The Poor Law (Scotland) Act 1845 set up parochial boards in towns and rural areas and a Board of Supervision in Edinburgh. One of their purposes was to build poorhouses for those paupers who were not eligible for ‘outdoor relief’, which consisted of small sums of money given out weekly.
The Board of Supervision published detailed regulations for the management of poorhouses throughout Scotland. The Library has copies of these regulations published between 1854 and 1907. They explain in great detail how the poorhouse was to be managed, job descriptions of the staff and how often they were to be inspected. They also provide guidance on who was to be admitted, how the inmates were classified, what they were to wear and eat, how they were to be punished for bad behaviour, what work they would do and schooling and religious instruction they would get while they were in residence.In 1908 George A. Mackay, who was later to become the Chief Superintendent of the Scottish Board of Health, wrote “Management and Construction of Poorhouses and Almshouses”, which included specimen plans of existing poorhouse buildings as well as model plans drawn up by the eminent architect Ninian MacWhannel. This publication provides a wealth of information on the construction and running of poorhouses, the staff who were required to run the institutions, the treatment of mental health and other medical issues, standard recipes used to feed the inmates and lists of all the poorhouses in Scotland.
The Library holds an extensive collection of material that can provide more information on poorhouses and the poor law in Scotland. A few recently acquired examples are Stuart Farrell’s “Records relating to Nairn Poorhouse, Nairn, 1862-1914” (Nairn: 2015); “Fife Council Archives indexes: Dysart Combination Poorhouse index 1868-1888” (Fife: 2006); and “The Workhouse Encyclopedia” by Peter Higginbotham (Stroud: 2012).
Finally, there are a few online resources that can provide further information on this subject. The Scottish Archive Network focusses specifically on Scottish poorhouses and poor relief, while Peter Higginbotham’s website on Workhouses also includes some useful material on Scotland.