Education in Stornoway in 1797

The entry in ‘The Statistical Account of Scotland’ provides us with an insight into the provision of schooling in late 18thC Stornoway. I have elected to make my comments within the extracts from the original document.

There are two well-frequented schools in the town, provided with able teachers, good accommodation, and good salaries. The one is parochial, and the other is supported by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge.

It is perhaps worth noting that the population of 6-14 year-olds in the whole Parish at this time was only 288 children yet those parents who could afford the fees had a choice of school.

The yearly salary of the parochial school is L. 40, of which the master has L. 25, and his assistant L. 15.

At first sight this differential might appear surprisingly small, with the Master having 62.5% of the salary and the Assistant 37.5%, but to it must be added:

The master has, together with the emoluments of his school, a dwelling-house and garden rent-free, and some land,from the proprietor.

Rents in Stornoway were considerably above those on the mainland, reflecting the large additional building costs in a town to which all construction materials, ‘including stone’, were imported.

The fees are, per quarter,


for English and writing, 2 s. 6d.;
for arithmetic and English, 3 s.;
for Latin, writing, arithmetic together, 4 s.;
for a course of geography, 10 s. 6d.;
for navigation, L. 1, 1s.;
and for each set of book keeping, 10 s. 6 d.

It is wonderful to have an insight into the curriculum on offer to the 18thC scholar but even more so to see the relative cost of each course and this is more clearly shown by conversion to modern currency:

English and Writing 12.5p
Arithmetic and English 15p
Latin, Writing, Arithmetic 20p
Geography 52.5p
Navigation 105p
Book-keeping per set 52.5p

That ‘Navigation’ should appear as an option is not too surprising in Stornoway but I wonder how many boys were fortunate enough to be able to study it at such huge expense, about one months pay for a labourer to pay for 3 months education.

The number of scholars is 40.

More on this later.

The Society schoolmaster’s dwelling-house and school-house are lately built with stone and lime, and covered with slate at Seaforth’s expense.

‘Seaforth’ being the owner of Lewis at the time of the construction.

The salary is L..17 to the master, and L. 8 to his assistant

These total salaries are 62.5% of those in the Parochial School, and are split 68% to 32% between Master and Assistant which is slightly more in favour of this Master than his opposite number, but without the benefit of a house and land.

The quarter-fees are,
for reading, is. 6 d.;
writing, 2 s.;
arithmetic, 2 s. 6 d.;
book-keeping, 5 s.;
mensuration, 5s. ;
navigation, 10 s.

Converted fees:
Reading 2.5p
Writing 10p
Arithmetic 12.5p
Book-keeping 25p
Mensuration 25p
Navigation 50p

The order of magnitude between these fees and those of the Parochial School speak for themselves and probably go a long way to explain why –

The number of scholars is 129.

More than three times as many children at the Society School!

Besides these, there is a spinning-school established by the Society; the accommodation consisting of a garden and a slated house, with L. 6 salary granted by Seaforth, and L. 4 salary from the Society, to the mistress.

An interesting partnership between the two bodies responsible for the two schools to provide a ‘vocational’ education for the girls and this final extract tells us why it was deemed necessary:

To this school, and two others of the fame kind, erected in this parish, but now laid aside for want of the requisite number of scholars, Mrs Mackenzie of Seaforth, a lady eminently distinguished
for great humanity and charity, gave much countenance and encouragement, by distributing liberal premiums among the scholars and mistresses, and by personally visiting them, and taking particular cognisance of their proficiency and several performances in spinning and knitting of stockings, thereby inciting them to emulation and diligence. She has now the satisfaction to find, that by her kind interposition and benevolent exertions to introduce and promote spinning of yarn in this island, many poor girls have been rescued from habits of idleness and vice, and trained to industry and virtue.

I am delighted to learn of these ‘rescues’ but more intrigued to know what and where were the ‘two others of the same kind, erected in this parish, but now laid aside…’ and why they lacked sufficient young ladies to render them viable?

I somehow doubt that the alleged ‘idleness and vice’ were responsible…

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