Schools

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"Fairest of Scotland’s thousand parishes - neither highland nor lowland - but undulating....like the sea in sunset after a day of storms....Thou art indeed beautiful as of old” - Christopher North 1785 - 1854

Today, the name “Mearns” is found in only two areas in Scotland  - in East Renfrewshire and in the north east in Kincardineshire.  One possible explanation of the derivation of name Mearns is that it came from the Gaelic “an mhaorine” meaning a stewardry. In Renfrewshire, Mearns was the name given to lands granted by David l to Walter Fitzalan, the first High Steward of Scotland. It is not known whether the land was known as Mearns before that time or if it was named when he acquired it. The land area was  more  extensive that the Mearns we know today, extending possibly into Ayrshire.

The history of Mearns can be traced back to earliest times. The boundaries and the ownership of the land changed throughout time, but the nature of the land remains the same, despite the spread of housing  and roads across the landscape.

There are no great monuments or sites of international importance in Mearns to attract visitors, but the area is rich in legends of giants, buried gold and ancient stones. The history of Mearns is the history of the people who lived and worked here, of those who left here for distant lands and those from other parts who chose to settle here.

Bronze Age

In 2002, during the building of new homes at West Acres, excavations uncovered traces of a mid to late Bronze Age settlement.  A total of 15 radiocarbon dates were obtained and indicate a date range between 1700-1100 BC. The main feature was timber round house 12.5m in diameter.  
This is described in “Bronze Age pastoral practices in the Clyde Valley: Excavations at West Acres, Newton Mearns”, author Ronan Toolis (with specialist contributions), in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 2005, volume 135, pages 471-504.  

Iron Age

There is evidence of an iron age Hill Fort at Duncarnock.  In his book, “Eastwood District - History and Heritage”, Thomas C. Welsh describes his own investigations of this site over many years.  Reverend A. Boyd Scott writing in “Old Days and Ways in Newton Mearns” published in 1939, suggests sites of three other forts. One of these has now been quarried and there is no definite evidence to support his theory about the other two.  Surveyors from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland carried out a survey of Duncarnock and have produced a new plan of the site.

Early Medieval Period

During excavation work at Titwood Mearnskirk in in 2002, an early historic palisaded enclosure was uncovered. This site was a circular fenced farm c.40 m in diameter with a longhouse in its northern half. Radiocarbon dates suggest it was occupied between 8th - 10th centuries AD. A very detailed archaeological description of this find by Melanie Johnson and Alastair Rees with Ian Ralston is reported in the Scottish Archaeological Journal, 2003, volume 25.2, pages 129-145.

Recorded History

David l, King of Scotland from 1124 - 1153, had spent many years at the royal court in England and was very familiar with the English feudal system. When he became king, he established a form of government in Scotland based on the feudal system. He made gifts of land to many of his friends and supporters who had accompanied him from England, but did not dispossess local chieftains who recognised him as their liege lord.

Walter Fitzalan, the High Steward of Scotland was granted lands in Renfrewshire and Ayrshire. He in turn gave lands to his own men, who often took the name of the lands given to them. One such was Roland, first feudal lord of Mearns, who took the title of Roland de Mearns. However, in his book “Old Days and Ways in Newton Mearns”, Boyd Scott suggests that Roland may have been a “native” chief who was allowed to retain his lands in return for loyalty to the king. However the Steward would have had feudal superiority over him. According to Boyd Scott, the family name of Mearns died out with the marriage of Roland’s only great grand-daughter to Aymer de Maxwell; thus the barony and superiority of Mearns passed to the Maxwells of Caerlaverock.

The boundaries of 13th century Mearns were very different from present day Mearns. J. A. Strang’s unpublished work, “A History of Mearns Parish”  describes an area of Ayrshire as being in Mearns.

In 1298, a charter details a land transaction between Herbert de Maxwell and the monastery of Paisley.  Herbert exchanged land in his “Nova Villa” for church land in the Aldton, the original settlement, which was almost certainly at Kirkhill where the church stood. The charter describes the boundaries of the “Nova Villa de Mernes” or Newton and the boundaries of Aldton, showing that there were two separate settlements, one around the church and castle at Aldton  and the other around the castle of Herbert de Maxwell which, Boyd Scott suggests, could have been at Robshill.

The 15th and 16th centuries were turbulent times in Scotland and the Maxwells of Caerlaverock were greatly involved in defending their lands in the borders. Despite the fact that Mearns was reasonably peaceful, in 1440 a charter was granted to Herbert Lord Maxwell to build a castle in Mearns. A second charter of 15th March 1449 by James II granted Herbert a licence to build the present tower structure. The licence conferred on him ‘”full power to build on his lands lying within the barony of Mearns, in Renfrewshire, a castle or fortalice; to surround and fortify the same with walls and ditches; to secure it by iron gates; and to erect on top of it all such warlike apparatus as might be necessary for the defense thereof”. No record has been found of the castle being involved in any significant military activity although it is known that soldiers were garrisoned there in 1675 to harass the Covenanters.

Documents in existence from the 15th century give details of the development of corn mills in Mearns making use of the abundant water power in the area. During this time the Maxwells were short of money and sold land in Mearns, reducing their influence in the area. Another family, the Polloks extended their ownership of land and their influence through marriage into the Maxwells of Cowglen.

In the 16th century there was a dispute over the right to the ballieship of Mearns. There was a long running feud between the Polloks of Over Pollok and the Pollok Maxwells of Nether Pollok. A court case found in favour of the Maxwell Polloks who subsequently took over the lands of John Pollok..

The second half of the 16th century  saw the reformation making an impact in the area. Also in 1586, the battle of Langside was fought only a few miles from Mearns, involving men from Mearns fighting on opposing sides. During the 15th and 16th centuries, succeeding monarchs imposed different approaches to worship and this led to great unrest and hardship for the people. Further hardship was to follow during the covenanting years when  troops were billeted  in Mearns and men put to death for their faith.  

Other more positive changes were taking place in the 17th century. In 1621 the village of  Newton became a Burgh of Barony . This meant there could be a weekly market on Thursdays, a market place and market cross and two fairs annually on 4 July and 15 October.     

There were also changes in land ownership, with Sir Archibald Stewart becoming the main landowner in Mearns in 1657.

Poll tax records and records of fines imposed during the covenanting period give a very detailed picture of the population of Mearns in the late 17th century. The details of these were recorded by Strang in his “History of Mearns”.  He lists all the settlements in Mearns  and the number of people who lived there. There were some larger settlements but the majority were small with perhaps two or three families.  The records also show that a “middle class” of tenants was emerging between the landowners and small tenants .   

By the 18th century, rich merchants and professionals began to purchase land in Mearns and built substantial homes. One such was Robert Barclay, a Glasgow lawyer, who bought the lands of Capelrig and built Capelrig House in 1769.

Also, in the 18th century, the supply of the abundant water power in the area attracted textile manufacturers and the development of textile mills brought many workers from others areas into Mearns.  The First Statistical Account in 1796 records 65 workers in bleachfields, while by 1850 there were around 500 people employed in textiles in the parish.

Despite the introduction of the mills, Mearns remained mostly agricultural. Very few farms were owned outright and most were the property of the big landlords and farmed by tenant farmers. At the end of the nineteenth century the valuation roll lists 80 farms, but new landowners were gradually changing land use from agricultural to residential use. This has continued to the present day with few working farms now left in Mearns.

Better roads, such as the development of the Kilmarnock to Ayr Road in 1832. known as the New Line, made travel easier and in the 19th century the isolation of Mearns from Glasgow was diminishing. The population throughout the area continued to increase and improved public transport meant that people could now live in Mearns and work in Glasgow. The opening of the railway station at  Whitecraigs in 1903 led to housing development in the area  but the planned development of housing at Patterton did not take place until very much later. Speculative building began with the development of the Broom Estate and was followed by the building of bungalows along the Kilmarnock Road.

By 1970 the old village of Newton Mearns was virtually uninhabitable with most buildings in Main Street in a ruinous state. The expansion of housing led to a demand for retail development and in 1970 the old village was demolished and a new shopping centre built.

The development continues at present  spreading ever further into the countryside of Mearns.

Today, in the place of feudal lords, there are speculative developers vying for the lands of Mearns.

“Men in their generation are like the leaves of the trees. The wind blows and one year’s leaves are scattered on the ground; but the trees burst into bud and put on fresh ones when spring comes around” - Homer


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Western SMT began life on 7th June 1932, more or less as a direct result of the 1930 Road Traffic Act. It was based on an amalgamation of the Scottish General Transport Company of Kilmarnock and the Midland Bus Services Ltd of Airdrie.  Scottish General was a subsidiary of British Electric Traction, which already had control of a number of Tramway companies in Scotland.  J C Sword’s Midland had taken over Southern Bus Services of Newton Mearns in 1929, and J C Sword himself became General Manager of the new company.  I understand that Southern Coaches of Barrhead broke away from the original company to concentrate on operating coaches rather than on bus services, and indeed for a number of years after moving to Barrhead it was known as Southern Coaches (N M) Ltd.

Virtually overnight, the Act brought some semblance of order from the previously chaotic situation where almost anyone who wanted to could run a bus service at will. Operators now had to apply for a licence, stipulating the exact route, timetable and fares, identifying pick-up and set-down points and specifying the maximum number of vehicles to be utilised.

western1Work started almost immediately on the Depot in Barrhead Road, occupying the site now taken over by the car park at the Asda side of the Avenue Shopping Mall.  I haven’t been able to find a reference as to the actual date of opening, but it was certainly in full operation before the end of 1932. “The Mearns”, as it was always popularly known, was totally responsible for the services from Glasgow to:-  Eaglesham via Clarkston; Mearnskirk via Clarkston; Newton Mearns/Mearnskirk via Giffnock; Neilston via Barrhead and, from 1948, Spiersbridge via Orchard Park.  

Also included were the services from Auchenback to Neilston, Barrhead to Paisley, Clarkston to Paisley and, during the summer, from Eaglesham to Ayr via Newton Mearns.  It shared responsibility with other Western depots for the services from Glasgow to:- Ayr via Kilmarnock; Stranraer via Girvan; Castle Douglas via Dalmellington; Newton Stewart via Maybole: Darvel via Moscow; Ayr via Paisley and Troon and Ardrossan via Beith and Kilwinning.

Boys  going to Hutchesons School had to be content with the ordinary services, and were left with the walk along Cumberland Street through the Gorbals to Crown Street.  The original and pioneering Glasgow to Blackpool coach service was also operated and this was later expanded to take in other Lancashire destinations jointly with Ribble Motor Services of Preston.  Special services were operated for workers at Netherplace Works and Weir’s of Cathcart, and for school girls at Hutchesons’ Girls’ Grammar School at Kingarth Street. Newton Mearns also provided drivers for the overnight service to London when duplication was required, but the buses were usually kept at Kilmarnock.

The Depot was a major source of employment for the area, and from the mid ‘40s to the early ‘60s serviced just under 100 buses.  (Over 100 would have resulted in enhanced salary scales for some key employees!).  Johnny Bell was the much respected (sometimes even feared) manager who had come up through the ranks from the position of boy conductor. Consequently he knew all the tricks and dodges, and his staff recognised they would get away with no infringements of the rules.  His standards of maintenance and cleanliness for the fleet and staff in his control were legendary.  A bus would never be allowed to leave the depot with an un-repaired dent or scratch, nor would a driver or conductor who had forgotten his/her tie or hat!  He was also concerned with the interests of the passengers.  On the occasions of a ‘flu epidemic or similar, and there was a consequent shortage of conductors  -  drivers were not so prone to such illnesses by virtue of their isolation in the cab  -  he would round up every available member of staff to simply stand on the platform and ring the bell.  A properly licensed conductor was required to collect the fares, so the passengers on those occasions would get to work or school on time, and travel free!

western2Newton Mearns residents enjoyed a remarkably good level of service to ‘town’.  The basic service for most of the period we are concerned with was every 7/8 minutes, including evenings and Sundays.  The Ayr buses left Waterloo Street on the hour and every 15 minutes thereafter, and the Mearns “local” buses likewise from 7 minutes past the hour.  In addition, there was considerable duplication at “rush hours”, which in those days included lunch time, and most of the buses operating on the routes from Clyde Street also carried Mearns passengers on their way to commence or finish their duties.  No wonder sales of timetables were minimal!  One would just go to the nearest bus stop, and a bus would turn up!

There was a time when the single fare to Glasgow corresponded to the Fare Stage number, so it was 10d from Newton Mearns, 9d from the Broom shops, 8d from Whitecraigs Golf Club and so on to 5d from Giffnock Station.  For those too young to remember, 12d = 1/- = 5p, so work it out for yourself.  My 24 Journey weekly ticket from Giffnock Farm cost 4/11d. Unfortunately, inflation took a hold soon after the war, and has never let go since.

Regrettably, by the ‘60s the depot was showing its age.  Buses were getting larger, and the new facilities required for servicing them just could not be accommodated in the existing premises.  Extension was not practicable, as the local authority wanted the ground for a major development of the Mearns Cross area, and in 1968 the whole operation moved to a new purpose-built location at Thornliebank. That wasn’t to last for so long however, and the said local authority now occupies those premises itself.

R. Lynn McIntyre

Western SMT Depot Newton MearnsWestern SMT Depot Newton Mearns


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Early schools in Scotland came under three headings. There were parochial schools, run by the church, private schools and charity schools which varied in the quality of the education offered, depending on who ran them. The parochial schools charged fees and were therefore attended by children whose parents could afford to pay and a dominie was in charge.

In Mearns, Dr George McLatchie, the parish minister, held a school in the church manse and tutored students  who hoped to gain University entrance. The most noted of these pupils is John Wilson (1785-1854)  Essayist  and Moral Philosopher, who was was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University in 1820.

schools1In Mearns, the parochial school was sited in the glebe of Mearns Kirk, approximately where the church manse stands today. In 1792, Dr George McLatchie reported in the First Statistical Account of Scotland that the dominie’s salary was  £8-6-8d . In addition, he was paid 30/- per annum for acting as Session Clerk of the church and fees charged for lessons were also his to keep. The fees charged depended on the subject and ranged from 1/6d per quarter for English to 5/- for Latin. Pupils who were too poor to pay could attend if their names were approved by the Kirk Session

In 1842, in the Second Statistical Account  the schoolroom is described as “one of the largest and airiest of any in the west of Scotland”. Mr Jackson was the dominie and he taught Latin, geography, arithmetic, English grammar, reading and writing to 103 pupils. Mr Jackson was described as “a very able and excellent teacher” and was paid an annual salary of £34-4-0d

Mr Hunter was the dominie  from 1847 until 1884 and he was commended in Government reports for his teaching of Latin, Greek, mechanics, algebra and geometry. It was noted that he did not profess to be skilled in sewing and this was taught to 41 girls by “a female of the village”.

The Education Act (Scotland) of 1872 made schooling compulsory for all children aged 5 - 13 and church schools were handed over to School Boards. The Mearns School Board met for the first time on 29 March 1873 and in May a census revealed that out of 576 children in the parish 180 did not attend school.

schools2Mr James Dunlop Hamilton of Greenbank, who was the first Chairman of the School Board, bought and donated land for the building of a new school and a schoolmaster’s house. and  also funded the  building of the school .

Mearns Public school opened in 1876 and Mr Hunter became the first Master, a post he held until his retirement in 1884.   On the opening day on 11 September, 144 children attended, but within a month the number had risen to about 230. His staff numbered three or four teachers, of whom one would be a  pupil-teacher, a senior pupil who had progressed to “teacher status”. All the children in the area attended until 1949, when St Joseph’s Primary opened in Clarkston and Roman Catholic pupils were transferred there.

schools3Pupils attended until the age of thirteen, with the exception of pupils who were able to study higher grades. These pupils had to travel to Shawlands Academy until 1937, when Eastwood Senior Secondary  (now Williamwood. High School) opened. In 1962  Woodfarm Junior Secondary opened and Mearns School became a primary school.  

A leaving certificate report from 1945 can be read here.

In 1966 Eastwood Secondary School opened in Newton Mearns in the grounds of Capelrig House. At that time this provided a two-tier system of secondary education. Today all the secondary schools are comprehensive.

As the population in the area grew, an extension to Mearns School was opened in 1963,  but in 2003 the old school was closed and a new school opened. The access road to the new school was named Hunter Drive, in honour of the first Master. Sadly the old school was demolished to make way for the development of the shopping centre.

schools4There was also a school at Polloktoun, (left) but little is known of its history. Once a ruin, it  is a now private house. In the 1850s, a school was established at Loganswell (right) It closed in 1928 when the seven pupils and Mrs. Bell their teacher, transferred to Mearns Public School. Today It is also a private house. schools5

Little is known of the private schools in Mearns, but there is a record of memories of one. Miss Margaret Osbourne, daughter of Osbourne the grocer, ran a small school in the back parlour of the Osbourne’s home, Broomlea. Rae Mackinlay, daughter of Dr Mackinlay  the local doctor, attended Miss Osbourne’s school until she was eleven.

There were never more than two or three pupils and the curriculum was the  3 Rs, piano and knitting. At the age of eleven Rae went to the Girls’ High in Glasgow for three years.schools6

In Mearns today there are four primary schools, Crookfur, Kirkhill, Mearns and St Cadoc’s, two secondary schools, Eastwood High and Mearns Castle High and one private school, Belmont House School.  St Ninian’s High School in Giffnock  provides secondary education for Roman Catholic pupils who live in Mearns.

The reputation which  Mearns had as an area which offered excellent education for its children, continues to the present day.


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