The State of Education

St James’, 1895, Green St, The Calton, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Audio reading of text here (6 mins) Photographic index of schools here

The first thing I noticed on returning to Glasgow’s east end, after four months away for lockdown, was the extent to which nature had taken over the streets and a number of the buildings. High weeds were growing profusely along curbs and pavements. The old derelict meat market’s security gates on Bellgrove Street had been prised open, to reveal an abundance of greenery within.

Tureen Street, 1876, Green St, Calton, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Green Street is a stone’s throw away from Bellgrove Street. It is book-ended by two vacant Glasgow Public School Board buildings- Tureen Street and St James’. Buddleia was reclaiming both, spilling out over the guttering, and in the case of St James’, sprouting profusely over the front elevation. Bushes were forming their own High Line park around the roof of Tureen Street. These became the first School Board of Glasgow buildings that I visited over late July until 30 September 2020. I resolved to make a series of walks during Phase 3 of Scotland’s Route Map, to the remaining- by my calculations- thirty-one schools across the city. [1]

Springburn Public School, 1875, Gourlay Street, Springburn, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The School Board of Glasgow built seventy-five schools over the period 1874-1916. Such a profusion of schools was due to The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872, which made schooling free and compulsory for five to thirteen year olds and transferred control of those schools from church to state. Until that point 40% of the school population had not received any education. The new schools were to accommodate an estimated 35000 children. [2]

Parkhead Public School, 1879, Westmuir Street, Parkhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The schools were particularly prevalent in number near the big industrial works and foundries, where workforces lived, such as St Rollox Chemical Works (St Rollox Public School and Rosemount Public School in Royston) Parkhead Forge (Parkhead Public School and Newlands Public School only have one main road separating them) and Saracen Foundry, Possilpark (Springburn Public School and Elmvale Public School in close proximity).

Strathclyde Public School, 1904, Carstairs Street, Dalmarnock, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The School Board of Glasgow’s large building programme involved commissioning (all male) architects including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, David Thomson, Honeyman and Keppie, H.E. Clifford and McWhannell & Rogerson. Earlier buildings are yellow sandstone, whilst later are red sandstone. Architectural innovations included separate entrances, staircases and playgrounds for boys and girls. The words ‘Boys’, ‘Girls’ and often ‘Infants’ are carved over entrances, on gate posts and, in the case of Golfhill, spelt out in the wrought ironwork of the gate. On the majority of the buildings the school names and ‘School Board of Glasgow’ have been relief carved in the stone. Some of the bolder architectural aesthetics, in particular Mackintosh’s Martyrs’ and Scotland Street, influenced other schools, such as the window details of St Rollox.

Golfhill Public School, 1903, Circus Drive, Dennistoun, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The schools over the ensuing century or more since their construction, have had different fates. Town planning had either cleared some or run motorways near to many- the curve of the M8 at Washington Street; the A803 behind Martyrs’ in Townhead, then again by Springburn Public School and Elmvale Primary.

Washington Street Public School, 1890, Washington Street, Anderston, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The remaining School Board of Glasgow buildings fall into four different categories: those which were demolished; those currently vacant; those that have had change of use into community or business centres, Council-run social services, residential flats or museums; and those which have remained as schools. Of the second category, Haghill, stands out in all its dereliction. Stranded in the middle of a square of tenements in the East End, the pink-purple willow herb was high around the perimeter, as the yellow ragwort grew through the cracks in the playground.

Haghill Public School, 1904, Marwick Street/Walter Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Eight of the Public Schools remain primary schools – Alexandra Parade (1897), Garnetbank (1905), Saint Denis’ Primary School (Dennistoun Public School, 1883), Dunard Street Primary School (1900), Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson Primary (1906), Al Khalil College (Abbotsford Public School, 1879), Royston Primary School (St Rollox Public School, 1906) and Elmvale Primary School (1901). Brightly coloured hippo, whale and pencil bins populated playgrounds. Chalk grafitti at child height circumnavigated the wall at Elmvale. A blue hula hoop had been successfully thrown to hook over a short pipe on the wall at Royston Primary School. Bunting, messages of hope and Covid-safe banners were instigated on walls and railings to welcome back pupils.

St Rollox Public School, 1906, Royston Road, Royston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson Primary School was the final school on my list to photograph. It was named after the Chairman of the School Board of Glasgow (he was Chair 1885-1903). This was the only building I caught inhabited as during much of the period, schools had remained closed from point of lockdown, 23rd March, to all but the children of key workers, until 11th August 2020. Teachers were outside doing a socially distanced drill in the playground.

Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson School, 1906, Coplaw Street, Southside Central ward, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The School Board of Glasgow buildings to the east, west, north and south of Glasgow are now comforting sentinels on any traverse across the city. My memory of the view from the train window, as it leaves Glasgow and cuts through Springburn has always been of high rises. Now, I realise, Elmvale Primary School has always been part of that picture.

See images of all of the remaining Schools here.


[1] There are other school boards in Glasgow such as Govan School Board (schools including Hillhead Public School) and Maryhill Board.

[2] The School Board of Glasgow 1873-1919, James M. Roxburgh, University of London Press Ltd, 1971

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