Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Barnhill Poorhouse

Margaret Brownlee, or Brownlie, was illegitimate daughter of Esther Brownlee and was born in the Barnhill Poorhouse on 13 Jun 1871. She was adopted by Robert and Margaret (Melrose) Smith family and listed them as her parents when she married my first cousin three times removed, Thomas Riddell, on 4 September 1891.

The Barnhill poorhouse opened in 1853 and was described in 1882 as "a very capacious asylum for the children of poverty and well adapted by its cleanliness, ventilation and position to mitigate the ills of their condition." The inmates were fed "Class C" meals, which were comprised of meal and milk for breakfast and supper and bread and meat broth for dinner.

By 1904 conditions were much different. A report found staffing to care for the infirm was inadequate, the administration of the stores department was incompetent and the steward and his assistant should be dismissed, the day hall was unfit for its purpose, and staff did not work together in a harmonious fashion.

There is a wonderful website -- http://www.workhouses.org.uk -- which provides a wealth of information about the laws creating and regulating poorhouses and what life was like for inmates, as they were called.

Barnoy Parish Poorhouse at Barnhill; courtesy of Healtherbank
Museum of Social Work

I was surprised to learn there were no laws related to formal adoption in the United Kingdom, including Scotland, until 1926. Adoptions or wardships were informal affairs.

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