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Lyth School Reunion

Reunions Index


Written by Ann M P McLeod (Dunnett) in honour of the only Lyth School Reunion ever held. The reunion took place in the Lyth Community Hall on 23rd August 2003.





LYTH PRIMARY SCHOOL was officially known as BARROCK PUBLIC SCHOOL and that was the name written on the prize books at the end of the school year.

The school closed in 1971 with the Lyth pupils then attending Keiss Primary before going on to Wick High School.

Here I will try to revive some of the memories, of which there are so many, of my time at Lyth School during the fifties and I hope to do the same for you.

The building before the 2003/4 upgrade

The photographs on this page were taken since our school became the Lyth Arts Centre but they still give the general shape of the building as we knew it.   

Shelter Shed

"Big Room" Porch

"Big Room" Windows

Toilet Block

First Days At School
I attended Lyth School between 1955 and 1962 and was known as “Little Ann”. There were several girls from our family with the same name; a common occurrence in those days so we had to distinguish between us all! Along with my cousins, Betsy and Tom Alexander (the twins), I started my education with the three of us making up the whole class! My older sister Christine and the twins’ older siblings were already there and kept us in order.

We thought the rooms were enormous and the windows were awfully high; we certainly could not see out of them. All we could see was the sky and the clouds floating past. I often sat watching them, day-dreaming….. I still do!

Those first days at school were spent drawing on slates with either white chalk or slate pencils, I can’t remember which. The slates had a wooden frame and they could be wiped clean; often with our sleeves I’m afraid. Our mothers must have despaired; no automatic washing machines and tumble driers in those days!

We got out early at the end of the day for the first term because we were the beginners. Tom assumed charge on the way home because he was a boy. Betsy thought she should be in charge ‘cos she was the oldest by a few minutes! I enjoyed their company and felt safe with them.

In school, we were encouraged to use “proper” words instead of the dialect we were brought up with. I found this confusing because I was not all that familiar with some of these strange words even though it was spoken at home when the minister or doctor called and we heard it all the time on the wireless. The only time we used to speak “posh” was when we were playing grown ups in our make-believe world!

One day I complained to the teacher (Miss Bella Mowat) that I had a “sore bowg” only to be told I had a “sore tummy”. I remember thinking that I did NOT have a sore tummy (whatever a tummy was) but I definitely had a sore bowg…………!

The Classrooms
In the little room the desks were built to seat two and there was a piano which Miss Mowat used to play when we were practising for the Christmas Treat or the annual Caithness music festival. She also played for us when we sang at the wee religious service on Friday mornings.

At break-time, we were allowed to play the piano but it was never played by just one bairn at a time. Oh no… there would be one or two mini Russ Conways all thumping out a different tune! There were one or two pupils who went to piano lessons and they taught us some tunes to keep us happy.

There were several paintings on the walls but the one I remember most was the picture of Jesus with all the little children of different nationalities gathered round him. It was the first time I was aware that some children could be a different colour from us! It was a very peaceful painting; I liked studying it.

In the springtime, the windows were full of bowls of flowers stored there by the WRI in preparation for their bulb show. The smell of daffodils and hyacinths instantly take me back there!

In the big room, the dominant features were the lovely big coal fire, the blackboard and Mr. Steven’s desk. We used to stand round the fire with its large fireguard when drinking our little bottles of milk. When they were frozen on top in the winter, we could pretend it was ice-cream. I also remember the map of the world high up on the wall and a smaller one of the United Kingdom or was it only of Scotland? I remember looking for Inverness on the map when my mother was in hospital there and thinking how far away she was! In those days it took at least four hours to get to Inverness; but I digress…….

We all had individual desks; ones which had lids and inkwells and could hold our "piece" and books. The lids were very handy for helping each other with our lessons as we could hold them up and look at our fellow pupils' books. The "piece" had a dual purpose; to ease the hunger pains and to disguise the taste of the dreaded cod liver oil! Every day in winter we were dosed with a spoonful of cod liver oil from a big demi-john. It was SO big and heavy we couldn’t pour it ourselves so Mr. Steven was in charge of the dosing! Ugghhh!

The Lessons
The main lessons were, of course, the three Rs..... reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.

I enjoyed writing, but was not so happy with the arithmetic, especially the mental stuff! When learning to write, we had copy books in which there were lines of either a letter or a word which we then copied onto the line below. I loved doing that. Do you all remember “comprehension”? I still remember the first time I heard that word; it terrified me. I took a long time to comprehend……

I loved Friday afternoons; that was when we had drawing! I wasn’t all that artistic but I loved playing with the paints. We must have made quite a mess because we did our own mixing of the paint powders to give us the colours we wanted. I was fascinated that blue, yellow, red and black made brown; amazing! Shirley Cormack was the best artist as far as I was concerned; she had a great imagination when doing drawings and I loved seeing them take form.

The next best lesson was music; we had peripatetic music teachers and the one I remember best was Mrs. Gill, wife of the Canisbay doctor. There was also an elderly lady, Mrs. Mackay, who played an accordion which was a great novelty. I had only ever seen a button-keyed boxie before, but this one was like a piano on its side!

Brooke Bond Competitions
“Light up, heavy down”! That was the rule that applied when we took part in the Brooke Bond writing competitions. There was also a competition for painting. I remember getting prizes for my writing and Shirley got them for her painting. Sadly, my writing has deteriorated since then but I know Shirley’s art is still very pleasing.

School Meals
The dining-room was definitely my favourite place; the smell of food and the chatter of the pupils. I just loved school dinners; you either got a main course and pudding or soup and pudding.

The lentil soup was very tasty as I recall and it was served with a chunk of cheddar cheese while other varieties were served with dry bread.

My favourite main course was mince an' tatties wi' peas. You could have good fun shaping them. Many a birthday cake was made out of mince and tatties with peas for candles! One occasion I remember was on my birthday, which I share with Ray Rosie and Dennis Campbell!

My least favourite main course was fish because I couldn’t stand getting the bones in my mouth; still can’t!

Then there were the puddings! The best pudding of all was the one made with cornflakes and syrup, mmm…… and the “frogs’ eggs” or the semolina and jam, swirling them together to make a lovely shade of pink!

The food was delivered in 'e denner van and when it arrived at the school driven by either Willie Grant or Jackie Campbell, two of the older pupils had to go out and help unload the containers.

Once they were set out, the dinners were served by the teachers and Rena Farquhar who was our dinner lady.

We all liked Rena; she was very patient. Betsy and I used to “help” her clear up sometimes. I think we had an ulterior motive as she would give us the leftovers if they were easy to carry in our schoolbags!

Rena knew all the pupils and I remember thinking it funny that she went to Lyth School when she was young and it was even funnier that she used to talk about my mother going to the school at the same time as her. At my tender age, I couldn’t envisage my mother and Rena ever being peedie bairns just like us!

There were two playgrounds, one for 'e loons and one for 'e lassies and occasionally you were invited to visit the other playground for a game of rounders or come-a-lee! The shelter shed was in the boys’ playground and on wet days we all congregated there. On those days we usually played skipping games. The boys joined in as well, which we girls thought quite funny; after all, skipping was a lassies pastime! In the winter, we would make a slide between the playground and the school wall, adding water to make it even slippier! We also had many a snowball fight over the dividing wall of the playgrounds. And of course the icicles hanging from the roofs of the buildings were ice lollies!

The Gardens
Out of bounds mostly; do you remember pinching the gooseberries, scraping the toes of our shoes "climan' 'e gerden waal"? And the flag-covered well in the “peedie parkie” where we sometimes had lessons on a warm summer’s day, the grassy paths in the big garden that had to be cut, the top class doing gardening in the summertime – much better than lessons!

The Teachers
Mr. George Steven (who started in 1926 and was the teacher when my mother attended) was the headmaster when I started school and taught the "big" ones, with Miss Bella Mowat teaching the “little” ones.

Around 1961 Mr. Steven moved to John O’Groats School and his wife, Mrs. Rachael Steven then became headmistress at Lyth. I then moved onto Wick High School, leaving my little brothers, Johnnie and Sandy, at Lyth.

As far as I know, after Mrs. Steven came Miss J. H. Sutherland, Mrs. Anne Rosie (nee MacLeod), and Mrs. W. Graham. Anne had been a pupil at the school when I started in primary one and later helped out at Lyth before she left to train and qualify at teaching. She married our Uncle Will and we had to call her Mrs. Rosie at school!

And now......
Fortunately our former school is still being put to excellent use. Barrock Public School is now the Lyth Arts Centre and has been for the past twenty seven years or so. It is a sheer pleasure to visit, both to see it as it is now and to wander about remembering how it used to be. It offers a warm welcome to all.

William Wilson, the Society’s director, offered us the use of the Art Centre for our school reunion but the current renovations won’t be completed until 2004. Thank you anyway Willie; it was a lovely idea!

You can see photographs of the buildings as they were in October 2002 on the Caithness.org site on the web. There are also stories and pictures on the Friends Reunited site under Lyth School. Please add your memories to the ones already there, or add your versions if I have recalled them differently!

There have been big changes to our old school and it is wonderful to see it being put to such good use. There is now a lovely new building which looks as if it has always been there. It has old fashioned looking windows and merges in quite naturally with its surroundings. It sits in what used to be the playgrounds but the shelter shed and the toilet block have been preserved and there is still the wonderful view over to Alterwall, Slickly and beyond.

The school building itself has been extended out into the garden and the rest of the playground area converted to a larger car park and some garden space.

However, the shelter shed is still standing, so c’mon, where’s 'at skipping rope and ball……………

                                 One potato, two potato........     first you chew it……

                       salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper  P.K. penny a packet.......   Then you crack it.......

                                            123 a-leery.....

                             then you stick it on your jacket…..

                              Three potato, four..........

Caithness Haiku - Lyth School - c1955

By Ann M P McLeod (Dunnett) 

Pink clasp,
broon leather sandals
scraped knees
wooden desks,
high windows

Mental arithmetic
pointer on yur
strap in Steven's

Warman' cowld hans
at 'e fire
cod liver oil, spoons
in a char
'e Lord's prayer

  Smell o' hyacinths
daffodils in beeg
e' WRI floors

Milk in peedie
ice on 'e top
noisy sookan' on

  Slides on 'e tarmac
skippan' in 'e shelter
gooseberries ready
for eitan’