A Souvenir of the Opening of Kirkcudbright Academy – 1926

Between February 1925 and September 1926, Kirkcudbright Academy was all but rebuilt, and when the new building was opened, there was much pageantry and celebration. To mark the occasion, a souvenir booklet was produced detailing the speeches and dignitaries of the day.

Included within the booklet was the following section on the history of the old academy, accompanied by a number of photographs.

A Souvenir of the Opening of Kirkcudbright Academy – 1926.

Of the origin of the school no authentic record can be found. That it was in existence at the time of the Reformation is more than probable, as it is stated in the Council Records that on 6th June, 1582, the Magistrates and Council “appoint William Turner, schoolmaster, to teach the grammar school, with salary of 50 merks, to be paid quarterly – viz., Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, and Hallowe’en – and they to find him a sufficient schoolhouse, mail free.”

In 1584, November 5, it is shown that John Turner, schoolmaster, was to have an assistant (or doctor) under him sufficient to teach 1st and 2nd parts. Again on 9th April, 1586, “James Dickson appointed schoolmaster; salary, 40 merks, payable quarterly; bairns not paying to be extruded.” From this it may be inferred that the salary was of the nature of a retaining fee, the balance being made up by the bairns’ fees.

The salary was paid from the Common Good. And on 13th October, 1591 Mr David Blyth, minister, was appointed schoolmaster, “his entrance being at Hallowmas next, who obliges himself to sufficiently instruct the youth and await on the school and shall fee a sufficiently learned doctor under him for the payment of 20 merks salary”, from which it would appear that the parish minister, in addition to his other duties, sowed the seeds of learning in the minds of the rising generation.

The first school stood on the grounds of St. Andrew’s Church, the site of the present Roman Catholic Church and schools, which was excambed to the burgh by Sir Thomas M’Lellan (the Provost) for the Freres Kirk and orchards, on which site he built his castle, the present ruin.

It is interesting to notice that at this time, and for some considerable time afterwards, only classics were taught in the school, and no records are found of any other schools or of any dame’s school having been in the town. The first mention of the dame in matters educational was when the magistrates brought from Edinburgh a dame to be sewing mistress at the magnificent salary of £5 per annum. The last successor to this sewing mistress was Miss Copland, who for many years was sewing mistress under the Council, and who, in addition, had a preparatory school for infants, of which the late Rev. John Underwood at one of the old time examinations by the Presbytery, said that he invariably found the scholars grounded in the three R’s by Miss Copland to make the finest scholars at the Academy.
The exigencies of time demanding larger accommodation than was afforded by this school, the Magistrates had several schemes before them, and eventually Thomas, Earl of Selkirk, then a member of Council, produced a plan and offered a site in perpetual lease, and in 1818 the first academy building was completed. As it then stood, the school consisted of three large class rooms entered from a spacious porch.

The central class room was the classical school; that to the north the English department; and that to the south the commercial. As far back as memory serves, these departments were presided over by Mr James Cranstoun in the classical department; Mr Blacklock in the English, and Mr Smith in the commercial department. The school at this period was highly thought of, and widely known. Scholars were attracted from all parts of the district, and resident boarders from all parts of the country. Mr Smith had quite a regiment of English boarders, mostly from Liverpool and district.

Though Mr Cranstoun was nominally rector, each master was supreme in his own department. Discipline was perfect. Examination day was one of the gala days of the town. The schools were thronged by the parents and friends of the pupils, who followed with keenest interest the searching oral examination by the Presbytery. And a long day culminated in the distribution of the lengthy and valuable list of prizes, the heroes being the winners of the M’Kenzie, the Commelin, and the M’Millan prizes.

Just before the Academy came under the management of the School Board in 1872, Mr (subsequently Doctor), Cranstoun, was translated to the Edinburgh High School, and Mr Robert Watson was appointed his successor. Mr Watson was the last Rector to be appointed in Scotland by the Council under the old regime. Some thirty years ago the Board, finding that the school was not maintaining its status, wisely accepted the responsibility, determined on thorough organisation, pensioned the three masters, and converted the school into a higher class school with Mr Bruce as rector, and an increased staff under his direct supervision and control.

Various structural alterations were made on the building, and a feeder being found necessary an entirely new class room for infants was built at the south-west corner in 1893. From that time the school had an uninterruptedly successful career, and worthily upheld the best traditions of the past. Its returns were never surpassed in the district, and one year its leaving certificate returns were higher than any in Scotland.

The aim of the Board was to raise the Academy to the rank of a secondary school, with thoroughly equipped science and art department, and during 1901 an entire reconstruction of the school was carried out. The only parts of the old building left were the front portions of the south and north wings.