John Urie (b. 1820) Education and Schooling

Yesterdays post (Home and Family) mentioned how John was educated during his time in various clubs, with politics and technology being topics he mentions were discussed. It was these sorts of interactions and experiences that mainly shaped John’s education and is what we’re going to be discussing in detail today! However, we will also talk about John’s brief time with “Wee Willie Aitken’s School”, his childhood school in which he spent 6 weeks and why his stay was so short.

Paisley Grammar School - Paisley

As mentioned, “Wee Willie Aitken’s School” (11) was the quite peculiar name of the school John attended. It was located in nearby Castle Street and acts as the sort of introduction for John into the basics of education, teaching him the “three R’s” (11) which refer to reading, writing and arithmetic. However, it was here that John was also introduced to 3 other niche topics which would later prove valuable and a great interest to John. As he mentions, “a few hints regarding other subjects, such as drawing painting, and astronomy”. Astronomy was a speciality of teacher Aitken who John described as a very smart man and I like to think it was Aitken and his teaching that began John’s desire to become involved in this field. It wasn’t common for these sorts of additional topics to be taught! A bit of research showed how religion influenced schooling heavily during this time. “By May 1847 it was claimed that 513 schoolmasters were being paid direct from a central education fund and over 44,000 children being taught in Free Church Schools” (Lynch, 2011) and “putting men and women in touch with the word of God was seen by the Scottish authorities and clergy as of paramount importance” (Knox). John mentions this in his memoir! On page 11-12 he states “so far as reading was concerned, the Bible was our only textbook”. Clearly religion was a part of John’s education but I don’t think it influenced him entirely. Obviously, he upheld some religious practices such as marriage but John rarely mentions attending events such as Church, rather he preferred to spend time with his famous friends! Nevertheless, it’s clear to see that John’s brief time in school was still very influential but it was clear that financial and work matters pushed John away from academic education.

John mentions how his school had “fees at the rate of threepence a week, or three shillings a quarter. That was the average rate, but some paid as little as a penny a week” (12). At this time, this was a large cost and as we mentioned yesterday, Paisley was a town that was majorly struck by poverty which would obviously cause education to be less of a priority for some families. However, I don’t think this was the reason John’s school time was only six weeks. Right after this section, John talks about his immediate next steps. He reveals that “I started to work as a draw boy in my father’s weaving-shop”, perhaps his drawing skills learnt in school made his father recognise how useful he could be in the weaving profession. However, this is also backed up by the fact that originally weavers worked from home – women and children worked in their own cottages – until the Industrial Revolution when big weaving sheds were set up with power looms. John’s father worked in his own home which is described to be “one side of the passage was the kitchen and living-room, while on the other was the weaving-shop”. Clearly John’s father saw this as both a chance for John through continuing a family business under his guidance but also for the sake of convenience and financial saving, which would have been very common at this time.

Theatres in Paisley, Scotland

So, with this school retraction, John’s education now was found in other places. Clubs and theatre were some of John’s favourite pass times, but also proved to be an excellent place for education. We mentioned the “encyclopaedia club” yesterday, which introduced him to politics and technology in a very close societal setting. However, I also want to focus on Paisley Theatre. John mentions this more in his other book, “Glasgow and Paisley”, so I will be referring to that here more. Firstly, the various viewings of “Macbeth” and “The Squire’s Daughter” (27-28) were a great form of education into drama and higher theatre. He began to use very distinguished terminology, on page 27 he says “Cathcart spoke his part with all his powers — strong voice, great facial ex- pression, and vehement declamation — but hardly a ripple of applause rewarded his efforts”. Clearly the over exposure to theatre and plays provided him with a lot of new terminology and education and with his constant viewing of these plays meant that his education only grew further! Tomorrow we also mention John’s reading and fun habits which would have also proved to influenced his education, stay tuned!

I would also like to give a mention to Ada Marion Jeffers (1884-1981). During our collaboration, Anais and I discovered how similar yet different our authors education seemed to be. The price remained similar with only a 1 pence difference! But what was really interesting was the aspect of gender roles, Anais mentioned how “girls were expected to be graceful, soft-spoken, and elegant” while boys “were expected to be strong, hardworking, and successful”. John’s inclusion into his father’s work is almost a direct correlation of this! How he was almost forced into this labour intense job that paid well at the time…well it paid well for his father. But this aspect is something that I hadn’t previously considered prior to my collaboration with Anais, I highly recommend you go read about Ada too!


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