Open Doors Day: History lesson at Boroughmuir

A  classroom scene from 1963
A classroom scene from 1963
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AS schoolboy pranks go, the end-of-term fling involving a small “bubble” car and several flights of stairs turned out to be a true classic.

Holy Joe was the nickname given to Mr Adamson, Boroughmuir High School’s religious studies instructor. And as last day at school loomed for his 1968 class of sixth formers, the teacher’s little two-seater “bubble” car was simply too tempting.

“Go through the main entrance of the school and there’s the big staircase that goes right up to the third floor where Holy Joe had his classroom,” recalls former pupil Ken Edwards. “Eight of us went to where he had parked his little bubble car, lifted it up and carried it through the main entrance, up a couple of flights of stairs and plonked it outside his classroom. Then we ran like hell.”

Ken, now 65, went on to head up Edinburgh financial investment firm Baillie Gifford’s London office. But it was his time at Boroughmuir – in the classroom and out – that he believes laid a foundation for everything that followed.

Which is why this weekend he’ll join hundreds of other former pupils on a final visit to the school to see the classrooms – including Holy Joe’s old room – wander along familiar corridors, through the gym hall and the dining room.

It’s a last chance to remember old school days before Boroughmuir High closes next year, bringing to an end more than 100 years of education on the site.

Eventually it will be redeveloped by Cala Homes for housing. However this weekend its doors will open to the general public for one more time, as part of the annual Edinburgh Open Doors Day.

For former pupils at Boroughmuir High, however, it will be a special – and final – chance to reflect on the best days of their lives before the old school moves to a brand new building.

According to Ken, a pupil at the school between 1962 and 1968 who recently helped revive the school’s long defunct Former Pupils Association, Boroughmuir was more than simply a place of learning.

Indeed, he finds walking through its corridors today often leads to flashback moments of schoolboy pranks – like the end-of-term incident – old teachers with nicknames like Doc Doom and Tarry Macadam who inspired or, in some cases, bored for Britain, and a time when vital lessons for life were learned.

And even the day when, wearing his prefect’s badge, he handed out lines to two teenagers he found smoking behind the bike shed, who later turned out to be global stars in a band called the Bay City Rollers.

“Our school days are that time in your life when you form strong relationships which are often quite long standing,” says Ken. “Of course it’s the quality of teaching that determines the outcome of a school’s pupils, but the building is where it all takes place.

“That’s why people feel such a strong attachment to it.”

The school was founded in 1904 and opened in 1913, one of several Edinburgh schools designed by renowned educational architect John Carfrae, a former James Gillespie’s High pupil.

One of two new “higher grade” schools – Broughton High was the other – for which the school board of 1899 had decided there was a need to give brighter pupils the chance to study in establishments offering special focus in areas like science, commerce and literacy.

The idea was ground breaking at the time – as was the school’s attractive Renaissance design which focused on flooding classrooms with natural light through huge windows, large laboratories and workshops for practical subjects.

A key feature in the art department was a long red coloured cement wall on which pupils were encouraged to try “freestyle drawing” at a time long before “Banksy”, while The Scotsman at the time reported on the “novel” feature of blackboards in most of the 40 classrooms and telephones.

Only boys were allowed to pursue science subjects. Girls were instead given cookery, dressmaking and laundry classes.

The new school didn’t come entirely free: originally parents were asked to sign up their children until they reached the age of 15, paying 10s for the first and second years, to be refunded if their children achieved a 90 per cent mark.

It didn’t put off parents – before the £35,000 school was even built there were around 700 applications for a place.

According to current headteacher David Dempster, one of only nine to hold the post in the school’s 111-year history, this weekend will be a final opportunity for former pupils to visit before the doors close for good.

“As much as we love this old building, we have simply outgrown it,” he says. “We’re as big as we have ever been with 1160 pupils.

“We’re looking forward to the move. We’ll be bringing our wooden war memorial with us so a bit of the old building will still feature in our new home.

“However, this is absolutely a last chance for the general public to come inside.”

• Boroughmuir High School will be open to the public tomorrow and Sunday between 11am and 4pm as part of Doors Open Day 2015. There will be guided tours, represenatives from the Former Pupils’ Association and entertainment. For more details of properties involved in the 25th Doors Open Day event, go to