey shirts and grey trousers. Many of the boys wore short, grey trousers up till 3rd or 4th year. We wore black, or sometimes dirty white, gymshoes with the girls navy knickers and the boys shorts for PE which was highly civilised as there was a gym with plenty of equipment. The boys played rugby and the girls hockey (sometimes netball in summer term) and we competed with other East Lothian schools on a Saturday morning. In the summer term the girls played the staff at hockey. One of our male teachers had an artificial leg, which the science teacher (called “Flash” Monaghan as he played hockey in his university team) used to pretend to oil before the match, much to our delight. The highlight of sports day was the arrival of Luca’s ice cream van!

I did not enjoy primary school at all but the high school was heaven by comparison. We were streamed and in small classes therefore we could assimilate appropriate knowledge at an appropriate rate. Lack of streaming means the academic children are held back and the non-academic frequently cause trouble as, if you are constantly failing, it causes deep unhappiness and resentment resulting in bad behaviour. Also the secondary teachers treated us as individuals and also far more fairly. The staff were ‘real’ people to us, each with their own personalities and we related well to them. The fact that one could occasionally laugh in class was mind-boggling!

Perhaps I was deaf and blind but I definitely did not come across any episodes of bullying in the girls’ playground but am sure that it would occur in the boys. Nor was there any sectarian ill-feeling as, in North Berwick, there were three Churches of Scotland, one Catholic Church and one Episcopalian therefore if people went to different churches so what?

There was also very little peer pressure at school as, quite simply, there were no designer brands. Everyone wore boring gymshoes as there were no such things as £80 trainers. School uniforms were identical and bicycles were simple, basic machines, not high tech. Nor was there any shame in owning a second-hand one. Home discipline was excellent. If one misbehaved at school then one received a second helping of punishment at home. Very few parents ever set foot in school to complain about their children’s punishment. However I do remember my father arriving at school to complain about the music teacher strapping my wee brother twelve times on the one hand. His aim was so bad that Michael’s wrist was so swollen he had to attend the surgery. This assault was because, as music was a blank sheet to him, when it came to a written exam that is what he handed in to the teacher! Brave laddie!

However, in the primary, the old martinets went the way of the dodo. One, I remember, called her strap Peter and revelled in telling her class that Peter would bite them. Peter, I may say, lived the life of Riley. The staff’s whole attitude changed gradually. The difference was that they liked children. They were sympathetic, understanding figures in the main and this could be seen when school broke up for the Christmas holidays and most of them emerged from the building laden with gifts from the children.

Also up till decimalisation (1971), long multiplication and division of money, weight, measurement and capacity were a nightmare. If you made a mistake in the farthings of a long multiplication of money that was it! Also just imagine nine year olds being expected to cope with long multiplication of weight when you had to divide your totals by the then 14. The children of post-decimalisation don’t realise just how fortunate they are.

My schooldays were not the happiest days of my life as my experience of primary instilled a fear of punishment for making unintentional mistakes. However, I have very happy memories of my years at the high school.