A recent clearout of cupboards at Lurgan College produced the School Register for Lurgan High School, better known as the Misses Frasers School, for the last years of its existence 1923-25. I had always been told that there were no surviving records of the old school, so this document was of considerable interest, and a study of it has answered a number of questions about education in Lurgan in the first two decades of this century. 1 have listed the names on the register at the end of this article, and this may prove to be of some interest to readers.
As I noted in my articles on 19th century schools in Lurgan, there was a long established tradition of Girls schooling in Lurgan, dating back to the 1850s and earlier. I suggested then that there may have been only one school, but with a succession of proprietors, as was normal practice at the time. Mrs Green's School, in North Street, seems to have ceased operating around 1880. In 1881 there are records of Miss Macklin's School in High Street, and by 1886 we can find Lurgan Ladies' High School, also in High Street, run by Mrs Graham.
I have always assumed that there was a connection between these schools - indeed I suppose that it is possible that Miss Macklin became Mrs Graham! There is a gap in the records, however. I have been able to find one last mention of Mrs Graham's school in 1892, when the Intermediate lists showed three pupils from the school as having passed at the Junior Level in the Intermediate examinations - (W W McC Kennedy, A M Brownrigg and M M Livock). Kennedy was in the unfortunate position of being a male pupil at a Ladies' school. He was, I think, the son of Rev C W Kennedy, minister of Hill Street Presbyterian Church. The next mention of a Girls' School is in the report of the Intermediate Education Board for 1897 which lists Lurgan Ladies' Collegiate School, situated at Shankill Buildings. The Ladies school had 14 pupils, and was under the principalship of Miss E B Fraser. It is clear that the school was already established in 1897, so that the gap to 1892 can, I think, be narrowed.
In my previous article I referred to the Misses Fraser, who taught in the College until 1944.
Miss E M and Miss R M Fraser had, until 1925, run the Lurgan High School before coming to teach at the College. I suggested that either there had been a misprint in the 1897 report, or there had been another Miss Fraser. Among the papers recently found at the College was a presentation copy of a little Primer entitled Roman Literature, by Professor A S Wilkins. The book was published in 1898, and carries the name E B Fraser on the fly-leaf. Since these papers were all part of the High School set, I can say with confidence that there was another Miss Fraser, and that her school was the one amalgamated with the College in 1925.
In the early days of this century there developed a fairly bitter rivalry between the High School and the College. The College had, under W T Kirkpatrick, enjoyed an enviable reputation for examination success. But the school was a unique place in Northern Ireland. The College charter prohibited any religious instruction during school hours, and this was strictly observed.
As can be imagined, this led to all sorts of strange rumours about the College, which may have been held in check by Kirkpatrick's success as a teacher, along with the fact that he had been for a time a licentiate of the Presbyterian Church. The school was actually referred to as "a heathen institution" at a meeting of the County Armagh Education Committee in the 1920s. Further, Kirkpatrick, although a Presbyterian, was known to be theologically liberal, in a town where such liberalism would not have been widely appreciated! During Kirkpatrick's term as headmaster, the impact of this situation was never acknowledged, although we know that some Lurgan families refused to send their children to the College, even in the days of the "Great Knock". I have already noted that some boys were being sent to the Ladies' High School as early as 1892, although Mrs Graham clearly felt unable to deal with the more advanced work, because Kennedy (noted above in the Intermediate lists of 1892) was a pupil at the College by 1894. With the appointment of a new Headmaster, James Cowan, in 1899, the College entered a difficult few years. This was no reflection on Cowan, who was, by all accounts, an accomplished teacher. By 1914, however, numbers at the College, which had been maintained at a fairly healthy 50-70 during Kirkpatrick's tenure, had fallen sharply to below the 30 mark, and the boarding department had closed. At this stage, the College clearly perceived the admission of boys to the High School as an unwarranted intrusion into its territory. This reaction was probably unjustified, since, by its own admission the High School saw itself largely in the role of preparatory school, preparing pupils for admission to the senior departments of established Grammar Schools, mainly in Belfast.
There was a steady flow of girls from the High School to Victoria College, and this continued right up to 1925. Nevertheless, as the College numbers continued to fall the presence of boys at the High School was more and more resented. I was told by a former pupil at the High School that by 1915 the number of boys had grown to over one quarter of the total enrolment. This had unexpected results. The winner of the prize for the best girl in the School in 1916 was a boy! It may be that the Misses Fraser considered themselves reasonably secure.
The College was passing through troubled waters in the years 1912-14, and was not really in a position to retaliate. However, the closure of the Boarding department in 1914, along with a growing reliance on female assistant staff after 1916, made the admission of girls much more feasible, and by 1918, the position had stabilised sufficiently for counter action by the College. The College's retaliation was to become officially co-ed, in 1918, when girls were admitted to the school for the first time. The legal niceties were completed in May, in good time for the new year's intake. In the event a number of girls were admitted in May. The total number of girls admitted during 1918 was 12. The female influx had a dramatic effect on the College. By 1919, over half the pupils were girls, although numbers were still not totally satisfactory.
It would appear that the High School had, by this time, become formally organised. It had a Board of Governors and there was also a school uniform, something which the College still did not possess. The Misses Fraser had objected strongly, and publicly to the College's move into female education, and their response was, apparently, to attempt to compete with the College across the whole range of College courses, as is witnessed by the sprinkling of High School pupils going straight on to university (4 in the years 1923-4). This was almost certainly an extension of the previous High School policy, which seems to have involved pupils only up to the age of 16. In addition, an increasing number of boys was being recruited, including one from the College itself. The High School register contains the names of 26 boys - something less than 25% of the total. This number is significant, particularly since it almost certainly meant that the High School had more pupils than the College.
Another interesting thing to be gleaned from the Register is the extent to which certain local Primary Schools provided most of the High School's intake. 27 came from the Model, 10 from Waringstown, 9 from Windsor Avenue and a further 11 from John Street, Queens Place and Queen Street. This was certainly not something that could be said about the College, where Cowan had always bemoaned the failure of local schools to support the College.
It is clear that the existence of two schools, competing with each other for pupils in a town the size of Lurgan, was an extravagance that could not be continued indefinitely. While the College had the buildings and the endowments, it did not have the pupils. The High School had the pupils, but no endowments, and inadequate accommodation (the school was based in upstairs rooms in Market Street, beside the Ulster Bank). When exactly the notion of amalgamation surfaced is not clear. The crucial year however, seems to have been 1922. James Cowan, now 74 years old, retired and was replaced by an ambitious young teacher from Campbell College, V M Harper. Harper immediately embarked with considerable vigour on reviving the School His first year saw plans adopted for the first major building extension since the opening of the College Walk premises in 1873. In addition, numbers began to rise, although slowly at first. It is clear that the Misses Fraser had been considering amalgamation for some time, and as soon as Cowan's retirement was announced, they broached the matter with the College Governors. It is possible that the two ladies saw themselves in charge at an amalgamated school, but the College governors were not prepared to make a move until a new Headmaster have been appointed.
As soon as Harper was appointed, the Frasers sought negotiations with the College governors. These negotiations were complex, and at times stormy. The sticking point again and again was the position of Miss E M Fraser in any amalgamated school. She demanded the title "Headmistress" and the right to share in all the responsibilities of the Principal-ship. This Harper would not concede. One can, perhaps, understand the ladies' frustration. Their school was larger in numbers than the College, and they certainly had more experience of running a school.
Reading the correspondence from the time, however, leaves the impression that the High School had little financial backing, apart from fees, and thus the ladies were under pressure to reach some agreement. In 1923 and 1924 agreements were apparently reached, only to be scuppered at the last moment. Eventually, the respective Boards of Governors took a direct hand. A joint committee was set up, and an agreement thrashed out. Again, Miss E M Fraser withheld her consent until the last moment, so that it was not until 24th
August, 1925 that the pupils at the High School knew that they would start the next academic year at the College. The amalgamation coincided with the opening of the first extension of the College buildings. That, in itself, suggests that Harper too, may have been under a certain amount of duress to make sure that the new buildings were filled.
The impact of the amalgamation was dramatic for the College. Numbers had fallen as low as 24 during 1914, and although there had been a slight recovery - to 36 -, numbers had fallen to 20 at the start of 1918. The admission of girls, from May 1918, saw numbers rising to the mid 30s, and stablising there. Nevertheless, the High School at the same time was averaging 40 plus, admittedly over the whole range from 4-18. Harper's appointment at the College saw numbers rising slowly, so that, when amalgamation day came, 49 of the pupils had been at the College in the previous school year. At the same time 56 of the pupils came from the High School. There were, in addition, 34 new enrolments, of whom 23 were boys. This event marked the beginning of Lurgan College as we would know it today. Within 4 years the present frontage of the school, including the Library (which was originally built as the School Hall) was complete. The present School Uniform was also introduced, and the school became established as one of the Province's network of Grammar Schools.
Since completing my article, two further pieces of material have come my way. First of all, I have been able to look at the Lurgan College Accounts for the year 1925, and these illustrate graphically my point about the financial inadequacy of the High School position. With all the affairs of the High School wound up, the grand total of £83:5:5 was transferred to the College Accounts - at that time the College Endowments accounted to over £10,000.
Secondly I have been given an (undated) prospectus for Lurgan Ladies School, Queen Street. This school was run by the Misses Stewart, and consisted of a Secondary Department, offering Greek, Latin, French, English, Mathematics and a range of musical and artistic subjects. In addition to the Principal, Miss F D Stewart, there were Miss M I Stewart (her sister, I assume) and Miss Huston on the teaching staff. There was also a Preparatory School for boys and girls aged 4-12. There is no date on the Prospectus, but it has been suggested that it is from 1898 or thereabouts. If this is so, then the High School, under the Misses Frazer, must have faced competition in its earlier years, before becoming established.
J I W
|Lurgan High School Register 1922-1925|
|Reg. Num.||Surname||Christian Names||Primary School||To Lurgan College|
|65||Allen||Mildred||Windsor Avenue NS||Yes|
|1||Anderson||Sarah Martha||Windsor Avenue NS||No|
|82||Archer||Thomas Douglas Norman||Model||Yes|
|23||Baillie||Annie Douglas||Waringstown NS||Yes|
|86||Baillie||Mary Stockdale||Waringstown NS||Yes|
|87||Baillie||Arabella Mills||Waringstown NS||Yes|
|25||Baird||Margaret Christina Elizabeth Burgoyne||Miss Shillington's||No|
|26||Bateman||Jane Anna||Moira NS||Yes|
|80||Martin||Joseph Ignatius||Soldierstown NS||Yes|
|27||Clarke||Florence Alice Wells||Model||No|
|102||Cuppage||Katherine Jane Eleanor||Nil||No|
|53||Dewart||Sarah||Windsor Avenue NS||No|
|51||Dewart||Mary Elizabeth||Windsor Avenue NS||No|
|70||Ferguson||Irene Joy Ferguson||Nil||Yes|
|97||Gilchrist||John Gordon||Windsor Avenue NS||Yes|
|6||Gillespie||Mary Frances||Waringstown NS||Yes|
|107||Gillespie||Miriam||John Street NS||No|
|74||Gillespie||George Murray||John Street NS||Yes|
|91||Hamill||Florence Elizabeth||Ardmore NS||No|
|30||Hunter||Margaret Annie||Waringstown NS||No|
|48||Hunter||Marie Elizabeth||Waringstown NS||No|
|47||Hynes||Elizabeth Eleanor||Queen's Place||No|
|88||Hynes||Viola Olive Mary||Queen's Place NS||Yes|
|8||Johnston||Kathleen Vera||Dollingstown NS||Yes|
|32||Johnston||Elizabeth Ellen||Moira NS||Yes|
|10||Kennedy||Mary||Highholm, Port Glasgow||No|
|11||Leathern||Muriel||Windsor Avenue NS||Yes|
|34||Livingston||William David||North Street NS||Yes|
|90||Livingston||Gertrude Geraldine||John Street NS||Yes|
|33||Livingston||George William||North Street NS||Yes|
|36||Macfarland||Margaret Emmeline Elizabeth||Moira NS||Yes|
|35||Maguire||Mary Elizabeth||Kilmore NS||No|
|18||Mahon||Violet Jane Elizabeth||Waringstown NS||No|
|37||McCaw||Vera Lily||Miss Shillington's||No|
|77||McClean||Evelyn||Queen Street NS||No|
|78||McNaghton||Florence Ethel||Queen Street NS||No|
|63||McNeice||Florence Isabella||Queen Street NS||Yes|
|12||McNeice||William Sinton||Queen Street NS||Yes|
|41||Minnis||Anna Pedlow||Carleton House School||No|
|93||Mullin||John Francis||St Peter's NS||No|
|108||O'Neill||Kathleen||John Street NS||No|
|50||Olver||Henry Vyvyan||Kilkenny College||No|
|83||Pyper||Jane Ellen||Craigmore NS||Yes|
|59||Reid||David Wilson||Corcreany NS||No|
|42||Rutherford||Emilie May Walker||Hall Street NS, Ballybay||No|
|99||Ryan||Geraldine||Ursuline Convent Sligo||No|
|52||Sloan||Angela Georgina||John Street NS||No|
|60||Thompson||Norman John Ferguson||Clare NS||No|
|43||Walker||Annie Helen||Corcreany NS||Yes|
|44||Wells||Margaret Evelyn||Windsor Avenue NS||Yes|
|17||Whittaker||Aileen Muriel||Thomas Street NS Portadown||No|
|45||Wierre||Phyllis Gertrude||Miss Poole's, Willesden||No|