At the present time there are two schools in the Cabrach, one in the Upper end of the parish, near to the Church, the other in the Lower, at Invercharrach ; thus each is at the centre of its district, and no child is more than two miles away from it. There are about 40 scholars at the Upper School, and 60 at the Lower, their ages ranging from 5 to 14 years. Any who are ambitious, and wish to learn more than can be taught at an elementary school, must go to Dufftown or elsewhere to a Higher Grade School. Much is being said against this method of sending children to "centres" to continue their education, thus losing the benefit of home-life just at the time when it is most needed, and many sigh for the old days, when the country dominie sent his boys straight to the college ; but something is to be said on the other side too, for often these bright boys were trained at the expense of the average pupil, and for the sake of scoring a few outstanding successes, the dunces were neglected. As Professor Edgar, who occupies the Chair of Education at St Andrews says, "The parish school in many cases did good work, but honestly believe that if the ghosts of even the best parish schools could visit your schools to-day, they would blush when they saw your wonderful efficiency, and wonder to see all the children, even the poorest and the least clever, receiving a good and serviceable education. And they would hurray back to the Elysian fields, where the ghosts of old schools dwell, muttering as they went, 'we taught a little Latin, and our pupils sometimes lived to wag their heads in pulpits, but we did nothing like this for all the children. We let the duffers remain duffers still".
Each of the Cabrach schools employs a headmaster, who resides in an adjoining schoolhouse, and a lady assistant. The Upper school is by far the older of the two, having been founded about the beginning of the 18th century, while that in the Lower Cabrach did not exist till 1863. Both were originally parochial schools, though now, of course, under the Education Authority.
Before the Reformation, no one thought much about education as a necessity, except for priests and clerks ; to all others it was a luxury, and like most luxuries, enervating in its effects and calculated to unfit a man for his duty who had to live by strength of arm, either in fighting or in labour. We remember the famous saying of the Earl of Douglas, who thanked God that "son of mine, save Gawain, ne'er could pen a line". Another reason against teaching all to read and write was that it facilitated intrigue, especially on the part of women ; therefore, for long after boys were allowed to learn a little, girls had to be content with sewing and spinning and with listening to what was told or read to them. Certainly no one ever dreamed of a time when every child in the parish would receive at least the beginnings of an education, far less that country boys and girls would go to college and themselves become teachers. Education was almost altogether in the hands of the Catholic priests, and boys destined for the Church, and a few others, eldest sons of noblemen and any perhaps too delicate to become soldiers, or who had a decided taste for learning, were received by them into the monastic seminaries. The ordinary country boy, such as the Cabrach "loon", learned only to rear stock, to till the ground, and to drive a bargain, all of which arts his father was well qualified to teach.
After the Reformation the Church commenced to be very active in spreading education, especially in remote places, for she argued, this was the best means of driving out the superstition and pagan beliefs that had such a hold on the people in Catholic times. Parochial schools began to be founded, and in 1696 the Act was passed which provided for a school in every parish. The heritors were required to erect a school, and to pay the school-master's salary, half of which, however, they are entitled to raise by levying a rate on the tenants. The amount was decided every 25 years, according to the market price of meal.
By the Act of 1872 the School Board, acting under the Board of Education, took over the existing schools, and has henceforth been the managing body.
The first public school in the Upper Cabrach was most likely established about the year 1714, in accordance with the Act already referred to. In the Session Minutes at our disposal, there are occasional references to school affairs, the first being in 1731, when a Mr Wm. Chisholm was recommended to the heritors as master, it being apparently in the power of the Session to confirm the appointment. Later on a regular parochial board was formed, but at first it appears that the Session performed the duties of such a board. No further entry is made until 1740, when Mr Rhonnald, the master that time, represented to the Session the need of a schoolhouse-"The schoolmaster of this place, Mr Rhonnald, did represent to the Session, That whereas the Winter was coming on Apace, and no Schoolhouse in the parish, he desired their Advice and Assistance towards the furthering such a Pious Resolution, since he was wearied in giving no less than three Petitions to the Presbytery of the bounds anent the same, and if they did not contribute their Endeavour this way, It was more than lay within the small Compass of his power to please the parish, Since the one part of would have him to stay on Doveranside, the other on the Cabrach, and that this was the proper time to Concert 'gainst the Term. The minister was to speak to the Presbytery thereanent". Apparently Mr Rhonnald got his way, for some later minutes are dated from "The Schoolhouse". A new school and schoolhouse were built in 1836.
During the next 40 years we have the name of only one teacher, Wm. Taylor, son of Wm. Taylor of Invercharrach, and later Milltown of Lesmurdie. He was an elder, and held the post of session-clerk ; Indeed the schoolmaster was nearly always session-clerk, as being the man most fitted for the work. Mr Taylor died in 1782 at the age of 42, and, with one of his sons, is buried at Wallakirk. The next teacher mentioned is James Gordon, son of the minister of the parish. In 1793 the Old Statistical Account of Scotland was compiled, and according to it, the parochial school salary was £5 11s 1 ½d sterling per annum. So far we have heard nothing as to how the Lower Cabrach children were provided for, but in the Statistical Account mention is made of the charity school having been "taken away from Dovernside in 1779, a want the people there felt very much. To remedy this in some degree, they hire a country man to teach their children to read and write in winter, the only time they can dispense with them from herding their cattle". (What a difference to the life of the country child the introduction of fences has made!) Nothing more is known of the charity school here spoken of, but it was probably an auxiliary school, supported by the Session, for those children who were unable to travel the distance from Deveronside to the Upper Cabrach. We have the note of a collection, amounting to £3 15s 4d Scots, made for charity schools, and doubtless this was one of them. After this date the Session minutes on the school relate chiefly to the schoolmaster's salary. In 1828 appears the following, dated from "The Schoolhouse" the 9th April-"The Heritors and Minister of the Cabrach having met here this day in consequence of having been Edictally cited from the Pulpit in order to modify the Schoolmaster's salary, in terms of the Act of Parliament: Present, George Gordon, Esq., Factor for the Trustees of the late Duke of Gordon, and Proxy for Sir William Grant of Beldorney, and the Rev. James Gordon, Minister of the Parish of Cabrach, and having taken into consideration the average price of value of oatmeal, as struck by the Barons of Exchequer for all Scotland, for the twenty-five years preceding the eleventh day of June Eighteen hundred and twenty-eight. Resolved in terms of the Act of Parliament passed the 11th June 1803, That the salary of the Parochial Schoolmaster of Cabrach shall be in time coming, yearly, one and three-fourths chalders of oatmeal, payable in money according to the above rate of seventeen pounds two shillings and two pence one farthing for each chalder, being in the whole Twenty-nine pounds eighteen shillings and ninepence ten-twelfths of a penny sterling, and this sum they order and ordain the whole Heritors of the Parish of Cabrach pay annually at the terms of Whitsunday and Martinmas by equal portions, to Mr Wm. Ronald and his successors in office, proportionally according to their respective valuations, beginning the first Moiety at Whitsunday ensuing for the half year immediately preceeding, and so on thereafter, and they pray the Lords of Council and Session to interpone their authority thereto, if need be, that all necessary diligence may pass at the Incumbent's instance as accords of Law.
"The meeting having further taken into consideration that no garden has hitherto been set apart for the schoolmaster, and that such could not be done without inconvenience, do hereby in terms of the Act of Parliament in lieu thereof, grant as an addition to his salary, Two Bolls of Oatmeal yearly, payable at the terms as before mentioned and at the same rate per chalder, viz., £17 2s 2 3/12d."
A new school and schoolhouse were built in 1836.
In 1845 the New Statistical Account of Scotland appeared, to which the Rev. Wm. Ronald, schoolmaster, contributed the portion relating to the Cabrach ; he says : "Last winter there were four schools in the Cabrach, one parochial and three private, one taught by an old woman was for reading only". That is the Upper Cabrach parochial and 3 private in Lower Cabrach. This old woman must have been Ann Broun at Tomnaven, some of whose scholars remained in the Cabrach until a few years ago. She taught until the year 1859. Another private school was at Milltown of Lesmurdie, and we can trace several of the teachers. One was Wm. Anderson, who lived at Ballochford, and carried on the trades of a thatcher and dealer in manure in the summer season, for still the school days were almost altogether confined to the winter months. Another was David Rattray of Craigluie, on the Kelman hill. He afterwards became a teacher in Glasgow, and ultimately returned to his native place, when he continued to live a simple life among the heather with his bees, until his death at the age of 84, in 1909. Robbie Robson, of Glass, was another of these worthies. He had a club foot, and the reputation of being "a bit of a character". People were fond of playing pranks on him, and once someone sent him by post an elaborate Valentine, addressed in rhyme, as follows:-
"Cabrach is the parish, and Milltown is the toun,
And Robbie Robson is the man, a handsome, clever loon.
Noo Charlie, see, tak' care o' me, and ye shall never want,
Hae me up to the Haugh o' Glass, gie me to Peter Grant.
Oh, Peter mon, ye ken yersel, that ye gae by Dummeth,
Syne never lowse a grip o' me till ye gae past Forteith,
And leave me no at Drywells, Boghead, nor yet the Mains,
But tak' me on to Rob himsel' on ane o' Milltown's weans".
"Charlie" and "Peter Grant" were the two postmen through whose hands the missive had to pass.
John Smart of Badchier, a nephew of Mr Smart, who was minister of the parish, also taught at the Milltown for a short time and the school there was continued until the parochial school was built at Invercharrach.
There was still another private school, at Bridgend, taught for nearly half a century by Jimmy Coskie, and his school also came to an end when the parochial school was built. According to a writer of that time, though he had laboured for so long he was allowed to retire without any public recognition of his services. He died in 1864.
All the private schools, as well as the parish school, were regularly visited and examined, generally by the minister, and, according to the standard of the time, they appear to have reached a high plane of efficiency.
But while the private schools did very well, it was pretty generally felt that it would be more satisfactory to have a properly established public school, than to depend on the efforts of whomsoever chose to teach. Mr Smart, the minister, who remembered the long trudges of his boyhood to the Upper Cabrach or to Dufftown in search of learning, exerted himself to bring this about, and it was largely owing to his efforts that the parochial school and schoolhouse in Lower Cabrach were built on a site at Invercharrach granted by the Duke of Richmond in 1863. The first master was Mr Kissick, from Portsoy, who came in 1864. In 1865 he left and Mr Thomas Robertson, a native of Upper Cabrach, was appointed. With regard to Mr Robertson, we cannot do better than append the following account of him published at the time of his death in the "Banffshire Journal" of 1909:-"He was a splendid type of old parochial schoolmaster, and was among the last in Banffshire of that once famous class. In the vigour of his life his reputation was more than local. His pupils are now scattered widely, and many have won professional distinction, or made their mark as successful men of business. ... Being a 'parochial', he viewed the advent of School Boards with suspicion, if not absolute distrust. To such democratic, or as it might be, autocratic, interest in educational affairs, he never took kindly ... A year ago Mr Robertson had a severe illness, and for some months was granted leave of absence. He resumed duties after the autumn holidays, but at Christmas his health again gave way. With the grim determination so characteristic of him, enfeebled though he was, he stuck to his work in school until the end of February, when he had to cease from sheer exhaustion. As he had often expressed the wish, he died practically in harness, his latter days showing that indomitable and unyielding spirit by which his whole life was actuated, and which bore him firmly, even triumphantly, through the stormy passages incidental to the life of an old parochial such as he was". After Mr Robertson's death, the Board was able to assert itself, and the teachers appointed since have been essentially modern.