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Move to Perth Road

Move to Perth Road

To move a school from one site to another is a massive undertaking and one can well imagine the ordered confusion which attended the transfer from Park Place to Perth Road. Despite all the inevitable problems, the move was completed on schedule and the new Harris Academy at Ashcliff, Perth Road, saw its first intake of pupils on Tuesday, 21st April, 1931.


Such a long-awaited event could not be allowed to pass without appropriate ceremony and the next week and a half was a time of meticulous preparation for the official opening on Friday, 1st May. After long consideration, the guest list was prepared. The honour of declaring the school formally open was given to Sir James Irvine, Principal of St. Andrews University, and his wife, Lady Irvine. Other guests included the Lord Provost and civic dignitaries, officials of the Scottish Education Department, professors from the university, church representatives and former staff and pupils of the school.


On Friday morning, the official party assembled outside the main entrance to the school, before walking through a guard of honour of senior pupils. The architect, P.H. Thorns, then presented a silver-gilt key to Sir James Irvine and, with due ceremony, this was used to open the main door. The official guests then proceeded to the assembly hall where a packed audience awaited the inevitable speeches. The principal speaker was Sir James Irvine who addressed the assembly with the somewhat pompous rhetoric which seems obligatory on such occasions:


There need be no more talk about the "New" Harris Academy. This was still the Harris Academy, although it had exchanged the rags of Lazarus for the purple of Dives. It was a school translated, but bearing with it the honours and traditions of the past. It was one of the greatest of Dundee's schools.


In diplomatic fashion, no mention was made of the controversial circumstances which had surrounded the foundation of the school and, instead, fulsome praise was lavished on the generosity and far-sightedness of Bailie William Harris. In conclusion, Sir James dedicated the building to the youth of the time "in the hope that generations would enjoy profitable years there wherein they would be equipping themselves to play a worthy part not only in moulding the traditions of Dundee, in maintaining the prestige of Scotland, and preparing themselves ultimately to do something to make the world a brighter place".


William McKechnie, Secretary of the Scottish Education Department, then addressed the meeting, praising the modern facilities which had been provided for the pupils and stressing the importance of a broad and balanced curriculum within Scottish schools. He was followed by two rather less experienced speakers. Frank Harper and Alice Shearer were the first school captains, an honour which ranked alongside the distinction of dux medallist. One can well imagine the hours of rehearsal which had prepared them to speak in such distinguished company and the feeling of trepidation with which they would have taken their place at the lectern


Although we have happy memories of the Harris Academy, we, the senior pupils, have looked forward to completing our education in this delightful environment, and now our hopes have been realised... Our new Academy has an abundance of space and light and the imparting and acquiring of knowledge will be carried on under conditions which are practically ideal.


The platform party then adjourned to the school grounds where Lady Irvine planted a Normandy fir tree to commemorate the occasion. The formalities having ended, tea was served for invited guests and the new school was kept open in the evening in order to allow interested members of the public to inspect it.


Many of the visitors would have been former pupils eager to compare the facilities of "this fine new school in the west end" with the overcrowded conditions they had known at Park Place. The admiration they expressed must have been particularly pleasing to the architect, P.H. Thorns, for he too was a former pupil. His task had been far from simple for the site chosen for the new school was more than a little inconvenient since it was steep and rocky and sloped sharply from north to south. In order to overcome the problems, he had to adopt a complicated design which, even today, can be confusing to a newcomer to the school.


The central feature of the north front was an oak-panelled vestibule, flanked by the Rector's room and Secretary's room on one side and the Lady Superintendent's room and Janitor's room on the other. A link with the past was provided by the war memorial which was transplanted from Park Place and is still the first feature noted by visitors to the school. Within a year, further reminders of the old school were added. A bust of Bailie Harris was rescued from the old Town House which was being demolished and was set in a place of honour on a pedestal outside the Lady Superintendent's room. Soon afterwards, portraits of the first two Rectors were presented to the school and hung in the vestibule, acting as a constant reminder to their successors of the traditions they had established within the school.


On either side of the vestibule, the two wings of the north block formed the primary department with fourteen teaching rooms and a small room on the top floor of the east wing with the impressive title of psychological clinic, where individual intelligence testing was carried out. On a lower floor of the west wing were singing, music and typing rooms "specially deafened for their purposes". To provide an impressive facade to the north block, the whole of the school front was constructed of freestone ashlar largely made from the fine stonework of the mansion which had previously occupied the site.


The secondary department was housed in the south block where, on three floors, there were seventeen classrooms, the domestic science department, woodwork and metalwork rooms, science laboratories and lecture hall, art rooms, library, museum and map room. A pupil of the time has recorded his impression of the classrooms:


Each classroom holds desks for about forty pupils and the teachers have high desks and chairs. They write on a moveable blackboard or on a bottle-green one. The latter and the pastel colour walls form a charming background for their black gowns.


The museum was used to house collections of scientific exhibits illustrating the natural history of the region. Many former pupils also contributed exhibits, some of them a little exotic, including two elephant ear drums, snakes in jars, a rhinoceros beetle, numerous stuffed birds, an African tom­tom and a kaffir's spear. Not surprisingly, the museum soon became more than a little overcrowded.


The art department (now the home of the geography department) was on the top floor and was provided with extra windows in the roof to ensure perfect conditions for the budding artist. Next to the art department was a staircase leading to a large railed-in portion of flat roof, with a conservatory for raising plants used in the science and art departments. As befitted a new school, the equipment in the science, domestic science and manual departments was extremely up to date - a special feature being the "very complete system of electrical contrivances provided".


On the central axis between the north and south blocks was the assembly hall with platform and balcony, panelled in Oregon pine and, at that time, large enough to accommodate all the pupils. For pupils accustomed to the cramped conditions of Park Place, this was one of the oustanding features of the new school:


Then came our introduction to the "big hall" where we were to attend "prayers" in the mornings. Such a large, spacious hall we found it to be. Here it would be a great treat to do our drill with all the shining new wall-bars, the swinging white ropes and the apparatus standing at the wall inspiring us to do our best.


The floor of the hall was a specially strengthened construction of timber and steel in order to allow its use as a gymnasium and, to permit two classes to use its facilities simultaneously, it could be divided by sliding partitions. Under the hall was the dining hall which was soon catering for the demands of some three hundred children every lunchtime. The wisdom of this arrangement was questionable for, despite the strengthened floor of the assembly hall, the constant vibration caused by hundreds of young feet soon caused problems. Indeed, by 1934, portions of the lunchroom ceiling were beginning to fall and the lunchroom had to be closed and gymnastic classes temporarily suspended.


On either side of the assembly hall were two quadrangles which acted as playgrounds for the younger pupils. Again, this arrangement was not entirely satisfactory. The interval for the juniors was a little later than for the rest of the school with the result that, between 11.00 and 11.15, teaching in the secondary department was made all but impossible by the clamour of the shrill voices of the youngsters at play. This was particularly true when the boys were taking part in a long-forgotten game known by the mysterious title of "hockey-duck":


For the uninitiated I might call it telescoped leapfrog and if you can imagine a row of frogs all touching you have the position of the "out" or bending team, except that to steady the line number one frog butted his head into the "pillow" who stood upright against the wall. The "in" team jumped in turn, but in­stead of trying as in leapfrog to jump clear, the jumper had to land and "stay-put", until the whole side was similarly mounted. Simple enough it seems but there were hazards that gave the game its thrills for, instead of a level array of backs, the jumpers were presented with what looked like a cross-section of the Himalayas.


The boy whose flying leap crossed a mountainous back almost certainly came to grief in the succeeding valley, and for one of the jumping team to touch the ground meant the end of his side's innings. Yet occasionally the whole team managed to pile themselves precariously on the swaying line. Then we hur­riedly chanted the time-honoured words:


Hockey-duck, hockey-duck, hockey-duck!


Three times off and on again,


Hockey-duck, hockey-duck, hockeyduck!


More often than not, the backs broke during the mystic recital when, from the melee, claiming another innings, would arise the triumphant cries of the jumpers: "The cuddy's broke!"


For the seniors, interval was passed in a rather more sedate fashion in the large open area to the south of the school. The traditional policy of segregation by sex applied, with the girls having a separate playground on the east side and the boys a similar arrangement to the west.


Throughout the whole building, every effort had been made to give the school a bright and attractive appearance:


Every teaching room in the school faces south and is lit by ample windows opening for their full area to give ample ventilation. The walls o f the rooms and corridors are tinted in varying shades of blue, green, cream and buff and these, with the ample windows, contribute to the brightness which is such a noteworthy feature of the school.


The corridors themselves stretched for almost half a mile, with each corridor in the south block being over one hundred yards in length. To cope with the communications problem which this entailed, a large number of internal telephones were fitted and, to ensure that pupils had no excuse for lateness, automatic bells regulated from a master clock in the janitor's office were fitted in the various departments.