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The first school in the Western Isles was founded shortly after 1610 and in 1680, a report by “Indweller”, says that the ‘ Seaforth’ school had done much good, not only for Lewis but also for the adjacent Isles. It was to ‘the great good of gentlemen’s sons and daughters and to the comfort and good of the people’. Martin Martin reported in 1695 that Latin and English were taught.
In 1743, the Established Church Presbytery of Lewis considering the want of schools, resolved to use all proper means to resolve the grievance and in 1753, the parishes of Barvas, Lochs and Uig agreed to pay 10 shillings each towards the provision of schools.
By the beginning of the 19th century, such schools as there were in Lewis were the Parish schools, the spinning schools and Adventure schools (private schools). During the 19th century several charitable and religious organisations set up schools in Lewis. These were the SSPCK (Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge), founded by a group of Edinburgh philanthropists; the Gaelic School Society which established stations for teaching the reading of Gaelic Scriptures; and after the Disruption of 1843, the Free Church Ladies’ Association.
Of the schools founded by the Gaelic School Society, the earliest recorded in Uig is at Valtos in 1815, one of eight such in Lewis and the only one without a teacher. In 1816, Murdo Morrison was appointed as teacher and 1819, the Valtos School was discontinued.
In 1821, a survey was carried out to determine the future placing of these schools. This survey gives the population of the Parish of Uig as 2875, the number of families as 1592 and distinguishes those over 12 who were educated from those over 12 who were uneducated. There is no indication of the level of education and those who are down as educated are clustered in two areas, Timsgarry and district, an area which had an SSPCK school in 1797, schoolmaster Donald Morrison with 30 pupils; and Valtos which had a Gaelic school in 1815.
After the survey of 1821, schools were placed where needed and moved according to demand and some villages, on the removal of their schools, employed teachers without financial help from any agency, to continue the task of education.
In 1822, there was a school at Brenish, teacher Neil Murray and at Cappadale in 1824, teacher unnamed. The year 1826 saw schools at Cappadale and Mangersta, at Baile na Cille, teacher William Urquhart and Donald MacKinnon is on record at Kneep in 1826 and 27 but 1828, he was moved to Valtos and the school at Kneep discontinued. Also in 1828, Donald MacDonald was placed as teacher at Carnish.
In 1831, the only Gaelic Society Schools in Uig were at Cappadale, Enaclete and Little Bernera and/r0832, Brenish re-appears in the records but no details are given until 1836. Hector Morrison is placed as teacher in Brenish and Donald MacFarlane in Cappadale. 1837 has the first record of a school at Crowlista but there is no further mention of this one after 1838, a year that saw five Gaelic schools in Uig; Crowlista, Carnish, Brenish, Reef and Enaclete. Reef, Brenish and Carnish continue in 1842 and the last year recorded was 1844 when there were two schools, Loch Roag, teacher Malcolm Morrison and Brenish, teacher Hector Morrison. (The photo above show Crowlista old school – more information here.)
By 1825, there were 19 schools in Lewis run by the Gaelic School Society. By 1826, the number had risen to 12, in 1834 there were 11, in 1841, there were 12 and in 1865, 13. By 1829, these schools had moved 30 times and by 1837, they had moved 52 times since 1811. These were the schools known as, “Sgoiltean Chriosda”, (Christ’s Schools). They exercised great influence over the minds of the people and paved the way for the religious revival of the late 1820s.
The Rev Alexander MacLeod came to Baile na Cille in 1824 and immediately set about establishing Sunday Schools and strengthening the existing schools. By 1827, 600 pupils attended a network of Sunday Schools, organized in every hamlet. Among the teachers in Uig in the 1820s were John MacRae (Macrath Mor), John Finlayson. Peter Maclean and Alexander Macoll, all of whom became ministers of the Free Church.
From the beginning the Free Church was involved in education and the first schools supported by the Free Church Ladies Association in Lewis, were opened in 1854 at Gravir (South Lochs) and Uig. The Uig school had 66 pupils and in a year the number of pupils rose to 91. Five more schools followed in Uig. Known as Sgoil na Leddies, they were situated at Brenish, Loch Roag, Valtos, Crowlista (see details) and Crulivig and the last one in Uig was opened in 1885 at Scaliscro. By this time, the Education Act of 1872 was in force, Board Schools were being opened and the Ladies Schools were restricted to isolated places.