Whittingehame | Education

In such an extensive parish, schooling provision was at times, tricky. The children in the north were fairly easily catered for, but those from the hill farms in the Lammermuirs faced problems of access in severe weather, and of general isolation.

In 1945, there were two primary schools in Whittingehame; one at Luggate Burn, and another at Kingside, in the south of the parish. Secondary school pupils travelled to Dunbar or, if they lived in the southern part of the parish, they boarded all week in Gifford, and travelled daily to Haddington.

The site of Kingside school lies deep under Whiteadder reservoir, since the valley was flooded in May 1968.

The school (built 1892, upgraded 1931) took pupils from the surrounding hill farms, no matter which parish they were in. During the war and afterwards, Millknowe and Gameshiel residents, and outlying residents in Innerwick parish and Whittingehame, met at the school to collect ration books. The 1953 local plan reported that the building was structurally good, and could take a maximum of 40 pupils. The same source indicates that the new reservoir was planned even then, although Kingside school remained open until 1968 – almost until the flooding began.

Kingside School and schoolhouse, 1960s

Kingside School and schoolhouse, 1960s

Several tales of Mrs Jennie Gilchrist (the last teacher at Kingside) have passed into the realms of the rural myth:

The teacher taught the children to read using the Scotsman. Then, once they could read, they would read the Scotsman to her, after it had been delivered by the postman… She would teach without her teeth, only putting them in when visitors arrived.

Contributed by Ray Halliday

In its Annual Retrospective for 1968, the Haddingtonshire Courier gave this wonderful description:

… the loss of the school which was the most remote in the county, ended almost 30 years of wonderful work among the children of the lonely farming community by Mrs Jessie Gilchrist.

Plump, cheerful and ever-ready to listen to every tale of woe, Mrs Gilchrist took everything in her stride, and over the years she had to put up many a child overnight after floods or snow cut off the school, and on one occasion she was snowed up for 14 weeks.

Mrs Gilchrist’s reply to the question of how she faced the problems attached to her job was “I have no problems. I just let the school run itself and although there was a strap here when I arrived, I never used it. A gentle clout along the lug is just about as far as I ever had to go. It works wonders.”

The following has been summarised from the records held by the National Archives of Scotland (ED 18/1120):

The Kingside Combination Public School was built in September 1892, with a house for the teacher. The school was 16′ long, 15′ wide, with good light and drainage facilities.

The first teacher was Elisabeth Muir (noted as not being trained), who began at Kingside on 17 October 1892. Born 29 October 1859, she became a teacher in October 1885, and worked at West Linton Public School from then to September 1892.

The girls were taught plain needlework as part of the ordinary course of instruction.

The purpose of this school … is to provide for a felt want in the outlying parts of the school districts of Whittingehame, Stenton and Spott.

The report given after a visit on 20 June 1932 gives an impression of what education in this remote school was probably still like after the war:

The scheme of reconstruction of the school buildings begun on August 31 was completed in early December 1932.

Both the school and the teacher’s house have been considerably extended and remodelled, and important improvements have been effected in respect of heating, lighting and sanitary facilities.

The roll on 20 June 1932 was 18.

Work at all stages from infants to seniors continues to be directed with sympathy and earnestness, and a cheerful tone pervades. Instruction in the main subjects is largely individual in character [with] excellent results in speech training.

This included reading and the production of original plays – which were praised.

Handwriting is a trifle unequal and drawing admits of improvement.

After a visit on 27 September 1934, the school was given ‘excellent praise’.

In 1939, it was noted that there was no hall for PT, and no playing field; there was a playground. The school roll seems to have varied wildly – with a maximum of 14 pupils (four boys, ten girls) and a minimum of eight (on 31 March 1939).

The primary school at Luggate Burn was a single teacher school with pupils aged 5-11 years until its closure, against the wishes of parents, in 1973. In 1953, the school was able to take a maximum of 40 pupils; numbers had varied over the years, with the roll from 1958-62 being 21, 15, 14, 20 and 24 respectively. In July 1960, the school was reported as being in ‘generally poor condition… Complete replacement would be the wiser course.’

Although closure was not officially threatened until 1962 (NAS ED 48/1650), the Scottish Education Department had been considering this course of action for a while, in spite of parents’ objections and feelings that the closure of the school would contribute to the depopulation of the parish. These objections were echoed in many small schools across the county, with claims that the county council had not been very conscientious in consulting parents properly.

A note in the archive, dated 13 March 1962, from a Mr Fraser, states that there was

… now no real village at Whittingehame… a very few modern houses almost opposite the school and slightly north, a group of farm cottages. As there is really no community, it could hardly be claimed that the school is the focal point of the district.

On 3 April 1962, J.W.A. Shaw Stewart of Linplum House, near Haddington, as acting secretary of the Small Schools in East Lothian Threatened with Closure Group (J.G. Clark, Luggate was the chair), wrote to R. Broome-White, Joint Under Parliamentary Secretary of State at the Scottish Office in London, and pointed out that

a strong feeling of community exists in the villages affected, but with the thinning of the ranks of the clergy, the village school is often the most important focal point of community life. It is widely felt that something of real value will be lost to these somewhat isolated communities, and not to them alone, if the schools are closed. Removal of the school is in many cases bound to lead to the decay of village life.

On 1 May 1962, J.G. Clark, Luggate, responded to the claim that Whittingehame was not a closely-knit community in a letter to William Anstruther-Gray, the local MP:

Whittingehame has a curling club which won the ELCHO cup this year; Whittingehame has a bowling club rink, and won through to represent the Lothians and Borders in the Scottish finals in Glasgow in 1961. The parish Sir, is not only close-knit – it is even clannish.

However, on 27 April 1962, the Haddingtonshire Courier could only celebrate that Humbie and Longyester schools had been saved. The intent was to build a new school at Stenton in 1964-65, then close Whittingehame, and move the parish children to Stenton; in fact, no work at all was carried out on Stenton until the 1990s.

After all the haggling, it was only when teacher Mrs McGill retired in 1973 that the decision was finally taken to close the school at Luggate Burn. She had [coped with] seven classes of up to 36 pupils for a time – late 1960s-early 1970s – and an extra teacher was [eventually] brought in to help.

Lena Harrower

After 1973, Whittingehame pupils were provided with transport to the primary school in East Linton; if parents wished to send their children to Stenton school, they had to either take the children there themselves, or pay for transport. From 1980 on, the boundary between these two school catchment areas was Whittingehame Water; children who lived within the school catchment area, two miles or more from the school, had transport provided.

Nessie Gell remembers her time at Luggate Burn school

Up to the early 1930s the school had two classrooms but, with the decreasing number of pupils, we became a one teacher school. It was a lovely red sandstone building with three playgrounds. In the late 1930s flush toilets had been introduced. The entrance door opened into a stone-floored porch with pegs all round; here all coats were left and muddy boots were taken off.

The classroom was big with four windows, the coal fire had been replaced with a stove. The teacher’s desk faced the pupils’ desks and forms. There were several long desks seating at least six pupils and at the side several two-seaters. A piano and a blackboard completed the furnishings. Several big maps were rolled up in a corner waiting to be hung for the next geography lesson. School milk had replaced the earlier Horlicks. A gym teacher called each week to give us ‘drill’ in the grit playground: how we hated it and the exercises. The games were not too bad but they resulted in many a grazed knee.

The school doctor made his annual visit when you had to strip down to your vest and pants go behind the screen and be examined! The ‘nit’ nurse was still a regular but certainly not a popular visitor. We did not have sewing machines as some other schools had but on my last year (11?12 year old) I made a dress which was quite wearable! It was astonishing just how much work was accomplished under only one teacher.