Thursday, September 22, 2016

Berriedale School – Part A - Rambling Recollections of my Schools and School Days

Article XV written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 1 September 1881 Part A

The Berriedale school must have been somewhere
above the cemetery as Gunn talks of taking a peat
from below the burying ground, on the way to school.

Berriedale School 

“When Auchencraig was turned out, the school there was abandoned as the few families in Badbea who had children could not afford to support a school master, and there was no alternative but to send their children to Berriedale where there was a General Assembly school. It was just four miles from Badbea and in winter weather it was no treat to trudge away there every morning (Sunday excepted) and return home at night, call at the peat stack on the way home, fill the creel left there in the by-going in the morning, with peats, and carry it to the house to keep the fire burning and keep out the cold.”
The top right picture is John Gillies with his sons Calum and Ian carrying creels or baskets of peats on Eilean Fladday. It was taken over 100 years after the time Gunn is talking about yet, apart from the boy’s clothes, little has changed. Source: Am baile Facebook. 


“The school at Berriedale was a vast improvement on the one at Auchencraig, the walls being built with stone and lime and the roof slated, but an earthen floor. Fuel was supplied as at Auchencraig by each scholar bringing his peat with him under his “oxter” and depositing it in the “neuk” as he entered. This was done under the supervision of one of our number appointed to that important post, to see that none came minus their peat. A half or small sized peat was challenged at once and reported to the master who disposed of the case in favour of the overseer or otherwise, as the case might be.” 

Thou Shalt Not Steal

“The distance between Badbea and Berriedale was a great temptation to us in breaking the eighth commandment as we found it very irksome to carry a peat a distance of four miles, and have our sport on the way besides, and not unfrequently did we make a raid on the peat stack which stood at the mill at Berriedale  - which was under the charge of the miller of whom we were more in dread than of twenty policemen – or on a stack at the turn of the brae below the burying ground and belonging to some of the families living at Berriedale. We escaped capture in these cases wonderfully, but if by bad luck a capture was made the rod was not spared, and we could not blame them for it, for well we did know that we were doing wrong.”

A Gaelic Bible with the eighth commandment
and the shorter catechism in English and Gaelic

The Three R's

"Our teacher Murdoch Mackay, who, I am glad to know, is still alive and enjoying a small retiring allowance after having been a teacher for upward of 52 years, was a man of good principles and good sound common sense. He would by no means clear the guilty, but it could not be said that he punished his scholars unduly. The whole of the youths of school age from Dunbeath to Ousdale attended the Berriedale School. The three R’s were all that was taught except two or three of the better class of children, who were taught a smattering of Latin. A few more were taught the rules of grammar, and a modicum of geography. For my own part, and with the exception referred to, I never had a grammar or a geography in my hand, and even history was but very little taught. We had first, second, third and fourth books, the last of which had snatches of history interspersed through it. There was no standard book of history used in the school. The rules of arithmetic, as published in Gray’s book, were those which were in use. A very good book it was, and I believe there were as expert arithmeticians in those days who never saw any other, as there are in the present day, with all the advantages they enjoy in the way of new books, board schools, etc."

The leather bound book is “An Introduction to Arithmetic” by James Gray.

"I little thought when labouring through “the Grays,” as it was called, that I should afterwards come in contact with some of Mr Gray’s pupils. He was teacher in the burgh school of Peebles where he compiled his book."

No Saturday Holiday

"As stated in a previous chapter, we had no Saturday holiday in those days. We had to be as punctual at school on Saturday as any other day of the week. On that day we revised all the tasks or lessons we committed to memory during the course of the week, repeat the one half of the shorter catechisms, read a Bible lesson, and were dismissed about 10 o’clock. There was a Bible lesson every day, the first in the forenoon, and there was also a class for Gaelic, in which a lesson was given once a day. We had second, third, and fourth books in Gaelic. We were taught to translate the Gaelic into English, and the English into Gaelic, and also to spell Gaelic. I have in my bookcase a Gaelic Bible I got as a prize for Gaelic reading and spelling, and on it I find the inscription - “General Assembly School, Berriedale, 1st April 1833."

My Comments:

Alexander Gunn has written about his school days at the Auchencraig school previously – see blog February 2016  - and his indignation at the clearance of the thriving fishing Auchencraig settlement -  blogs March 2015 and March 2016.

He has also mentioned his school master Murdoch Mackay again with obvious respect and warmth.  The appalling conditions the Mackay family endured after the disruption are on blog August 2015.

The Arithmetic book written by James Gray (1781 – 1810), schoolmaster of Peebles, was used universally in Scotland during the 19th century making his name synonymous with Arithmetic.  Alexander Gunn lived in Peebles for a while and was apparently impressed to meet some of James Gray’s original pupils.

A PDF of Gray's Arithmetic can be found on electricscotland: