Set amongst the tranquil landscape of central Scotland, Dollar’s history is nonetheless eventful, with the school having adapted well to periods of change and global challenges. As a school, we have always been at the forefront of Scottish education.


Beginnings: A Vision for the Future

The school’s founder was Captain John McNabb, a local boy who was born in 1732 to a poor family, but who made his fortune at sea. He captained, owned and leased out many ships over the decades and it is known that four voyages transported slaves to the West Indies in 1789-91, forty years before the Abolition Act of 1833.

The school believes that it is important to recognise this aspect of its history and pupils are taught openly about McNabb’s link to slavery in several subjects in the Senior School. In order to understand the exact extent of John McNabb’s involvement, further research was commissioned, in collaboration with leading external advisors, in 2019. When this research is concluded, the school will consider various future courses of action. Once completed, it will help us better understand this part of our history so that it can play an important educational role. To be clear, Dollar Academy abhors slavery in all its forms.

John McNabb died in 1802 and in his will he specified that the interest on half his estate was to provide “a Charity or School for the parish of Dollar and shire of Clackmannan wheir I was born.”

There were long legal delays until 1815 when the eminent educationalist Rev. Andrew Mylne was appointed Minister of the Parish by local landowner Craufurd Tait. They 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. To attract pupils from outside the parish, excellent teachers would be appointed.


The Founding of Dollar Academy Or John McNabb’s School

In 1818 Mylne was appointed Rector of the new Academy and the top Scottish architect William Playfair was commissioned to design the building. One of the first things to strike visitors arriving at the school is the impressive Doric facade. The grand neo-classical design sets an inspirational tone for pupils and teachers alike. Visitors to Edinburgh’s Royal Scottish Academy or National Galleries might recognise his distinctive style.

Playfair also designed the fine houses for teachers and boarders in Academy Place. In 1832 an Infant School was started, accepting children from the age of three. As a result of the school’s growing popularity more accommodation was needed. Several classrooms and a large school hall were added in 1868 and a gymnasium in 1893. The Prep School was built in 1937.



The War Years Sacrifice, Strife and Success

The Academy and its community were no exception to the immense loss suffered as a result of World War I. No fewer than 164 former pupils and staff gave their lives. World War II brought with it further sacrifice, with a total of 76 fatalities.

Between the two wars Dollar was hit by financial difficulties and was temporarily run by the county council. Thanks to the fundraising efforts of former pupils, however, the school was returned to an independent board of governors in May 1934.




The Rebuilding after ‘The Great Fire’

In 1961 a catastrophic fire totally destroyed the interior of the Playfair Building. All the classrooms and the library with its 12,000 books were lost. Locals and staff rallied to help, and teaching continued in the Prep School, Harviestoun Castle, local halls and even in private houses. The inside of the Playfair Building was reconstructed on three floors instead of the original two and finally re-opened in 1966.

In the years that followed, new buildings and facilities were added. These included the Games Hall, the Swimming Pool, the 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). More recent years have seen the addition of three new science labs, extensions to the Prep School and the opening of the Maguire Building with its facilities for Art, Physical Education and Drama, as well as the circular Captain’s Room for conferences and meetings. The all-weather surface for hockey and tennis saw its first matches in 2009, and all three boarding houses were completely refurbished in 2011. The Westwater Building, home to the Languages Department, was completed in 2015 and is named in honour of one of the five Dollar pupils who died at Gallipoli 100 years earlier.

Our Return to Independence

The mid 1970’s saw a change in legislation, leading to the phasing out what was known as the ‘Direct Grant’. At the same time Central Regional Council refused to continue the long-standing agreement on fees for Dollar Parish pupils. The Academy’s long-held and hard-earned traditions were too precious to give up, and so the school chose to become completely independent.

It was a decision that helped to make Dollar the institution it is today. Each and every pupil is offered an education that, coupled with our unrivalled range of co-curricular activities, nurtures individual talents, interests and ambitions. Our roots are in Scottish education, but what we offer knows no borders – full and partial bursaries are available to children from home and abroad, including at least two full boarding bursaries each year to pupils from Barbados and two from Eastern Europe. The dedication of our teaching staff is demonstrated by their involvement with national governing bodies in roles such as course designers, question setters, verifiers and markers.


What’s next?

We 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 is seeking to establish a Bicentenary Bursary Fund. We have also commissioned further research into the carrying of slaves by John McNabb’s ships with a view to reflecting this aspect of the school’s legacy in future plans.

Dollar Academy

Our Archives

This is just a snapshot of the Academy’s rich history. For a more in-depth look at our journey over the last two centuries please contact Mrs Janet Carolan, the School Archivist by email at carolan-j@dollaracademy.org.uk