Memories Of Arrochar School Tarbet 1946-1952 by Elizabeth Carson  > 


 By Elizabeth Findlay (nee Carson)

School Dinners 

School dinners were obligatory for the Arrochar children who all came to school by bus.  The dinners, never called lunches, were served in the canteen and the black floor was always wet and marked.  Mary Macduff with her glossy black hair and Nancy Campbell both cooked for us and served us.

For a fussy child as I was, the gristly stews and milk puddings – semolina with raisins, tapioca and sago were not tempting.  I was always trying to induce someone else to eat mine so that Master (Mr Andrews) who walked up and down watching us with a rolled up Glasgow Herald stuffed in his oxter, wouldn’t give me a row.  His wrath was incurred one day when I mixed the spoonful of jam through the semolina and was skelped with the Glasgow Herald for this disgusting practice.  There were other dishes that were more palatable like shepherd’s pie made with corned beef and mashed potatoes and a caramel custard.  No one took packed lunches but we did bring play pieces in brown paper bags or greaseproof paper.Primary School at Tarbet

The great treat for all of us was to be chosen to take the brock after dinner up to Nonny Maclean’s granny’s hens at the Cnoc.  I think it may have depended on who was friendly with Nonny but I remember the sense of freedom, climbing the hill to the cottage and looking down at the loch on several occasions.


There was a morning and afternoon playtime I think in addition to dinnertime.  Playtimes were wonderful, exciting and free since the playground was unfenced and stretched to the loch and the burn running through it was a magnet for us.  If you fell in – and someone always did – your clothes were dried in the dinner hall by the longsuffering Mary and Nancy.  We were forbidden to go out of the gates on to the Ardlui road at morning and afternoon but at dinnertime we went up to Pop Davidson’s Stores for of all things Ovaltine tablets; a substitute for sweets.  In winter we made wonderful slides on the slope outside the gate to the master’s garden.  The slides lasted a long time in the hard winter of 1947.  The boys who wore tackety boots made the best sparks on the frosty ground but since most of us had segs in our shoes to preserve the soles, we all tried it.  The boys with their short trousers and long socks had such red raw knees.

There were endless games of rounders played with a competitive ferocity and my last few minutes before the bell went were taken up with worry that I might not be in a team.  All the dens were marked out at the trees in the playground and one den by a jacket over near the dinner hall.  To be out was to hit rock bottom and there were jeers from your own team.

The seasons changed and we cawed ropes; singing the rhymes taught at home or by some of the girls who I think had been evacuated from Glasgow.  This was almost exclusively a girl’s game and there were a always a few boys trying to break in.  We played two ball against the wooden walls of the porch and peever in marked beds using boot polish tins as the peevers.  The lovely white marble ones owned by the builders’ daughters were one of the most coveted of possessions.  There were so many variations on tig that we had to remember which one was being played on any one day.  The joy of reaching the den at one of the big trees was wonderful and I loved this simple game right up until primary 7.

The playground was unfenced as I mentioned and in the early years at least we ran down to the lochside to wave at the paddle steamers; the Prince Edward and the Princess May.  Perhaps we were forbidden to go there but we did anyway.  The sin was in not being in time for the bell.  The flag irises growing by the lochside provided leaves for swords or whips and the girls turned their coats outside in and tied them round their waists as long skirts as they whooped along on imaginary horses.  There were plants (Indian?) that provided long hollow stocks for pea shooters and sticky willy grew near the burn.  In my memory, it was all quite wild and free and there was certainly no playground supervision.  Mr Andrews though had a keen eye as he went to and from his house for breaks.

Some games were for the boys and some for the girls and there was a great deal of teasing and taunting went on.  Fighting behind the dinner hall was mainly for boys but the wee girls turned into furies with a blood lust as they looked and cheered.  I was one of them.  If I remember properly, kicking was not allowed but it happened and the sound of Mr Andrews approaching to break up a fight was enough to make everyone freeze with fear.  Maybe I was just timid.

On rainy days the playtimes seemed endless, watching the drips from the shed roof.  We were always outside at playtime whatever the weather like all other children in Scotland at that time.  The toilets were open to the sky or so it seemed to me and it was a cold uncomfortable visit.  The one bonus was that we could see into the master’s garden from the little yard outside the toilets and the fascination of that house and the garden lives with me still.  There were many games too that involved blocking the entrance to the boy’s toilets and shouting insults at the boys.

The bell always interrupted us too soon and all my life I have remembered these days at Tarbet.  When I have taught the poem ‘My parents kept me from children who were rough’ I have realised that we were these rough children.


Very rarely in the summer term, we were taken across the road to the manse field to race and practise for the annual sports held I think on the football pitch beside the Arrochar Hotel.  I can’t remember being taught any proper games like netball.  All that came later at the Hermitage.


There was a wild flower competition where we had to find, name and press as many wild flowers as possible.  Today’s conservationists would be horrified at the rare flowers we picked.  Finding even the common names was difficult because few homes had reference books for children and some of the parents were incomers from Glasgow with no knowledge of the countryside.  I have had a lifelong love of wild flowers and could find the bog orchids above Tighness even today.  The high Victorian window sills had jars of wild flowers and tadpoles on them in all the rooms.

The Burns federation held competitions for singing and reciting each January.  Everyone seemed to enter, even the shy and the tone deaf and tactfully Mrs Reid would listen to reluctant singers on their own.  The prize was always the same; a book of Burns poems and the competition was taken very seriously indeed.

Brooke Bond, the tea firm held handwriting competitions annually.  I was a messy child and all my best efforts failed to win a prize.  We practised regularly as the date came closer.  ‘Lightly up and heavily down’ and the chalk squeaked across the board but my handwriting remained imperfect.  In a continuance of the Victorian practice of training clerks, we spent a long time perfecting our handwriting.  In the upper primary this was a Friday afternoon activity and preceded by the filling of the inkwells and the issue of nibbed pens.  The final efforts would not have been classed as calligraphy.

The Curriculum

The infant classes were quiet and I loved being in school with Miss Gardiner.  Pictures of the garden birds of Britain were pinned up along the top of the partition so that for years I looked in vain for the yellow hammer.  Plasticene time was wonderful, peaceful and creative.  The clean, coloured packets with their inimitable smell were so inviting.  All this makes me think how little we had in these post war years.  The brown reading cards with Kitty and Dobbin and their interminable games with a ball would not attract today’s infants, but for children in a Scottish village in 1946 there was nothing with which to compare them.  We were always encouraged to clype on the talkers when the teacher left the room and I certainly did more than my share of talking.  Miss Gardiner was kind and patient; comforting me when I wet my knickers trying to open the heavy classroom door and talking to the other children about name calling on the school bus – an early example of anti-bullying policy.

From P1 to P7 we sang and sang: Burns songs, Scots songs, patriotic songs and hymns.  Miss Primrose Aitken in her beautiful long leather boots dusted her piano from top to bottom and back again, gave us a chord and we were off again.  We spent a lot of time drawing in chalk and crayon and writing about our lives.  I loved this but I’m not sure it wasn’t a favourite of everyone in the class.  The endless money sums pre decimalisation took up inordinate amounts of time but that may just be memory.  The farthing, although no longer in use by then, haunted the long sums.  Then there were the problems where men endlessly filled baths and dug ditches at a variety of speeds.  Tables were chanted and spellings learned or not learned and tested.  Reading round the class continued until P7 and pity help the child who read ahead from boredom.  We read poems together in class and “Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen” echoes in my head as I write.  There was always the great treat of silent reading and each classroom had its boxes of books.

There is so much talk of the teaching of grammar now that I must mention that I learned no grammar at all at primary school apart from the names of the parts of speech and it was a shock to discover at secondary that all the wee girls in my class knew how to parse.  Most of my working life has been spent teaching English!

The classrooms had bare boards and a strange smell from wet wellies, milk and children, for we were not as squeaky clean as today’s generation.  Many of the houses had no hot water my own included.  But the rooms were always warm.

By Primary 7 the climate was changing; the Qualifying Exam approaching and another world beckoning.  The story of coal decorated the walls of Mr Andrews room for the entire year and it did not inspire us.  We listened to strange tortured accents on the wireless in a programme called Exploring Scotland and we giggled and talked and were belted from time to time.  I hated the humiliation of it more than the pain.

Visiting teachers were an infrequent and wonderful distraction.  Miss Mary Hogg with her sol fa banner and her tuning fork stands before me now.  She was a legend in West Dunbartonshire.  An art specialist came from time to time with new techniques and materials.  But the most exciting visits for me were those made by the Director of Education his deputy and my father who was the county councillor and sat on the education committee.  They arrived in the black official limousine with 18 Park Circus painted along the sills.  They swept through the classes; Dr. MacHutchinson nodding benignly at us.  I was always red and embarrassed and of course my father said nothing to me for that would have been seen as favouritism.

I have to end with the Christmas parties for they are among my happiest memories.  We had practised the games and dances in the weeks leading up to Christmas in the dinner hall which doubled as a drill hall.  The partition between P1 and 3 was opened up; a beautiful tree was decorated and lit with fairy lights and the daytime classrooms were transformed into magical places.  I can still feel the thrill of being dressed in light party clothes in winter and putting on silver slippers.

The parties were very well organised and so exciting.  Santa came with a gift for each of us and Glenn the photographer caught us for posterity.  The dinner hall tables were decorated with tiny artificial Christmas trees, little Santas and snowmen that I now think were pre war origin.  The food was wonderful; sandwiches with different fillings; jellies made with carnation milk – a feast in the post war years.

There are other unconnected memories of the red shiny apples arriving from Canada for us; the playground being tarred and the steam road roller working its way round the trees; handing in the bags of rosehips for weighing … I could go on and on.

Looking back it was a carefree time at Arrochar School.  The regime was not repressive but others may have different memories.  It was competitive in the classroom and this must have discouraged some of the children.  The class was always taught together and that too had its drawbacks but the teachers enhanced the narrow curriculum of the day in their own ways and we were never overburdened by homework.  There was some spelling and reading in the early stages but life after school was spent outdoors, playing.  We didn’t complain much at home about our treatment in school because overall the parents supported the teachers and accepted that they wanted the best for us all.  There was a great deal of encouragement and offers of help with the secondary curriculum if it was needed when we moved on.  Sadly the rigid streaming in secondary schools at that time separated us from one another.  It was such a safe world in a village school. 


See also Arrochar Primary School 1900-1950 where we have many photos of the classes.

See also Mrs. Reid's Cubs 1945-1955

See also History Of Glencroe Primary School