Records of Sir Robert Blair

Scope and Content

Private papers, proposals to the L.C.C. Eduation Committee, evidence presented before the Royal Commissions, Cameron Smail's own notes and draft chapters of the biography

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Blair was born at Wigtown in Dumfriesshire in 1859. His career in education began as a pupil teacher at Garlieston Public School. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1880 and thereafter taught at Kelso High School and Aske's Hatcham School. Blair took an external BSc degree from the University of London during his time at Aske's. He then moved on to become the head of the Cheltenham School of Science and Technical Institute, which led to his lifelong interest in technical education. From 1894-1900 he was one of the first inspectors of science and art, with responsibility for Scotland. He then spent four years in Ireland first as an inspector and afterwards as the Assistant Secretary for technical education. In 1904 he was appointed as Executive (Education) Officer to the London County Council (L.C.C.), which evolved into the new position of Education Officer for the L.C.C. in 1908. It is in this post that Blair is most remembered, as he oversaw the complete reorganization of London's educational administration (including adult and further education) and the large scale expansion of secondary education. He introduced the '40/48' scheme that restricted senior classes to forty pupils and infants to forty-eight and he also developed the central schools. Blair remained in this post until his retirement in 1924. He was knighted in 1914, awarded an honorary LLD by the University of Edinburgh in 1915 and received the Belgian distinction of Officer de l'Ordre de la Couronne in 1919.


Records have been arranged and listed by provenance, and by type.

Access Information

By appointment. Closure periods may apply to records containing personal information. Access to records in a fragile condition may be restricted.

Other Finding Aids

Catalgoue is available in the Searchroom.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents. Permission to publish material from the Archive must be sought in advance from the University Archivist. Responsibility for obtaining copyright clearance rests with the applicant.

Custodial History

Sir Robert Blair's private papers were presented to Heriot-Watt University by Mrs. L. Smail, widow of the former Principal of Heriot-Watt College, James Cameron Smail. Cameron Smail was a former colleague of Blair's in the L.C.C. Education Department and he had intended to write a biography of Blair.


Not expected

Related Material

Records created by Blair in the course of his work for the L.C.C may be found in the London Metropolitan Archive


  • D. W. Thoms Policy-Making in Education: Robert Blair and the London County Council, 1904-24Typescript, no date. Available in Archive.


Corporate Names

Geographical Names