Samuelston school bell

School records and sources: research guide 8

North Berwick Burgh Scholars 1870

North Berwick Burgh Scholars 1870

Download a pdf of this guide.

The John Gray Centre’s collection of school records dates largely from the setting up of school boards following the Education (Scotland) Act of 1872. This opened formal education to all children, and placed local control and funding in the hands of school boards.

The records generally relate to schools that are now closed, with current records of individual schools remaining with the schools. Coverage is patchy and in many cases records have simply not survived. Please contact the John Gray Centre to find out the availability of information on a specific school.

Please note: data protection restrictions can apply to some school information. Staff can provide further information on this.

School Records comprise: 

1)            Admission registers
These have not changed much over the years and record information probably already known about an ancestor, such as name of the child, date of birth, address, name of parent/guardian, together with date of admission and date of leaving the school. 

2)            Log books
These are diaries compiled by the head teacher, recording daily events – attendances (or non-attendance due to infectious diseases, bad weather, farm work and estate work etc), subjects being taught, inspector visits, school accommodation, and special events such as prize giving and holidays. Some log books predate the 1872 Act and begin in the 1860s: Cockenzie School (1867); North Berwick High (1868); Stenton School (1868); Dunbar Grammar School (1872); St Mary’s School, Haddington (1872). The names of teachers may occasionally feature in log books.

For example:

Whittinghame School, 18 Nov 1918, School closed in the afternoon: ‘in consequence of the signing of the Armistice Terms and the end of hostilities in the Great War’.

Dunbar Public School, 18th Feb 1915: ‘it has been decided to use slates again owing to the scarcity of paper’.

3)            School board minute books
These record information on the school management and finance, and the appointment of teachers.

4)            County council education committee minutes
These record aspects of overall management including policy, finance, school appointments etc.

For information pre-1872

Burgh records

For centuries, education in Scotland was provided by burgh or parish schools, attended by boys from all social classes, with most information on the schools within the general burgh minutes.

Heritors’ records

Heritors were the landed proprietors of the parish, and were formerly liable for the payment of public burdens connected with the parish, including the provision of schools in the parish. Surviving heritors’ minutes may include items specifically relating to education, or may have references to the provision of a school, schoolmaster and schoolhouse.

Statistical accounts – 1790s and 1840s

These detailed descriptions of the economic and social conditions in each of the Scottish parishes, written by the local Church of Scotland minister, often include brief references to contemporary educational provision.

Book collection

Barker, Ralph W. Village School: the story of education in Pencaitland. Pencaitland Amenity Society, 1994.

Easton, Drew. A Short History of Fisherrow School 1678–2004. East Lothian Council, 2002.

Easton, Drew. Memories of Fisherrow and Fisherrow School. East Lothian Council, 2004.

East Lothian District Council. Longniddry primary school 1931–1981. 1981

East Lothian Council. Holt School: Whittingehame.

Educational Institute of Scotland of Scotland, Annual Congress. North Berwick, 1934.

Fergie, John. Stories and Pupils’ memories including a brief history of education at the parish school. Bramble publishing, 2011 (reproduction).

Grant, James. History of the Burgh Schools of Scotland. Collins, 1876.

Hely-Hutchinson Almond. Loretto 1862–1903. Edinburgh: Neill & Co., 1903.

Mackenzie, Robert Jamieson. Almond of Loretto. London: Archibald Constable, 1906

Martine, John. Reminiscenes of the Royal Burgh of Haddington. Edinburgh, 1883.

Statham, Craig. Lost East Lothian. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2011.

Stewart, Frank. Loretto One-Fifty: the story of Loretto school from 1827 to 1977. Edinburgh : William Blackwood 1981

Turnbull, Michael. Abbey Boys: Fort Augustus Abbey Schools. Perth, 2000

21 thoughts on “School records and sources: research guide 8”

  1. Karl Staines says:

    I attended the Law Primary School (Now a community center, it was opposite my Mum’s Church ” The Our Lady Star of Sea”, then in 1975 the new Law School opened at the top of Lochbridge Road, and this was very convenient for me as I lived at 102 Lochbridge Road.
    I do wonder sometimes where one of my nice teachers is, I do know that she is still alive, as I found out, on my first visit to North Berwick since 1975 in early September this year.
    Her name was Mrs Elsie Thorbourne, and I would appreciate any information regarding Mrs Thorbourne.

    1. BillW says:

      I hope you got our email about this.

    2. Karl Staines says:

      Karl Staines.

      I wrote to You on 22/09/19
      Concerning gathering information regarding the Class of 1973 at the Old Law School, opposite My Mum’s Church “The Our Lady Star of the Sea”

      I will arrive back to My Real adopted Home in May 2021, as the Horrible Covid-19 put paid to this year!

      Karl Staines.

  2. Brianna Robertson-Kirkland says:

    Hello, I was wondering if you could help? I am looking for any information relating to a performance given by the boys at Haddington School of The Gentle Shepherd. A performance was advertised in the papers on Wednesday 27th August 1729 but there could have been performances in 1724/25. I would be grateful if you could let me know.
    Best wishes,

  3. Lorna says:

    I am looking for information about William Dick who, in the 1861 Census, was Rector of Burgh Schools and lived with his family in ‘Cottages, Burgh Schools’ in Dunbar.
    If you can give me any info I would be grateful.
    Thank you.

    1. FrancesW says:

      Hi Lorna,

      Thanks for your enquiry. I’ve had an initial look through our material and we do have some information relating to William.

      As you say he was Rector at Dunbar Grammar and we have papers relating to his time there including information on a legal case between himself and the school regarding his salary..

      There are also mentions of him in the local newspaper, the Haddingtonshire Courier, at various points.

      While we can do an initial search for free we do have a research charge of £25.65 per hour. If you would like us to go ahead with the research then please just let me know and I’ll advise how to make payment.

      Alternatively if you are local then please pop in to see us and we can help you do the research yourself.

      Best wishes,

  4. FrancesW says:

    Many thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately while we do hold quite a number of school records, we do not have the relevant records to be able to help you trace this lady.
    best wishes,

  5. Raith says:

    Dear Sirs,

    I am looking for a girl, probably she attended either Innerwick Primary school or Dunbar Primary School in + -1954 (now she is 67 to 70 years old). Mother unmarried (probably daughter of a landlord). They emigrated to USA and I don’t know, whether they came back to Scotland. I don’t have more details, sorry. Would be great if you could help me.
    Thanks a lot in advance.

    Best regards
    A. Raith

    1. Anneliese Raith says:

      Thank you very much Frances.

  6. Donna Kirk says:

    I’m looking for information about my great-great grandfather, George Bain, originally of Wick (b. 1813 – d. March 19, 1872, in Pulteneytown, age 58). I believe he may have been living in Perth in 1870, since a Perth address (40 Glover Street) is recorded on his daughter’s wedding registration. His occupation on his death notice was “F.C. Teacher” and I found this notation in the John O’Groat Journal of 1845:
    Education > Reports
    Eastbanks School- (teacher-Mr. George Bain) examined by Rev. Messrs Thomson and Taylor of the Free Church and Key of the Secession
    John O’Groat Journal Friday, July 18, 1845

    Are there any resources that might tell me more about his career and early training?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Donna Kirk

    1. FrancesW says:

      Hi Donna,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      As it doesn’t seem that he has an East Lothian connection it’s unlikely that we would hold any records that would be of use to you.

      You might wish to have a read of the NRS guide to Education records

      It may also be worthwhile to contact the archives in Perth to see if they have any school records in which he is mentioned. They are at [email protected]

      Best of luck with your search,

  7. Neil Hardie says:

    I am researching my grandmother, Margaret Lindsay Hardie (nee Husband) and her brothers and sisters who were all born and brought up in Haddington. They were Margaret Lindsay b 5th Feb 1880, George b 15th June 1884, Helen Hay Scott b 20th November 1886, Mary Alexander b 14th September 1888 and Thomas Gibson b 20th July 1890. I know from his army records in WW1 that Thomas Gibson Husband went to the Knox Institute in Haddington before graduating in engineering from Edinburgh University. Their father, George Husband (1855-1928) had a saddlery business in Haddington and was an ambitious and upwardly mobile man. It is likely that some or all of the older children also attended the Knox Institute. Does the John Grey Centre have any records, such as admissions registers, teachers reports, exam certificates etc from the Knox Institute?

    My grandmother may also have been a teacher in Haddington before her marriage to Francis William Hardie in 1908. He was a civil engineer and missionary and she moved with him to Livingstonia in British Nyasaland immediately after her marriage where she taught in mission schools. Do you hold any records of teacher training, certification, appointments etc for this period?

    George Husband, his wife Agnes and my grandmother are all buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Haddington. I already have all their BMD details but now want to focus on their education. Thank you for any help you can give

    Neil Hardie

    1. fitza says:

      Dear Mr Hardie, thanks for your query which was passed to the Archives and Local History Team. Unfortunately the Centre does not hold the records you reference for the Knox Institute or for teacher training, certification, appointments etc for this period. It could be worth trying Moray House (Edinburgh University’s School of Education to see if they hold any records from that time.

  8. Loreen Pardoe says:

    Pencaitland Primary School – hello, do you have a copy of the book by Ralph Barker Village School? If yes, how would we (Parent Council at PPS) be able to access it?

    1. HanitaR says:

      The book is available for loan in from the East Lothian Library Service. You should be able to access a reference as well as a loan copy at Ormiston Library. The staff there should be able to provide you with any assistance regarding the book.

      1. Loreen Pardoe says:

        Do you have a note of any other pamphlets by a Pencaitland Amenity Society or Ralph Barker? Many thanks again for information above. Regards, Loreen

  9. FrancesW says:

    Hi George,

    Thanks for your enquiry. I emailed you directly with a response


  10. George Marr Lewis says:

    Hi Still trying to find information about my fathers school days in Dunbar is name was Donald C B Lewis born 1/6/1904 moved to Dunbar from Edinburgh about 1914 so therefore would have been about 10 remember him telling mne about going to school in Dunbar

    Thank you

    George Lewis

  11. Sandra Gatt says:

    thank you for your help. I will take that on board x

  12. HelenB says:

    Dear Sandra,
    I had a look through the years that you mentioned in your enquiry and I found a Thomas Rico (Thomas Reid) living in Cockenzie; occupation teacher. The other occupants in the house were:
    Agnes Rico 45
    Agnes Rico 10
    Thomas Rico 5
    William Rico 1 month
    On the bottom line was the name, Agnes Rico, age 7, which I found rather confusing.
    I also looked up the 1871 census and found an entry for Thomas Reid, age 78, (estimated date of birth 1793) living on his own. It gave the information that this gentleman was born in Dunbar, now living in Port Seton with the occupation as a Retired School Master.
    I looked through East Lothian Local directories for 1840 & 1842 in the hope of finding which school Mr. Reid worked at. I assumed that because he lived in Cockenzie he would teach in the local school. Cockenzie is located in the parish of Tranent and I could not find Mr. Reid mentioned.
    If I found out where he worked I could pull out the log book for that school to see if he was mentioned.
    I’m so sorry I couldn’t find any more information for you.
    Many thanks for your enquiry. To answer another of your questions, we do charge for remote research (ie for people who are not able to come to the Centre) if it’s substantial (£25 per hour).
    Bill (Local History Officer)

  13. Sandra Gatt says:


    I am looking for any information on a Thomas Reid who was a schoolmaster. He is recorded on the 1841 to 1861 census as living in Port Seton he then is located in Ominston in 1871 untl his death in 1876. He also has connections to Dunbar. How much would it cost to have searches made to find information for him or would I have to vist in person. I live in England so just wondered if you did conduct a search facility.

    Thank you
    Miss S Gatt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *