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St Andrews, South Street, Madras College

Buried Land Surface (Post Medieval), College (19th Century), War Memorial(S) (20th Century)

Site Name St Andrews, South Street, Madras College

Classification Buried Land Surface (Post Medieval), College (19th Century), War Memorial(S) (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Lade Braes; Lade Braes Lane; Westview; War Memorial Plaques

Canmore ID 104334

Site Number NO51NW 273

NGR NO 50773 16438

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2024.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Fife
  • Parish St Andrews And St Leonards
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District North East Fife
  • Former County Fife

Architecture Notes

Madras College, St Andrews is one of approximately fifty school buildings selected for detailed research and survey for the forthcoming RCAHMS publication, Scottish Historic Schools: The Architecture of Burgh Schools, Academies and Educational Institutions Pre-1880. RCAHMS photographed and produced a detailed measured survey of the school in 2000, and the archive also holds a set of the architect William Burn’s working drawings.

Madras, which was designed and built between 1831 and 1835, was the largest charity school endowed by the prominent Anglican cleric and educationalist the Rev Dr Andrew Bell (1753–1832). The nature and development of Madras College highlights the complexity of nineteenth century secondary educational provision in Scotland’s urban centres. Despite significant administrative shifts in the twentieth century, it has continued to function as a secondary school for almost 180 years. Architecturally, its neo-Jacobean forms challenged the dominance of classicism in eighteenth and early nineteenth century Scottish school design, and interestingly reintroduced the closed collegiate courtyard plan to the nineteenth century – the prototypal Heriot’s courtyard plan (begun 1627), had not survived into the eighteenth century. Up until the design of Madras College, Burn’s schools had been neo-classical in style, but by the mid nineteenth century the hitherto little used neo-Jacobean and Tudor styles dominated Scottish school design.

Dr Bell’s Madras System

Bell, who was born and educated in St Andrews, became a clergyman in the Church of England in 1781, following a short period working as a tutor for the family of a tobacco planter and trader in Virginia. In 1787, he went to India, and, while working as superintendent at the Madras Male Military Orphan Asylum (established by the East India Company), devised a ‘monitorial’ teaching approach – later known as the Madras System. The nineteenth century problem of how to teach large numbers of children in urban areas as economically as possible was to be answered, according to Bell and his rival educationalists, through disciplined ‘monitorial’ systems. The Madras System allowed a single teacher with the aid of trained older ‘monitor’ pupils to teach elementary skills to younger children – boys and girls. Bell returned to England in 1797 a rich man, and succeeded in getting his Madras System adopted by the Church of England. The church’s National Society, founded in 1811, promoted the system on a large scale in England and Wales.

In Scotland, of course, there was little need for such a system because the Church of Scotland already provided elementary education through its parish schools network, but educational provision for the poor in Scotland’s cities was extremely patchy at that time. Bell tried to plant the system in Scotland, but with little success – in 1823, Bell failed to have the system introduced into the new Edinburgh Academy. Nearing his death in 1831, Bell bequeathed £120,000 for specified educational purposes in Scotland and England including the teaching of poor children in the cities of Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh, Leith and Glasgow; the largest individual sum of £50,000 was allocated to found the Madras College in St Andrews, which was to serve as an elementary and secondary school.

Madras College in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century

In 1830, St Andrews Town Council agreed that the existing English School property be given over to infant education, and that the functions of the English school, and the existing Latin (Grammar) School be absorbed into the new Madras College. All were to adopt the Madras System, as required by Bell. A site of four acres fronting South Street was purchased in 1831. It was the former site of the late thirteenth century Blackfriars’ monastery, of which the standing remains of the early sixteenth century chapel fronting South Street were to be repaired – at the request of Bell. A newly planned Bell Street was to terminate opposite the college.

At an early stage Bell stipulated that the design be of ‘economical gothic’, harmonise with gothic Blackfriars chapel and be a ‘handsome and respectable edifice’. William Burn provided a quadrangular plan, with an impressive neo-Jacobean two storey block fronting the street, and single storey ranges at the rear. The overall impression is English Oxbridge collegiate, with a rank of bay windows emulating a first floor great hall, and shaped gables with English Jacobean strapwork detailing. Heavily corbelled windows and a plethora of heraldic emblems, finials, and twisted chimneys enrich the internal courtyard. Burn was knowledgeable in both English and Scots Jacobean and mixed both seventeenth century traditions at Madras: the renaissance classicism of the courtyard arcading and linking doorways resembles the courtyards at Heriot’s and Holyrood Palace (rebuilding scheme from 1672). By comparison, the slightly earlier neo-Jacobean new east range of St Salvator’s College, St Andrews University, by Robert Reid (1828–31) used Scottish precedents in its detailing, such as seventeenth century gables and strapwork from Old College, Glasgow (rebuilding of 1630 and 1660).

Teaching began in December 1833, and the building was completed in 1835. The two masters’ houses, porter’s lodge, and the stabilisation of Blackfriars Chapel were to Burn’s design. But in 1834, disregarding Bell’s initial wishes, Burn devised two alternative schemes to rebuild and reuse the Blackfriars Chapel by adding additional rooms to its side. A simple stabilisation, however, was carried out in 1835 at the trustees’ request. During its first educational phase of 1833–89, Madras College functioned as grouping of distinct and individual ‘schools’ (free and graded fee-paying), and had no overall rector. Initially, its functions were clearly defined within the quadrangular plan. The south block contained the English elementary school and was divided into two classrooms; the larger west room was used for the teaching of poor local children and is reported to have housed up to 400 pupils at a time in the 1850s; the east room held up to 150 children and was fee-paying. The fee-paying secondary schools were housed in the remaining blocks: east (arithmetic); west (writing); and the two storey north block accommodated the Latin school. Madras also developed a boarding school along similar lines to Dollar Academy. This complex mix of charitable educational provision was not to everyone’s taste, and in 1844 Lord Cockburn claimed, ‘The thing called Madras College is at present a great blot. There should have been no commonplace, vulgar, bare-legged school there.’ Cockburn, of course, was a key figure in establishing Edinburgh Academy (also designed by Burn) in the early 1820s, which aimed, amongst other things, to equal the standards of the English public schools.

As a result of the 1872 Act, which introduced universal elementary education for all, the duplication of free education at Madras and the remit of the new School Board became problematic: a long battle to secure the college’s endowment from the authorities began. In 1890, St Andrews re-opened its burgh school, and Madras re-positioned itself between 1888 and 1929 as a small ‘inexpensive’ day and boarding school with generous scholarships. Latterly Madras College struggled in this role, and became heavily dependent on Fife County Council grants for the fees of a large number of the more able secondary pupils in the county. In 1929, the local authority finally took over the school and fees were abolished. In the post-war period Madras became a selective senior secondary school, and underwent significant expansion to the rear of the site, with an extension by local architect Frank Pride in 1951–5, and further extensions in 1961. In 1963, it incorporated St Andrews’ junior secondary burgh school, and the combined school divided its pupils between its new campus at Kilrymont (1967), and the old building. However, despite this re-organisation, the original Burn building survives in a relatively complete state.

Information from RCAHMS (DMW 2010)

Madras College [NAT]

OS (GIS) MasterMap, August 2009.

See also St Andrews, South Street, Blackfriars' Chapel (NO51NW 5.00: NO 50764 16565 ).

ARCHITECT: William Burn, 1831-34.

(Undated) information in RCAHMS.


Excavation (21 July 2010 - 23 July 2010)

NO 508 165 A series of test pits were excavated 21–23 July 2010 in the grounds of the school in advance of geotechnical site investigations. The remains of a sandstone cobbled surface was discovered in one pit, sealed by topsoil and ash and set on made ground. The surface is likely to be the remains of a former path/track leading from the main town wall entrance to St Catherine’s House. Its lack of depth suggests that it is fairly recent in date. The soil profiles revealed in the test pits indicate that the area to the S of St Catherine’s

House has been extensively built up and landscaped. Traces of the original ground surface were revealed to the E of the investigation area. No other archaeological remains were discovered.

Archive: Fife Council SMR and RCAHMS

Funder: Thomson Bethune

Stuart Mitchell – CFA Archaeology Ltd

Project (February 2014 - July 2014)

A data upgrade project to record war memorials.


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