History of the Building

A History of the Building

Opening Ceremony 1877

The grand opening of Rockfield Primary School took place one Monday morning on the 19th May, 1877. It was known at that time as “The New Public School”.
Parents had been asked to present their children “with clean faces and hands, and where possible, adequately clad.” (This was a time when food and clothing were scarce.)
Local dignitaries, teachers, children and parents were present when various speeches were delivered. After joining in prayer the 100th psalm was sung.
Imagine, at the end of the ceremony, the sheer delight for every child when presented with a bun and an orange before being told that the school was then closed for a holiday!

Old photo of Rockfield

Rockfield School, 1949

Development of Rockfield Primary School

In 1875 The School Burgh Board was appointed as governors of the school under the chairmanship of Peter Cumstie. The Burgh Board was required to find a suitable site, employ an architect, and arrange for a school to be built. The school was required to accommodate and educate approximately 400 children in Oban. This was in response to inception of the Education Act of 1872.
The building and completion of Rockfield Primary School was not without controversy.
By 1876 a site was found – known locally as St Thomas’ Park. There was opposing opinion regarding the suitability of the site since sewage pipes ran through the park from houses higher up the hill. The Rev. Hugh McFarlane wrote to the Oban Times stating that he had consulted with a sanitary specialist from Glasgow who declared that it was “utterly unwise” to consider the site since it would impose a health risk – “I am fully persuaded that just such a verdict would be given by every medical man”.
However, the site was secured for the sum of £450, paid for by The School Burgh Board. Alexander McQueen, a Glasgow architect was appointed for designing the new school. The drawings were viewed by the Education Department but it was reported to the Board that the accommodation was too large and the tower “superfluous”.

Public Consultation

The School Burgh Board, however, argued that the tower needed to be in conformity with neighbouring buildings and that the cost of revising the plan would incur even more expense. Furthermore when the plans had been publicly exhibited for consultation the School Burgh Board was asked by local people to consider a more expensive structure. Despite pressure being brought to bear on the Board both from the public and the Education Dept., a plan was agreed to proceed and to accommodate 420 children. The sum of £3300 loaned would be repaid by instalments annually over 50 years to the “Public Loans Commission”.
Total Cost of Rockfield Primary School in 1877
The school was completed in 1877 incurring the following cost:
Site: £450
Architect’s Fee: £140
Building Cost: £3300
Total Cost: £3890

Extensions to Rockfield Primary School

By 1894 the local population had increased and the school was short of accommodation. A local architect, Alexander Shairp was already known for his design of two commanding local buildings (The Parish Church and Eader Glinn) Alexander Shairp was appointed to a further plan to add more classrooms, play sheds and toilets. The design was sensitive to the existing school although less elaborate.
Close observation of the building frontage reveals this change from the original to the extended section and was completed in 1901.
Yet again, in 1954, a modern ‘block’ for more classrooms was constructed to the rear of the school.
Finally in the1960’s a further 4 classrooms in two modern huts were erected in the ‘boys” playground and these completed the school’s facility for primary education.

The Listing Status

In 1995 the school was listed as a ‘B’ listed building – recognized both by Historic Scotland and the local authority. This status can be compared with the ‘B’ listing for McCaig’s Tower – both structures regarded as being of local and regional significance.
Rockfield Primary School is described in the listing detail by Historic Scotland as “an asymmetrical building with French Style detailing, built into the hillside” and “a very complete and little altered example of a Board School”. Also mentioned are the “polished pink granite colonettes” (bordering the arched windows on the front elevation) and “capped ashlar gate posts” as well as “hooped railings.”
Sitting majestically and comfortably encapsulated by other listed buildings in this spectacular area of Oban’s built environment, this rare and unique building is now at risk of demolition.
It is currently registered as “at risk” with Historic Scotland.

Oban Times
Hugh Sneddon
; Historic Scotland
;School Board Minutes
; A&B Council – Archives
Compiled by Jane Terris for Oban Communities Trust

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