• Schools in Uig before the Education Act

    by  • 7 February 2009 • Education • 8 Comments

    From Sanais, 1988, with some additions.

    The first school in the Western Isles was founded shortly after 1610, when the Seaforth Mackenzies gained possession of the island, 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 the ‘the great good of gentlemen’s sons and daughters and to the comfort and good of the people’.  Martin Martin reported in 1695 that English and Latin 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 Adventure (private) schools and the spinning schools.  The latter were established in 1763 by Mrs Mackenzie to teach the girls to work flax, a recently reintroduced crop, and in spite of early popular resistance, grounded apparently in the fear that girls who attended would be spirited away to Virginia, they were successful in imparting the necessary skills in a few months.  There were three such schools in Uig but they had disappeared from Lewis by 1833.

    During the 18th and 19th centuries several charitable and religious organisations set up schools in Lewis.  These were the SSPCK (Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge), founded in 1701 by a group of Edinburgh philanthropists to teach in English; the Gaelic School Society (founded 1811) which established stations for teaching the reading of Gaelic scriptures, and after the Disruption of 1843, the Free Church Ladies’ Association.  The SSPCK schools were never very popular and the Bernera one closed after 27 months with no pupils, but the others were well supported.

    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 in 1819, the Valtos school was discontinued.  The Gaelic Schools were intended to be short term affairs, teaching for a few years in a township before moving on.

    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 between those over 12 who were educated and those who were not.  There is no indication of the level of education and those who are listed as educated are clustered in two areas:  Timsgarry and district, which had an SSPCK school in 1797 (at Taigh Chiosamuil, it seems, where the first teacher was John Macaskill, a relation of Mrs Munro of the Manse) with schoolmaster Donald Morrison and 30 pupils, and Valtos which had its 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.

    In 1822, there was a school at Brenish, taught by Neil Murray, and at Capadal in 1824, with an unnamed teacher.  The year 1826 saw schools at Capadal and Mangersta, at Baile na Cille (taught by William Urquhart), and Kneep (Donald Mackinnon).  In 1828 the Kneep school was closed and its teacher moved to Valtos, and Donald Macdonald was in that year placed as a teacher at Carnish.

    In 1831, the only Gaelic Society Schools in Uig were at Capadal, Enaclete and Little Bernera, and in 1832 Brenish reappears in the record.   In 1836 Hector Morrison is at Brenish and Donald MacFarlane at Capadal; in 1837 there is a first mention of a school at Crowlista, which may not have continue after 1838, in which year there were five schools in total:  Crowlista, Enaclete, Carnish, Brenish and Reef.  The last three continue to 1842 and the last year recorded was 1844, when there were schools at Loch Roag (Malcolm Morrison), though where is not specified, and Brenish (still Hector Morrison).

    By 1825, there were 19 schools in Lewis, nine run by the Gaelic School Society; the number rose slowly until there were 13 in 1865, but they had moved about regularly – 52 times between 1811 and 1837.  These schools were known as Sgoiltean Chriosda (Christ’s Schools) and they exercised great influence over the people, paving the way for the religious revival of the land 1820s.

    The Rev Alexander Macleod came to Baile na Cille in 1824 and immediately set about establishing Sunday Schools and strengthening existing schools.  by 1827, 600 pupils attended a network of Sunday Schools, organised in every hamlet.  Among the teachers in Uig in the 1820s were John Macrae (Macrath Mòr), John Finlayson, Peter Maclean and Alexander MacColl, all of whom became ministers in the Free Church.

    From the beginning the Free Church was involved in education and the first schools supported byt he Free Church Ladies’ Association in Lewis were opened in 1854 in Gravir and Uig.  The Uig Sgoil na Leddies had 66 pupils and in a year the number rose to 91.  Five more schools followed, situtated at Brenish, Loch Roag, Valtos, Crowlista and Crulivig, with the last opening at Scaliscro in 1885.  By this time the Education Act (1872) was in force, public schools had been opened in Brenish, Crowlista, Valtos and Lochcroistean, and the Ladies’ schools were restricted to isolated places.  The last in Lewis was at Seaforth Head and closed in 1901.

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