Once below the Ochil Hills there was a broad meadow (Doll-ar in Gaelic). Then, through the final gift of one man, and the imaginative vision of some very determined men and women two hundred years ago, a great school took distinctive shape in the landscape.
The Success of a Legacy
Captain John McNabb died in 1802. Born to a poor family, he went to sea as a young boy and eventually made his fortune as a ship owner. He ran a number of ships over the decades and it is known that four of the voyages transported slaves to the West Indies between 1789-91, forty years before the Abolition Act of 1833. In his will he specified that the interest on half his estate (some £60 000) was to provide "a Charity or School for the parish of Dollar and shire of Clackmannan wheir I was born".
There were disputes and long legal delays until Rev. Andrew Mylne was appointed Minister of the Parish in 1815. He had his predecessor’s plan for a hospital school for 40 poor boys and girls overthrown in the Court of Chancery. Instead, he and his fellow Trustees conceived of a great academy to educate the boys and girls of Dollar parish, and also pupils from outside Dollar - who would board with teachers. Full fees would be charged to ‘non-residenters’, while parish pupils would pay fees on a sliding scale with some receiving free education. To attract pupils from outside the parish, excellent teachers would be appointed.
Top Architect Engaged
Thus, John McNabb’s School or Dollar Institution (later Dollar Academy) was founded in 1818. The original bequest having grown steadily since 1802, Mylne was able to engage the eminent architect William Playfair, who designed a fitting structure with a splendid Doric façade. Besides the Playfair building, fine early 19th Century houses were built in Academy Place to accommodate teachers and boarders. In 1832, an Infant School was started, taking children from the age of three.
By 1868, a hall had been added to the rear of the Playfair block and, by 1893, a gymnasium. Over the years the school has continued to develop with the addition of new buildings to meet its growing requirements.
The War Years
World War I claimed the lives of 164 former pupils and staff. A further 76 fell in World War II. By 1921, the school had run into financial difficulties and was temporarily administered by the County Council. Former Pupils then raised funds for an additional endowment to allow the school once again to be placed under an independent board of governors and, on 16 May 1934, it was formally handed over to the new governing body.
Rebuilding After the 'Great Fire'
Disaster struck in 1961 when fire burned out the interior of the Playfair Building, destroying the splendid library (and some 12,000 books). Local people rallied to help. Education continued in the Prep School, Harviestoun Castle, local halls and even in private houses. Concrete and steel were used to rebuild inside the surviving outer structure and the Playfair building was re-opened by Lord Heyworth in 1966.
Since then, the Games Hall, the swimming pool and Dining Hall, the new Music Department and auditorium (the Gibson Building), the Computing and Mathematics centre (the Younger Building) and the Home Economics centre (the Iona Building) have been added. Three new Science labs were built in 1998 and there have been additions to the Prep School building. In 2005, the new Maguire Building was opened with excellent facilities for Art, Physical Education and Drama and with the circular Captain’s Room for conferences and meetings. In 2009, after careful research into the history of the school campus and sensitive landscape planning, play commenced on a new all-weather surface for hockey and tennis. The Boarding Houses were completely refurbished in 2010-2011. The Westwater Building, housing the Languages department, was completed in 2015 and is named after one of the five Dollar pupils who died on the first day of the Battle of Gallipoli exactly 100 years earlier.
200 Years After the Death of John McNabb
In 1975, the government announced that the Direct Grant was to be phased out and Central Regional Council refused to continue the long-standing agreement on fees for Dollar Parish pupils. The Governors, conscious of the Academy’s long and unique traditions, felt compelled to make the school completely independent.
Dollar Academy thrived on this challenge and today provides boarders and day pupils with not only a distinctive academic education, but also with an unrivalled range of co-curricular activities. Full and partial bursaries are offered to children from home and abroad, including at least two full boarding bursaries each year to pupils from Barbados and two from Eastern Europe.
Dollar Academy remains committed to its roots in Scottish education and our young people continue to flourish in a supportive environment of enthusiasm, commitment, ambition and enjoyment. Pupils take SQA examinations and teachers are given time out of school each year to help national bodies with course design, question setting and marking.
The Governors of Dollar Academy are determined to maintain the excellent reputation of the school and widening access is one of the many ways in which we wish to achieve this. To commemorate our 200th anniversary in 2018-19, the school will be seeking to establish a Bicentenary Bursary Fund.
We hold an extensive archive collection of artifacts from Dollar Academy's 200-year history and we are always delighted to hear from former pupils and relatives. Mrs Janet Carolan, the School Archivist, can be contacted during term time by email at firstname.lastname@example.org