Madras School

— #22 Newhaven Church

Overview Church Interior The Disruption War Memorials 20th Leith Co. Boy’s Brigade The Madras School

The Madras Teaching System

One of the many public-spirited acts implemented by Rev Dr William Graham after his arrival in 1850 was the creation of school in the hall at the rear of the church. This became known commonly as the Madras Hall and is now the location of Newhaven Church itself.

Tha Madras Hall

In this building, Dr Graham set up the school following what was known as the Madras, or monitorial principle, model. This teaching method was originated by Dr Andrew Bell (1753 to 1832), a Scottish Anglican priest and educationalist.

When Rev Graham arrived at his new charge in Newhaven, Victoria Primary School had just been opened for a couple of years.  Although there were other small schools in the village as well, he saw the need for another.  Aware of the economy and efficiency of the Madras principals, he opted for this system to make best use of the limited resources available and in order to provide free education and, in most cases, food, for those too poor to pay.

In 1883 in Newhaven in the Victoria and Madras schools there was an average attendance of 226 and 203, children and grants of £173/14s. and £164/12s respectively.

7_2030 Newhaven Church showing Madras School extension

Dr Andrew Bell

Andrew Bell was the second son of a barber in St Andrews where,he distinguished himself in Maths at University.  At the age of 21 he decided to seek his fortune in America and from 1774 – 84, he was tutor to the children of plantation owners in Virginia.  He saved £800, returned to Scotland, and decided to enter the church.  

He lived in Leith from 1784 – 1787, and in 1789 set off for India, in the service of the East India Company to become superintendent of the Madras Male Orphan Asylum, an institution founded in that year by the Company for the care of orphaned or illegitimate offspring of soldiers.  

The school was poorly funded and didn’t have enough teachers.  As a consequence, it was difficult to run. When he saw some children in the district of Malabar in India teaching others the alphabet by drawing in sand, Dr Bell decided to develop a similar method, putting more advanced children in  charge of those who were less advanced.

Rev Dr Andrew Bell, the Scottish Anglican priest and educationalist

The System in Action

The system was very different from today’s schools. The teacher would teach a group of older bright pupils who would then teach what they had learned to other younger children. In this way, most of them would get a basic education.

The school was arranged in forms or classes, each consisting of members of similar proficiency, as classified by reading ability.  He was opposed to corporal punishment and used a system of rewards.

The monument in Westminster Abbey where Andrew Bell is interred.  It shows the teacher, in this case, Dr Bell, monitoring the young student who is taking the lesson.

Cost-effective Teaching

The young teachers were kept to task through registers. The teaching of the basic skills was tracked through the Paidometer Register and discipline was held through a ‘Black Book’, Entries from Black Book were read to the entire school, and the faults were explained in moral terms.

It greatly diminished the cost of teaching, and although subsequent studies found it not to be not as effective as the pupil-teacher system, which dates from 1846; it was capable of being usefully applied to certain parts of school work; and it fostered the habit of self-help and the feeling of responsibility.

By the time Dr Bell came back to Britain after 10 years in India, he was quite wealthy.  In 1831, he transferred £120,000 (valued at over £12.5 million today) to trustees, half of it going to St. Andrews, the other half being divided equally between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leith, Aberdeen, Inverness, and the Royal Naval School in London.  In Leith, a school, Dr Bell’s Academy on Great Junction Street, was opened in 1839 which used the monitorial or Madras principals.  He was the founder of Madras College, a secondary school in St. Andrews still in existence today although not using the monitorial principal.

A monitor in a monitorial school instructing a group of students. Each student has a slate and they all show ther slates to the monitor together.

The Ragged University

The principle of peer teaching continues to this day.  The Ragged University was set up to provides free learning events and encourage people meeting through social events.  Ragged University is an idea of informal education which gets people to share their knowledge and skills in social spaces like pubs, cafes and libraries. This is about sharing a passion in a relaxed atmosphere and building learning communities.  If you have a subject that you would like to give a talk on. please contact us at and we will endeavour to host the session (virtually or maybe one day — fingers crossed — in reality).