The Wigtownshire Pages

Schools in Wigtownshire

by Jim McLay
Before 1560 schools may have existed in some religious institutions such as the Dominican monastery in Wigtown, but the historical record starts in the years 1560 to 1696 when church reformers proposed an elementary school in every parish, and a more advanced grammar school in every town. The grammar school in Wigtown dates from the sixteenth century.

The first dates that can be assigned to parish schools from the records are as follow. Wigtown appears about 1600, Whithorn 1633, Stranraer before 1696, Penninghame 1700. Kirkmaiden 1713, Old Luce and Portpatrick both in 1717, Leswalt 1724, Kirkcolm 1745, Stoneykirk 1746, Kirkinner 1749, Kirkcowan and Mochrum both in 1750, Glasserton 1751, Sorbie in 1756, and Inch and New Luce both in the year 1777.

From 1696 to 1800 it became the law of Scotland that every parish have a school and a master. In these schools a teacher taught all ages and abilities, while burgh schools had a divide between the elementary class and the class for older pupils where Latin was taught. Endowed schools appeared during this time, and private schools for girls were found in certain towns.

In the years 1800 to 1872 the education service expanded helped by government grants. Two endowments started schools in Newton Stewart - the Douglas in 1833 and the Ewart in 1864. In 1872 an Act made attendance at school compulsory and provided finance. From 1873 to 1918 School Boards managed each parish school sometimes providing more schools, to enable all those aged 5 to 12 to have a basic education, while many endowments were reorganised to provide secondary education beyond the age of 12.

In Penninghame parish, there were about a dozen schools in the past. These were Penninghame parish school in Newton Stewart, Loudon school for the southeast, Killiemore and later Grange school for the southwest, and Knowe school, formerly an endowed school, in the north. A school for females was started at Challoch and later became the school for those living just north of Newton Stewart. St Ninian's is the Roman Catholic school in Newton Stewart while secondary pupils attend the Douglas-Ewart High school. Corsbie Infant school was provided by the Earl of Galloway but later absorbed into Penninghame primary which now shares campus with St Ninian's, the two providing all elementary education in the parish today.

School Board minutes and school log books have survived in some cases and are in the Ewart Library, Dumfries, but these rarely mention pupil names. Schools maintained an admission book after 1873, recording each pupil admitted and some of those are also in the Ewart Library. While there are admission books for the Ewart after 1894, there are no surviving records for the Douglas; complete records date from 1923 when the Douglas and the Ewart united. After 1918 education became the responsibility of local authorities - Wigtownshire from 1918 to 1975, Dumfries and Galloway thereafter.

The minutes of the education committee are available for consultation but rarely mention pupils. Earlier minutes record teacher appointments, but not later ones. The information in schools or in county archives after 1873 is limited and even where a document contains the names of pupils, the record is unlikely to be of any value to geneologists, and generally other resources (censuses, registration) are more helpful.
References -
James A Russell, Education in Wigtownshire, 1560-1970 Galloway Gazette, 1971
James Scotland, History of Scottish Education, University of London Press, 1970
Jim McLay
April 2002
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