Our School

 

 

A forerunner in many ways of the Scotland Education Act of 1872, which introduced compulsory attendance at school until the age of thirteen, was the Shaftesbury Act of thirty years previously. This Act forbade the employment of all females and boys under ten in coalmines. Besides lacking the ‘education for all’ system we now enjoy, the practice of child labour in the mines until 1842 (and probably for some years afterwards in spite of the Act) was sufficient in itself to rule out any kind of adequate schooling for the young. The Parliamentary Commission which preceded the Shaftesbury Act of 1842 took evidence from children working underground in Loanhead. We are indebted to Mr. R. Sutherland for his research in this matter. In his scholarly work “Loanhead - The Development of a Scottish Burgh” he quotes an extract from Page Arnot’s, “A History of 'Scottish Miners”. This not only gives an insight into prevailing conditions, but also shows the pathetic yearning for schooling by a twelve year old girl who said in evidence: “I get up at three in the morning, and gang to work at four, return at four and five at night. It takes us muckle time to come the road, and put on our clothes. I work every day, for when father does not work, the master pays me 6d a day for bearing wood for him.

 

“I never get porridge before my return home, but I bring a bit of oatcake and get water when thirsty. Sister and I can fill one tub of 41/2 hundredweight in two journeys. Sister is 14 years of age. My sister and brother do not read, but I did once go to school to learn reading when at Sir John’s work. I have forgotten all the letters."

 

"The Ladder Pit in which I work is gei drippie, and the air is kind of bad, as the lamps do no burn so bright as in guid air. My father straps me when I do not do his bidding. The work is very sair and fatiguing. I would like to go to school, but canna owing to sair fatigue".

 

Until the Scottish Education Act of 1872 such local children as received schooling had to walk a long way for the privilege. While Protestant children walked to the parish school at Lasswade until 1873, Catholic children walked much further to St. David’s school, Dalkeith, until St. Margaret’s school was opened by Fr. Hoban in September 1891. Miss Jane McKay, the first headmistress and her three lady assistants enrolled two hundred and thirty seven children on opening day-hardly a pupil-teacher ratio that would win approval today! It is perhaps worth noting that when Mr. Anthony Doherty became headmaster in 1920, eight of his nine predecessors were women. This was the familiar pattern of Catholic education elsewhere-much of the pioneering work was carried out by women, nuns as well as lay teachers.

 

The pupils came from places as far apart as Burdiehouse and Roslin. Apart from Burdiehouse, the present St. Margaret’s school takes pupils from as wide an area, but at least today’s children are not expected to walk the distances of earlier years.

 

A new St. Margaret’s school with all the expected amenities was opened in 1961. Today, Mr. James Cooney, M .A., has one hundred and thirty one pupils in his charge, with' six teachers to give a more respectable pupil-teacher ratio than Miss McKay, the first head, could ever have visualised.

 

The old school was used as a public library for sometime after 1961 and was then closed for many years. In 1975, the diocesan authorities bought back the school and playground on behalf of the parish for £1l,000, and the parishioners immediately started to convert the building into a parochial hall. Voluntary labour has played a major role in the conversion; indeed without such labour, our limited financial resources could never have attempted the task. On 25th April, a few weeks before our centenary celebrations, His Eminence Cardinal Gray blessed and formally opened this truly magnificent hall. Mention has been made of St. Margaret’s longest serving headteacher, Mr. Anthony Doherty. Although he has been dead for more than thirty years, admiration of his work, not only for his school and church, but for the community at large, has not lessened with the passing years. He was an uniquely talented man who used his God given gifts most generously for the benefit of his fellow parishioners and townsmen. He loved his school, but still found time for a multitude of other interests-organist, choirmaster, town councillor, conductor of the Station Ironworks Choir, artist, composer, play producer-the list seems endless. Only the  Lord knows what other heights he would have scaled if he had not died in middle age in 1943.

 

One of his former pupils recalls: I had been at school only a week or two in 1920 when our head teacher Miss Craigen retired on her impending marriage. I well remember her successor, Mr. Anthony Doherty and his first day at St. Margaret’s. It was soon obvious that he loved his new job and took great pride in his school and pupils. We had the greatest respect for him, and outside school hours loved nothing better than speaking to him, or rather listening to him, especially after Thursday evening Benediction at the church gates.

 

He became conductor of the Station Ironworks choir and produced a series of light musical plays such as Phillida, Hong Kong, The Country Girl and The Toreador. I remember Phillida best of all. It was his first musical and when he entered the school the morning after its production, we all I stood up and cheered. When the Station Iron-works Company folded for financial reasons, he produced dramas and light comedy in the parochial hall. He painted all the scenery, while Mrs. Doherty made the costumes.

 

“At school he was always the ‘Master’, could be severe, but always just and ever anxious to hear how older brothers and sisters were faring in the outside world. His death was a great loss to St. Margaret’s. He was a genius, but one of the most humble men I have ever known".

 

 

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