Plaque put up to mark Galashiels headmaster’s status as pioneering geologist

Stuart Monro of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, local historians David Adamson and Malcolm Lindsay and Murray Dickson, president of the Old Gala Club History Society, at the unveiling of the commemorative Charles Lapworth plaque in Galashiels.
Stuart Monro of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, local historians David Adamson and Malcolm Lindsay and Murray Dickson, president of the Old Gala Club History Society, at the unveiling of the commemorative Charles Lapworth plaque in Galashiels.

A bronze plaque commemorating pioneering geologist Charles Lapworth has been unveiled in his former home-town of Galashiels.

Among those at that ceremony were pupils of St Peter’s Primary in Galashiels, reflecting his links to the town, in particular the building next to their school.

Charles Lapworth's plaque being unveiled in Galashiels by Matthew Coull and Chloe Thomson, both pupils at St Peter's Primary School.

Charles Lapworth's plaque being unveiled in Galashiels by Matthew Coull and Chloe Thomson, both pupils at St Peter's Primary School.

Currently occupied by Scottish Borders Council’s social care and health team, the Abbotsford Road building used to be home to the town’s old episcopal school, of which Lapworth was headmaster from 1864 to 1875.

Originally from Faringdon in what was then Berkshire, he moved north to the Borders to teach and in 1869 he married Janet Sanderson.

They had four children together, three of them born in the schoolhouse.

While here, he began to undertake research involving fossil analysis, later earning recognition as an international expert on graptolites.

A 1914 portrait of Galashiels geologist Charles Lapworth.

A 1914 portrait of Galashiels geologist Charles Lapworth.

A plaque in his honour was secured in response to an appeal to Historic Environment Scotland by geology enthusiasts Malcolm Lindsay and David Adamson, both of Galashiels.

They said: “It would not be an exaggeration to call Charles Lapworth a genius of science.

“His name is commemorated in the Lapworth Museum of Geology in Birmingham and at Birkhill Cottage near Dob’s Linn in Dumfries and Galloway and Madras College in St Andrews, yet in Galashiels, where he lived for 11 years and where he began his geological work and began to formulate his groundbreaking ideas, he had no memorial.

“We believed that needed to be set to rights and are delighted that our commitment has paid off.”

Stuart Monro, young people’s committee convener at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, was also present at the unveiling of the plaque by St Peter’s Primary pupils Mathew Coull and Chloe Thomson, and he said: “Scotland was the birthplace of modern geology, and its rocks and landscapes have contributed immensely to our modern understanding of how the Earth works.

“Like the layers in the rocks, geological ideas are built on by successive generations.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants. One of those giants was Charles Lapworth, a self-taught geologist who went on to unravel many of the secrets of the geology of Scotland, in the southern uplands and the north-west Highlands.

“I am delighted that this giant of the geological world is recognised with a plaque at the school where he first taught and in the area that inspired his geological ideas.”

Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker, Scottish Borders Council’s convener, added: “This plaque is testament not only to the pioneering spirit of Charles Lapworth himself but also to the commitment of Malcolm Lindsay, David Adamson and the Galashiels community in making sure that this important historical connection is suitably recognised.”

Lapworth’s plaque was one of 15 of its kind given the thumbs-up nationwide last year 2018, and it’s only the third ever to be put up in the Borders.