Past & Present


Scarp’s first school was opened in 1821 by the Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools. This organisation was established in Edinburgh in 1811, with the purpose of teaching both children and adults in the Highlands and Islands to read the Scriptures in Gaelic. Their method of assistance was through 'circulating schools', where the Society moved teachers around every few years according to necessity. After two years, the first teacher in Scarp was moved to Reinigeadal, and Scarp was without a teacher until 1830. This sporadic provision continued into the 1850s, with gaps of a number of years between teachers.

In 1856, the Ladies Highland Association (LHA) of the Free Church sent a teacher, and a third of the island’s population then attended school, adult included, with instruction centred on reading and arithmetic. The schools established by the LHA were known locally as Sgoil nan Leddies (the Ladies’ School). Founded in 1850, the LHA opened one hundred and sixty schools over the following 70 years. In 1879 the school and schoolhouse, built by the School Board, opened in Scarp. The first schoolmaster, John Macdonald, was a son of the Crabhadal shepherd.

Angus Duncan’s father William was the schoolmaster in Scarp. He was assisted by a pupil-teacher* who taught the younger children. William married Mòr an Deacoin (Marion Macinnes, Angus’ mother), the school sewing mistress, in 1885. William Duncan had many interests and strengths, amongst them botany, geology, musical ability and the skill of calligraphy, and the children benefitted from all those in his teaching. All the senior boys were taught navigation, as was commonplace in island schools at that time.

When William Duncan retired in 1901, the family moved to a new house built for them on Cnoc a’Ghlupa - the highest house to be seen in the village, which they called Primrose Cottage. Botany was a great love of William’s. He once discovered a subspecies of dandelion on Scarp, then known from no other location, and a freshwater algae in a loch in Obbe (Leverburgh), which at that time was known only from the Continent.

*The system of pupil-teachers was a five year apprenticeship in which the chosen child received teaching instruction from the age of thirteen, from the schoolmaster/mistress. The pupil-teacher did teaching alongside this for which he/she was paid. From 1907, teacher training started at 17 or 18 at a training college or in a public elementary school.

By Joan Cumming, 2014

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