DOLLAR ACADEMY was built in the early 19th century, at a time when timber was used in large quantities.

This would have devastating consequences almost 150 years later.

On the evening of Thursday, February 23, 1961, the school janitor Robert MacGregor checked the central heating furnace and closed the damper for the night.

A couple of hours later at around 9pm he gave the school one last check, and noticed sparks coming from the chimney of the Playfair building but was unconcerned as this was not an unusual occurrence. Satisfied all was well, he left shortly afterwards.

At around 5.40am the following morning, assistant janitor Alec Ross went to the boiler room, stoked the fire and opened the damper.

He continued his rounds and did the same at a couple of the school’s boarding houses. It was only when he was returning to the school, he noticed a red glow in the window of a room of the Playfair building.

Immediately he rushed to the janitor’s house and informed him the school was on fire. MacGregor told Ross to get to Stewart’s Garage where the local fire appliance was stationed and raise the alarm.

The Dollar Fire Brigade arrived but as soon as they saw it, they knew it was too big for them, so William Stewart, the man in charge, called the Alloa station.

As the fire spread, and was nearing the armoury, housemaster William Wilson, who was in charge of the Combined Cadet Force, or CCF, at the academy rushed into the building and retrieved the weapons and ammunition using a chain of boarders from the upper school.

Stewart, meanwhile, climbed onto the roof and saw it had taken hold of the male staff room and the library. They tackled the fire as best they could but once their appliance, carrying 40 gallons of water, ran dry, there was an issue as they could not find a fire hydrant close enough for their hoses.

They began laying a line to Dollar Burn and when the Alloa crew arrived they helped, and soon water was pumping onto the flames once more.

Crews from Stirling arrived to help in the operation and in all around 100 fire fighters tackled the blaze.

The staff and other pupils who had appeared fixed hoses or helped to dam the Dollar Burn.

It was reported they did this in silence with tears in their eyes. In the domestic rooms, girls prepared tea and biscuits as well as sandwiches for the fire fighters.

At 6.52am the roof of the library caved in.

When the dome of Dollar Academy’s Playfair building imploded due to the fire on the morning of February 24, 1961, the noise could be heard for miles.

Sparks, flames and debris burst into the morning sky.

As a result, the fire took hold in more of the school, with beams falling from the roof into the rooms below causing a domino effect to the lower levels. At the height of the fire the flames were reported as being 100 feet high.

It finally began to abate just after 9.30am and was finally extinguished just before 10am. The crews continued to douse the building long after the fire was out to make sure any embers were dampened down.

By this time, the Playfair building had been gutted although the east wing was saved. Around 10,000 books, sports and work cups, and old school records had been lost.

In the drizzly afternoon rain, a salvage operation got underway with pupils helping the adults recover what they could. A holding station for the rescued items was set up in the Science Block.

Over the weekend the devastation was assessed, and the clear-up continued. The school re-opened on Monday, February 27. A meeting had been hastily organised that Friday evening by the Acting Rector James Millar and school governors in order to find books and other supplies, and to organise places to accommodate some of the pupils.

The derelict Harviestoun Castle between Dollar and Tillicoultry was utilised by the Prep School pupils thanks to Miller, while in Dollar itself, the Castle Campbell Hall as well as the West Church and Masonic Halls were used.

The Rector’s House became the temporary library. Donations began to bolster the number of books and schools in Clackmannanshire donated desks, chairs, blackboards and other vital supplies.

The cause of the fire was thought to be sparks from the chimney that had smouldered overnight under slates. It had previously been flagged up that the school was a potential fire hazard due to the low pressure of water and the lack of fire hydrants and hose reels within the school itself.

It later transpired there was a hydrant neat the Science Block, but the Alloa fire service had not been made aware of it.

Although fully insured, an appeal was made to make further improvements to the school. These included replacing the wooden structure with steel framing.

The school officially re-opened on June 25, 1966. Among those attending were the Earl of Mar and Kellie, and former pupil Geoffrey Hayworth, Baron Hayworth of Oxton, who did the honours.