Soon there will be no trace of the former Alton Burn Hotel building. Proof perhaps of how transient so many things that are all around us are. There have been quite a few dramatic changes in the Nairn landscape in recent years - some of them connected with the changing pace of the local hotel business. Changes that may well continue post the forthcoming charrette should a cohesive plan for the town centre and its environs emerge.
So another former hotel has gone and many Gurnites will have thought perhaps of a function they attended there as they browsed images of the recent demolition. Let’s spare a moment or two however to think of the Alton Burn building in its heyday as a private school. This webpage here based on census returns gives names to the masters and pupils at the Alton Burn School in 1911. There’s a flavour of Empire given in some of the places of birth recorded by the census enumerator. In all 16 pupils and two masters, the family of one of the teachers and then a handful of non-teaching staff were living in the building on the day of the census.
Thanks to Mike Ross letting the Gurn have a look at two old School magazines from January of 1932 and 1936 respectively it is possible perhaps to visualise some of the events of the past. Outside the school the Great Depression was causing misery and dark political forces were gaining strength in Europe. There will have been very few families that hadn’t lost someone in the First World war and barely 18 years after that catastrophic event those losses will have still been raw for many people. The pupils will have all been born after the event though but it surely would have cast a shadow over their lives too. The school marked armistice day every year. The magazine states in its 1936 edition:
“We had breakfast at 8.30 and then reading as usual. At 9,30 Mr Pearson spoke to us about the Armistice Day and we shortly went into the drawing room to listen to the service at the Cenotaph. It was very grand and we heard different tunes played by the Irish and Welsh bands. After this we had the two minutes silence and then “God save the King.” At 11.15 we had a half hour break and then a period of War History which went on till 12.45. After lunch we did not have the usual golf competition but had rugger instead owing to the match on the 16th.
At 4 0’clock the bell went and the War competition started. It lasted for an hour and a half and consisted of about 150 questions on places, ships, generals etc., all mixed up. There were seven that stumped us all, Albert, Carpenter, Evan-Thomas, Hohenzollern, Martin-puich, Pershing and Sandford. Peason and Wrangel came out top with Kynoch-shand and D. B. Gordon not far behind.
At 5.30 we had tea and then prepared the front class-room for war slides of 1918. The War slides finished at 6.45. At 8 the seniors listened in to the British Legion at the Albert Hall. It was also very good and we again heard some bands playing. Unfortunately we could not hear all of it as we had to go to bed at 8.30.
News of the old boys of the school features in the magazine and it’s not all about careers, again from the 1936 January magazine: “D.O. Forbes looked in on his way home after dancing at the Inverness meeting till 6.30 a.m. “
Military service loomed large for some former pupils: “ At the War Office are, or more recently, Major M.A.B. Johnston (1903-05), Major S.C. Kirkman (1906-10), and Major D.N. Wimberley (1905-09). Colonel F.H.N. Davidson (1901-06) left the war office early in 1935 and is now at the Imperial Defence College.
C.W.M.I. Ritchie paid us a very short call in November, on leave after manoeuvres. W Sommerville (Gurkhas) and A. Cameron (Gunners) are still in India. We heard a rumour that the latter had been in action somewhere in the north-west, and H.W. Cairns is almost within sound of the Duce’s guns. He is at Khartum with the Camerons. There is also a rumour that G.R. Glendinning has got it into the Metropolitian Police.”
Lots of pupils seem to have gone on to private schools further afield, there is mention of Rugby and Marlborough for example. Perhaps the Alton Burn would get you a bit up to speed for those establishments? In the 1932 January edition again military mentions and much of the sporting achievements of old boys but also more local stuff in comparison:
“J Pearson is in a C.A office in Aberdeen and spends all his spare time fishing.
J.E. Young is farming at Tarrel, his father’s farm.”
Flashes of Alton Burn School life around eighty years ago, easier to imagine perhaps when standing outside the former school building. Now it’s all gone, perhaps some images remain somewhere (a quick search on google finds none) and there may be other material beyond the two school magazines but something that would have seemed so permanent to those pupils and the young men that had not long left the establishment back in the thirties is now little more than dust and rubble being pecked over by JCBs. More from the magazines soon.