The History of The Glasgow Academy

The Glasgow Academy is the oldest continuously independent school in the West of Scotland with a history dating back to 1845. 

Early Years

The story of The Glasgow Academy begins with William Campbell of Tullichewan who founded the Drapery and Warehouse emporium of J & W Campbell in 1828 in Glasgow with his older brother Sir James Campbell of Strathcaro.

The firm traded internationally with links to Canada, the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand. Sir James served as Lord Provost of Glasgow between 1840 to 1843. William was a generous benefactor of the Free Church of Scotland, the Royal Infirmary and the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow amongst others. James’ son, James Alexander Campbell, studied at the Academy and was involved in fundraising to build the new University of Glasgow at Gilmorehill in 1870. James Alexander Campbell became a Conservative MP which directly opposed the ideology of his brother Henry Campbell-Bannerman; Glasgow Lord Provost who went on to become the British Liberal Prime Minister from 1905 until 1908.

In May 1845, William convened a meeting in the Star Hotel in George Square with Free Church Ministers to discuss the possibility of establishing “an Academic Institution in the City”. Dr Robert Buchanan, Minister of the Tron Church, proposed that “an Academic Institution shall be established for the purpose of teaching youth the various branches of secular knowledge” and it was unanimously agreed by those present.

Former Lord Provost of Glasgow - Henry Dunlop of Craigton - was appointed as the first Chairman of the Committee formed to set up The Academy.

By January 1846, a school of 400 pupils was envisaged and some members of the governing committee were in favour of admitting girls; however, the minutes of this meeting records that this decision was to be left open with the Architect’s plan to allow for the possibility of adding additional accommodation if it were “found advisable to admit girls”. However, this did not happen for 145 years.

On 1 October 1846, The Academy commenced teaching and the first three pupils enrolled were the sons of Henry Dunlop; namely Henry age 12, John age 10 and Charles age 8 years old.

The mercantile trade in Glasgow was prosperous at this time and had many links with the transatlantic slave trade, especially those trading in goods such as linen, silk and cotton, including the firms of J & W Campbell and Co. and James Dunlop and Co. who were cotton spinners with premises in Miller Street, Virginia Street, the Calton and Barrhead.

Many of the first Academy families were connected with the textile industry in roles such as turkey-red dyers, lace manufacturers, cotton spinners and power loom cloth manufacturers. There were also high-ranking officials of the Royal Bank, the Clydesdale Bank, the National Bank and the Union Exchange Bank as well as brewers, candle-makers, iron merchants, printers and publishers. Most of the income from these individuals would have been derived from the import, export and sale of slave goods.

The Free Church of Scotland were addressed by Frederick Douglass in February 1846 regarding their fellowship and financial connections to the slave-holding churches of America.

In March 2019, we launched the Ronnie Woods' Memorial lectures – events
which tie together history, education and the story of The Academy. 

The inaugural lecture was delivered by Dr Stephen Mullen of Glasgow University who shared a different, more complicated history of Glasgow and the connections about the prosperity of the city in the 19th century and its links to the transatlantic slave trade.

Dr Mullen’s work focuses on Scotland and Glasgow’s historical connections with the Caribbean and wider Atlantic world in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Most recently, Dr Mullen worked on the project ‘Slavery, Abolition and the
University of Glasgow’, which unravelled the University's historic connections with transatlantic slavery: the first project of its type in Great Britain.

William Campbell      Henry Dunlop

Rectors of The Glasgow Academy

The first Academy Rector was appointed in January 1846 by Dr Robert Buchanan of the Tron Church in Glasgow and the school committee with an initial salary of £500 being guaranteed for a three year period. 


(1846 - 1851) James Cumming

(1851 - 1861) Academy run on a collegiate basis with no Rector

(1861 - 1899) Donald Morrison

(1899 - 1932) Edwin Temple

(1932 - 1959) Frank Roydon Richards

(1959 - 1975) Basil M Holden

(1975 - 1982) Roy Chapman

(1983 - 1994) Colin W Turner

(1994 - 2005) David Comins

(2005 - 2019) Peter Brodie

(2019 - present) Matthew K Pearce

The Academy Badge

The Academy, which was founded in 1845 and commenced tuition on 1 October 1846, formally moved to the newly built premises in Elmbank Street during the spring of 1847. There was an opening ceremony on Wednesday 5 May 1847 where the pupils were addressed by Dr Robert Buchanan. The second session of The Academy began on 1 August 1847, with annual fees of three guineas for the initiatory class of the English Department, up to fifteen guineas in the fifth class of the Classics Department.

At first, the badge was a decorative monogrammed G intertwined with A and occasionally included reference to the Glasgow coat of arms story. However, by 1935, Wallace Orr - a former Academical who joined the staff as Art Master - designed a new badge consisting of a quartered heraldic shield with the Bishop's Mitre of Saint Mungo on the upper left to represent the City of Glasgow, the Lion which represents Scotland on the upper right, the torch of learning on the lower right and three crosses of sacrifice chosen to recall what was described as "the perpetual mainspring of the school, the spirit of sacrifice and service" on the lower left. The school colours were heraldically represented originally as azure (blue) and argent (silver). 

The Glasgow Academicals War Memorial Trust was set up in 1920 and governed the school after the Glasgow Academy Company ceased doing so. They were granted by Sir Francis James Grant, the Lord Lyon, the seal which afforded them the right to bear arms on 14 May 1937. Ben Aston, the History Master came up with the school motto 'keep faith' in that same year, which was translated into Latin as 'Serva Fidem' with the verb deliberately cast in the singular to appeal to the members of The Academy as individuals. Prior to this date, there was no formal school motto adopted, although Vivat Academia or long live our Academy, was often found underneath the monogrammed GA motif.

The Glasgow Academical Club had its own heraldic armorial ensign granted by Sir James Balfour Paul, the Lord Lyon, dating from 12 June 1922, which consisted of an azure (blue) background with an argent (silver) chevron between a Scottish thistle on the upper left and a branch of palm on the upper right. An oak tree with a salmon holding a signet ring it its mouth, a Robin in the tree and a bell hanging from it to represent the coat of arms of Glasgow, was depicted at the bottom. 

After the Westbourne School for Girls merged with The Glasgow academy in 1991, the previous ensign was resigned in favour of a new armorial bearing granted by Sir Malcolm Rognvald Innes, the Lord Lyon on 13 October 1992. The new ensign was subtly altered with the addition of purple, which was Westbourne's distinctive colour, to show the integration of the two schools. 


Pre 1937 badge    Academy Badge pre 1937

GA Vivat Academia    Badge 1937 - 1991  

  Westbourne Badge    Post 1992 Co-Ed Crest

Glasgow Academy Elmbank Street
Glasgow Academy Kelvinbridge 1940s
Science Block Colebrook Street 1903
Proposed Dining Hall by Keppie
New Anniesland Pavilion
Plan of Cargill Hall and Dining Room by Keppie