Hop on board the walking school bus – in 1923

Glen Cottages in the foreground with the Glenside Cottages, the block of flats, 'above the roof line'.
Glen Cottages in the foreground with the Glenside Cottages, the block of flats, 'above the roof line'.

As the latest initiative is announced to get children more active and on the ‘walking bus’ to school, I remembered the story told to me by Ella Graham, a well-known Roslin resident who died in 2009, aged 91, writes Winnie Stevenson (Roslin Heritage Society).

Ella was born and brought up in Glen Cottages by the river in Roslin Glen. A family of six in a ‘single end’ till they moved up to Glenside Cottages, a block of eight flats of a room and kitchen and theirs had a small scullery. No running water – an outside dry toilet – until 1928 when two blocks of flushing toilets and a wash house were built outside and sinks provided inside. Paraffin lamps or candles gave light and cooking was done on the kitchen fire.

Ella walked to Roslin school every morning from the age of five, joining the walking group about a mile from the school. Some had already trudged over two miles from beyond Rosslynlee hospital before she joined them – in all weathers. They must have been soaked some days. A round trip of about seven miles, every day, not just one day a week as suggested for the kids today. The long walk must have added hours to the school day and in the dark in winter, no street lighting in the Glen. Ella was one of only a few from her class to go on to Lasswade School when she was 12, staying until she was 15.

Ella (Mason) Graham remembers... My first day at school:

“Seeing the children going back to school, especially the beginners, brought back memories of my own first day at school here in Roslin. I lived at Glenside Cottages overlooking the Glen Cottages. I was five years old, the eldest of four children, in 1923. My mum rigged me out with a new jersey and skirt and I had a nice checked schoolbag – the strap went over my head and the bag dangled at my side.

“My Mum gave me a kiss and told me to go out to the big entrance by the road and await the children coming down the road from Rosslynlee and Kirkettle Cottages. When the crowd arrived, one of the bigger girls took my hand and mothered me up the road to the school. By this time, we had been joined by all the Glen children. The boys and girls had separate playgrounds, so the boys left us to go to their playground opposite Scotmid. We girls went into our playground opposite Springfield Place.

“The bell rang and we were assembled in straight lines at the school door and a teacher ushered us in through heavy green and glass doors. I was fascinated by a row of wash basins with taps – new to me, because we only had an outside well for water which we shared with other folk. In the classroom, our teacher Miss McPherson showed us to our desks. She called out our names and we had to put up our hand and say ‘Present Miss’ to let her know who we were.

“There was a nice fire in the corner of the classroom with a guard round it but I was attracted to a picture on the wall above the fireplace. It was a picture of a seaside with a gangway for people to walk along to get into a boat. I had never been to the seaside and I have never forgotten that picture.

“However, it was soon down to work. We were each given a slate and a piece of chalk. One side of the slate had boxes for numbers and the other side had lines for letters. The teacher wrote the most immaculate figures and letters on the blackboard for us to copy on our slates. We also had a picture book with short sentences to read and three letter words to spell. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“Soon the bell rang and everyone went outside. I did too – right out of the gate! Going along the road, I met my aunt blethering to a neighbour. She asked ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Home’ I said. I was a bit upset to find it was just leave time. She gave me a ‘piece’ and took me back to school where Mr Breslin, the headmaster, took my hand and led me to the classroom.

“Miss McPherson my teacher was very nice but, unfortunately, she had to leave when she married one of the Hunter brothers. All our teachers were single ladies in those days and we had a headmaster.

“There was a character called the ‘School Board Man.’ If anyone was missing from the class, ‘Cuddy Brown’ was at your house on his bike to see ‘why?’ My Mum said I was never off school during my first two years – not a bad record – walking from the Glen.”