Tag Archives: books

A book I will probably never read


For Book Week Scotland it might seem odd to write about a book that I have never read. It is a small, rather tatty volume with yellowing and grubby pages but it is one of my more precious books.

Sandford cover

“The History of Sandford and Merton, A moral and instructive lesson for young people” has a wonderful gold and black thistle embossed cover.

It is of little monetary value but it contains a presentation bookplate that is priceless to me.


John Paterson III Class for proficiency in all subjects 1879-1880

John Paterson, my great-grandfather was born in 1869. Like his father he worked his whole life on farms in Fife employed as a ploughman and later as a farm grieve (overseer).  The 1881 census recorded the family in a farm cottage on the outskirts of Cupar with John at school, this bookplate confirms the name of the school as Madras Academy.

The 1872 Education (Scotland) Act introduced compulsory education for all children between the ages of 5 and 13. The Act also transferred control of schools from the church to elected school boards.  John probably left school aged 13 a year before the school leaving age was increased to 14 in 1883.

Madras Academy in Cupar (now called Bell Baxter High School) was, along with Madras College in St Andrews, founded by Rev. Dr. Andrew Bell.  These schools were named after the Madras system of education Bell had developed while teaching the children of the Honourable East India Company regiments. The system used older boys to instruct groups of younger pupils and was eventually adopted by over 10,000 schools worldwide.

This copy of “Sandford and Merton “does not look well thumbed. However, in a family where very little was kept except for a few photographs it must have been considered valuable in some way. I’m certainly glad that it survived as a small tangible connection to my great-grandfather and his early life.

Paterson Family pre 1904 cropped

John Paterson and family circa 1900s