The Dundee Poorhouse Records

Introduction & Dundee East Poorhouse Liff & Benvie Poorhouse Explanation of the Poorhouse Data Poor Indexes Daily Life in the Poorhouse Poor Census Data

 

Introduction & Dundee East Poorhouse

This introduction is a companion to an index that has been compiled by the Friends of Dundee City Archives. The index will contain, as far as possible, a record of all the inmates who passed through, or died within, the Dundee Poorhouse (East), from its inception to its demise.

The plight of the poor in Scotland in the mid-19th century was intolerable to say the least. The assistance they were given was pitiful. A change in the existing system was required and in August 1845 the Poor Law of Scotland was amended in an attempt to alleviate their suffering.

Prior to the amendment, the responsibility for administrating the Poor Law was the responsibility of Kirk Sessions of each parish. There were over 8000 parishes in Scotland. Funding for poor relief was provided from Church service collections augmented by legacies, bequests etc. Kirk Sessions, in some cases, issued licences to beggars.

To be eligible for relief within a parish claimants had to meet certain criteria. They had to be destitute and disabled. Able-bodied unemployed were classed as vagrants and told to seek work. If they were found begging they could be sent to correction centres. Applicants had to be residents of the parish by birth or marriage or resident and working within the parish for three years. Groups of wandering poor, unemployed artisans and labourers roamed Scotland seeking or demanding relief. They begged and intimidated inhabitants for money or resorted to crime to fulfil their needs. It became increasingly obvious that the current system for poor relief was totally inadequate.

Parochial Boards

Under the amended Poor Law Act each parish in Scotland was bound by law to establish a "Parochial Board". The function of the Board was to provide comprehensive, adequate and regular relief to the poor, excluding able-bodied unemployed. To assist Parochial Boards in enacting the New Poor law, "supervisory Boards" were established for "regions" within Scotland. These Boards were deemed to be "non-political" and were manned by Sheriffs who acted as legal advisors to Parochial Boards who were in the process of organising new methods to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

The 1845 Poor Law Amendment Act was the foundation upon which future welfare services could be built; even defects discovered during its implementation provided valuable lessons for those who drafted subsequent legislation.

On the 4 November 1852 the Parochial Board of Dundee adopted a resolution that a Poor House be provided for the Parish, A "Special Committee" was appointed to determine the costs of the construction of the proposed building. The original committee consisted of ten men. However, at the completion of construction, the committee, through many "sub-committees", would be greatly enlarged.

The Committee consulted with the adjoining parishes of Monifieth, Barry, Benvie and Liff with the proposal of combining resources in the construction and use of the building. The parishes declined Dundee's offer. Liff and Benvie indicated that they doubted that Dundee would "look after" their poor. The Parochial Board instructed the committee to find suitable land to purchase for the Poor House.

Dundee East Poorhouse

In December 1852, negotiations were entered into between the Committee and the agents for the Craigie Estates. The Craigie Estates were, in those days, extensive and owned by the Guthrie family, one of whom was a Governor of the Bank of England. The Committee indicated to the agents that they were interested in feuing a parcel of land (five acres) near Stobswell, on the west side of Mains Loan, south of Clepington Road.

The outcome of those negotiations was that the agents would feu the said parcel of land to the Board under the following terms:

  • Feu Duty of £12 per acre payable at six-monthly intervals.
  • Duplication of Feu Duties every twenty-five years.

This offer was accepted by the Parochial Board of Dundee in March 1853. In July 1853, in response to newspaper advertisements, five architects submitted plans and specifications for construction of the Poorhouse. The successful applicant was Mr William Moffat of Edinburgh. The building was to house:

  • 800 paupers
  • 100 sick people
  • 100 lunatics

Between September 1853 and January 1855 these plans were to be scrutinised, criticised and revised at great length. Finally, on 10 January 1855, they were approved and local tradesmen were invited to bid for work. In June 1855 work commenced on the buildings.

A loan for £10 000 was obtained from the National Bank of Scotland at 4% interest in July 1855. An advance of £3 000 was made the remainder to be paid in February 1856.The advance was exhausted in December 1855 because the contractors were so far ahead with their work. The Bank advanced the remainder of the loan in March 1856.

On 26 August 1856 a Mr & Mrs Gunn accepted the positions of Governor and Matron of the Poorhouse. Mr Gunn's salary was £79 per year, his wife's £25 per year plus "the usual rations of the house". It should be noted that Mr Gunn's previous occupation was that of wine and spirit merchant.

Records available in the Archives do not indicate the actual date of the opening of the Poorhouse. The Register of Inmates of the Poorhouse shows that the first inmate was admitted on 19 November 1856.

On 25 November 1856, reporters from the Dundee Perth and Cupar Advertiser visited the Poorhouse and published the following comments:

"The Poorhouse is situated in an open and healthy part of the town at the back of Stobswell Feus. It is 210 feet long and 55 feet in width and is three storeys high. Airing yards are used to separate male and female inmates. Two acres of ground is available for inmates to supply vegetables for the Poorhouse. Various alterations are still in the making. When all arrangements have been completed the Poorhouse will be well sited for the purposes for which it was intended."

EastPoorhouseDundee Poorhouse

Although many records of the Poorhouse are missing, two Registers of Admissions, which are comprehensive, are available in the Archives. The first Register covers a time frame from 19 November 1856 till 14 May 1878, and the second from 22 February 1901 until 15 May 1908, although the latter includes some continuation clients from the first. The first Register shows a total of 15 382 admissions during that time. The first birth in the Poorhouse was on 7 July 1857. The eldest person registered was given as 99 years old, admitted on 10 May 1857. The most admissions for one person went to an inmate who was admitted 43 times during October 1862 to May 1872.

After the inception of the National Health Service the Poorhouse was renamed and became "The Rowans". In June 1977 "The Rowans" became "surplus to requirements" of the Social Work Department, nearly 121 years after its opening. In November 1981 the grounds were transferred to the Education Department and eventually became a sports complex in September 1983.

Alex Hutton
Friends of Dundee City Archives
23 October 1992

Plans: 112 architectural drawings of Dundee/Dundee East Poorhouse from 1861 to 1940 are available in the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, ref. RHP 30847 and 30848.