Ancient grammar school at Aberdeen University to be unearthed

Archaeologists are hoping to unearth a lost piece of architectural and educational heritage in the historic heart of old Aberdeen.

The grammar school is sited in what is now the grounds of the University of Aberdeens Kings College Chapel. Picture: Contributed
The grammar school is sited in what is now the grounds of the University of Aberdeens Kings College Chapel. Picture: Contributed

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen are set to search for the remains of a grammar school that stood in the grounds of its 500-year-old King’s College Chapel.

They hope to uncover evidence of the school, which was set up in the 1500s for students wanting to study at King’s College – the city’s first university, and Scotland’s third. Pupils had a strict academic regime.

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Senior archaeology lecturer Dr Gordon Noble, who is leading the project, said: “We are specifically targeting a building which used to be attached to the front of King’s College that served as a grammar school in the 16th century.

“The school is shown on a 1661 map of Aberdeen but actually dates back to at least 1533, when the statutes and laws of the school were written down by the university grammarian Theophilus Stewart.

“It acted as a preparatory school for pupils who wished to study at the university and pupils underwent a gruelling timetable, with prayers, classes on the Latin authors and language lessons. And discipline was strict, with pupils referred to as qui sub nostra ferula – ‘those who soldier on under our cane’.

“The dig will aim to elucidate elements of the ground plan of the building, assess its survival for future investigation and to recover elements of the material culture of early schooling.”

It is thought the school stopped taking in pupils at some point after the Reformation and was out of use by the end of the 17th century.

Researchers will use findings from the digs and archive material to build a clearer history of its role at King’s College.

Chris Croly, from the university’s public engagement with research team, said: “The excavation will be the first attempt to uncover direct archaeological evidence of an early school in Aberdeen and may also retrieve artefacts relating to historical educational practices.

“This period in Scottish education saw major transformations, leading to the creation of a more modern and egalitarian educational system.

“The Reformation resulted in reform and expansion of Scotland’s universities. This was a key period in the history of education and a school of this type has never been explored archaeologically, so this novel project is sure to spark public interest.”

The team has been awarded £10,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the dig, which has been timed to coincide with the university’s May Festival and will allow visitors to get involved in excavation work alongside the professionals.