John Urie (b. 1820) Education and Schooling – Writing Lives

John Urie (b. 1820) Education and Schooling

My (Home and Family) mentioned how John was educated during his time in various clubs in his teenage years, with politics and technology being topics he mentions were discussed. It was these sorts of interactions and experiences that mainly shaped John’s education. However, we will first 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.

“Wee Willie Aitken’s School” (11) was the quite peculiar name of the school John attended, located in nearby Castle Street. I his short stay he will have been introduced to the basics of education–the “three R’s” (11) or 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, including “a few hints regarding other subjects, such as drawing painting, and astronomy”. Astronomy was a speciality of the teacher Aitken who John described as a very smart man and I like to think it was Aitken that began John’s desire to become involved in this field. It wasn’t common for these sorts of additional topics to be taught: “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). “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! Clearly religion was a part of John’s education: “so far as reading was concerned, the Bible was our only textbook” (pp. 11-12). However, I don’t think it influenced him entirely for he rarely mentions attending events such as Church and seems to have he preferred to spend time with his famous friends. Though John’s brief time in school influenced his later life, it was work and financial matters pushed John away from his schooling.

“Wee Willie Aitken’s 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 in Paisley, a town that was struck by poverty because of the declining handloom weaving industry. 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”. John’s father worked in his own home where “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 to continue the family business under his guidance but also for the sake of convenience, extra income, and saving on school fees, which would have been very common at this time.

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” in Home and Family where John was introduced to politics and technology in a 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 literary terminology: “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” (27). Clearly the exposure to theatre and plays provided him with a new terminology and education and with his constant viewing of these plays meant that his education only grew further. My Reading and Writing post also mentions how his reading and leisure pursuits also kept up his life-long education.

and Playbill from 1824 showing entertainments available in the town

I would also like to give a mention to Ada Marion Jefferis (1884-1981). During our collaboration, Anais and I discovered how similar yet different our authors education seemed to be. The cost of schooling remained similar later in the 19th century, with only a 1 pence difference. But what was really interesting was the different gender roles that schooling cultivated. Anais mentions 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 a good illustration of this. But this aspect is something that I hadn’t previously considered prior to my collaboration with Anais, so I highly recommend you go read about Ada Marion Jefferis too!


  •  M. Lynch, Scotland: A New History (Random House, 2011),  , p. 397.
  • Urie, J. (1910) Reminiscenes of eighty years. Paisley : A. Gardner, 1908
  • Urie, J. (1910) Glasgow and Paisley: Eighty Years Ago. Paisley: A. Gardner, 1908.

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