Concert marks opening of new high school’s hall

An aerial view of Dalkeith town centre (photo courtesy Midlothian Council Local Studies)
An aerial view of Dalkeith town centre (photo courtesy Midlothian Council Local Studies)

Modern parents and pupils will be amused to read the Advertiser’s headline on July 7th - “A Gay Time at Dalkeith High School Concert”. As you might have guessed, the word had a different meaning then! writes Alan Mason.

Proud parents turned up in large numbers for the end of term concert in the spacious new hall at Newmills Road, and Dr McOwan, the Headmaster, opened the concert by saying that it was the first time the hall had been used for the purpose.

Dalkeith High had moved to Newmills Road from Croft Street and Kippielaw the previous autumn. Before this, the Croft Street building was shared between Dalkeith High School Primary, which occupied most of the original red sandstone building, and the High School, which used the newer gray building and two huts in the playground.

Before 1959, pupils in P7 sat the Qualifying exam; those who passed went to the languages section in Croft Street and those who failed went to the technical section at Kippielaw. Pupils in the languages section were taught French and the top class in each year also did Latin.

As well as pupils from Dalkeith, Croft Street took the best pupils from the whole of South East Midlothian, taking in Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Easthouses, Pathhead, Danderhall and the country areas round about.

When I went to Dalkeith High in 1955, there were four 1st year classes at Croft Street and four at Kippielaw. At that time, most youngsters left school at 15, so the high school had around 700 pupils. In 1960, when everyone went to the new high school, there were 15 1st year classes, 10 classes in the 2nd year, eight in the 3rd year and around 90 of us in 4th, 5th and 6th years. So Dalkeith High had around 1100 pupils. The baby boom had well and truly kicked in.

The new school was officially opened on October 3, 1960 by the Rt Hon John Maclay, the Secretary of State for Scotland. He gave some interesting statistics. In 1947, just before the school leaving age was raised from 14 to 15, only 1/6th of all pupils completed three years of secondary education. By 1960 more than half had completed three years – those who didn’t left at the end of the term after their 15th birthday.

The Headmaster, Dr George McOwan, retired a few months after the opening. I remember him as a strict man with craggy features and a shock of white hair, and his room was always full of cigarette smoke.

He had had an interesting career. He studied chemistry at St Andrews, did his Ph.D. there, and lectured there from 1921 to 1927. He then went to Raffles College in Singapore as Professor of Chemistry from 1927 to 1938, then was Principal of the College until 1941. Raffles College is now part of the University of Malaysia.

He returned to Scotland due to the war and became head at Dalkeith in 1943. Sometime in his career he was awarded the OBE and just before he retired he married Miss Wilson, the English teacher.

There was good news in Dalkeith when it was announced that a new medical centre would be built in Charles’ Court, which was part of Eskdaill Street. The site is now occupied by some of the shops in Eskdaill Court.

At the time, there were a number of GPs in Dalkeith. Dr Robertson, along with Drs Ken and Nancy MacLean, had a surgery in Buccleuch Street, where the Job Centre now stands. Dr Nomani also had his surgery in Buccleuch Street, in what is now the hairdresser’s near Midlothian House, Dr Dennis used part of his house in Newbattle Road, and there was a health clinic in Croft Street, in the building next to the King’s Park gym.

The new health centre would accommodate the GPs and the clinic and would have facilities for old people and hospital out-patients. The possibility of an Old People’s Welfare Hall sharing the site was also being considered.

Also in July, the Burgh Architect announced that work on the new shopping centre (Jarnac Court) would begin in December. Back in May, the Council had given the new centre their approval and the work was to be done in two stages. The first stage would be the curved block and the block containing the Continental Cafe; the second stage would be what is now the Farmfoods building. Detailed plans for the development would be ready in five or six weeks, but like all these things, December came along and the plans still hadn’t appeared. The reason for this was that three departments of the Ministry of Works were due to share office space in the Continental Cafe block and as soon as the plans were changed at the request of one department, the other departments objected. A fine example of Civil Service co-operation!

“Cathy’s Clown” by the Everly Brothers spent a total of nine weeks at No. 1 and was replaced in July by “Please Don’t Tease”. Who was the singer?