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
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
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
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.