Born in 1882, in the era of gas lighting, hansom cabs and steam engines, ARA has reached, in 1957, the age of fluorescent lighting, jet planes and atomic power. As we light the seventy-five candles on Alma Mater's birthday cake, perhaps we may muse for a little in their glow and conjure up some fleeting visions of bygone days.
On Saturday afternoon, 16th December 1882 there was an unwonted stir in Albert Road, the main thoroughfare of the dignified new suburb of Pollokshields. A small procession of resplendent horse carriages drove up to our main entrance. Distinguished looking gentlemen, some grandly bearded, all frock-coated and top-hatted, descended from the carriages to be ceremoniously met and ushered inside by others of similar dignity. This was the formal opening of Albert Road Public School.
Although 1882 was marked by the opening of seven schools in Glasgow as a result of the 1872 Education Act, establishing state education administered by school boards, and although it was a year of stirring events abroad, the opening of our school was treated with appropriate respect by Queen Victoria's government. No less a person than the Hon. C. E. Forster, Esq., M.P., Gladsone's lieutenant, Quaker pilot of the Education Act and son-in-law of Dr. Arnold of Rugby, came to grace the formal opening.
His speech was important enough to be quoted verbatim in four columns of The Glasgow Herald, and also to be the subject of the leader article.
"Mr. Forster", readers were assured, "could not have been shown any other school, which, in respect of educational comprehensiveness, is better fitted to illustrate the excellent and healthful manner in which the young are trained under the Govan School Board. Across in Melville Street, the new Pollokshields Public School had already completed the first three sessions of an energetic career, and it was to remain a separate school until 1926, when the union of our two schools took place and Melville Street became our Primary Department. When he visited Glasgow in 1882, Mr. Forster also went to Melville Street to visit the classes there, and in addressing the seniors, he expessed his great pleasure in all that he had seen. Both Mr. Forster and the Glasgow Herald bore witness to the great enthusiasm for education then current in Scotland, and also to the fact that both public opinion and practice lagged behind in England. "If there be a child", said that enthusiastic Victorian, "of the poorest widow woman in your great city, who shows in the elementary school that he has ability...to put his foot on the lowest steps of the ladder, then it is your business to enable that child to climb the ladder as fast as he can."
After further speeches delivered in the next few days in Pollokshields Free Church, The Grand Hotel, and St. Andrew's Hall, Mr. Forster was presented with the honourary Freedom of the City in the City Hall.
At this time not only was the stonework of our school bright and clean, but so also was that of almost every building in the district. Pollokshields, a rapidly growing suburb, must have been a stirring and attractive place. Albert Road, Kenmure Street, Keir Street, Maxwell Road and Darnley Road, for example, were built or partly built, but there were many open spaces. In the large villas and substantial flats of the area, it is estimated that in 1882, 4,500 people lived in 800 houses. The growth of the district and the direction and energy of their interests may be seen in the rapid appearance of the neibouring handsome churches which are such familiar landmarks. In 1875 Pollokshields West Church (the Free Church in which Mr. Fordter spoke) had opened with a temporary building, and so had Pollokshields-Titwood Parish Church with a hall. The churches themselves were opened in 1878. The hall of "our" church, Pollokshields East, was opened in 1879, and the church itself just after our school in 1883. Albert Drive church and its hall were still to be opened in 1887. Lovers of architecture may prefer mellowed stonework, but how city soot has blackened all the fine buildings in the district!
Since Mr. Forster's carriage rolled away, our Albert Drive and Melville Street buildings have stood without major structural alteration. The observant eye may deduce from the glazing of partitions that "galleried" floors of some rooms have been removed, and that rooms once intended for classes of over a hundred have been divided. Our ceilings still bear the plaster mouldings for the original gas brackets, on which naked fish-tail burners shed their ghastly flickering light before the days of gas mantles. In 1901 the "new" building, containing art rooms, laboratories and gymnasium, was added to what had for some time been Albert Road Academy, and with it came the first electric lighting installation. If the history of the buildings themselves has been uneventful - even including the war years - the human story is quite the reverse.
For some years Albert Road pupils marched primly in and out to the martial strains of a harmonium. Discipline and work were taken very seriously in those days, and teachers were expected to hit hard anf often. One worthy dominie (not on ARA staff, of course) used to conclude his lengthy morning prayers by recollecting the advice of Solomon, and praying that his heart might be hardened and his arm strengthened for his day's duties. Tradition has it that in our staff room their abode not only the gentleman who consistently announced that thew next boy would certainly get three, and yet never reached that catastrophic number, but also a colleague who operated a complicated system of fines involving farthings, halfpence, and even pence. Even in those early days, ARA could boast of one or two ladies, pioneers of enlightenment, who achieved the perfect discipline and the finest of work without even mentioning s----. For some years, native language masters were employed, and there is an ARA legend that a certain German master was readily roused to a towering passion. He would march his victim down to the Headmaster, into whose ears a torrent of complaints would be poured. Sometimes his prisoner escaped, and residents of the sedate suburb were edified by the spectacle of the cross-country chase undertaken by the fugitive pursued by the breathless and hatless master.
In Victorian times, government payments to schools depended partly on attendances and examination passes. Inspectors came annually and rigorously examined everybody in everything. An exhaustive report was drawn up, and cash payments for individual passes were awarded - to the school, not the pupils - on a scale such as: Music, 1/- ; Latin or Mathematics, 4/- . Pupils, however, regularly enjoyed a half-holiday after the examinations. Great emphasis was laid on hard work, and only after two decades of such a system did one inspector dare to deplore excessive grinding at a limited and unsuitable piece of work to achieve a certain standard of proficiency. Pedagogues were certainly ambitious in those days. Headmasters of Pollokshields School themselves instructed top pupils in such subjects as Latin, Greek, Geology, Mathematics, Inorganic Chemistry and Physiography.
Those who think that all the educational graces have come upon us recently might be surprised by the initiative of our early Headmasters. I both schools libraries were formed right at the outset, and music was catered for by several teachers. Pollokshields School had book-keeping on the timetable in 1880, and cookery in 1884. From there also, favoured groups of pupils sallied forth on educational excursions - to the Exhibition of Gas and Electric Lighting in Burnbank Hall (1880) or to the Roman Wall at Dullatur (1900). Social meetings of various kinds were notable in the life of both schools from the outset. In Pollokshields School, for some years, just before Christmas, they organised an elaborate "Exhibition" of musical entertainment, readings, military and musical drill, as well as of sewing, drawing and painting. Parents and friends "promenaded" through the classrooms and contributed substantial sums to deserving charities. After some years these were replaced by "Demonstarations" which took place in June, in the new Drill Hall of the Third L.R.V. Regiment at Coplawhill. "Christmas Socials" were soon a feature of Albert Road, and one headmaster recorded, "The pupils are somewhat unsettled owing to the School Social. They have prepared all sorts of surprises."
Just before 1900 the first groups of pupils were passed across from Melville Street to Albert Road after "Qualifying Examinations". But the schools had not been without contact prior to that. The services of some of the staff such as music teachers and M. Janto, the French master, were shared. Major Cassells was a member of the School Board and a patron of both schools who visitd them regularly. For a number of summers he presented a prize of two or three guineas in Pollokshields for the best mounted collection of wild flowers, and it was he who presented the handsome telescope for Albert Road observatory - in its time unique among Scottish Schools, and in more recent years the Parnassus, in the sunny solitude of which Mr. King was inspired to compose some of his very best time-tables. For some years after 1895 boys from both schools crossed to the new school at Strathbungo for manual instruction, between 4 and 6p.m. on Tuesdays. It is from an F.P. however, that we hear that the boys were even more enthusiastic about their customary inter-school snowball battles in "The Square".
Perhaps the transition from Victorian ways is most quickly summed up by a few pointers from the progress of Physical Education. In the eighties the boys of both schools enjoyed the thrills of "military drill", which included "single stick" and even "sword exercises". Probably the latter sounded more blood-thirsty than they were, being performed merely with sticks. In those days the boys were generally drilled by a Janitor who as an ex-sergeant, was an expert. Meanwhile, what were the girls doing? For them were reserved the inestimable advantages of "sitting-up drill" in the class rooms. How they must have enjoyed themselves! In Albert Road, dumb-bell exercises were begun in 1889. The Swimming Club was founded in 1902, and by 1905 our girls went across to Strathbungo School for swimming. In 1931 the ARA team won the Sladen Swimming Trophy, open to all Scotland. By this time it could be said, "Athletics are carefully fostered, and the games played include Rugby, Hockey, Cricket, Tennis and Golf. Rugby in particular has recently made great progress". As the references to Physical Education became more frequent and as public health and preventive medicine developed, other references to serious epidemics, such as smallpox, ceased.
Behind the forbidding whiskers and frock coats of the gentlemen, and behind the whale-boned and grimly attired ladies, lurked human enough souls. On such occasions as the Autumn Holiday, when it was the custom, before the days of motoring, for almost everyone to take advantage of the new railway and steamer services to the coast, school opened late on Wednesday mornings to allow staff and pupils to travel up from the coast. In the severe frost of 1890 the Headmaster "surrendered to considerable clamour for a half-holiday for skating". In September 1899, when Barnum and Bailey's famous show set up its tents at Coplawhill, "it was considered advisable to close the school for a day", yet "for a week thereafter attendance was much affected". We like to remember the kindly Pollokshields Headmaster who provided dolls in stead of prizes for the infant girls, and also his senior girls by whose needlework the dolls were finely dressed. In spite of the apparent formality of those times, the prevailing humanity of ARA seems to have asserted itself quite soon, for one of Queen Victoria's Inspectors commented, "The tone of the school is kindly and genial....There is a high level of proficiency and a pleasing atmosphere about the classes". Long may these be characteristic of the school!
We know well the shrewdness, and the sound judgment and wisdom based on wide experience, pssessed by Mr. Caldwell, the twelfth Headmaster in our dynasty; and we have an equal application of the insight and quiet efficiency of Mr. Inverarity, his deputy. Therefore we look ahead confidently; we know that our ship will be kept on her true course, that she will continue to be a happy ship, and that we shall be fortunate to voyage in her.