Saturday, February 6, 2016

School House - Rambling Recollections of My Schools and School Days – Article I – Part B

Article I written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 9 Sep 1880 - Part B

Education - no easy matter

Education in my young days was a very different thing from what it is now. Those living in thinly populated districts found it no easy matter to provide the means of education for their children, and Badbea was no exception to this rule. There were only twelve families in Badbea and they could scarcely be expected to have all the machinery within themselves to educate their children. There were thirteen families in Auchincraig, closely adjoining Badbea; and what neither could do, if left to their own resources, the two combined were able to accomplish. 

The School-house

The school-house was situated to the east, or Badbea side of Auchencraig. It was a dry stone-built house and thatched roof, with an earthen or mud floor, and light was supplied by means of two skylights of ordinary dimensions placed in the roof, a short distance above the eaves, while air was admitted by the door. There were no windows in the side walls of any kind, either for light or air. The dimensions of this bigging, so far as my memory can serve me, would be probably twenty feet by twelve. The fire was in the centre, and the smoke made its exit through a large round hole in the roof, right above the hearth. 

Peat fire

Fuel was supplied by each scholar carrying a peat to school every day under his "oxter." There was a sentry placed on the "peat-neuk" to see that each scholar laid or flung - was was oftenest the case - a peat, a full-sized peat, into the "neuk" and should anyone be found guilty of an attempt to defraud the "neuk" by trying to slip in without his peat, or slipping a half in, instead of a whole, he was forthwith marched up to head-quarters, where his delinquency was rewarded by several "pandies." 

One delinquent of this kind felt the indignity done to him so keenly, and showed such a rebellious disposition, that he declared that he would never bring a peat to school again, and, when reading his first lesson, he gave expression to his feelings in this style: 
 "m-y, my, tha thor me luem fadh; "d-o, do, tha thor me lueme fadh: "m-e, me, tha thor me lueme fadh," and so on.
It required a good big fire to keep the school in proper heat during the winter season, for, as I have already stated, the walls were dry built - not a trowelful of mortar of any kind entered into their composition. The force of the wind was broken by the crevices and joints in the walls being stuffed with dried moss or fog gathered from the roots of the heather on the hillsides. It was forced into the crevices by a bit of wood shaped something like a marling-spike; but in winter the snow-drift found its way into the interior of the house, where it formed into miniature wreaths, and it was no uncommon spectacle to see an urchin standing in this wreath, with his bare feet, during the lesson. 

Bare footed in the snow

Of course he came to school through the snow barefooted, but that did not put him in the least about. Children were very hardy in those days.

A Native of Badbea
(To be continued.) 

My Comments:

  • Highland familes placed great emphasis on their children getting educated and worked hard to see that happen.

  • The peat-fire picture shows how red-hot the peat could get and yet these fires were still commonly sited on the floor in the middle of a room.

  • Alexander Gunn tells in a later blog that this school was for boys only. Girls attended the next school after this one was dismantled.

  • I do not think the picture of the boys going to school, by McIan, is likely to accurately depict the boys in the Achnacraig school. Alexander Gunn uses the word 'urchin' which is better, but at least McIan shows the boys carrying their peats, and the leader barefooted in the snow. The next blog confirms the boys wore kilts to school but they were more likely to be plain handwoven garments than tartan. 

  • As with many place names in the Highlands, Auchincraig and Achnacraig are two spellings of the same place. 

  • Some of this content I have used in a previous blog but to keep this series complete I have repeated it here. 

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