Alex. Graham's account of the Academy

The following recollections of Lenzie Academy date from about the year 1933 to 1944, and I shall begin with a short description of the Academy as it then was.   

The playgrounds were of ordinary earth, and it may be imagined that when it rained, a fair amount of this earth was carried into the buildings on shoes.

However, about the beginning of the time of writing, the playgrounds were completely covered with Granolithic, a kind of concrete, which made a huge different to the pupils and of course cut out the dirt carried inside.

The main building stood much as it does to-day, with two entrances facing the road, and with the words ‘BOYS’ and ‘GIRLS’ painted above the appropriate door.  In the main Hall were busts of Burns, Carlyle, Scott and other notables.  These busts were on plinths, and you could be sure that at a pupils’ dance or some such celebration at least one of the busts would wear an L.A. cap of scarf.  On the North wall were two of three large framed photographs of past Rectors, one was certainly named Buchanan, and the other (I think) Dawson.  On the South wall were three or four medal boards bearing the names of the medallists both senior and junior showing the year of their graduation.  A painter came each year to add the names of the latest graduands. 

The ground floor contained around the Hall, several classrooms, and a Boys and Girls cloakroom.  Stairs at either end of the Hall led, on half-landings to the Rector’s Study and the male teachers staff room, and at the other end to the lady teachers’ staff room.  The stairs reached the top floor which was given over solely to classrooms, with the exception of the Senior Girls cloakroom at the West end.  Lavatories as such were situated in the bicycle shelters outside. 

Behind the main building were the gymnasium and the manual (i.e. woodworking) block.  The gym had the usual wall bars, a large “horse” and several long forms for sitting or exercising upon.  The manual room had perhaps seven or eight benches upon which boys taking woodworking courses would be employed.  The heating was from a large furnace under the North wall of the main building.  This furnace was coal-fired, and kept the school comfortable in Winter.

The pupils came from quite a wide area, including, of course, Kirkintilloch, and there were no school buses in these days – one paid the fare (1d) each way daily.  A good number of pupils came from Dullatur, Croy, Cumbernauld and the surrounding area, in these cases by train, and from Bishopbriggs also.  It was most unusual for parents to bring their children to school by car, and I can think of only one exception in my time.  Mrs. Dick, whose husband was the Number Two Doctor at Woodilee Asylum, brought her son, Sandy, to school each day and took him home at night, a two mile journey each way.

Woodilee Lunatic Asylum

Woodilee Lunatic Asylum, postcard from c.1900

I now turn to the school staff, and start with the Infants teacher, Miss Ellen Adam.  I am certain that Miss Adam had taught the Infants for the better part of forty years, as Mr. James S. Walker (of Walker, Fraser and Steel, the Glasgow Estate Agents) who travelled with me on a ship from Cape Town to London, was certainly a pupil of Miss Adams long before me!  The Infants class was divided into two parts – one for new entrants, and the other for those children who has been at school, perhaps, for six months.  Miss Adam lived with a Miss Burton in a house in Heath Avenue, Lenzie.  She was very well thought of, and many parents were quite anxious that their children would have the vital early grounding in reading, writing and counting, which Miss Adam would impart.

Next door to the Infants classroom was that of the Qualifying class.  This was the class at the end of the Junior School, and, depending upon performance, the pupils were sorted into which type of course they would embark upon in the Senior School.  The lady in charge of this Qualifying Class was for many years Miss Isabella McCombie, and she, like Miss Adam, had many admirers.  I recollect that from time to time some of her former pupils would visit the school to see Miss McCombie.  She lived in the Hillhead area of Glasgow, and travelled by train from Glasgow Queen Street station in company with a Miss Buist (of whom more anon).  Looking back, I cannot remember an occasion upon which these trains were late, for these ladies (and the pupils who came by train) had to be in the school for a 9 a.m. start.

On the East side of Miss McCombie’s room was that of the head Mathematics teacher.  The first gentleman in this room was Mr. Roderick McLean, who was a very tall man and who ruled with a rod of iron.  He supervised the pupils changing classrooms at each period, and pity help you if he saw you misbehave in any way.  Mr. McLean had a daughter, Margaret, who was at the school in my days, too.  After Mr. McLean left, we got Mr. George Mutch, and he taught Mathematics for the rest of my time at Lenzie Academy.

Next we come to the rooms of the Classics Master, Dr. Alfred Smith.  Dr. Smith lived in a house off Beech Road, Lenzie, and was a noted bowler in Lenzie Bowling Club.

The last classroom on this, the South side of the building, was that of Mr. Sidney Baines, the Music Teacher.  Mr. Baines had a most unenviable job trying to teach Music, as it appeared to me that few pupils were interested, and those that were, like myself, were taking private tuition in Pianoforte outwith the school.  Mr. Baines was also Organist of Lenzie (Old) Parish Church.  He had a son, Crawford, who went into the Merchant Navy.  The family lived in Moncrieff Avenue.   

Lenzie Parish Church of Scotland

Lenzie Parish Church of Scotland

We go now to the classrooms on the North side of the ground floor, and start with the class immediately after the Infants.  This class was, all my time at school, taken by Miss Agnes F. Fleming, who lived in Kirkintilloch.  Miss Fleming was among the dux medallists on the boards aforementioned.

The class next to this was taken by Miss Isabella G. Graham, who was also a medallist, and whose name figured on the Medal boards.  Miss Graham was a near contemporary of Miss Fleming, and no doubt they attended the Academy at the same time.

The teacher of the next class, consisting of pupils who perhaps had not done well in the Qualifying examinations, was Miss Agnes Buist, and if ever a teacher had to put up with disruptive pupils, I am sure that Miss Buist would be in the top echelon.  She was a quiet woman who could not raise her voice, and the pupils in her charge soon took full advantage of this.  Miss Buist suffered this kind of treatment for years, and perhaps the less said the better.  She lived in Vinicomb Street, Hillhead, Glasgow, and travelled daily by train with Miss McCombie.

In the next classroom, Commercial subjects were taught, i.e. Typewriting, Shorthand, and Book-keeping, by a Miss Hall, but of her I recollect little.

This really completes my recollections of the ground-floor classrooms.  Perhaps it is worth mentioning that the Hall was, from time to time, hired to a Badminton Club, who played every week in the Winter, and dances were sometimes held in the evening, with a Purvey by S.L. Dickson, the Kirkintilloch baker partaken of in the Cookery Room upstairs.

We now ascend to the top floor, and commencing with the Cookery Room, which doubled as a Luncheon Room for pupils and staff.  We may say that it was in the charge of Miss Imrie, who taught the girls Domestic Science.  The lunches were served daily at around 12:30pm, and were cooked for many years by a Mrs Fairy, and when she retired the cook was Betty Muir, daughter of one of the school cleaners.  The selection, for the pupils, as far as I recall, was Mince and Potatoes for 3d, and Pie and Potatoes for 5d.  The teachers asked the classes who wished lunch, and received the cash from those pupils who did.  This was a large room occupying most of the West top floor. 

Coming along the South side, we come to a room in the charge of the senior Lady Teacher, Miss Margaret Harley.  Miss Harley always looked over the banister when the classes changed at intervals, and with Mr. McLean, the Mathematics Master, they formed a formidable pair.  Miss Harley lived locally and taught French and German.  She retired to the Cluny district of South Edinburgh. 

Next room was in charge in turns, with a Miss Gardner who taught English, and a Mr. Fraser who taught Mathematics – and here we come to the first of the teachers to whom a nickname was attached.  Mr. Fraser was known as “Wabby”, to rhyme with “cabby”, the occult reason for this I know not.

There were a few teachers who were attached to no particular classroom, but who moved about the rooms to teach their subject.  Among these teachers were Miss Helen McKenzie, Miss Martha K. Ross, and a Mr. Third, the latter two coming to the Academy because of the destruction of schools in Clydebank in the war air-raids.  

We come next to the science rooms, there were two - one on the south side after Miss Gardners room, and one - adjoining - over the Rectors room. The first of these was in charge of Miss Catherine Robertson, who taught mostly girls , and the other was in charge of the elderly Mr Miller, whose nickname was Yurdie! If one of the boys asked Mr Miller a question, he would invariably be told "Ah! If I told you, you would know" - not very conducive to learning science, or anything else! Mr Miller lived in Kirkintilloch, near the Woodhead Park.

We come now to the classrooms on the upper floor facing North, and start with one occupied by Mr David Russell, otherwise kindly called Fuzzy - I presume from his hair having been that type. Mr Russell taught English and lived in Kerr Street, or Union Street, Kirkintilloch. 

Next door was a classroom in which was taught French by Miss Mary Davis and I recall that she used to have as a guest, a real Frenchman - Jean Jacques Oberlin - who of course gave the pupils a real taste of the Language. Msr. Oberlin also used to broadcast "French" lessons on BBC radio.

Next we come to the Art class - the first teacher of this subject in my memory was Mr John Sharp, who lived in Auchinairn and who came to school on a motor cycle. Mr Sharp died suddenly and was succeeded by Mr Robert Allison. There was a small room adjoining the Art classroom, which was used to coach bright pupils in Latin, Greek etc. 

This leaves us now with the Manual Room and the Gymnasium. All the time I was at school the Manual - or Woodworking - classes were taken by Mr John E. Martin, who was the only member of staff who came to the Academy in his own car - albeit a Baby Austin, which the boys christened a matchbox. Mr Martin was a very capable man of many parts, and had an interest in, I think, a Mr Chalmers Wood in productions in the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow. 

The male and female Teachers in the PE classes were Charles Nimmo and a Miss Masterton, and they did certain days at Lenzie and certain days at Bearsden Academy. Mr Nimmo also used to turn up for Rugby practice in the field where the Academy now stands, on Saturdays.

There were two Rectors during my time at school, Mr George Murray who lived in a house appropriately named "Knowhead" at the top of the hill from Whitegates, and he was succeeded by Mr Charles Farquharson, who was promoted from Dumbarton Academy.

There were one or two other persons in some way connected to the Academy - for instance, when school milk was introduced, this was brought in crates in a van, driven by a Mr Wylie. The milk came in 1/3 of a pint bottles, with cardboard seals, in which one punched a hole and drank the milk through a straw. Coal was delivered for the central heating by either Messrs Ross, or Mr John Graham, the village coal merchants. 

On the other side of the road from the Academy, and a little nearer Kirkintilloch, was a wooden erection - a shop and a home - owned and run by one Maggie McCulloch - who sold sweets and chocolate to the children - and she would be at her busiest in the lunch interval. A new member of Staff having joined the school, and who had a reputation for being partial to a drink, Maggie was asked her opinion of the gentleman in question. Her reply was "He didny get that face drinking milk." - which was true!

Maggie McCulloch's shop on Kirkintilloch Road, c.1905

Maggie McCulloch's shop on Kirkintilloch Road, c.1905

In the summer season, a man named Francisco Cosmini drove his pony and gaily painted cart from Kirkintilloch and stood at the top corner of Moncrieff Avenue. He sold only Ice  cream and a penny cone was the favourite item. One year, a firm from Springburn named Gizzy Bros. had the temerity to come to the school in a motor van with Ice Cream and stood at the entrance to Fern Avenue. This did not suit the senior boys, who promptly let the vans tyres down. Such was their partiality to Cosmini.

The Rector had a Secretary, a Miss Blair who lived in Milngavie, and who like the Gym teachers spent part of her working week at Bearsden Academy.

The house next to the school, in Fern Avenue was owned by a family named Miller, brothers David and Wilfred, and sisters Bessie and Cathy - they had one or two apple trees which overhung the bicycle shed in the girls playground, and waged a continuous war in the Autumn when their crop of apples was depleted by the school pupils. They were the family of the Rev. Miller, sometime Minister of Lenzie Union Church. Cathy was very lame and played the church organ for the Sunday school.

The School Doctor (so called) was a Doctor Cowan, who lived in Gallowhill Road, and who visited the school at indeterminate periods - his sole resources were his stethoscope and an ancient weighing machine on which the pupil being examined stood.  I imagine that he would have attended the Kirkintilloch schools also.

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Article by Alex Graham, © Alex Graham, 2004

Photographs held by East Dunbartonshire Council Archives, William Patrick Memorial Library, 2/4 West High Street, Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire G66 4AD. © East Dunbartonshire Council.

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