Most people will be familiar with the educational set up that we currently have in Portlethen today.
The secondary school, Portlethen Academy, was first built on Bruntland Road within the town of Portlethen in 1987 and a new version was then rebuilt on the playing fields adjacent to the original site in 2006. From the mid to late 1960’s until 1987 there was no secondary school presence at all in Portlethen and as a result local pupils had to be bussed from the town and surrounding areas to Mackie Academy in Stonehaven.
Prior to this time there had been a secondary school within the area, this was known as Portlethen Junior Secondary school which was sited near to where the existing primary school is located today. Many of you would have been familiar with the old community centre which was housed in the old school buildings that were subsequently demolished in recent years. The earliest version of this school housed both primary and secondary pupils and was located on this site, the oldest school building being that of the existing police station.
Portlethen Primary School, located on Cookston Road, is the oldest remaining school in Portlethen, the original block of this school being built in 1962, although there have been many extensions added over the intervening years. The history of Portlethen Primary School links the existing school to that of the original school built nearby from the 19th century.
The third school in Portlethen is Fishermoss Primary School and is located in the southern part of the community. This school, built in the early 1990’s, is a stone’s throw from Portlethen Academy and can be found on Berrymuir Road.
The aforementioned three schools are of recent times and anyone interested in their development and history can easily find out more about them from a variety of sources. Here, however, what we are more concerned about is schools and education in and around Portlethen in the early years. How many schools were there? Where they were located? Who attended them and what happened to them?
I’d have liked to have been able to find out a lot more details on this subject however it was a difficult one to research as proper school records were not established in our area until 1874 and there is little in the way of references to tell us what was in place in or around Portlethen prior to that.
The following paragraph, taken from an online source, outlines some of the early history of education in Scotland and gives us an insight into how and why schools were built in the early years.
“In 1616 an act in Privy council commanded every parish to establish a school ‘where convenient means may be had’, and when the Parliament of Scotland ratified this with the Education Act of 1633, a tax on local landowners was introduced to provide the necessary endowment. A loophole which allowed evasion of this tax was closed in the Education Act of 1646, which established a solid institutional foundation for schools on Covenanter principles. Although the Restoration brought a reversion to the 1633 position, in 1696 new legislation restored the provisions of 1646 together with means of enforcement ‘more suitable to the age’. The Education Act of 1696, which continued to regulate Scottish elementary education until 1872, could be invoked to set up a school and ensure continuing payment of the schoolmaster's salary. Schooling was not free, but support from the tax on landowners in country districts and municipal funds in burghs kept fees low, with it being left to the kirk-sessions aided by charity to provide the fees for the poorest as well as exerting moral pressure for them to attend”.
The kirk session would have been the main precursor to school boards that began to be introduced in the latter half of the 19th century, and they would have had the strongest voice in the community in respect to matters of education, particularly with the building of schools and the appointment of schoolmasters, and where they could appropriate the funds to pay for them. These people, working together with the land owners, were the people who began to introduce schooling and education to the people of Scotland.
One of the first schools in our vicinity that there is reference to is Banchory Devenick school. Parish records from 1711 indicate that the school there was in a dilapidated state at that time and that repairs should be made and charged at the expense of the general public. This tells us that this particular school had been built some time before that date, probably around the mid to late 1600’s. By 1732 the existing school at Banchory Devenick had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the erection of a new building was contracted for at a cost of £36 and 13 shillings!
From this information we can probably surmise that there would have been at least one school located in the Portlethen area around the same period of time as the one at Banchory Devenick.
According to the Statistical Accounts of Scotland there were a number of schools in the area by the early to mid 1800’s although there is some conflict between the Second Statistical Accounts, first published in 1834 and the Third Statistical Accounts which were published somewhat retrospectively in 1951.
The earlier edition claims that there was one school “at Portlethen, where a substantial school-room and accommodation for the teacher was built some years ago by the present minister of the parish, on a building lease from Mr Gammell of Portlethen, and L.200 lodged in the hands of the treasurer of Aberdeen, the interest to be applied in the shape of a small salary for the support of the teacher. The district is populous, and the school well attended”.
Additionally, there was reference to another school, “a female school situated near the church”, although as this version of the Statistical Accounts referred to the parish of Banchory-Devenick rather than Portlethen, it is likely that this school is one that was situated in Banchory Devenick and not in Portlethen.
The Third Statistical Account, although published in 1951 referred to a time nearly one hundred years previously and with this report we are getting factually closer to what was established in Portlethen around that time. This account is more specific as it refers to the Quoad Scara Parish of Portlethen as a separate entity, rather than the earlier versions which were concerned only with the parish of Banchory Devenick. The Third Statistical Account states as follows;
“Centralisation has been the order of the day in the scholastic line. For many years there were no fewer than five schools in the district, all of which were well attended, especially when the fishing villages were fully occupied. Thus, in 1854, we find in the parish a school at Portlethen (89 pupils), Downies (71 pupils), Findon (63 pupils), Badentoy (54 pupils) and Hillside (41 pupils), as well as a few private pupils, bringing the total number of children attending school in the parish to close on 400. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the various schools closed down, until today there is but one school situated near Portlethen railway station, on the site of Dr. Morison’s school, which he had built in 1829.”
By the end of the 1800’s only two schools remained in the district – Portlethen school near the railway station and Findon school, all others having fell into disuse and ultimate dereliction. My father recalls playing in the ruins of Portlethen village school as a child – on the site of which is the car park for the Neuk public house. Of this and the other schools at Downies, Badentoy and Hillside there are no signs left of the original buildings today.
We know a little bit more about the remaining schools at Portlethen and Findon as school records and logs were kept recording the day to day business of these two establishments from around 1874 onwards. Portlethen school continues to operate today although the location has changed by about a hundred yards. Findon school closed down around the turn of the century.
We also know that there was a form of rivalry and competition between the schools at Portlethen and Findon at this time, not by the schools themselves but by the authorities and people that made up the Banchory Devenick Parochial School Board, with some figures in the establishment arguing the cause of centralisation of all pupils to Portlethen whereas others were arguing that Findon school had to continue as a separate entity. This dispute is covered in some detail in the section marked “Old School Board” and the press reports attached to this section tells its own colourful story. Ultimately all pupils in the district were centralised at Portlethen school, near the railway station as we moved into the 20th century.
Even at the end of the 19th century it wasn’t clear that centralisation was the way forward for our schools and there were arguments for another school, a female only version, at Findon or at Doghillock, an area I believe to be close to the village of Downies. The female school would have been in addition to the ones already in place at Portlethen and Findon however it would appear that this idea didn’t develop into fruition, and if it did it was very short lived.
So that concludes the history of education in Portlethen and the surrounding district however I’ve added three further sections with news clippings and photographs from bygone eras to further whet the appetite. Maybe within these sections you’ll come across an old article or photograph that includes yourself or you’ll find a reference to someone you know or went to school with.