Phoenix Park Kindergarten
The nursery schools in the Cowcaddens area were amongst the earliest to be established in Scotland, and in 1913 the Phoenix Park Kindergarten was the very first to be opened in Glasgow.
The original building was a single storey wood and roughcast building surrounded by a small garden, and was situated on Dobbie’s Loan just across from Phoenix Park. The money was raised by volunteers, who were mainly staff and pupils from Laurel Bank private school for girls, and staff of the teacher training college at Dundas Vale. The headteacher of Laurel Bank was one of the volunteers instrumental in the early years.
The health and well-being of the children was the primary concern of the volunteers who established the nursery. Cowcaddens was a densely populated area with a lot of poverty, and described by one medical officer as “presenting every conceivable health and social problem “. Muse Lane in the heart of the area contained 1500 people to the acre. There were high levels of infant mortality, with scarlet fever and other infectious diseases being rife. Staff wore overalls and head coverings as protection against lice etc. Children were washed on arrival and changed into nursery smocks.
Despite those immediate pressing concerns that required attention, right from the start a great priority was placed on education. The teaching style was based on the work of Froebel, the progressive German educationalist. Learning through play and outdoor activities was given prominence in the programme.
Only two children attended on the first day as it was a new idea to Cowcaddens parents. Names were obtained from local headmasters and homes visited. Amongst the most active volunteers in the 1920s was a Miss Buchanan, who came from a wealthy shipbuilding family. In 1919 her parents had purchased Hillside Holiday Home at Clynder on the Gareloch for the nursery. The home also provided a holiday for other children in need, such as invalids or convalescents. The opening was attended by Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, the daughter of Queen Victoria.
Miss Buchanan and another lady volunteer, Miss Anderson, went round the doors encouraging mothers to send their children to the nursery. Being such a new idea it was not an easy task to convince the mothers. There was also the fee of 2/6d a week, with 5d a week saved towards the annual holiday at Clynder and the rest spent on the children’s keep at the nursery. However, once the benefits to their children became obvious, many mothers made sacrifices to scrape up the half crown from their meagre income each week in order to give their children the best possible opportunities.
In later years, one mother recalled Miss Buchanan hiring a bus once a year and taking all the mothers for a day trip to her big house in Polmont, where they would have “tea on the lawn like real ladies”.
Miss Buchanan eventually left to start a nursery school in Polmont, but there were a number of full-time staff who provided continuity over the years. Amongst them was Winifred Anderson, who was head teacher from 1932-1945. Even after retiring she returned twice a week to play piano. Another long-serving member of staff was Jean Geddes who joined the staff in 1938 when she finished her training, and was head teacher from 1945-1965. In 1961 she was awarded the MBE.
Cowcaddens Day Nursery formally opened on 23rd February 1922 at the corner of Stirling Street and Stewart Street in Cowcaddens. The nursery now occupies the red sandstone building in Manresa Place (formerly McAdam Lane) which had been built by St Joseph’s parish church for infant education.