Story of a Photograph: Dens Road Teachers

In this series we take a picture from our collections and attempt to delve a bit deeper. Find out what is going on, who the people are and what exactly the story is. Group pictures can be quite difficult to research. Often you don’t know who they are. Rarely do you get names, although we were quite lucky with the Watson Family photograph. Sometimes you need to use context and a bit of good old fashioned research.

This time our we focus on the above group picture of the staff of the newly opened Dens Road Primary School. The school opened in 1911, from the look of the clothes and the photograph we guess that it was either taken in that year or not long afterwards. Unfortunately there is no list of names on the back. Nor do we have a staff register to look at. But what we do have are the school log books.

Dens Road Log Book
Dens Road Log Book, 1911-1931

Log books are like a school diary. The head teacher would write regular, sometimes daily, updates of events at the school. Some are very brief and therefore not very exciting. Whereas others can go into great detail. The usual sort of things mentioned included: starting and leaving staff; staff illness; closures and holidays; local celebrations; school projects; school shows and parties; and pupil epidemics. Other things affecting the school business and attendance of pupils and teachers often get a mention. This could a Coronation or Jubilee or even the weather. Snow storms are usually mentioned but even very wet days seemed to have had a an effect on pupil attendance. Unfortunately for many people they do not tend to mention individual pupils – unless they have been very good or very naughty. But staff often get a mention.

Dens Road Primary in the 1950s

Dens Road Primary in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Going through the first log book for Dens Road there are quite a few names listed. But the problem is – how do we know who is whom? You could make assumptions based on age and gender, but you could never be sure. But there is one person who has something distinctive about them. Or should I say about what they are wearing.

The lady with the brooch

If you look at the woman seated on the front row, furthest to the left. You may notice that she has a brooch on. We decided to zoom in on her to see if we could make out what the brooch is. It seems to be a ring with a buckle at the bottom, the common design of crest badges. It has a wreath at the bottom with a hand holding a dagger up. A little bit of research revealed that this was the crest badge of the MacKay clan.

The MacKay Clan Crest Badge

So was there a Miss MacKay at the school? At the front of the log book, there is a list of staff that were at the school when it opened in January 1911. No miss MacKay. I looked through the first few months, and there she was! On 26th April 1911 Miss Maggie D MacKay was appointed as Assistant Teacher in the Infant Department, with a salary of £60 per annum. We know from the log book that she took some degree exams in June that year and was off ill for a spell in 1914 – her sister, who was also a teacher, substituted for her for a few weeks. We also learn that her middle name was Dunn. Apart from a couple of days of off over the next few years, she’s not mentioned again. She left Dens Road in January 1916 and transferred to Glebelands – where she got a pay rise to £90 per annum. According to the Dundee Education Authority minutes she then resigned her post at Glebelands on 22nd June 1920.

Maggie MacKay starts
Miss Maggie D MacKay starts at Dens Road School, 26 April 1911

Maggie Dunn Mackay was born on 10th April 1889 to Neil MacKay, a bookseller from Farr in Sutherland and his wife Margaret Dunn. The family lived at 53 Mains Loan, known as Kirtomy Bank, named after the village her father came from. She attended North Clepington School, then Morgan Academy and Dundee High School, where she got prizes for Writing, Latin, French and German. She studied at the University College Dundee and St Andrews University sitting the MA Degree exam for Logic in March 1910. Her elder sister Jane (mentioned above) and oldest brother John also became teachers. Her brother David became a doctor.

Maggie married John Cape, a teacher a Rosebank School on 3rd July 1920. This explains why she resigned at the end of June – married women generally couldn’t be teachers. They had three children, William, Catherine and Margaret. Her husband died in August 1945. Maggie died in 1979.

We don’t definitely know that this is a picture of Maggie, but its very likely that it’s her. Unfortunately there appears to be no clues as to the identity of the other members of staff in the photo. Or can you spot one?

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