Society School – in 1824

From the journal of Patrick Butter, 22 June 1824; on the state of SSPCK schools in the Highlands and Islands, pp.205-6. National Archives of Scotland, GD95/9/3.

Flotta in the Parish of Walls, on the same day.


Found 20 in present attendance. There were 46 during winter. The house and school house are in good repair, and thatched by the inhabitants. Neither cow’s grass nor garden attached, but they are soon to be granted, or some allowance to be made for them by the Kirk Session. There is no other school in the Island. The inhabitants in general, can read, and all the children attend this school during some time of the year. There is besides a Parish school in Walls, another regular school open throughout the year, in a distant part of the Parish whether maintained by voluntary subscription or founded on a mortification, I could not ascertain. The teacher of this other school, a Mr Stout, in Walls, is of a religious character, and teaches a Sabbath evening school well attended. The schoolmaster at this station, is in the habit of teaching a Sabbath evening school, which is numerously attended by young and old. He also reads in the school on those Sabbaths when there is no sermon in the neighbouring church. There and in Graemsay they ought to have sermon once in the three weeks, but in winter they hear sermon perhaps once. I have reason to believe that this teacher is attentive and diligent in his school, and useful in his religious instructions. There are no dissenters in this Parish or that of Hoy. This school is encouraged in no other way than what has been stated. The Bible is a daily school book, and the school is annually visited by the Presbytery. The schoolmaster has no salary but from the Society. His fuel is provided by the inhabitants. The teacher has been 2 years in the service, and is 21 years of age.

James Hay was born in Swanbister, Orphir, on 7 August 1802 and moved to the island of Flotta to teach in the Society’s School when he was 19 years old. Four years after the report he married Barbara Simpson, of Bow, and they had nine children: James, Margaret, Catharine, John, William, Charles, Mary, Samuel and Barbara. He taught the children of Flotta for 45 years, retired in 1867, aged 64, and died on the 19 June 1875 at the age of 72. The school house, in which he taught and lived, first known as the Society School, eventually became known as the Old School (not to be confused with another Old School on the island). His descendants continued to live there until his grandson, James Hay, the last Hay living on the island, died in 1950. A purpose built school with separate school house was built on the island in 1927.

The SSPCK, or Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge was founded in 1709 to promote the Presbyterian faith amongst a mainly Gaelic speaking population in the Highlands and Islands. Schooling was heavily biased towards teaching of the Bible but also included the usual subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as the more practical subject matter of household and agricultural enterprises. SSPCK school’s were often known as ‘Charity Schools’ because they provided free education.

(I would love to hear from anyone who has a photo of James Hay the Society teacher. Please get in touch.)

S. M. Hewitt


Sources relating to the SSPCK:

  1. Macaulay, Rev. M. ‘Times of Refreshing‘ (From: Aspects of the Religious History of Lewis to the Disruption of 1843, pp. 116-119). Free Church of Scotland, Back, Isle of Lewis. Viewed 1 Sep 2005
  2. Withers, Charles W. J. ‘Education and Anglicisation: The policy of SSPCK toward the education of the Highlander, 1709-1825‘. Viewed 1 Sep 2005