The thread about two very different Edinburgh schools that were built at the same time, for two very different visions of secondary education (and why Boroughmuir was built wrong. Twice.)

This thread was originally written and published in May 2022. It has been lightly edited and corrected as applicable for this post.

This thread starts with a picture taken of the former Tynecastle School on McLeod Street – it was moved to new buildings further down the same street in 2010. It was built by the Edinburgh School Board from 1910-12 to the designs of their architect John A. Carfrae. This was what was known as a Continuation or Supplementary School i.e. continuing education beyond the statutory limit, or gaining supplementary education in specialist subjects. Such schools were later known as Junior Secondaries. It was to provide a “technical and clerical” education for 1,200 children in the Gorgie and Dalry area. This was meant those who didn’t pass their qualification (Quali) exams at the age of 11 for Higher Grade school, which at this time were schools offering the “Intermediate Certificate” to prepare students for going on to professional vocations and for a few perhaps, University.

Former Tynecastle School © Self
Former Tynecastle School © Self

Such schools were the beginning of a specialisation in secondary education for many children into more technical, career-focussed education. Previously most would had stayed on until the age of 14 (13 until 1901) and been taught a largely academic curriculum in a non-specialist school; the brighter or better off being able to attend the Royal High School or one of the endowed schools such as James Gillespie’s, George Heriot’s or those of the Merchant Company for a proper secondary education. Tynecastle was built around the same time as the James Clark School at St. Leonards and Bellevue School (at Bellevue, now called Drummond High School), as the School Board sought to greatly increase this sort of provision.

These schools were aimed at working class children who aspired to pick up particular specialist trades or to enter a clerical rather than a strictly manual occupation. Tynecastle was built to a fairly strict budget and instead of the traditional stonework, it was built almost entirely of brick, most of which was hidden behind harling to greatly reduce the cost; facing brick, which was more expensive to produce and for which Scotland did not have a large supply of skilled bricklayers, was saved only for detailing. The use of external landings to give access to classrooms was very of its time; there was a real concern about the spread of infectious diseases, particularly tuberculosis, and huge efforts were being made in school design to try and deal with it. It also reduced costs as internal corridors were not required.

Children from 11-14 were taught at Tynecastle when it opened, with evening and weekend classes for older children or adults. There was a strict separation of the sexes, with academic lessons taught in the main building and the practical skills being taught in workshops to the rear of the quadrangle. As such they could not be seen from the road so were “given Spartan treatment” architecturally.

Former workshop block at Tynecastle
Former workshop block at Tynecastle

The school opened with only 12 classes, for 500 boys, in the spring of 1912, fully opening on November 12th 1912, the ceremony being performed by the Rt. Hon. Alexander Ure, Lord Advocate. Within a few years, 25 classes were occupied and there was a roll of 790 boys and girls. Subjects on offer included woodworking, plumbing, cobbling, hairdressing, engineering, plastering, laundry, sewing, cooking, trade blouse-making, millinery, dressmaking and housewifery. A speciality of Tynecastle was motor body building.

Schools like Tynecastle can directly be compared and contrasted to their far more lavishly finished and appointed Higher Grade contemporaries; where you went if you passed your Quali. For this district of Edinburgh this meant Boroughmuir (the only other School Board Higher Grade schools at this time being Broughton and Portobello). Coincidentally, at the same time that Tynecastle was being built, Boroughmuir was being rebuilt, also to the designs of Carfrae.

Former Boroughmuir School, CC-by-SA 4.0 StephenCDickson
Former Boroughmuir School, CC-by-SA 4.0 StephenCDickson

Although it still made use of some harling and brick on the façade to lower costs, the lower floors were in traditional stone and it was heavily ornamented with pilasters, finials and even a corner tower. Where Tynecastle had a single 3,200 square foot hall that doubled as as gymnasium, Boroughmuir was built with *two* dedicated gymnasia, each of that size. Tynecastle was built with “spray baths for the benefit of dirty children” – Boroughmuir most definitely was not. With regards Tynecastle, never before had the Board “been so economical over school buildings“. Boroughmuir in contrast was slated as “the last word in public school building“.

This was not the first grand Boroughmuir School however; the now venerable institution had a faltering start to life. It was built as a brand new school in the Free Renaissance style reminiscent of London board schools (again to Carfrae’s plans) . It was opened with much civic pride in 1904 on Bruntsfield Links, this is the building referred to by Muriel Spark as “the school on the Links.

The original Boroughmuir School building
The original Boroughmuir School building

Just 6 years later however, the same changes to the structure of Higher Education that resulted in the School Board building Tynecastle caused a significant reduction in class sizes at the Higher Schools and removal of many of the “supplementary” subjects from their curriculum meant that the classrooms of the new Boroughmuir were far too big, its facilities for specialised teaching (art, music, etc.) were sorely lacking and it had other facilities and workshops that were not required. To right those wrongs, a whole new school was built! The same Evening News article reporting on the business of the Edinburgh School Board on April 15th 1910 announced both the new Boroughmuir school and the school that would become Tynecastle.

In a curious twist of fate, the newest Boroughmuir High School, completed in 2018, was built too small and was in need of extending before it was even opened.

New Boroughmuir School is already too small

The original school did not lie vacant, it was occupied by the James Gillespie’s School (which at this time was an endowed school, and not a Board school). Here it stayed until the 1960s when a reorganisation of education saw Gillespie’s join the state system, and they moved to a purpose built new school nearby in the grounds of Bruntsfield House. Boroughmuir reoccupied the building as a junior annexe. More recently it was sold to the University of Edinburgh who converted it into student halls of residence.

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These threads © 2017-2023, Andy Arthur

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