Records of Dumbarton Academy, Dumbarton (1834-)

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of minutes (2 Nov 1989- 29 Oct 1997); an admission register (1 July 1834- 13 March 1849); prospectuses (1899-1991); school magazines (Dec 1914-1990); school newsletters (1989-2005); and posters and programmes of drama productions and concerts produced and staged by Dumbarton Academy (8 Dec 1911 - 16 Dec 1997).

Administrative / Biographical History

The earliest reference to Dumbarton Academy or Dumbarton Grammar School as it was once known dates from 1485. According to a charter of that year, certain lands in Glasgow were gifted to the chaplain of St Peter's Altar in the parish church of Dumbarton. The gift was accompanied by an endowment to the chaplain, who was to be a master of the Grammar School of Dumbarton. However, there is no exact date for the foundation of the school and scholars have put forward the view that the school was established many years before this first reference in 1485.

Matthew Forsyth was recorded as the first schoolmaster and chaplain of St Peter's Altar in the parish church of Dumbarton in 1512. In the 17th and most of 18th Century, the Grammar School occupied a vaulted apartment in the base of the tower of the parish church. The church building (predecessor of the present Riverside Church) by the latter part of the 18th Century was no longer regarded as a suitable place to educate the young scholars of Dumbarton. In 1761, the schoolmaster Robert Colquhoun submitted a petition to Dumbarton Town Council requesting a proper place to be found for the school. The council agreed and Colquhoun was given authority to rent a room in a building situated in the High Street known as " Walker's Close". However, the new accommodation was far from ideal and the Town Council responded to a report in 1785, agreeing to make available a site on the west side of Church Street for the purpose of erecting a new school.

Four years later (1789) a new school building was opened on the site of the present St Augustine's Church Halls.

From 1841 onwards the population of Dumbarton Burgh began to increase dramatically due to the expansion of shipbuilding and by 1860 it was apparent that new school premises were required. In 1863 the Council entered into a combined scheme that involved a new schoolhouse and Burgh Hall (public hall), with part of the scheme being funded by public subscription.

The public response was so great that plans for the schoolhouse were enlarged, and after a site was acquired in Church Street, the Burgh Hall and Academy were built. On 8th August 1866 the Dumbarton Academy building was officially opened, eight months after the Burgh Hall was opened to the public. A complete reorganisation of staff took place in the school, with masters being put in charge of subject departments. In addition the number of staff and pupils increased and the curriculum was improved, with the teaching of science and languages being introduced. Prior to the 1790s the school had only one master, and most of the teaching would have been conducted by senior pupils or monitors.

In 1882 the school building suffered a serious fire and was almost destroyed. Following the fire pupils continued to be taught in various other premises in the town, including the adjoining Burgh Hall. The rebuilt Academy on Church Street was opened on the 15th September 1884. The school continued to grow in importance and size, and in 1899 it was proposed that Dumbarton Academy should become a Higher Grade school. As a result the school accepted additional pupils to a later age, to study what were considered higher grade subjects. By October 1900, the Academy boasted a Junior Division, a Senior Division and a Higher Grade School. In 1907 a Supplementary School was established in the grounds of the Y. M. C .A in Dumbarton with accommodation for 200 scholars. The Supplementary school accepted pupils who did not pass a qualifying examination, where as pupils who did pass moved to the Academy.

By the early years of the twentieth century the building in Church Street was becoming overcrowded and as a result a new Academy was proposed. The site chosen overlooked Dumbarton Common, and the new Academy was built on ground formerly occupied by Braehead House, opening in August 1914. It was designed to accommodate 700 pupils and the ground floor was for primary pupils, whilst the upper floor housed the secondary school. However, despite another new building the problems of lack of space and overcrowding were not resolved in the long term.

In 1921, the primary department was transferred back to the old Academy in Church Street. The Supplementary School was closed, and its pupils moved to the Braehead building. From then on the Academy took pupils from all the primary schools in Dumbarton, once the pupils reached the required age.

When Hartfield School was opened in February 1937 the primary pupils were transferred back to the Braehead building. Hartfield took non-certificate children in Dumbarton and pupils from Dumbarton Academy as well as College Street. As a result of this reorganisation the Academy only accepted those secondary school pupils who gained 60% or over in the qualifying examination.

In August 1953, the primary pupils of the Academy were moved again, this time to Hartfield School. At the same time pupils of Hartfield, who were studying technical, non-language and modified courses, were transferred to the Braehead building, making Dumbarton Academy a purely secondary school. Dumbarton Academy faced reorganisation in 1970s in line with government policy; it was organised into a comprehensive school. The first year intake was placed in Hartfield, and in the following year, second year classes were transferred there too. However, a plan was beginning to be but in place for another move as the building at Braehead was beginning to outlive its usefulness as a secondary school. In 1972, the Academy moved to Hartfield and primary pupils moved to Braehead, with the building becoming Braehead Primary School.

Source: Peter L. M. Hillis, Michael C. Taylor, 500th Anniversary 1485-1985 Dumbarton Academy, published by Strathclyde Department of Education


The records have been arranged into six series, reflecting either the form of the record (e.g. minutes) or the activities to which they relate (e.g. drama productions and concerts).

Access Information

This collection is open to use. To view the collection, please contact the archivist to arrange a visit.

Other Finding Aids

The full catalogue is available on our website. To view the catalogue, please click here: Records of Dumbarton Academy, Dumbarton (1834-) .


Future donations expected in the future.

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