Strath of Appin School

In 1872 the Education Act made it compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 13 to attend school. The existing Parish and schools were taken over by the state and managed by locally elected School Boards.

The new system was co-ordinated nationally by the Scotch Education Department with the curriculum emphasising on the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic (the three ‘Rs’). The churches made a crucial contribution to the new system by handing over their schools without charge to the School Boards.

On the 1st October 1874, John Macgregor Campbell, a 27 year old from Ardchattan, became the School Headmaster of Strath Appin, with just 11 pupils. By January, the following year the roll had increased to 90.

At that period of time Christmas Day was not observed as a holiday but just another school day. New Years day taken as a vacation, unless of course it landed on a weekend. ‘Old New Year’ was observed (usually the 12th till the 14th of January) until the turn of the century.

Other absences from school were accepted at this time for home duties such as potato planting/lifting, peat making, market sales in Oban, haymaking and harvesting. The ploughing match was held annually in February and accounted for another day of school closure.

The school also closed for Sacramental Fast Day, the Thursday before Fasting.

In 1876 a school report was carried out, describing the school building as dingy and much neglected, with defective drainage and no offices (toilets). The young children, in November, the same year, were prevented from attending school due to the extreme cold. The conditions were so bad that the school was closed in December 1876 until proper accommodation could be found.

A temporary location was found for the older children but the younger scholars were transferred to Port Appin School.

However, a school report in August 1877 stated that the school had fallen behind considerably, with standard weak and general work poor. Some hope was given, that when the pupils were transferred to the new building the character of the work would be higher.

The new school opened on the 15th October 1877 with an attendance of just 13, though by July the roll had increased to 98 students.

On the 11th of December 1879, a number boys were recorded absent, as they were involved in the search for bodies of men drowned, after a boating accident in Port Appin.

By 1887 the school had much improved according to the school report. Archibald MacKay, chairperson of the school board, wrote, “The school is conducted with zeal and ability, and with general good success.”

By July 1881 the roll reached 112 scholars.

22 year old, Miss Marjory Wilson Stewart, on the 28th October 1889 entered her duties as Mistress of the junior department.

On the 24th May 1887, a half holiday was given to the scholars owing to a funeral of one of their schoolmates.

In 1888 the ‘Downie Bursary Grant’ was awarded to Donald Matheson, £20 for 4 years. Scholarships to Alisdair Macgregor £8, Jane Cameron £5, Katie McLachlan £4 and W Allison £3.

On the 31st of March 1893, Marjorie Stewart left as teacher of the junior department. This may have been because she was then in a relationship with the Headmaster John Campbell. The following year, on the 21st June, they married. Marjory was 27 years of age, 19 years his junior. Marjory was replaced by Mary Bruce.

In December 1894 the Headmaster Mr Campbell was reported ill and the school was closed for the day.

At the beginning of March 1895, fifty-four out of 101 children were absent due to a flu epidemic and the school was closed until the middle of the month. But on their return, it was recorded that the children were unable to use their fingers for ‘sewing and drawing’ owing to the severe cold.

The headmaster was again absent due to illness in July of ’95 and Mr Gillespie Campbell, a student, took temporal charge.

On the evening of August 18th 1895 the Headmaster, John Campbell, died at Appin Schoolhouse, age 48. He died from cancer of the colon and had been married for just 14 months.

David J Smith MA BSc became Headmaster, of Strath of Appin School, on the 8th October 1895 and Glencreran School. Extract from the September report, “The new Headmaster conducts the school with ability and with good promise of success.” However Mr Smith’s term at Appin School was short lived and he left just under 3 years.

Donald MacPherson MA started his duties as Headmaster on the 19th June 1899. He was the son of a shepherd from Kilmallie, Argyll.

He was a bachelor and lived with his younger sister, Jessie who was the housekeeper at the Schoolhouse.

Mr Macphersons attitude towards ‘field work’ was somewhat different to that of his predecessors. He referred to the likes of potato planting, harvesting etc as interference with school progress and referred to the attendance of the senior pupils as, ‘most unsatisfactory’, and very often, ‘deplorable’. On one occasion he described the attendance as ‘disastrous’, owing to potato lifting. Names of defaulters were sent to the Compulsory Officer.

In 1900, the pupil teachers were Mary Walker and Katherine MacLachlan with a roll of 83.

The School report in 1901 describes the school as in an, ‘excellent state of efficiency’, although the report suggested that the scholars could do their written exercises with greater facility, if the desks in the main room were smoothed with a plane.

The same year student, Katie MacIntyre won the Downie Bursary and was granted £20.

Snow storms often hampered school attendance, with the result that the school could be closed for up to two weeks at a time.

Jessie MacPherson, the sister of the Headmaster, at the age of just 29, died at the Schoolhouse, from pleurisy, in May 1905.

The same year scholar, John Carmichael was granted £20 as winner of the Downie Bursary.

The school was closed as a mark of respect, on the 7th December 1906, for the funeral of the Parish Minister, Rev. Simon Macgregor. The school also closed on the 20th of May 1910 and was observed as a day of mourning on the death of King Edward.

Pupil teacher, Miss MacLachlan resigned in 1908 and was replaced by Miss Margaret McInnes.

On the lead up to the Great War, numbers steadily dropped. By the out break of WW1 the attendance was as low as 46. At one point during the war the number of scholars fell to 36. Angus Black continued as Chairperson of the School Board.

The school was closed on Wednesday the 15th to celebrate Armistice of the Great War.

The roll did not improve much after the war, dropping as low as 32 in March of 1920.

Miss Mary Crerar (later Mrs Macarthur, Port Appin), in September 1921, having returned from the training College School in Glasgow. began a three week course on the Practice of Teaching.

Tuesday 28th February 1922 was given as a holiday on the occasion of the wedding of HRH Princess Mary. The same year the school report suggested that the gallery in the Junior Department be removed to provide useful floor space. Examinations in Religious Knowledge were carried out by the Rev Charles MacDonald, minister of Appin.

In 1923 additional day holidays were given for the marriage of the Duke of York and for the Oban Highland Games which became an annual holiday.

By the mid 1920’s the roll was averaging about 40, although the attendance average about 30, usually because of the weather preventing scholars from making an appearance.

Headmaster Donald MacPherson retired 25th March 1927. After 20 years of retirement, he died on 28th March 1947, at Ardselma Appin, age 81. He was unmarried. .

Mr John MacDonald commenced his duty as Headmaster on 26th April 1927. He was formally the Headmaster of Lochdonhead School on the Isle of Mull. The new Appin Parish minister is the Rev I MacLean also started in 1927.

Extract 28th August 1930:

“According to instruction from the Director of Education, the school was closed today for the Appin Agricultural Show which is a recognised holiday in the district. It was also instructed the school be opened on Saturday to make up the necessary number of openings for the session.”

1930 School report

In February 1931 new dual desks were placed in the classroom and the old fashioned long desks, without back supports, were discarded. The same year the gallery was removed from the junior department.

30th June 1931, George Campbell, Alistair Campbell, Tina MacColl, Ema MacDonald and Alex MacDougall received book prizes for excellent attendance from Mrs Livingstone, Cliff Cottage, Port Appin. In December 1934, Book prizes were given by the London Argyllshire Association to: Ewen MacCowan, Archibald Lawrie (for Gaelic), J MacMillan, Mary MacColl and Neil Carmichael for general proficiency.

6th May 1935 was given as a holiday in honour of the Kings Silver Jubilee

The Rev John MacDonald in 1935 examines in Religious Knowledge.

1936 Boy’s foot injured from motor cycle accident.

1937 School closed for 3days holiday for the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Severe frost followed that winter and in December the roads were ice bound.

1938- Fast day still observed

With the outbreak of World War Two, in September of ’39, ten Children were entered under the Governments Evacuation Scheme and two under private Evacuation. Films shown at the school, primarily for the evacuees but were enjoyed by all the pupils.

Gas masks, during the war period, were also provided as a precautionary measure.

During the war period, Archibald Downie became the Headmaster of Appin School, in 1941. Archibald was born in Lochaline, the eldest son of Alexander from Tobermory. He fought during the Great War and was decorated with the ‘Military Medal’, while serving with the Cameron Highlanders. His right shoulder and arm suffered an injury from shrapnel and as a result he lost the feeling in his hand and always wore a leather glove. He was a Lance-Coporal and fought at the Somme. After the war, he became a teacher and taught in Mull and Oban before coming to teach in Appin. Archibald always wore the kilt.

At the end of WW2, the school was closed to celebrate VE Day on 8th May 1945.

Mrs MacArthur taught at Appin School as assistant, replacing Miss MacIntyre until the summer of ’52. On the 19th August 1952, Miss Mary MacKinnon became teacher of the Infant Department and Mrs MacArthur was transferred to Ledaig.

School was closed for 3 days from the 1st of June 1953 for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

Mary MacKinnon married James Brown and in March 1955 left Appin School. There was a steady flow of teachers in the Junior Department following the departure of Mary Brown. Mary was replaced by Miss Fegan and a year later Miss Carol Kennedy became assistant teacher, until August 1957. Miss Kennedy was transfered to Oban and Miss Cameron took up the duties.

When Headmaster Mr Downie retired in September 1961, Miss Swinton (later MacTavish) was the assistant teacher at that time. Mr Downie left the district and moved to Arran. He died in 1973 age the age 79. Mrs Mary MacArtur stood in during the absence of a head teacher. In April 1962, Mary MacLean became Sole Teacher of Appin School. Roll that year fell to just 13.

Headmistress the following year. Miss Maclean previously taught at Port Appin School.

In the mid 60’s she took the school to the swimming baths in Aviemore. At the time, that was the closest swimming pool to Appin.

In December 1968, Mrs Campbell, of Sunset Cottage, retired as Cook supervisor after 19 years service. She was presented with bed linen and a chiming clock.

The school stove was replaced by storage heaters in1970. The same year an extension was added to the school, providing new toilets and a staff room.

Glencreran School closed in that year and Miss Fordam (school assistant) was transferred to Kinloch School. Mrs Elizabeth Jackson took up temporary duty as replacement.

In January 1971, Mrs E Jackson ceased temporary duty as assistant and Mrs Una MacTavish (nee Swinton) took over.

In 1977, both Appin and Port Appin schools closed and amalgamated to the newly built Primary school at Lonruadh. Headmistress, Mrs King (nee MacLean) continued in the new school, until she retired in 1983. Her successor was Mr Gerry Boyle, today’s present Headmaster of Strath of Appin School.

appin school

From top left to right

1 Ian Wilson
2 Tom Ross
3 Alex MacDonald
4 Alisdair Fraser
5 Charles Kinmond
6 Donald Ross
7 Robert MacMillian
8 Hugh Ross
9 Alisdair McNicol
10 Alexander Kerr
11 Charles MacDonald
12 William McGeachy
13 Alex MacDonald
14 Mr McPherson
15 Malcolm McNeil
16 Ian McNicol
17 Flora Ferguson
18 Margaret McIntyre
19 Margaret MacDougall
20 Isabella Cameron
21 Ann Boa
22 Jessie Crerar
23 Morag McNiven
24 Dorus MacDonald
25 Morag Ross
26 Ian Ross
27 Peter MacDonald
28 John Ferguson
29 Jean Ross
30 Elizabeth McGeachy
31 Iona MacFadyen
32 Barbara McGeachy
33 Ann Kerr
34 Anna McNicol
35 Gem Boa
36 Cathy MacDoughall
37 James Lawrie
38 Angus Cameron


  1. Samantha Lawson on

    I’m sure my father attended this school around 1930 ish not sure if he was an evacuee his name was Robert finlay muirhead lawson ( Shaw) perhaps known as fin is there anyway we could verify this as we have had a look at your website and perhaps you have school records
    Best wishes

    • Stuart Carmichael on

      Hello Samantha

      Yes, your father did attend Strath of Appin School.

      According to the Register of Admission, Finlay Lawson Shaw was born on 5th October 1929, started school on 13th March 1939, lived at Airds Lodge, Port Appin Road, with Mrs Shaw.

      Two other children started school at the same, John & Ruth Falconer. Possibly of no relevance but thought I would mention their names as they were likely evacuees, too.

      I hope this is of interested to you.

      Kind regards
      Stuart Carmichael

    • Stuart Carmichael on

      Hi Samantha
      Further to my last message, I was talking to someone last night who remembered your father, at Appin School.
      Your father arrived in Appin with a number of other evacuees but left and then later returned.
      As mentioned previously, he stayed at Airds Lodge but although his mother must have been present for the enrollment at the school, he lived with a retired soldier called MacKay. It was thought that MacKay was possibly a relative (died in the late 40’s).
      Kind regards

  2. Hi,

    My dad lived in mull, not sure if he was an evacuee or sent there as he was orphaned. His name was George McCallum and he was born in 1933. I believe he came from Greenock, unfortunately I have no more information for you as he died in 1975.

    Many thanks,

    Cindy Hinde (nee McCallum)

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