Nostalgia: History of Falkirk's first high school

A week or so ago I wrote about the opening of the new Falkirk Technical School (Graeme High) in the 1930s and the rivalry that arose especially on the sports field.

By Herald Reporter
Friday, 13th November 2020, 4:45 pm
The Grammar School in Park Street opened in 1846
The Grammar School in Park Street opened in 1846

However for Falkirk High School the new kid on the block had a different educational purpose while they continued to aim towards teaching those aiming for university and the professions. But it was not always like that.

Falkirk High can trace its origins back to the Reformation when each parish aimed to open a school providing basic instruction.

The offering varied in quality as the powers that be used every opportunity to keep expenditure to a minimum.

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Falkirk High School in Rennie Street

By the 1840s things were pretty grim.

Schoolmaster James Burns complained the parish school in the Back Row was in “a miserable state - damp, low-roofed, small in size and a very bad situation”.

He and his assistant were also responsible for a second building in The Pleasance and Burns described how he organised his pupils there: “133 write in the following order 54 write on tables, 24 write on forms, kneeling on the floor: 45 stand, who have neither tables nor forms, but I endeavour to give them 15 or 20 minutes by making them change places with some of those sitting at table or lying at forms. I have sufficient forms for 130 only and there are 72 who have no seats”.

This situation caused an outcry and a public appeal raised £1500 towards a new school.

A site in Park Street was chosen though many objected that it was ‘an out of the way, low and unwholesome place’.

Despite this, the school was completed and began the transformation of education in Falkirk from the crumbling, overcrowded slum provision of the past to a new world of relative comfort.

On May 18, 1846, the children marched from The Pleasance to their new building which very soon added higher education classes and adopted the title of the ‘Grammar School’.

It quickly gained a reputation for excellence but that didn’t save it in 1873 when, under the Education Act, it was reduced to the status of an elementary school.

Once again pupils capable of higher study were forced to travel to the cities but in Falkirk the redoubtable minister of Erskine Church, James Aitchison, campaigned for a change of heart. In 1886 he was successful and the old Grammar School was designated Falkirk High School.

The success of the school brought a big increase in numbers and the spectre of overcrowding returned.

The answer was a new building in Rennie Street which opened in October 1898 and is the place most Falkirk bairns of my generation call Falkirk High.

In 1846 the new Park Street Grammar School had been a huge leap forward and 50 years later the town had one of Scotland’s finest and most successful secondary schools with the most up to date facilities.

The 20th century has seen much change.

The sixties was an era of rebuilding and Falkirk High moved into a modern school in the usual tasteless style in Blinkbonny Road which was itself replaced by the present, more attractive building.

The Rennie Street building was not lost.

For nearly 40 years it served as Woodlands High before its final ignominious end in a fire after the pupils had been relocated to Braes High School in 2000.