Author: James Denham

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Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 at 1:20 am
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In the Path of Knowledge – part two

The new school of 1579 flourished from the start, the years of disruption had passed and the seige of Haddington was a distant memory. Released from the bonds of the church, those were exciting times; a time of renewal for an ever growing campus.

Before the end of that century  John Ker, a professor from St. Andrews University, was appointed rector and he soon extended the curriculum adding games, music and Greek. Around the same time the ‘unthinkable’ happened when a girls’ school was opened by Isabel Spence teaching sewing and reading.

Throughout the 17th. century, Haddington’s reputation as a centre of learning continued to grow. While the emphasis on ecclesiastical teaching began to wane, making way for exciting new subjects like geography, history and surveying, the school continued to produce many scholars destined for an ecclesastical life. Life was still spartan for the students until towards the end of the century when, between Candlemas and Hallowmas (October-February) they were allowed an extra three hours in bed, starting studies at 9am instead of 6am – a rare luxury indeed.

In its 200 years of existence, the second school produced an assembly of academic excellence. Many notables could lay claim to being taught at Haddington including Charles Nisbet (1736-1804) who became the first president of Dickinson College in Pensylvania, Sir Alexander Dalrymple of Hailes (1737-1808) and Ballencrieff born James Murray, later Governor of Quebec. Others included Adam Skirving the song writer and John Gray, a local minister, scholar and book collector who left his entire collection to Haddington. The Gray collection was donated to the National Library in 1983.

John Witherspoon (from Wikipedia Project-In the public domain)Pride of place among former pupils though, must go to Gifford born John Witherspoon, a son of the manse who went on to be one of the founding fathers of the new United States of America. John’s father was minister at Yester Kirk and after studying at Haddington and Edinburgh University, John was ordained as minister at Beith in Ayrshire  before taking over a church in Paisley. He emigrated to the American colonies in 1760 to become professor and president of Princeton College.

John Witherspoon, a descendent of John Knox, was a good humoured man, well respected as a minister and teacher, he was responsible for the education of many notable men including James Madison, the 4th President of the United States.

John entered politics and was soon elected Governor of New Jersey and later a Member of Congress. A statue was erected to his memory in Washington DC and his grave at Princeton is much revered. The great man, now part of American folklore, was the only clergyman to sign the American Declaration of Independence, remarkable achievements for the Haddingtonshire laddie.

After the Treaty of Union in 1707, Scotland retained her unique education system and became the envy of the western world with Haddington at the forefront.

Increasing demands from parents forced the authorities to introduce more subjects, subjects more applicable to the modern age. The extended curriculum led to an ever growing school roll and, once again, the school, bursting at the seams, became unfit for purpose, which could only be rectified by building yet another school building.

The New Grammar
The third school, known as the ‘New Grammar’ was opened in Church Street in 1755. That building was described as the best in Scotland both for the teaching and boarding of the boys. A few years later, in 1761, a dedicated school for the teaching of English was built on to the Grammar, then in the early 19th century,  a mathematics school was added to the other buildings; Edward Irving, the eminent teacher and church minister was the first master at the mathematics school. The new schools were the pride and joy of the town but they were not to the liking of all and a feeling of discontentment was growing………

Read part one here

And part three here

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