Early Days

The coat of arms and the motto, Tempori parendum , were not adopted until the early twentieth century, but they well illustrate the origin of the school, and its adaptability. The coat-of-arms shows Queen Margaret, richly habited and crowned bearing in her right hand a sceptre and in her left a book all proper between two trees of knowledge, to remind us of the remote 12th century, when a bishop of St. Andrews, in whose diocese Stirling was, gave to Queen Margaret’s Church of the Holy Trinity of Dunfermline the churches of Perth and Stirling and their schools. The wolf, couchant gardant, at the Queen’s feet is taken from the “Small” Burgh seal, and reflects the early interest in education taken by the magistrates of the Royal Burgh, for later charters speak of scholam de Striuelin, and Scholam ejusdam ville, which suggest that the ‘Church’ school fairly soon became the town’s school. We can only speculate where this early school was situated, as all the buildings, except the castle, of the old town were destroyed by fire in 1406.

15th and 16th Centuries

Until the Reformation in 1560, the Abbot of Dunfermline appointed the Magister, buttheTown Council assumed other practical responsibilities, and about 1450, built a thatched single storey school, on the south-east of the Castle Hill, where the school remained until 1856. Here the Master, a graduate, as his title implies, taught Latin, assisted by a Latin ‘Doctor’ and a Scots, later English, ‘Doctor’, who eventually also gave lessons in writing and arithmetic. Boys only were enrolled at the age of eight, although ‘six’ is mentioned in various local edicts prohibiting private rival seminaries. Five years was considered long enough to master these subjects, although occasional enthusiastic masters undertook a sixth year class, who were for the most part sent to study by themselves in the attic. When in more recent years, Class VI have been located on the roof of the Tower or in the ‘Sink’, it appears they were merely following an old custom. (Miss Thomson here is referring to some very small classrooms located in the tower above the Academy road entrance into the 1856-1962 school – A. McK.)

Thomas Buchannan, nephew of the celebrated George, was master in the Stirling School from 1571 to 1578, and it was one of his ‘boys’, Robert Rollock, who became the first Principal of the newly founded University of Edinburgh (1592). Possibly it was Thomas Buchannan who began the study of Greek in Stirling. At any rate it had become part of the School’s curriculum by the early seventeenth century.

17th and 18th Centuries

James VI and I returned to Scotland in 1617, and took part in a great scholastic disputation at Stirling. So pleased was the King with this display of Latin oratory that he announced his intention of founding a ‘free college’ in Stirling. Alas, the King did not fulfil his promise, in spite of the laudatory Latin poems presented to him by Master William Wallace (1612-17), and his grammar school pupils; otherwise Scotland’s fifth university would not still be a subject of discussion. ( Note : the decision to build Stirling University on the Airthrey Estate was taken in the summer of 1964, two years after Miss Thomson’s essay was written – A. McK.)

Until 1694, the school day began at 6 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. – Saturdays included. In that year, Stirling Town Council ordained that their school should commence at 7 a.m. In 1696, the High School of Edinburgh changed its hour of opening to 9 a.m., and the rest of the country followed its good example.

One of the great masters of the seventeenth century was Master David who presided over the Grammar School here from 1624-42, was lured away to Glasgow, but returned to Stirling in 1649. The Council built for him in 1633 a new two-storey building, roofed with slates. He stayed in the top flat. Later in the century, other properties were added: a byre, a brew house, a yaird and a coalhouse. Both salaries and fees were increased, the master’s emolument being augmented by legacies from local benefactors, such as John Cowane. During the eighteenth century this second building decayed, but the number of pupils increased. Instead of erecting a bigger and better building, the Council, in 1740, disjoined the English (Writing and Arithmetic) School and made it a separate establishment. In 1747, the Writing and Arithmetic masters and pupils hived off to form an independent, successful venture on their own.

Later, since the town was expanding, the English School was itself divided and a ‘branch’ opened in Baxter’s Wynd (Baker Street). Thus four official burgh schools were by then in existence, all controlled by the Town Council. These ‘break-aways’ moved from one lodging to another, until, in 1787, the Merchant Guildry, along with their old rivals, the Seven Incorporated Trades of the Burgh, jointly paid for erecting a two-storey school on the former Greyfriars ‘Yaird’ (where the High School now stands [ now in 1995 used as a hotel – A. McK.] in Academy Road but a much smaller place). The original English School was housed on the ground floor, while the top storey was given over to the teaching of writing and arithmetic.

In 1788, the Council built the third, and last grammar school on the Castle Hill site, where it remains, having been, in turn, an army store and school. Just recently, it has been converted into a shop and tea room, the “Portcullis”. Beside it, stretched the former tournament ground of the Castle, a rough but ready playing field for primitive games of footba’ and club (shinty) which were gladly abandoned when the equally primitive circuses and their ‘fules’ (clowns) paid their annual visit, along with the Horse Fair, and filled the ‘Valley’ with sound and fury.

The 1856 – 1962 School

In August 1854, the foundation stone was laid with full Masonic ceremony. Stirling was en fete for the occasion which received nationwide recognition. One of the local papers stated: “Not even when Royalty graced our ancient town was there ever witnessed a finer spectacle than that which was seen this Third of August at the laying of the foundation stone of the school.” But this enthusiasm did not extend to subscribing the full sum of money to implement the plans for the collegiate building originally envisaged. Only the west front was ready by 1856, and that was only achieved with financial assistance from the Town Council. The site was again the Greyfriars’ Yard, where the English and Writing Schools had been demolished to make way for the new “High School”, which was entered from Academy Road by a great archway under the central tower. To north and south of the entrance stretched two huge class-rooms, each with a large stone fireplace. That on the left housed Mathematics, that on the right, English. At either end were two storey buildings, to the north, a gymnasium with an art room above it; to the south, a modern language ‘school’ on the ground floor, the Classics room being upstairs. The entrance was for many years graced, on either side, by trees growing in swards of green grass, all of them, with their protective railings, victims of the Second World War.

Even a century later, one must needs regret the grand design for a great galleried hall extending down Spittal Street on the north, and a library and museum on the east of the quadrangle, which never took tangible shape. The site chosen was admirable for the mid-nineteenth century, when Stirling’s chief citizens still lived at the ‘tap o’ the toon’ – in the Broad Street, beside the Tolbooth and the Market Cross – still the focal points of municipal life and within sight of the awe inspiring eastern apse of the Church of the Holy Rude.

The masters were then paid, in addition to fees, 60 pounds per annum, except for the newcomer, the Modern Language master, who received much less. Drawing, gymnastics and dancing were new, but popular, subjects. The Art Department under the guidance of Mr. Leonard Baker (1857 – 1909) began its long and successful career, which has continued to the present day, under such masters as Mr. Edmund Baker (1909 – 27) (son of Leonard); Mr. James MacGregor (1927 – 32); and Mr. James Atterson, whose accidental death in July 1961, saddened the whole community.

With the passing of the Education Act (Scotland), in 1872, the School passed from the control of the Town Council, but the Provost still attends prize-givings to present to the dux of the school the Randolph Medal, gifted to the Royal Burgh by Charles Randolph, Marine Engineer, Glasgow (1809 – 78), who was educated in the Stirling schools.

The 20th Century

Since 1896, a succession of able Rectors has striven, under the pressure of ever-changing social conditions in Stirling itself, and constant readjustments of educational policies at national level, to retain the highest standards of scholarship inherited from a more leisurely age – Dr. George (‘Cocky’) Lowson, M.A., B.Sc. (1902 -21), who had only to emerge from his room and say, ‘Quietly now, boys, quietly’, for every boy within hearing to disappear without trace; and Mr. A.S. Third (‘Thirdy’), M.A., B.Sc. (1921 – 35), the most dynamic of Mathematics teachers, were the first non-classical headmasters. That dynasty was restored in the person of Mr. A.J. Tait, M.A., who loved to escape from form-filling to take a class in Greek or Latin. Of him it might be said, ‘The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up’, for he devoted himself unsparingly to the promotion of the academic success of the School. During his time the roll of the School rose from 380 to 670, while the number of Group Leaving Certificates gained went up from nineteen in 1935 to sixty in 1946 – after six years of wartime conditions!

Both world wars cost the school many valuable young lives. Under the guidance of Mr. Tait, part of the Primary School building was set aside as a shrine in 1949. Its beautiful stained-glass windows, Roll of Honour, and Book of Remembrance, which, very properly, preceded the rest of the school to Torbrex, now also serve as a memorial to Mr. James Atterson, Art Master, who designed them.

On Mr. Tait’s retiral in October 1954, his successor, Mr. James Geddes, M.B.E., T.D., M.A., B.Sc., soon discovered that all his mathematical ability and military training would be required to marshall the School through one of the most momentous periods in its long history. By that time it was only too apparent that the total school-accommodation, provided by all the additions, including huts, grouped around the ‘quad’, was quite inadequate for the numbers seeking admission. The roll steadily increased until by 1962 it stood at 1108. The only real question to be settled was whether the older buildings should be drastically reconstructed, and extensions built in St. John’s Street, or whether an entirely new site should be sought. By great good fortune, the Education Committee secured a site at Torbrex, almost adjoining the Sports Field and Pavilion, and there, in the most modern architectural idiom, arose the new High School.

The decision to leave the venerable old ‘School on the Rock’, whose every stone reflects the skill of some longvanished mason, caused considerable heart burning among those who had trod its cloisters, and gazed admiringly on the names of their great predecessors engraved on stone and wood and brass. Within its walls have been educated an extraordinary succession of gifted men (sic), ranging, within the 20th century, from Major General Sir David Bruce, K.C.B. (1855 – 1931) who left school at fourteen to become, eventually, a pioneer bacteriologist, through ‘first’ bursars, gold medalists and Snell-Exhibitioners. It is to the present day pupils’ credit that he hears of famous personalities, such as Sir Gilbert Rennie, Dr. John Grierson and Muir Mathieson and wonders which of his contemporaries is likely to reach national, let alone international, renown. (To Miss Thompson’s list, I must, from Canada, add the name of Norman MacLaren, pioneer animator and long prominent in the Film Board of Canada. – A. McK.)

Miss Thompson’s essay ends with the quotation from Dr. D.A.R. Simmons, M.D. in describing a hope for the future of the school as :

‘A vital community of teachers and pupils, living and learning together; committed as the school motto ordains, to the service of its own day and generation.’

The old High School also has a telescope in the observatory tower. The telescope has recently been refurbished, and is now in use.


Report by the Secretary on Research undertaken within the School Magazine Collection.

Following on the Report I submitted to the last Committee Meeting I have had the opportunity to read through some more of the Magazine Collection, the source of some useful information.

The House System in the School has roused many a discussion as to why the names were chosen and when did it all begin.

The following extract from the 1963 Magazine may serve as a reminder and is quite appropriate at a time when we remember Mr Charles Strachan and his contribution to School life, as it was written by him.

” The organisation which gave the School the long-cherished names of Randolph, Snowdon, Stewart and Douglas sprang from their existence of the Athletic Union, and it might be interesting and valuable at this time to look back to October 1919, when a letter stating the aims of this newly-created body was sent to parents and friends :-

” We desire to bring before your notice the institution of an Athletic Union at the High School of Stirling, and to request the favour of your patronage and support.

The Athletic Union has been formed with the object of organising the School games and thereby developing the corporate life of the school. It has long been the desire of those who wish the School to maintain the high position it has held in past years, to develop the athletic side of school life in common with the purely educational side, and thereby to attain the goal of a liberal education, namely ” a healthy mind in a healthy body. ” By adapting to a school with a great tradition, the principle of an Athletic Union as established and maintained in our Scottish Universities, it is hoped to foster among both present and former pupils that feeling of pride and love which the student bears towards his Alma Mater.

The Movement has the support of pupils, past and present, the staff and the Rector of the High School, and these are all represented on the Committee which manages the affairs of the Union.” From 1919 until the present day the Athletic Union has worthily furthered the aims of its creators , most of whom had just returned from the horrors of the First World War, and it is pleasant to record that its first secretary was Mr E G McHutchon who was to give his services again to his country during the Second World War and who was recently our senior invigilator in the S.C.E examinations, his spare figure as nimble, fit and vigorous as ever.

The immediate incentive to the creation of the House system came two years later, when Mr Alex Scott, the highly respected janitor of the time, presented two small silver cups to the Athletic Union, in memory of his wife.

Considerable thought was given to the problem of how the cups might best be utilised, and two proposals were put forward. The first was that the cups should be presented annually to the girl champion and the boy champion at the School Sports; the second suggestion was that all the pupils should be divided into four HOUSES which could compete in the winter and summer sports and in whose fortunes all pupils could take pride and interest. After time had been given for consideration of these two proposals, a special meeting was held on the sixteenth of November, 1921 at which it was ” unanimously and enthusiastically decided that the House system should be adopted.”

Various suggestions were put forward for House names, the most favoured of which were Snowdon, King’s, Abbey and Cowane. Other names suggested were St Margaret’s, Stuart, Guild, Craigforth, Kildean, Randolph, Mar and Douglas. How grateful we must be to the members of the Committee, among whom were Mr J M Amess and Miss Jarvis, who in February, 1922, voted for the grand names : Snowdon, Stewart, Randolph, and Douglas.

Since then, year after year, the Scott Cups have been presented annually to the captains of the winning Houses, whose names are inscribed in special boards, now in store but which we hope will some day be hung on the walls of the new school.

The House system may seem an alien and somewhat artificial importation from English boarding schools, but in practice it provides an exciting division of the mass of pupils into units in which each pupil has a rightful place and in which he can take a pride, and it may well be that the time has come to extend the scope of “House” activities and responsibilities. The names breathe the very spirit of Scottish history and every High School boy or Girl should know as much as possible of the story behind the name of each house.

In conclusion, it should, perhaps, be recalled that from 1934 until it was closed down, the Primary High School applied the House system to normal school work. House points were awarded each week throughout the session and the fortunes of each House were eagerly followed as they were recorded on the House Boards in the School Hall, until the climax was reached at the Annual Prize Giving when the Banner for the champion House was triumphantly carried from the platform by the two captains. In addition, three trophies were presented : the senior trophy, the junior trophy and the infants’ trophy, the respective gifts of the Athletic Union, the Rotary Club and Mr J S Farrer. These trophies are at present in our homeless museum.”

This is interesting to those of us who went through the system and experienced the thrill of participation and strove to benefit ” our ” House whether in the academic or sporting field.

There may well be something in this extract for the present if only to make current pupils aware of the traditions behind the School House System.

As of August 2007 there were three houses in operation at the school – Stewart, Randolph and Douglas.

By 2021, the school roll had increased and 2 additional Principal Teachers of Pupil Support were employed, leading to the creation of 2 new Houses.

One of the new houses will be called Snowdon, to reflect the original House names from 1921.

The school has never had a fifth house in its long history, and we reached out to our school community for suggestions for its name. A small group of staff and young people met to look over the suggestions and draw up a short list based on the suggestions.

Every young person and member of staff had one vote each to choose from Eccles, Jaffray, MacLagan and Polmaise. By majority vote, the new House will be known as Eccles.

David Eccles was a Stirling High School pupil, teacher, Principal Teacher and Chief Invigilator who passed away in 2020. Mr Eccles served our community for many years & supported our pupils throughout their exams. He supported the local community as the Scottish Football League Youth Development Initiative goalkeeping coach for Stirling Albion.

St Ninians, where our school is situated, was originally known as Eccles (i.e. 'church'), and may have been a Christian site from an unusually early date (possibly 5th or 6th century).

As of April 2021, the school has 5 houses: Douglas, Eccles, Randolph, Stewart and Snowdon.

Memorials Windows

It may be interesting to consider what the designer of the window, Mr James Atterson intended to convey in the symbolism of the window.

Following Mr Atterson’s untimely death due to a tragic accident while on holiday in the West Highlands an appreciation of his contribution to the life of the School was contained in the Magazine for 1962, both from the Rector, Mr James Geddes and a colleague, Angus MacKenzie.

In addition the Magazine contained the following article in which Mr Atterson’s own description of the symbolism of the window revealed the nobility of its conception.

“This Memorial Window is built into the fabric of the School on the site of the town wall, which guarded our town in days gone by. In keeping with the School’s ancient history and traditions, it is fitting that the mediaeval language of Chivalry and Heraldry should be used in the design.

This design is built round the Christian Symbol of the Cross – the Cross of Service, Sacrifice and Salvation. This Cross is formed by the central mullion and transom.

With shields in the upper portion are placed the emblems of the Services :-

The Royal Navy is represented by the anchor, symbol of faith and steadfastness.

The Army is represented by the firmly-grasped sword of Justice, raised in defence of freedom and right.

The Royal Airforce is represented by a wing issuing from a cloud, symbol of these gallant Knights of the Air who dared all in defence of our country.

The Merchant Service is represented by the trident issuing from a wave, symbol of the service which maintained our life-line throughout the seven seas at such high cost.

On the right lower portion of the window, is the figure of Queen Margaret, taken from our School badge, and at her feet the wolf of Stirling, traditionally associated with the ancient history of our town.

On the left, against a background of the old School and the Tree of Life and Knowledge, is the figure of a kneeling Knight in a Crusader’s Cloak, offering his earth-won laurels in exchange for the Crown of Life.

Above the figure of Queen Margaret is the inscription, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.”

May this memorial give lasting form to the image each of us carries in our heart and mind of a “Verray parfait gentil Knight” who dared all, gave all, gained all.”

Randolph Portraits

Report by Secretary on Research undertaken into the origin of the Portraits.

The portraits which are at present in the Heritage Room were discussed at recent Committee Meetings when questions were raised about their authenticity and where they had come from.

On looking through the old School Magazines on another topic, the following article was discovered in the Magazine for 1962.

“Four years ago the governing body of the Smith Art Institute, Stirling, were confronted with the problem of the disposal of two portraits, those of Charles Randolph and his wife.

It was this gentleman who, as a former pupil of the Burgh Schools of Stirling, bequeathed, in 1879, 250 to the Town Council of Stirling to be used to purchase annually a gold medal to be presented to the best scholar in Stirling.

Born in Stirling in 1809, Charles Randolph became a great engineer, and founded the firm which became the famous Fairfield Shipbuilding Company. As well as remembering the pupils of his old school, he endowed a Chair of Engineering and Mechanics at the University of Glasgow, where his memory is perpetuated by the well known Randolph Hall.

Thus, in view of the intimate nature of the association of Charles Randolph with the High School of Stirling, it was decided to offer the two portraits to the Rector, who accepted. They were stored in the old school against the time when they could be cleaned, re framed, and hung in the new building.

So the portraits now adorn the School, that we may remember our benefactor whenever the Randolph Gold Medal is presented to the Dux of the School.”

This information indicates that these portraits are genuine. The Committee, in February 1995, agreed to contribute 100 to their cleaning and restoration. The Rector indicated that the project to clean and restore the portraits would go ahead once more information was available.

This confirmation may now justify the restoration and enable the Randolph Portraits to be re-hung in a place of honour in the School.

Duncan McNaughton Bequest

Duncan McNaughton MA, FSA (Scot)

Duncan McNaughton was welcomed in to the Primary High School by Miss Nairn, whose Infants’ Class he joined in 1915.

Thus began a distinguished academic career which developed during his schooldays as a Pupil of the High School of Stirling, seldom failing to appear in the Prize List.

He left school in 1928 and, following graduation, he completed Teacher Training and began to seek employment at a time when there was a two year waiting list for teaching posts in Stirlingshire.

In April 1937, he responded to an invitation to join Miss May Lindsay, at that time Head of the History Department, who had begun to find ever increasing numbers too heavy for her. Duncan jumped at the opportunity to return to his Old School as her Assistant, taking over from her later that year when she developed a severe and fatal blood poisoning from an insect while holidaying in the south of France. However, this meant that for several months he had to teach double classes and present two overstrength classes – one had over 70 – to the Leaving Certificate.

He spent the next ten years at the School where his love for the old cloistered building developed still further, together with many friendships formed in the staffroom at the foot of the Observatory Tower. So deep were his feelings that he has written his memories of the times he spent at the School, both as Pupils and Master from which it is evident the he never forgot those days of the people around him.

In 1991, after the Grand Reunion in the then new Stirling Highland Hotel in the Old School Building in Academy Road, negotiations took place with the Secretary of the Former Pupils’ association concerning his desire to recognise the High School in his Will be bequeathing a substantial capital sum to be used to make an Annual Grant to the top pupil in the School. Correspondence was carried on for some time and the matter placed subsequently in the hands of the School and Mr McNaughton’s Solicitor, the outcome being the recent payment of the legacy of £20,000 from Duncan McNaughton’s Estate to his beloved High School of Stirling.

The legacy of £20,000 was lodged in a high interest account with the Bank of Scotland in February 1997. it has been agreed with the executors of Mr McNaughton’s estate that the interest from the capital sum will be used to provide prizes for all our senior school prizewinners and also provide an additional award for the Dux of the school in accordance with Mr McNaughton’s wishes. This arrangement commenced as from the Prizegiving of 1998 when the Duncan McNaughton Bequest will be awarded for the first time this ensuring that Duncan McNaughton’s name will live on in the High School of Stirling in the years to come.

The ’38 Club

Report by the Secretary on Research undertaken within the School Magazine Collection

On reviewing the School on the Rock, number 14, published in June 1938, I came across the following short article written by J W Munn, Hon Secretary, to the Editor regarding Membership.

Even from the outset of this particular rejuvenation of the Association, Members appeared to be difficult to find !

“Sir, – The committee of the above club wish to remind all pupils who are leaving school this year that they have automatically become eligible for membership. The club, which has only just been formed, will rely to a great extent upon the support of the present members of Classes V and VI for the success of its programme next year.

It will primarily continue the functions, among former pupils of the school, of the school’s Debating Society; it will necessarily form a link between past and present members of the Debating Society and between past and present members of the school. By the terms of the constitution, one meeting at least in the year will be of a social nature, but if it were the wish of the society, the number of such meetings might be slightly increased.

The committee would like to express the appreciation of all members of the Club for the co-operation shown by Mr J Coutts Morrison and the Rector. It is to their goodwill that we owe the use of Room 25, hallowed by so many memories, which has been promised us for the forthcoming year.

The committee feel that such a society will fill the regrettable gap which exists between those who have left the school and its present members, both pupils and staff. It is hoped that those who will have the opportunity of joining the Club will show themselves appreciative of an advantage which has hitherto been denied former pupils of the School.”

As we debate the issue of support for the Association’s continuing existence, it is interesting to read that even in earlier pre-war days, support was being sought using similar memory stirring descriptions which we make use of today.

School Hymn

Verse 1

Lord God of hosts; to thee we come,

As oft our fathers came;

As thou was gracious unto them

Be thou to us the same

Verse 2

Be thou our stronghold as our our town

Was stronghold to the free;

As it to heaven draws nigh, O Lord

Draw us nigh unto thee.

Verse 3

And grant that as the mountains stand

Around our town always,

Thy loving-kindness may us guard

Throughout life’s varied day.