The Late “Miss Polly”

Although based around an article by John Graham, further information about the school and “Miss Polly” has been gathered and included here to add interest and value.

The Late “Miss Polly”

by John Graham. Galloway News 1955.

Miss Polly has gone – full of years – the last of her generation of Naismiths. The Naismiths were originally a Dumfries family, and we were told often enough that the father had driven the first train to this terminous town in the eighteen sixties. Three sons and more than one grandson had stood on the footplate after him. At mention of the name “Naismith,” one’s thoughts turned immediately to engines.

We first heard of “Miss Polly” about the end of last century when she was assisting her sister Aggie in running a school. This school was the building which had up to 1838 served as the Parish Church. It is said to be on the site of the old Greyfriars Monastery, and of course contains the McLellan Tomb. The school is no longer there. The building has been altered and is now the Episcopal Church. The teachers at that time were Miss Aggie, Miss Polly, and Misses Haugh, M’Cartney and Steven. Aggie was a stern woman in School and when angered literally spat. Out of school she mellowed and was almost affable. Miss Polly had an equable temper and a keen sense of humour.

Officially the School was known as The Old Church School and had been set agoing by Lord Selkirk. The parents and pupils alike preferred to call it “The Auld Castle” School and it is still referred to by this name. Here the children were taught the three Rs and chanted their spelling over the vault where Sir Thomas and his spouse Grizzel sleep their long sleep. Although the staff were all females, boys were admitted to the School. As soon as the boys reached what was considered the unmanageable age, they were transferred to the tender mercies of John Smith at the Johnston School.

But there was more than the three Rs taught – there was singing, sowing, and Oh yes ! drill. We can remember vividly some of the drill routine. Decked in red pinafores the senior girls proceeded through the Castle yard to the Old Drill Hall which leaned drunkenly against the west wall of M’Lellan’s ivy-covered Castle. There they would march and counter-march to the strain of Leslie Stewart’s stirring song “The Soldiers of the Queen.” Then they would swing Indian Clubs, known as dumb bells, to the waltz-time rhythm of “White Wings will never grow weary.”

It could never be said that life was dull at this little school, consisting of two rooms. There always seemed to be something of interest taking place. Visits from members of the St Mary’s Isle Family created a great deal of stir and there was much spit and polish. One day a prisoner escaped from the Police and raced across the Bridge, hotly pursued by them as well as certain citizens – reasonable but unsympathetic. Of course the poor devil was captured in no time and probably landed in Jessiefield.

The outstanding event was the great fire at the premises of Rogerson & Black just opposite the School. The fire occurred during the night but was still smouldering when school was due to open. the stench of burning foodstuffs and other commodities filled the area. More appetising was the smell of cooking coming up through the street grating of one-armed Jamie Reid’s Coffee House. Here in the basement of the house facing the Castle one could obtain from Jamie a plate of broth for the modest sum of one penny. Great times these, when the penny was worth four farthings!!

Like most School Teachers of her day “Miss Polly” taught in the Parish Church Sunday School. Fifty carts, six lorries as well as J & T Williamson’s Traction engine and two wagons were necessary to convey the children on their trip to the country or seashore each June, and each year the venue was changed. This trip and the “Surree” at Christmas – where most of us got our first sight of ‘living pictures’ – were the most important events of the lives of the children attending Sunday School. But for the benevolence of the St Mary’s Isle Family – including the Countess of Selkirk, the lives of the young would have been drabber and duller.

No obituary this, but merely fragments of reminiscences, connected with the life of her who was affectionately known as “Miss Polly.” The story is far from complete.

The following photograph, believed to have been taken between the years 1895 and 1900, shows the teachers and pupils of the Old Castle School.

Photo loaned by Peter McAdam

The photograph is notated on the rear with the names of the teachers and children as detailed below. (left to right)

Teachers: Elsie Haugh & Isa McWilliam.
Back Row: E McCoull, K Garmory, M Graham, M Middleton, S Burnie, A Heughan, N McCoull.
Third Row: J Garmory, M McCoull, M Slater, M Belford, M Maltman, J Wilson, G Pearson, M McCartney
Second Row: J McKie, M Muir, J McCormack, M Haugh, J McConnel, M Middleton, L Smith, L Rae, W Maltman.
Front Row: B McConnell, A McRobert, A Moreland, S McKeand, J Gordon, M Girvan, M Gourlay, G Kerr, A Garmory, H Gourlay.

“Miss Polly,” the schoolteacher referred to was Mary Jane Gibson Naismith, born in Kirkcudbright in 1871; youngest child of Thomas Naismith, railway engine driver, and his wife Jane Smith. The family moved to Kirkcudbright after the railway opened. Her father died of diabetes in 1878, at which time the family were living in St Cuthbert St.

It was not until 1915, at the age of 43, that Polly married. Her husband was George Adam Marshall, a farmer and horse dealer. They lived in the house “Mansefield” St Mary Street. Polly out-lived her husband and died in 1955 at the advanced age 84.

Reproduced below is an old photograph of Greyfriars Church, and another of the McLellan Monument mentioned in the article and is contained within the building.


Finally, we have two old postcards showing part of the Sunday Schools summer trip. This seems to be the same outing with Williamson’s steam engine towing three trailers, first along St Cuthbert Street then along St Mary Street.

Postcard loaned by The Stewartry Museum

Postcard loaned by Peter McAdam