Editor’s blog

In his role as historian for the Royal High School and the RHS Club, your editor responds to an average of around one query or request a week.

The Editor in his now annual envelope-filling role for the Prize-Giving

These items emanate mainly from the school, but are increasingly coming from other sources including the contact form in this website. While some are dealt with by a couple of emails or telephone calls, many result in projects of varying sizes, and it is thought that you, the readers of the site, might be interested in their lifecycle. Help with their resolution is often sought from and provided by Tom Bacciarelli and Ian R.C. Cowie.

Recent projects and enquiries have included:

  • High School of Edinburgh, Edinburgh High School or Royal High School? This question is undoubtedly the most frequent received by the historian; the answer is that all three are correct, at least at some point in history. Click here for the full story.
  • The School prize history (initially the sixty currently awarded) was included in the 2021 Annual Report, and a prize or bursary description from that table was added to each prize envelope
  • The discovery of two RHS prize medal designs by the archivist at the Abbotsford Trust. The Sir Walter Scott Medal is particularly appropriate this year, given that his 250th birthday is on 15th August. It was first awarded in 1932, but apparently stocks ran dry by 1972, when it became the Scott ‘Prize’. We are indeed fortunate to have located one of the medals, won by Gordon Symon in 1970, and are indebted to him for its loan. It’s a splendid object, and close inspection shows that it was created in the Royal Mint, and that the designer was famed sculptor Pilkington Jackson. The companion plaque which adorns the school wall outside the old main entrance can be seen here. Sadly it has been defaced, and is planned to be restored in due course. The other medal is the Muir memorial medal, created in memory of a very popular Geography teacher (Thomas S Muir) who died suddenly at the age of just 32. It was first awarded in 1929 to the 5th year Dux, and, like the Scott medal, was presented as such until 1971, when it also became simply a ‘Prize’, but is still awarded to this day. Many thanks to Sir John Kay for providing photographs of the medal he won in 1965.
  • The initiation of the biography project based on a request from the Rector and correspondence with FP’s
  • The 1934 Melrose Sevens winning team. A remarkable coincidence kick-started the production of an extensive article about the remarkable men who won the 1934 melrose sevens. Read the article here
  • Bo’ness Rugby Club was originally founded in 1900, with the help of Michael O’Grady of the Royal High School, who captained the side. The side reformed in 2011, and their archivist asked us to help trace O’Grady.
  • Communication with an FP now resident in Canada, who wanted a sung version of Vivas Schola Regia which would be played at his funeral. We sent a sung version along with what in our opinion is a better product – a synthesised string orchestra version prepared by June Nelson.

  • The 1903 Macmillan club prize winner’s watch – worn daily in Upper New York State by Helen Atkinson, Rebecca West’s great niece. Helen wanted to know the background to the prize. She was at school for a term or so in 1982/1983, having transferred there from Broughton in order to better her chances of successfully applying to Oxford via the Oxbridge exam. Her Grandfather Norman MacLeod won the watch which was then the trophy for the Macmillan (Dux of English) prize. Helen is now Rebecca West’s literary executor.
  • The English High School, Boston, 200th anniversary – Wikipedia says “It was modelled after the Royal High School Edinburgh” (actually just the ‘High School’ as it was known then). The School want the Royal High to participate in their celebrations.
  • 1938-39 School Captain James Lewis Gilmour, killed at El Alamein 25th October 1942 – helping a close relative to document his life. In 1946, His Father and Aunt endowed the Gilmour Trophy in his memory for the best rugby Nation.
  • Working with ESMS staff in the creation of their 2020 Remembrance virtual tribute
  • The 100th birthday of John Cruikshank VC. A video tribute was made.
  • Hamilton and Inches archivist seeking information. Sir Robert Inches was a pupil in the 1850’s. The Inches prizes (Open) for Dux in Physics and Chemistry are awarded to this day
  • The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence request use of our image of Douglas Ford GC and HQ Company 2nd Battalion the Royal Scots, Murray barracks Hong Kong in 1941, just before the Japanese invasion on 8th December.
  • The establishment of two Spanish language prizes, requiring visits to the Consul in Edinburgh
  • James Pillans, Rector 1810-1820, credited with inventing the chalk blackboard. Is it true?
  • The creation of a flyer for the 2019 School yearbook, and potentially Schola Regia?
  • JG Robertson, who played for the RHS FP rugby team from 1871-76, and also represented Edinburgh v Glasgow, could possibly be the world’s first black rugby player. Support for the author of the article available here, also film-makers in October 2021.
  • The 1906 Dux of German – the gold medal won by Henry C Gardham, was retrieved by an anonymous British soldier from a dead German soldier after the battle of the Somme in 1916. A Fife ex-servicemen’s club contacted us in 2019 – we will hopefully uncover some more information in due course….

Earlier projects included help for the embroidery team making a panel for the Scottish Tapestry, showing the first Scotland versus England Rugby match at Raeburn Place in 1871 when Royal High FP Angus Buchanan was the first man to score an international try.

The WW2 Memorial Windows which so splendidly adorn the windows of the assembly hall, feature sportsmen on each of the three tableaux. Each window shows two sports, and Jimmy Dignall some years ago revealed the identity of the six sportsmen portrayed, advising that they were indeed current pupils when the windows were designed and unveiled in 1949. The three windows were explained in the WW2 Roll of Honour. The sports and featured pupils were as follows:

  • Cricket – David ‘Nobby’ Valentine
  • Golf – Malcolm Matthews – (the one name which has not been corroborated)
  • Rugby – Mike Allam – subsequently played and refereed for Kelso
  • Swimming – Fraser Bowman
  • Gymnastics – Alec Imrie – also famous for his entertaining skills at Scottish Schoolboys Club (SSC) camps
  • Athletics – Harry Henrikson – one of three sporting brothers

The Crichton Cup

The Rector with the 2016 Crichton Cup winners click for a large image

Formerly known as the Crichton Trophy, it was gifted in 1915 by J. D. Crichton, whose sons were at School, for Scholarship and Athletics.

It shortly thereafter became the Trophy for the Inter-Nation Squadron Swimming Race. In 1920 the Cup was transferred to the Nation Championship in Scholarship and Athletics combined, for which it has since been awarded.


High School of Edinburgh, Edinburgh High School or Royal High School?

As the historian (unsuccessfully apparently) keeps telling anyone who asks, our Alma Mater did not become the Royal High School until around 1859, when the future Edward VII presented the prizes that year.  It is thought that Queen Victoria awarded the accolade after Rector Leonard Schmitz did just enough tutoring in Summer 1859 (while Albert Edward was with his parents on their summer holidays in Scotland) to get her errant son into Oxford.  Note the comparison of two Annual Reports – 1849 and 1866 showing the change of title. Prior to that, it was normally described as the High School of Edinburgh (as shown in Steven’s 1849 History), but just occasionally as the ‘Edinburgh High School’

Former Pupils of the time were so impressed by Bertie’s attendance record that they endowed a fine statue, unveiled in 1862, after a subscription to purchase it.    It sat behind the Rector’s chair at Regent Road for over 100 years (see the 1955 Prize Giving), but sadly disappeared during the move in 1968 – extensive research into its whereabouts have thus far been unsuccessful. Click on any of the photos below to enable a full-screen slideshow.


Further information about all these projects will be available here in due course…