The Nicolson Institute is the largest secondary school in the Western Isles with a roll of around 1000 pupils. The school was founded in 1873 after a local business man, Alexander Nicolson, was killed by a boiler explosion on board a ship in Shanghai harbour at the age of thirty-three. He left £1,898 in his will to be donated to: “the most approved charitable institution in my native town for the education and rearing of destitute children in the hope that I may be the indirect means of rendering some assistance to the children of some of my oldest acquaintances.”
At the time, Stornoway had four schools, and Alexander’s brothers decided that John Mackay’s School, a boys’ institution run by a noted and much respected figure in the town, should be the one to received the money. As the existing school building was deemed to be unsuitable, they decided that a new school and teacher’s house should be built with the funds. A site was identified on Sandwick Road and the new school, catering for primary pupils only, opened on 27 February 1873 and the keys handed to the new Headmaster, Mr John Sutherland.
The school struggled financially and in 1888 responsibility for the school was handed to the School Board along with a name change to ‘The Nicolson Public School’. A Secondary department was added in 1893 and the school started to become more successful.
The clock tower was added in 1902, with the clock and chimes added in 1905 – all gifts from the Nicolson brothers. Today the clock tower is all that remains of the original school; the 1873 building was demolished in 1972.
The first additional building for the school came in 1896 with the closure of the Free Church School; the pupils were transferred to the Nicolson along with the school building in Francis Street. A new building was added to the site in 1898, containing four new classrooms. This building now houses the Museum nan Eilean.
In 1901 the name of the school was changed to its current one of ‘The Nicolson Institute’ and the school’s roll continued to increase leading to a new infant school, comprising five classrooms and a central hall, being constructed on Matheson Road. Known as ‘Matheson Hall’, this building now houses the central Information and Communications Technology hub for all the schools in the area. Other smaller buildings were also built around this time.
In 1910 another new building (the ‘Springfield North’ building), comprising five classrooms, a science laboratory, a technical workshop and art room, was opened, next to which a new gymnasium was constructed, paid for by the Nicolson brothers.
More information coming soon…