History of Macphail Center
History & Background
April 7th, 2000 marked the official opening of Ullapool High School and the Macphail Centre. It had been determined from the outset that the new school should incorporate some facilities, which would be shared by both the school children and the local community. These facilities include a spacious, well-equipped library; a multi-purpose theatre with a stackable, tiered seating arrangement; various other adaptable smaller rooms and also kitchen facilities. Since the official opening the Macphail Centre has indeed been used by a cross-section of the local population in a variety of ways, making it truly a community centre.
It seems, therefore, most appropriate that the Centre was named after a gentleman whose family connections with Ullapool span at least one and a half centuries and who were also very much part of the community up until the mid 1900s.
William Mackenzie Macphail (1865-1951), affectionately known as ‘Willie’, was born and brought up in the village where he first worked as a general merchant in the family business. After service in the Boer War he joined a shipping company (J A Ewing & Co Ltd, London) trading with South Africa, later becoming managing director.
A popular and very much people-orientated young man, he was very much concerned with helping others in the village. He was not only a Sunday school teacher but was in charge of the youngsters who attended the ‘Good Templars’, an organisation that promoted a lifestyle free from alcohol.
The local branch of the Highland Home Industries which was run by Lady Fowler of Braemore, was also a target for his enthusiasm and business acumen. The shop provided an outlet for goods which were made in people’s homes and thereby provided some sorely-needed income.
He did not forget the local people when he left the village to go to South Africa in the early 1900s.. Locals still remember the big impact he made on the old people when he left a sum of money in his will to be used to provide, each New Year, two bags of coal and a box of groceries for each person. Those needy people were very grateful for the yearly parcel, which really did make a big difference to their lives.
Life was a struggle just trying to keep warm and to cook food in those days when there was no central heating, convenience foods or even, in some cases, no running water in the houses. There were one or two outside water pumps in each street for the use of all who lived there. Open fires and/or ranges supplied the heat in houses and also the means to cook food. A supply of fuel, whether coal or peat, was, therefore, absolutely essential to survive.
These old people had lived through two world wars and knew what poverty was. A local retired grocer remembers very clearly how some customers would come into the shop and carefully count each penny, halfpenny and farthing.
Willie Macphail also made a big impact on the people of Ullapool when he led a Volunteer Group of Seaforth Highlanders to the Boer War (1899-1902). It included two men from Ullapool, and when they were brought back safely he was presented with a signet ring by the villagers as a token in appreciation of his efforts.
One particular siege, which ended successfully, was that of the town of Ladysmith, a British stronghold, and approximately 100 miles north of Durban. The British general, Sir Redvers Buller, tried to drive the Boers away from the town of Ladysmith, but twice he was defeated. Britain sent out massive reinforcements and soon the Boers retreated. The memory of that victory lives on in the name of a street in Ullapool - Ladysmith Street.