The Stinchar Bridge

Postmaster, Baker, Registrar, Inspector of the Poor, Clerk to the School Board, Collector of Rates, Clerk to the Parochial Board, later to be renamed the Parish Council, father of nine children, James Wason, (1839 - 1901), my great-great-uncle, was a man of prodigious energy in the village of Ballantrae in southern Ayrshire.
He kept detailed records of his work with the Parochial Board. These are well preserved today in the Ayrshire Archives Centre.
From these records I have extracted the information which follows:

Ballantrae School Painted at the Turn of the Century.
Tate Gallery, London.


Early in 1893, Mr Robert Temple, headmaster of Ballantrae School, informed the board that he was anxious to retire.
His salary was 200 per annum. The pension to which he was entitled would amount to 2/3 of that sum.
The board, however, decided that they would offer Mr Temple only half of his salary for the first five years of his retirement. Their reasoning was as follows:

Mr Temple does not exhibit any of the infirmities of age.
After five years he would be entitled to the full fruits of his pension.

Few head teachers today continue to work after the age of 60. Mr Temple was 74. He would not receive his full pension until he reached the age of 79.

He writes in protest:

I endeavoured to explain that I would not have thought of retiring from schoolwork had I felt as vigorous as formerly and equally capable of sustaining the bodily and mental fatigues incident to teaching.

His letter goes on:

Also that my sight has become very bad,so much so that I am often at a loss to know the figures in (arithmetic) books, and that I have consequently to ask scholars. Next, that my hearing is far from good. Lastly, that my articulation is indistinct owing to loss of teeth. All these are infirmities prejudicial to efficient work which I am never-the-less (sic) doing my best to accomplish.

Yours very truly
Robert Temple.

After much negotiation, Mr Temple accepted that he should retire on 100 per annum - half salary - for one year, from Martinmas 1893 until Martinmas 1894, and thereafter at 132 per annum - two thirds of his salary.

He duly retired, and moved out of the schoolhouse, but not without a parting shot of irritation.
He informed the board that while the kitchen range was part of the house, the grates elsewhere were his, and would have to be purchased from him.

1 Parlour grate 12/6
1 Dining Room grate 10/6
3 Bedroom grates @ 8/- 1/4/-
1 ash pan 5/-
1 ash pan 3/-
1 boiler 5

Total 7/15/-

These were purchased - but soon had to be replaced. Like Mr Temple, they were showing signs of age.


Meanwhile, at Ardnamoil, some miles south-east of Ballantrae, but within the parish, a problem had arisen. Children now living there were unable to reach the village school. (Nowadays they would be taken either by bus or, if their homes were too remote, by taxi.)

It was decided that a schoolroom should be set up in the Ardnamoil shepherd's house, and a teacher should be appointed to work there.
"a large room, capable of accommodating a dozen children, if provided with suitable school furniture. In this room there would be a bed for the teacher."

Mrs McCutcheon, the shepherd's wife, would provide bed and board at 9/- per week. (This would leave the teacher 7/-, or 35 pence, out of his weekly salary of 16/-).
Pupils would be presented for annual examination by HM Inspector at Ballantrae School.

Ballantrae Main Street at the Turn of the Century


On 22nd May 1893, the following advertisement was inserted in the Glasgow Herald and in the Scotsman. It ran seven times.

HEAD MASTER wanted for Ballantrae Public School. Salary 120 with house and garden. It is probable the position of the teacher to be appointed would in time improve.

There were 220 applicants. A Mr McWhirter was appointed.

A year later, Mr McWhirter requested an extra teacher, as the roll had risen from 144 to 173. It sounds as if stress was not unknown in a village school over a hundred years ago. He goes on:

There are four classes in Mathematics, three classes in French, two in Latin, one in Agriculture and three in Domestic Economy. These subjects, except the last, are taught by myself, and in addition I take entire charge of Standard V and VI, and superintend the work of the school.
With increased staff, facilities would be granted for commencing a science class in Physiography
(Known today as Physical Geography).

The board decide to appoint two pupil teachers - a boy and a girl. Equal rights - a commendable attitude! Mr McWhirter argues for two boys. Jane Laidlaw might have been suitable, but poor Jane doesn't come up to scratch, as Mr Mcwhirter explains in a letter to the board on 16th June 1894:

He writes:

As arranged, the girl Jane Laidlaw presented herself for examination in scholarship last Wednesday with a view to becoming a pupil-teacher.
I find her fairly satisfactory in ordinary subjects - English Composition and arithmetic, but she is deficient in specific subjects having only a slight acquaintance with Latin and no knowledge of French. This deficiency would seriously impede progress through her apprenticeship and at the expiry of her term of office would present obstacles to her entrance into the Normal, where two thirds of the female candidates for admission are at present refused.
The two boys whom I nominated have both passed H. M. Inspector's examination in third stage French.
W. McKinnon has also passed in third stage Mathematics and first stage Latin.

It appears that the Glasgow Normal - the Teachers Training College seen below - were not keen to admit girls!

Glasgow Normal School

Wlliam McKinnon and his classmate Andrew McTyer did become pupil-teachers and were trained at the Normal. In 1896, William received a merit certificate.
James Wason notes the travelling expenses awarded to the boys for their annual examination that year. William, for example, receives

To Bus: 3/-
To Train: 2/5
To Dinner: 1/6
Total: 6/11
(almost 35 pence)


On 13th October 1894, Miss Jane Leask was appointed at 50 per annum to Glenapp School, which lay some distance beyond the village. James Wason's minutes include a detail, which hopefully Miss Leask took in her stride:

The salary includes sweeping out the school and doing all ordinary cleaning, but special cleaning will be done by the Board.

One likes to think that the gentlemen on the Board would on special days head off to Glenapp, eagerly clutching brooms and mops.
Sadly, however, such an interpretation lies in the realm of fantasy.

Glenapp School House

Due to no fault of her own, Miss Leask got off to a slow start, both as teacher and as cleaner.
But then, with neither pupils nor shovel.....

On Friday 2nd November 1894, she wrote to the board:

I opened school here on Wednesday, but no scholars appeared, owing I think to the extremely wet day. Yesterday, seven were here, and the same today.
I would be obliged if you would supply me with a brush, coal scuttle and shovel, and also a poker. I would also take it as a great kindness if you would paper and paint the house for me.
Trusting you will not think I am asking too much.
I am,
Respectfully yours,
Jane Leask.

James Wason was instructed to send brush, coal scuttle, shovel, poker - and also ink wells.
In addition, the house was to be painted, papered, and repaired where necessary.
Everything seems to be going well for Miss Leask - for now. She will have cause later, however, to get in touch with the board.
Sterling stuff was required in the outback.

Church and Manse at Glenapp


Until well into the twentieth century, most Scots worked on Christmas Day. Ballantrae schools were no exception. In 1894 they closed on the afternoon of December 28th, and reopened on Tuesday 8th January.
The summer holidays the following year began on 21st June, and ended on 16th August. (Except for Miss Leask and her Glenapp pupils. "To suit the convenience of the district" it was decided that their break should run from 19th July until 2nd September.)

Ballantrae in the 1890s

Ballantrae Today

In 1895, the Parochial Board became known as the Parish Council. The first meeting was held on May 18th.


The work of the Council continues, carefully recorded by James Wason:

1st June 1895: Ballantrae School Commmittee to report re the feasibility and utility of changing the present method of cleaning the closets by substitution of water for the purpose.

7th March 1896: Permission given for the use of Ballantrae School for a Lecture by Mr Campbell of the Glasgow Technical College re the manuring of turnips.

7th September 1896: A letter arrives from Miss Leask at Glenapp School. She concludes:

We have no washing accommodation whatever and we have to build a fire at the side of the burn. Of course, in winter or on wet days this is impossible.

The Council agrees to hold over for future consideration application for a boiler or alternately a new kitchen range.

Miss Leask may have been granted brush and shovel, but, meanwhile, hot water for washing is going to remain a problem until July 1898, when they have an "excellent boiler" built for her. The records do not tell us if, meanwhile, Miss Leask went on building bonfires by the side of the burn.

By the side of the burn

Between March 1896 and March 1897, Ballantrae School roll declined from 141 to 132. As a result, one teacher - Mr Brownlie - was dismissed. He was replaced by 13 year old Mary Hannah. It was decided that Mary would have to be employed as a monitor until, at 14, she could begin her training as a pupil teacher. This training would include instruction by the headmaster from 7 until 8.30 a.m., with the addition of a short period of tuition after 4 o'clock.
As a pupil teacher, she could expect to receive 12.10/-, then 15, then 17.10/-, and finally 20 per annum.

15th January 1898: Further problems for Miss Leask:

Mr John McClung wrote to the Council to complain that Miss Leask had punished his daughter "excessively".
This was found to be untrue, but as the girl was of a very nervous disposition, Miss Leask was instructed not to give her the tawse again.
Mr McClung was said to be satisfied.

A year later, Miss Leask was once again under attack:

"She has marked my girl." exclaimed Mr McClung. He went on to accuse his daughter's teacher of suspected immorality:
"She has taken in a man perhaps there is nothing wrong but it does not look very well in the eyes of the public for a lady in her position as our school teacher. She is not a fit and proper person for the place."

Miss Leask may have found his punctuation more upsetting than his accusation.

He also complained of the school being cold - possibly due to Miss Leask burning school coals "in her own grate".
Because of these crimes, he had withdrawn all his children from Glenapp School.

James Wason replied by return of post:

Your complaint was considered. It was concluded that you were in a bit of a "Scot" (a paddy? a tantrum?) and that you would cool down.
James told him that he must by law return his children to school: You cannot withdraw a child from school until it is 14 years of age.

21st August 1901: James Wason died - of gangrene poisoning. The following Saturday, the funeral service was held in the Parish Church.

The Parish Church

Two days later, Mr R. J. Kennedy (presiding)

"in feeling terms referred to the great loss the whole community had sustained in the death of Mr James Wason, who had with the utmost faithfulness and ability discharged his various duties as Registrar, Inspector of Poor, Collector of Rates and Clerk to the Parish Council and School Board. The meeting desired to convey to Mrs Wason and Family their sympathy with them in their great trial.

James Wason's Grave - with angel

March 1902: Headmaster Mr McWhirter wrote to the Council saying:
It was proposed by a few friends of the late James Wason to erect a gate and railing in his memory at the entrance to the cemetery - to be handed over as a free gift to the Parish Council.

10th September 1902: The Wason Memorial Gate and Railing was formally handed over. They were not replaced for over 100 years.

Wason Memorial Gate