Flying the Red Cross flag and protecting the local economy: Dunrobin and the Sutherland estate in wartime

Neil Bruce considers another aspect of wartime in the Highlands when temporary hospitals were established to increase the capacity of the health service. In World War One, Dunrobin Castle was ‘re-purposed’: initially envisaged as a major surgical hospital, it provided convalescence care until devasted by fire. Neil also looks at how the estate maintained the income of those of its employees who enlisted, a precursor to the job retention scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic, concluding with a final comparison between lockdown in early 2020 and wartime restrictions.

Around noon on Sunday, 13 June 1915, fire broke out within the Duke of Sutherland’s northern seat, Dunrobin Castle. News spread worldwide: within two days, Melbourne’s Argus reported ‘the fusing on an electric wire’ had caused its partial destruction.[1] An off-duty nurse, woken by the smell of smoke, raised the alarm and the estate’s fire brigade turned-out.[2] Realising flames threatened the oldest part of the building, Fire-master Horne, the estate’s architect, instructed the roof be cut to prevent fire spreading.[3] Newspapers reported that wounded soldiers were evacuated to safety.[4]

Dunrobin Castle

Two days following the declaration of war in 1914, the Duke offered Dunrobin to the Admiralty as a naval hospital and his yacht, ‘S Y Catania’ to transport the injured there. The castle was initially designated as the North Sea Fleet’s central surgical hospital.[5] In what today might be called a ‘whole system approach’, the Duke advertised for volunteer nurses and doctors as its staff.[6] However, wartime exigencies soon resulted in Dunrobin receiving both army and naval personnel to convalesce.[7] Within a month, ‘Catania’ was armed and on active service with the fleet, captained by the Duke with the rank of temporary Lieutenant-Commander, RNR.[8]

The Duke encouraged his estate employees to enlist, pledging that their pre-war income would be ‘made up’ if their service pay was lower.[9] This appears to have been influential in encouraging individuals to ‘join the colours’: eight months after war broke-out the Northern Times reported that the Duke had ‘paid hundreds of pounds’ to those on active service.[10]

Local efforts to save the castle’s occupants and contents were reinforced by the 2/5th Seaforth Highlanders, camping nearby.[11] Inverness burgh fire brigade arrived by special train, joining Ardross estate’s fire engine, Cromarty’s naval fire brigade and a party landed from a destroyer.[12] Lieutenant Liddell, leading the Seaforths sustained deep cuts when the roof gave way and he fell through a skylight.[13] The Sutherland’s family physician, Dr Simpson gave Liddell first aid, subsequently treating him at nearby Lawson Memorial Hospital.[14] Two naval men, Petty Officer Jones and  Able Seaman Reynolds, fell from a fire escape: they and an unnamed corporal, a wounded patient suffering smoke inhalation, were also admitted to hospital.[15] Alerted by telegraph, the Duke, Duchess and family members who were elsewhere on the estate, returned to find the fire had taken hold.[16]

The castle’s ‘new wing’, built between 1845 and 1851, was destroyed in ten hours.[17] When its tower collapsed, the large Red Cross flag which had ‘bade defiance to the flames’ fell.[18] After the fire was finally doused the following morning, insurance assessors were on site to assess the full extent of the damage to the building and its contents.[19] Dunrobin’s role as a hospital in World War One was over: a new ‘new north wing’ was built between 1917 and 1919.[20]

Photo: Permission given by photographer.

When World War Two broke out in 1939, the castle resumed its hospital role.[21] In August 1942, the Duke of Kent’s body was brought there: he and all, bar one onboard an RAF Sunderland plane which crashed near Dunbeath were killed. His body was ‘dressed’ by nursing staff and the local doctor, Dr Bertie Simpson, whose father attended to those injured during the fire in 1915.[22] The arrival and departure of the Duke’s body, and subsequent ‘flying’ visit of King George VI to the castle’s hospital were cloaked in official secrecy.[23]

Through this series of posts, what has been striking are the similarities between official and other responses during wartime and the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. In each instance, governments regulated the lives of individuals and community life for the common good, potentially curtailing their rights, liberties, wellbeing and incomes. The success of the respective regulations in force is measurable by the extent the population observed or attempted to circumvent them. One noticeable difference in March 2020 when ‘lockdown’ began, though, was that rural communities led government and other official bodes in actively discouraging those who sought remoteness. In the Highlands this created de facto ‘protected areas’, very different to those officially imposed in wartime.


[1] Argus (Melbourne, Australia), 15 June 1915, 7. Newspapers worldwide reported the fire, including the New York Times, 14 June 1915, 16 and the Colonist (Nelson, New Zealand), 15 June 1915, 5. The Press Association and other London-based news agencies telegraphed the story. The Tasmanian Daily Telegraph headed its article ‘General War Cables’ which suggests it had past official scrutiny, Daily Telegraph, 15 June 1915, 5.

[2] Northern Times, 19 June 2015, One hundred years ago: 17 June 1915, https://www.northern-times.co.uk/news/from-our-june-19th-edition-158931/ accessed 8 September 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The patients were taken to an hotel in Golspie. The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6. Within a day, soldiers were transferred to the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V. A. D.) hospital at Ivybank, Nairn. The Scotsman, 17 June 1915, 9.

[5] Manchester Guardian, 7 August 1914, 3; The Scotsman, 7th August 1914, 6. The Northern Times carried the same story on 13 August, from Read All About It! The Highlands and Islands during World War One project https://www.ambaile.org.uk/detail/en/1887/1/EN1887-dunrobin-castle-as-a-naval-hospital.htm accessed 7 September 2020.

[6] Manchester Guardian, 7 August 1914, 3. Volunteer medical staff were invited to contact the Duke at 35 Parliament Street, London, S W. He also encouraged those with ‘country houses’ on the East and South-East coasts, and around London to obtain expert advice as to how they could be made suitable as hospitals and for convalescence. The Scotsman, 8 August 1914, 9.

[7] John O’Groat Journal, 26 March 1915, reported the arrival of 19 soldiers from Scottish regiments, to recuperate under the care of ‘two professional nurses … and several local ladies’, from Read All About It: The Highlands and Islands during World War One project https://www.ambaile.org.uk/en/asset/show_zoom_window_popup_img.html?asset=43593 accessed 25 September 2020.

[8] Northern Times, 17 September 1914, from Read All About It! The Highlands and Islands during World War One project; Dear, I., The Royal Yacht Squadron 1815-1985, Appendix 2: Members’ yachts and their use in the First World War.https://www.rys.org.uk/assets/documents/appendix-2-ww1-yachts.pdf accessed 25 September 2020. The Duke’s captaincy was temporary, prior to his taking-up an army commission.

[9] Northern Times, 100 years ago (22 April 1915), 24 April 2015, https://www.northern-times.co.uk/news/from-our-24th-april-edition-160400/ accessed 24 August 2020. The Northern Times referred to both ‘every man in his employment’, and the ducal family’s employees: it has not been possible to confirm whether female employees were compensated for any detriment to their take-home pay.

[10] Ibid.

[11] It was reported that 800 soldiers and 200 locals were involved in fighting the fire and recovering property. The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6. Liddell was an ordained Church of Scotland minister who had joined-up four months previously. The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 4.

[12] Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7; The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6, 9. The Guardian advised that both Inverness and Ardross fire brigades arrived on the same train, whereas The Scotsman reported the Ardross fire engine arrived separately.

[13] Ibid.

[14] The Scotsman, 14 June 1915, 6. The newspaper called Liddell, ‘Wilde’.

[15] Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7; The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 4.

[16] The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 3.

[17] Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7.

[18] The Scotsman, 15 June 1915, 4.

[19] Ibid; estate papers relating to the fire and rebuilding of the castle are within the Sutherland estate papers, National Library of Scotland, Acc.10853, (661 – 699). Many antiques and pictures which were saved suffered water damage, Manchester Guardian, 14 June 1915, 7.

[20] Sir Robert Lorimer’s firm was employed to undertake the redesign work. See University of Edinburgh, Special collections, Coll-27 (Gen.1963/58), Papers of Sir Robert Stoddart Lorimer, Files on Dunrobin and Woodhall / Juniper Green, Edinburgh.  

[21] https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/83/a5839383.shtml accessed 27 September 2020; http://www.historyofhighlandhospitals.com/index.asp?pageid=697271 accessed 27 September 2020.

[22] Caithness at war: week 156, 24-30 August 1942, https://www.highlifehighland.com/nucleus-nuclear-caithness-archives/caithness-at-war-week-156/ accessed 29 September 2020; Jean Cameron, People’s War, BBC Scotland, 21 September 2005, https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/83/a5839383.shtml accessed 29 September 2020.

[23] Jean Cameron, People’s War. The Duke’s body was placed in a locally-made coffin and escorted to Dunrobin’s own railway station by hospital staff and those patients fit to walk.

Cholera and the discovery of poverty in Sutherland, part 3

As our current epidemic subsides in this country, here are some final thoughts from Malcolm Bangor-Jones on cholera in Sutherland.

Dr Ross provided further details of conditions in the parish of Rogart. The cottages were “by far the strongest and best built of any we fell in with, and better finished in every respect their furniture is excellent and well kept and in not a few of them we found Grates, both in their Rooms and Kitchens. The people seem to want none of the ordinary Comforts of Life, their Barns were full of Corn, and their Stores inside their houses were equally well appointed as few of them were without their meat Barrels of Beef mutton or pork and some had part of them all. And as to Potatoes they admit if it were possible to preserve them, that they have a stock sufficient for two years Consume. Let me assure you that in many of the houses we saw in and about Rogart, no Gentleman, let his Rank be what it may, but might find himself comfortable for a night.”

On the other hand in the Strathfleet end of the parish they found “many poor widows and old maids in destitute circumstances, and such was the primitive simplicity of those poor Creatures, that rather than expose their wants they borrowed Blankets and Bedcovers from their neighbours, to make what they wished, a decent appearance on that day.” There had been many cases of typhus in Strathfleet that winter – the deaths had been mainly of the more elderly. Possibly this was accounted for by the mild winter.

There was, however, much going on in Strathfleet in terms of its improvement. Dr Ross was not impressed by the crofters in the parish of Dornoch who were “the most useless set of Rascals I know.” Gunn also reported that while there had been very great improvement around the lower part of Birichin, Fleuchary, and Astel they were behind their neighbours in other parishes. He suggested that “the people, perhaps from being nearer the Dornoch law; are more stiff necked, & want the energy of the other Parishes.” George Gunn “threatened & scolded them where I saw occasion for it”. As John Ross, the catechist, was among the worst Gunn promised him a summons of removal “which will have the effect of shewing him & others that we are in earnest.”

Once word got out hundreds of applications for assistance from ‘needy people’ were received. Some argued that the landlords should be assessed. However, an alliance of large farmers and factors managed to ensure that assistance would be provided by way of a voluntary charitable contribution from tenants and landlords. By mid March about £450 had been raised in the east of Sutherland. Mr Dempster did not contribute but instead established a soup kitchen for the poor on his own property and distributed a considerable quantity of flannel and blankets.

Patrick Sellar drew attention to the increase in the number of whisky shops over the previous decade. The distillers had “set up agents and creatures in every Corner; and, one’s servants can scarcely go to Church on Sunday without being entrapped into one of these poison stores. It is in vain that we give meal to feed the hungry if such an agency of poverty, disease, and death be left in full employment against us.” The county agreed that measures should be taken to limit the number of tippling houses. It was also agreed that supernumerary dogs should be got rid of – no aid would be given to anyone who unnecessarily kept a dog.

These measures did not stop cholera coming to Sutherland later that year. Nor is it is easy to determine whether there was a long-term impact on the standards of cleanliness. Certainly a boost may have been given to the improvement of housing.

However, the systematic inspection of every dwelling – possibly unique – did highlight the depth of poverty amongst sections of the population, especially the aged. This was to come to the fore when evidence was gathered by the Poor Law Commission in the early 1840s.

Cholera and the discovery of poverty in Sutherland, part 2

Malcolm Bangor-Jones continues with his investigation of cholera in east Sutherland.

According to the Rev Kennedy of Dornoch everywhere was “all in a bustle.” He had addressed his congregation not only on the cholera as “a visitation of Divine Providence; but also on the use of means, in reliance on the divine blessing, to arrest its progress”. Dornoch had not had such a thorough cleaning for at least half a century. But the “the poverty and wretchedness of the great body of the Inhabitants of this place is extreme.” In many parts of the landward parish the situation was not much better.

The Rogart committee comprised: Mr John Polson, Rovie; George Gunn Esq, Rhives; Patrick Sellar Esq, Morvich; Captain John Mackay, Davochbeg; Dr William Ross, Cambusmore; and Rev John Mackenzie. The minister reported that the committee had met on 9 December and appointed four men to inspect all premises and direct the inhabitants to clean their houses, whitewash the walls with lime, scour their furniture and bedding if necessary, remove dunghills, pigsties, and every kind of filth to a suitable distance from the house and drain off stagnant water. Copies of a printed circular had been handed round and its nature explained in Gaelic from the pulpit. House visits commenced on 21 December and were completed on 19 January. In mid-February each parish was divided into districts and additional men appointed to assist the committee.

The people were most willing to comply with the instructions which had been issued and there were very few who had refused. The minister could not conceal “that the appearances of poverty about some of them were striking; and that aid, to improve their diet and clothing, is as essentially necessary, as the enforcing of cleanliness, to defend them from the influence of contagious disease.”

Sellar, who had been a most efficient member of the Rogart committee – especially in advising people how to form drains around their houses – admitted that he had been among the poor people in the parish more than he had been for 16 years. Some army pensioners and road contractors living in new houses near the road were “very comfortable”. However, Sellar was certain that “there is a deal of poverty and Silent suffering among the sort of farmers [or small tenants].” He suggested that three quarters of them might be assisted to emigrate and the holdings made six times larger. However, he recognised that Lord and Lady Stafford might not wish to pursue such a course. In the meantime, some blankets and meal would help to relive human suffering. He could not resist asking the Sutherland estates Commissioner, “What would have been your case to day had the whole vale of Golspie and Aberscross, Kildonan, Strathbrora & Strathnaver &ca been filled with ‘palmers’ [beggars] of the same Cast?” These areas had been cleared of most of their inhabitants, and replaced by more commercially profitable sheep, by him a decade or two previously, to much criticism.

7866FADF-46D9-439A-A390-8CBA70948659_1_105_c (1)This photo is clearly not from the time! It appeared at an opportune time on the Rogart Heritage Society facebook page and this wonderful example of what people’s houses and outbuildings were like, albeit in the next century, seemed too good an opportunity to miss in this context. Photo credit: Flo Stuart/Rogart Heritage Society

It was noticeable that there was “more misery & appearance of poverty” in Langwell than in all the rest of Rogart. Langwell then belonged to Dempster of Skibo. A separate report noted that many of the tenants on the Skibo estate as a whole were indifferent about the state of their houses. There were a few houses about Skibo itself which were “remarkably well-ordered and clean; but these were inhabited by rather respectable people, who have always clean houses.”

At the end of January the Rogart Committee reported that inhabitants had, with very few exceptions, complied with the instructions as to cleanliness. But to prevent cholera two things were necessary: the complete enforcement of the county injunctions; and affording some relief to a limited number of indigent persons whom the committee found “to be so miserably fed and clothed that they must be in the greatest degree liable to the influence of epidemic disease of every sort.”

The prevailing view was that each landlord should help the inhabitants on their own estate. By the end of February many yards of flannel and numerous pairs of blankets had been bought for the Sutherland estate. Meal was provided as an improvement in diet was considered to be “an important ingredient in the removal of predisposition to cholera”. Medical supplies were also obtained.

Cholera and the discovery of poverty in Sutherland, part 1

In this time of plague, Malcolm Bangor-Jones has been investigating the experience of cholera in the local area, and efforts made to mitigate it. Some might seem familiar. Part 1 of 3.

Michael Hook’s history of the burgh of Dornoch mentions the precautions taken by the authorities in 1831-32 to prevent the spread of cholera. He quotes from the report by the magistrates into the poverty amongst the inhabitants with many, especially widows, the old and infirm, “wretchedly ill off for the very necessaries of life.” [Michael Hook, A History of the Royal Burgh of Dornoch, 2005, page 81]

The arrangements made in Dornoch replicated those made for the county as a whole. Indeed the overall lead was effectively – and unsurprisingly – taken by the Sutherland estate. The factors, especially George Gunn who was based at Rhives, led from the front. He was advised and, as occasion required, instructed by the Sutherland estates commissioner, James Loch, with whom he was in frequent contact. However, in making himself aware of events in Sutherland, Loch also drew upon reports provided by other respectable men in the county. The estate, however, was not officially in charge of arrangements – the responsibility rested with the local authorities.

The approach taken was agreed at a general special meeting of deputy lieutenants, heritors and JPs on 22 November 1831. It was resolved that cleanliness and the circulation of pure air were essential, as was the removal from the vicinity of houses of all ash pits, pigsties, manure and nausea of every description. Lime should be provided to enable inhabitants to whitewash and cleanse their houses. The clergy were to intimate the resolutions of the meeting from their pulpits.

To facilitate these arrangements the county was divided into districts each under the charge of a local committee – “not doubting their ready acceptance” – who were to inspect every house and report their findings to a committee of the deputy lieutenants. The entry into the county of beggars and vagrants – “the dregs of the south country population” – was to be prevented.

Great conscientiousness was shown by factors, large farmers, clergymen and even the sheriff substitute in visiting houses and it was soon evident that the cholera question “engrosses the thoughts and conversation of all classes here at present.” Within a few weeks there were apparently signs of a miraculous change in the appearance of the people and their surroundings.

In mid-December Gunn suggested to Loch that it was essential to “foster the spirit which at present pervades all classes – the Clergy, the Magistrates, the Farmers & smallest Lotters, as if it be allowed to cool & not acted on while in its vigour, there never will be another opportunity of effectually bringing the people to change their habits & mode of living.” By keeping up the visits of the houses for at least six months and by making examples of some of more “most careless”, Gunn expected there would be little trouble with the people so far as regards cleanliness in the future: “the present will be a marked era in their history.”

P1040721

Little Rogart, overlooking St Callan’s Church where such announcements were doubtless read out. The parish is not currently bestrewn with laundry. Photo: Malcolm Bangor-Jones.

The clergy had taken up the matter with “as much zeal as any class – last Sunday, a lecture was given in every Parish warning the people of their danger and advising them earnestly to use every precaution.” Dr William Ross had reported that there was “not a bush in the parish of Rogart but is covered with washed blankets & clothings, & that the furniture is all scrubbing before their doors as if it were a general removal.”

Gunn had taken part in visiting the parish of Clyne. At Achrimsdale and Dalchalm the people were “dressed in their Sunday clothes – their furniture & bedclothes carefully washed & the walls whiten than we have seen many Parlours of high pretensions”. However, the Clyne committee found “many miserable creatures around the Lady’s Loch & other places, who positively have not a rag of bed clothing to cover them, but lie on a wisp of straw in their day clothes, or borrow from their neighbours who can ill spare them.”

Lloyd George, the ‘King’s pledge’ and liquor control in the Cromarty Firth

Current events, which include restrictions on travel across the country, prompted Neil Bruce to study how governmental decisions affected life in the Highlands during the two world wars of the twentieth century. In this post, he focuses on liquor control in the North of Scotland during World War One. Neil is a graduate of the MLitt Highlands and Islands History programme at the Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands.

On 1st April 1915, two Cromarty men were sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour at Tain Sheriff Court for buying sailors alcohol, making them ‘less efficient’.(1) No April fool, it reflected official concern that drink was seriously damaging the war effort. Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George claimed it was ‘doing more damage to us than all the German submarines.’(2) The government in 1915 and 1917 seriously considered effectively nationalising the licenced liquor trade, literally ‘lock, stock and barrel’.(3) In 2020, though, shops with alcohol licences were classed as ‘notable exceptions’ when others were instructed to close to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).(4)

Newspapers reflected considerable disagreement about whether drink was hindering war efforts. Temperance advocates and shipbuilding employers demanded its prohibition.(5) The Cabinet failed to get opposition support to increase alcohol taxes. Lord Kitchener joined King George V’s pledge that he and his household would abstain for the duration of the war, but it was not generally supported.(6) Lloyd George’s proposal to spend £68 million to buy the breweries and public houses met with unsurprising resistance from the temperance movement.(7)

The government decided to take control of the sale and supply of alcohol to ensure ‘national efficiency’. It set-up the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) with absolute powers to designate alcohol control areas where there were naval, military, munitions and other war functions.(8) Within a year it controlled all the Highlands and Islands. No spirits could be sold during the weekend in Inverness-shire and Ross and Cromarty’s western mainland, islands and ‘all arms of the sea and water between’.(9) In Caithness and Sutherland spirits sales were prohibited except for medicinal purposes: other liquor could only be sold between 12 noon and 2:30 pm, and 6 to 8 pm on weekdays.(10)

In April 1916, the board bought all the public houses and hotels around the Cromarty Firth, including Cromarty and Invergordon, to ensure naval operations remained efficient.(11) It closed 19 licensed premises, kept 39 open under its management, and only permitted off-sales from two of the four licensed grocers. To prevent smuggling into service quarters and vessels, weekly lists of all off-license sales were provided to the naval base. Service canteens did not stock spirits and civilians who bought servicemen liquor would be fined.(12)

Lloyd George and the Cromarty Firth 1

Lloyd George and the Cromarty Firth 2

Henry Carter, The control of the drink trade: a contribution to national efficiency, 1915-1917 (London, 1918), facing 134.

In September 1916, the board met representatives from Highland counties and burghs, naval, military, local and licensing authorities in Inverness to hear about the controls’ effectiveness.(13) The armed services and chief constables of Caithness, Inverness, Inverness-shire, Nairn-shire, Ross-shire and Sutherland reported reductions in drunkenness.(14) The Dornoch, Thurso and Wick provosts demanded spirit sales be consistent to stop an illicit whisky trade: spirits were being smuggled into prohibited areas and online, or at least on railway lines, parcels were being sent by train and post.(15) Liquor control threatened the viability of seasonal hotels in Inverness-shire and Sutherland, while the Inverness provost wanted methylated spirit consumption stopped.

The press highlighted the role whisky played in daily life. One reported the ‘consumption of ardent spirits’ was a social habit in the Highlands’.(16) Another quoted an old man: ‘more than half the pleasure of a dram lies in having a friend to share it with.’(17) Those able to buy whisky found it watered down by 10% on the board’s instructions.(18) When German submarine warfare hit food imports in 1917, beer production was threatened. The government reduced its strength by half rather than see morale plummet, though it became dispiritingly nicknamed government or Lloyd George’s beer.(19)

The government’s challenges during wartime and the current crisis bear some comparison. During both it assumed powers over individuals’ ‘normal’ lives and protected essential services, particularly necessary industrial production. In 2020, measures included bolstering the economy, designating essential workers, and financially supporting employers and employees. In 1915, it created a board with unfettered powers over liquor, including direct control of Cromarty and Invergordon’s retail trade. In invoking restrictions on citizens, government expected compliance in the common good, and in return needed to maintain morale. The king ‘cracked open’ a bottle of brandy on Armistice day 1918, but Highlanders had to wait six months before any liquor control regulations were lifted.(20) We do not know, yet, how long current regulations might remain in force.

1 The Scotsman, 1 April 1915, 8. One man was imprisoned for a month, the other for 15 days. 2 Manchester Guardian, 1 March 1916, 6. 3 See Turner, J., ‘State Purchase of the Liquor Trade in the First World War’, Historical Journal, vol. 23, no. 3, 589-615; 4 https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-business-and-social-distancing-guidance/ accessed 31st March 2020. 5 Lloyd George, D., War memoirs of David Lloyd George, vol. 1 (London, 1938), 194-196. 6 The Scotsman, 1 April 1916, 7; 6 April 1916, 4. 7 Lloyd George, War memoirs, 196-197. 8 Duncan, R. R. G., ‘Panic over the pub: drink and the First World War’, unpublished thesis (University of St Andrews, 2008), 129. 9 The Scotsman, 22 March 1916, 6; 13 February 1917, 7. 10 The Scotsman, 20 June 1916, 4. Licensed premises could open at 5:30 am to supply food and ‘non-exciseable’ drink: Local variations were also permitted. Carter, H., The control of the drink trade: a contribution to national efficiency, 1915-1917 (London, 1918), 141; 155. 11 Ash, M., eds. J. Macaulay & M. A. Mackay, This noble harbour: a history of the Cromarty Firth (Edinburgh, 1991), 203, n 112; Carter, The control of the drink trade, 175. 12 The Scotsman, 13 February 1917, 7. 13 The Scotsman, 30 September 1916, 7. 14 Ibid. 15 The Scotsman,13 February 1917, 7. 16 Ibid. 17 The People’s Journal, 27 September 1915, quoted in Duncan, Panic over the pub, 144. 18 The Scotsman, 13 February 1917, 7; Duncan, Panic over the pub, 146. 19 Duncan, Panic over the pub, 238-9, 261-262; Lloyd George, War Memoirs, 790. 20 Duncan, Panic over the pub, 261-262; 268; Lloyd George, War Memoirs, 790; The Scotsman, 12 April 1919, 10.

Shilpit Bairns, Part iii: treating a sickly child

Dr Shirley Curtis-Summers is a bioarchaeologist, a Trustee for the Tarbat Historic Trust, and a lecturer in Archaeological and Forensic Sciences at the University of Bradford. Shirley’s research focuses on reconstructing medieval and early modern diet, health and disease from skeletal and stable isotope analyses, with an interest in the lifeways of Scotland’s past inhabitants. In this third and final part of Shirley’s blog, she discusses some of the treatments used to treat the ‘shilpit’ child.

Treating a sickly child in medieval Scotland would have varied depending on several factors, including geographical location, family status, and community beliefs, with some treatments being borne out of folklore and tales of magic and mystery. For example, there was a strong belief of children being stolen by faeries and replaced with a changeling. Symptoms a child was indeed a changeling included incessant crying, refusing to settle or curiously distorted facial features or limbs. Some of these symptoms may simply be attributed to what we now know to be skeletal abnormalities. For example, rickets results in distorted limbs, and cleft palate alters facial features, yet such abnormalities in antiquity were simply attributed to otherworldly causes. Efforts to banish a changeling were not exactly child-friendly either. Exposing a changeling involved holding a baby over a hot stove or under water, or denying the child food, although this would more likely induce illness or trauma despite the parents’ good intentions. Water is a particularly powerful source of healing and evokes other-worldly beliefs. Clootie wells and ancient springs were popular sources of healing. Children would be dipped in water or submerged in a lake to cure ailments. Pilgrimages, another form of healing, were made far and wide across Scotland to places such as the revered well in Portpatrick (Wigtownshire); St Fillan’s spring (Stirling) and Fortingall spring (Perthshire). These were all popular choices for healing and mothers would travel for miles to treat their children, attesting to the level of care afforded to their young.[i] There are also several wells in and around Portmahomack that would have no doubt served as healing places, such as Tobar na Baistidh (Baptism well) situated south of the church. Pilgrimages to holy shrines were also popular, such as those to St Duthac’s shrine (Tain) and St Ninian’s cave (Whithorn); both of which are still popular pilgrimage sites today.

OS map Port mahomack 1880_NLS (002)

OS map of Portmahomack (1880) showing the baptism well (Tobar na Baistidh) near Tarbat Church[ii]

If affordable, herbal or more formal medicinal remedies were sourced from local healers or physicians, or even influenced by local elite families, many of whom wrote various medical recipes. One 17th century manuscript, the ‘Medical Recipes for the Family Erskine of Alva’ includes a recipe for ‘The Restorative Jelly for a Consumption’. How accessible would such texts or indeed ingredients be to the parish folk at Portmahomack around this time? Some ingredients such as snail shells and hartshorn shavings may have been accessible but others such as Seville oranges, Rhenish wine, and white sugar were surely too expensive. However, these medicinal recipes may have been adapted to meet the means of a less affluent household, meade to replace wine and honey to replace sugar for example, especially if the parents of a sickly child had exhausted all other possibilities.

The Restorative recipe_NLS.MS.5112 (002)

Medical Recipes for the Family Erskine of Alva, 17th – 18th century (Author’s photo)[iii]

Although it is beyond the scope of this blog to talk about the diet and isotope component of my research, it’s worth noting that sugar is an interesting foodstuff from an isotope perspective as it has a distinctive carbon signature. However, a carbon enrichment in an individual from medieval Portmahomack most likely reflects the consumption of fish rather than sugar.[iv] This is because sugar is not a native plant to Britain and was not introduced until the late medieval period. Even then, sugar was only affordable to the elite and only became more widely used from the 18th and 19th centuries. However, we cannot ignore the fact that from the 16th century, the acquisition and consumption of sugar was acquired in and around Easter Ross,[v] albeit by the elite. Thereafter, with increased demand and reduced cost, it rapidly made its way into everyday households.

So, I hope from my three blogs I have given a glimpse of how the study of past childhoods is just as fruitful and important as those of adults; it enables us to understand childhood health and well-being from the skeletal evidence, the importance of good diet and nutrition, and in the wider context, the role of children within their community and their treatment in life and death. It also enables us to be better equipped to influence policies, initiatives and promote positive health and well-being for our young society.[vi] Further research on past childhoods in the Highlands is much needed, but we are heading in the right direction – multidisciplinary research, collaborations and community support are key.

[i] MacKinlay, J.M., 1893, Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs. Glasgow: William Hodge & Co.

[ii] Ross-shire & Cromartyshire (Mainland), Sheet XXX (includes: Tarbat), 1880. Map source: National Library of Scotland Maps: https://maps.nls.uk/view/74428354 [Accessed 27/12/2019].

[iii] Medical Recipes for the Family Erskine of Alva, 17th – 18th century, National Library of Scotland, NLS.MS.5112.

[iv] Curtis-Summers, S., Montgomery, J., and Carver, M.O.H., 2014, Stable isotope evidence for dietary contrast between Pictish and Medieval populations at Portmahomack, Scotland. Medieval Archaeology 58: 21-43.

[v] Macgill, W. (Ed.), 1909, Old Ross-shire and Scotland, as seen in the Tain and Balnagown Documents. Inverness: The Northern Counties Newspaper and Printing and Publishing Company Limited; Worthington, D., 2019, Sugar, Slave-Owning, Suriname and the Dutch Imperial Entanglement of the Scottish Highlands before 1707, Dutch Crossing: Journal of Low Countries Studies, DOI: 10.1080/03096564.2019.1616141.

[vi] For example, the Scottish Government’s policy on promoting child and maternal health, in partnership with NHS Scotland: https://www.gov.scot/policies/maternal-and-child-health/ [Accessed 29/12/2019].

Shilpit Bairns, Part ii: the osteological evidence

Dr Shirley Curtis-Summers is a bioarchaeologist, a Trustee for the Tarbat Historic Trust, and a lecturer in Archaeological and Forensic Sciences at the University of Bradford. Shirley’s research focuses on reconstructing medieval and early modern diet, health and disease from skeletal and stable isotope analyses, with an interest in the lifeways of Scotland’s past inhabitants. In this second part of Shirley’s blog, she discusses some of the osteological evidence from the children of medieval Portmahomack.

Of the 40 child skeletons assessed from Portmahomack,[i] 19 had evidence of skeletal pathologies, some of which will be presented here. The highest prevalence was found in conditions associated with nutritional deficiencies and infections. Only a few children were affected by scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and rickets (vitamin D deficiency) but all were less than two years old when they died. This places these children within the breastfeeding age and suggests some cultural and economic factors that hindered adequate nutritional health. For example, we receive up to 90% of vitamin D from sunlight, but for some in antiquity, sun exposure was drastically reduced, especially for child workers (e.g. mills, factories, mines) or by swaddling babies, hence depletion of the vital mineral component needed for healthy bone growth. Foetal and infant health could be severely compromised if pregnant and nursing mothers had poor health or nutritional stress. This may have been the result of bouts of harvest failure in the Highlands, hence poor maternal diet and inadequate breastmilk available, or that mothers were too busy to breastfeed (from agricultural duties for example) and weaned the child early, if the child was breastfed at all that is.

One interesting case was from a child who was merely a few months old yet had infectious lesions on the inner ribs (against the chest cavity). This suggests an acute form of respiratory disease, which may have been caused by poor air quality such as indoor smoke inhalation. This is a plausible suggestion, especially if the child was born and nursed in the winter months, thereby confined to a damp and smoky environment. Even with ventilation, a newborn’s lungs are more sensitive to even modest amounts of smoke, let alone concentrated bursts that emit from an open fire, which was the standard form of heat in dwellings of the period. An alternative diagnosis is pneumonia, often caused by an underlying condition, such as congenital heart disease or low birth weight, a consequence of the mother’s poor health.

Islay weavers cottageInside a weaver’s cottage on Islay, 1772, by Charles Grignion. © British Library (shelfmark 185.a.18) [ii]

It is very rare in the archaeological record to find obstetric burials (mother and unborn child) and even rarer that we see skeletal evidence of pathology that links poor health between the pregnant mother and unborn child. At Portmahomack one such case was found. Osteological assessments on the foetus, which was close to full-term, revealed evidence of iron deficiency but no pathologies of consequence were identified on the mother.[iii] It is unknown what caused the death of the mother, although the foetus was in a very precarious position (a ‘transverse lie’), which meant that unless the baby turned spontaneously or was turned by means of external or internal version, natural delivery would have been impossible and would have proved fatal for the mother. Preeclampsia (from high blood pressure) or antepartum haemorrhage are therefore possibilities for the death of the mother, especially if no midwifery expertise was available. We may draw some interpretations from the later Old Statistical Accounts of Scotland that recorded a lack of midwives in the region. For example, in 1791 Kiltearn (Ross and Cromarty) it was noted with concern for pregnant mothers that they “seldom have proper assistance when in child-bed, as there is no regularly bred midwife in the parish”.[iv] Evidence of inadequate midwifery care from the historical record, combined with osteological evidence of a complex pregnancy, goes some way to shed light on the fatal consequences of childbirth around this time in the Highlands.

I have highlighted just a couple of interesting cases here but from the osteological evidence, nearly half of Portmahomack’s children had some form of pathology and more alarmingly, high mortality occurred in those within first few months of life. This suggests socio-economic factors were involved that restricted adequate nutrition to the child (mother having poor health or overworked?); enabled greater susceptibility to infections (living conditions?), and even possibly, the effect of traditional treatments of newborn babies (swaddling practices?) The latter reminds us of the fatal consequences of poor hygiene from cultural practices on newborn babies from St Kilda, where during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, seventy-six infants died. In 1890, the Reverend Angus Fiddes, a Free Church clergyman and Scientist, finally linked these deaths to unsanitary treatment of the umbilical cord, after which deaths quickly ceased. It was believed that a combination of a dirty knife to cut the cord; fulmar oil (stored in ‘unclean’ gannets’ stomachs) to heal the cord, and unclean swaddling all attributed to neonatal tetanus.[v] Could cultural practices at Portmahomack have contributed to the cause of infections and nutritional deficiencies of their infants? What step did parents take to treat their sickly child? Next time, we look at some of the methods that were used to treat the shilpit bairn.

[i] Curtis-Summers, S., 2015, Reconstructing Christian lifeways: a bioarchaeological study of medieval inhabitants from Portmahomack, Scotland and Norton Priory, England, PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

[ii] Pennant, T., 1774, A tour of Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1772. Chester: John Monk Publishers. Image source: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/inside-of-a-weavers-cottage-in-islay-after-miller [Accessed 27/12/2019].

[iii] However, only part of the female skeleton was recovered during excavation (Cecily Spall, pers.comm, 18th June 2019), hence a full osteological assessment could not be carried out.

[iv] OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 288. https://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk/static/statacc/dist/viewer/osa-vol1-Parish_record_for_Kiltearn_in_the_county_of_Ross_and_Cromarty_in_volume_1_of_account_1/osa-vol1-p288-parish-ross_and_cromarty-kiltearn [Accessed 17/12/2019].

[v] Stride, P., 2008, St Kilda, the neonatal tetanus tragedy of the nineteenth century and some twenty-first century answers, Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 38: 70–7.

Shilpit Bairns, Part i: setting the scene

Dr Shirley Curtis-Summers is a bioarchaeologist, a Trustee for the Tarbat Historic Trust, and a lecturer in Archaeological and Forensic Sciences at the University of Bradford. Shirley’s research focuses on reconstructing medieval and early modern diet, health and disease from skeletal and stable isotope analyses, with an interest in the lifeways of Scotland’s past inhabitants. Here, she introduces her research on reconstructing past lifeways of the children of medieval Portmahomack. (No content of this post is to be reproduced without prior permission from the author. Contact s.curtis-summers@bradford.ac.uk for further details.)

In autumn 2019 I gave a talk at Portmahomack entitled ‘Shilpit Bairns and Clashing Swords’, which was based on bioarchaeological analysis of the medieval skeletons excavated from Tarbat Old Church. One question I was asked a few times was what ‘shilpit’ meant, which made me realise this is not as common a word as I first thought. One of the first uses of ‘shilpit’ was in 1658 when Sir Robert Moray wrote to Alexander Bruce, 2nd Earl of Kincardine, stating: “best to abstain from wine a while for your cough, seeing I guess the best you have is but shilpit [weak] stuff”.(1) Thereafter, this term was used to describe someone who was weak or sickly,(2) yet its usage seems to have been lost in more recent times. Just like Portmahomack’s past people, it is now timely to revive that which was lost. This is where we come on to reconstructing past lifeways of the medieval people from Portmahomack, the focus of this blog.

Archaeology, and by extension, osteoarchaeology, palaeopathology and bioarchaeology (the study of ancient human remains), are popular disciplines; you only need to look at the constant flurry of television shows and news articles on the latest discovery of graves, skeletal analyses, rare finds, and the odd royal under a car park. However, most of these reports tend to be on the past lives of adults, with children receiving little primary focus. This may be partly due to sensitivities when discussing studies on juvenile human remains. People may find coming face-to-face with the skeleton of a child more unnerving than that of an adult. In my experience however, the public are fascinated with the study of past people, including children, and acknowledge their value in contributing to reconstructing past lifeways. Therefore, to help us understand health and society in the past, the study of past childhoods is just as fruitful as that of adults. Moreover, the dearth of studies on children and family life in the medieval Scottish Highlands attests to the need for greater dialogue and research in this area.(3) This is not an easy task considering the lives of children from the lower echelons of society were not deemed important enough to grace the pages of kirk, parish, manorial or court records in any great detail before the early modern period. We therefore need to turn to another resource, their bodies. Skeletons yield a wealth of information on the health, well-being, sometimes even death of an individual, and are therefore of great importance and value.

Death and the Mother_Dance of Death

Death and the Mother, from D.N. Chodowiecki’s ‘Dance of Death’, 1791 (Wellcome Library no. 31263i) (4)

I am sure many of you are familiar with the archaeological investigations at Portmahomack, which under the direction of Professor Martin Carver, yielded a wealth of information on the lives of Pictish monastic and medieval parish church communities.(5) Excavations of the burials revealed that only one child grave was found within the Pictish monastic level (8th to 9th century) and the remaining child graves were from the later medieval levels (12th to 17th century). The highest number of child deaths at Portmahomack was from those who were just a few months old. This was a dangerous age for children in antiquity, especially if they were not being breastfed or had an inadequate quantity or quality of breastmilk, either due to the mother being in poor health or overworked from agricultural duties for example. Children that were exposed to a dangerous concoction of poor nutrition and hygiene would therefore be more susceptible to nutritional deficiencies, infections, and diarrhoea, all which can result in fatal consequences. In general, child mortality rates from medieval Scotland are highly variable, with no clear division between Highland and Lowland, rural and urban, or coastal and inland areas, although more investigation is needed. Preliminary comparisons to data from other studies (6) suggest mortality rates at Portmahomack were nearly twice as higher than lowland sites. This may suggest different influences that resulted in a higher rate of child deaths in the northern Highlands, such as varying economy and subsistence strategies that were affected by harsh climatic episodes; care and midwifery provisions (or lack of), or even cultural and traditional views on childcare and well-being.

Part two of this blog will discuss the evidence from osteological assessments on the children at Portmahomack and present some interesting case studies. In the meantime, try to abstain from shilpit wine!

1. R. Moray, Lett, 1658. Transcripts, circa 1830, of letters, 1657-1674, of Sir Robert Moray to Alexander Bruce, 2nd Earl of Kincardine, National Library of Scotland, NLS MS.5049–50, fol.230.

2. In Shetland, ‘shilpit’ was used to describe something as sour or bitter: https://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/shilpit [Accessed 2/1/2020].

3. Although some scholars are addressing this lacuna in medieval Scottish childhood studies, e.g. Nugent J. and Ewan E. (eds.), 2015, Children and Youth in Premodern Scotland, Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer.

4. The dance of death: death and the mother. Etching by D.N. Chodowiecki, 1791, after himself. Credit: Wellcome Collection, CC BY 4.0. Source: https://wellcomecollection.org/works/kpv8gz4y#licenseInformation [Accessed 06/01/2020].

5. Portmahomack on Tarbat Ness, PNAS digital book: http://books.socantscot.org/digital-books/catalog/book/4

6. Willows, M., 2016, Health status in Lowland Medieval Scotland: a regional analysis of four skeletal populations, PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh: https://era.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/25484 [Accessed 17/12/2019].

From Fyrish to Bedlam: Migration, Assimilation and the Monro Family in Early Modern London

Dr Allan Kennedy is Lecturer in History at the University of Dundee. His research focuses on the social and political history of early modern Scotland, with a particular interest in the seventeenth-century Highlands, Scottish migration to England, and the reign of Charles II.

Probably born near the family lands of Fyrish, Easter Ross, in 1648, Alexander Monro was for most of his life solidly successful. A cleric and academic by trade, he was made principal of Edinburgh College in 1685, and looked poised to be named a bishop by James VII shortly thereafter. But James’s overthrow in the ‘Glorious’ revolution of 1688-91 changed everything. Monro was a convinced Episcopalian, and he could not abide the rigidly Presbyterian settlement that took root in Scotland. So he left, settling in London and spending the remainder of his life – he died in 1698 – writing Episcopalian propaganda for London’s printing presses, all the while dreaming about returning home, if only to die peacefully on his native soil.

If Alexander Monro was always a reluctant exile, the same could not be said about his children, especially his son, James, with whom began a story of remarkable migratory success. James Monro (1680-1752) trained as a physician, not unusually for England-based Scots, but where he stood out was in his specialisation in mental health.  He quickly became eminent in the field, so much so that, in 1728, he secured appointment as attending physician at Bethlam asylum (popularly known as ‘Bedlam’), England’s oldest and most prestigious institution for the treatment of ‘lunacy’. It was a role that allowed Monro’s name to become a byword for the mad-doctoring trade, as well as providing him with a web of clients and associates that lent both social cache and significant material wealth. By the time he died in 1752, this offspring of a penurious Scottish exile had transformed himself into one of the richest and most famous professionals in England.

Where James Monro led, his eldest son, John, followed. Well-educated, and possessed of the social and cultural graces expected of an English gentleman, John Monro (1716-91) followed his father as attending physician at Bethlam, likewise becoming a nationally respected mad-doctor, recognised by Parliament as an expert in the field and, towards the end of his life, consulted, albeit apparently informally, over the appropriate treatment for George III during the first of the king’s bouts of madness in 1788-9. But John outdid his father by progressing from merely consulting for London asylums to actually owning them; he controlled institutions at Brooke House and Wood’s Close by the 1780s, all the while continuing to direct the medical regime at Bethlem. If James Monro had established his family’s claim to leadership in the treatment of lunacy in England, John Monro emphatically confirmed and expanded this pre-eminence. And it persisted, too: Monro’s two immediate successors at Bethlem were his son and grandson, eventually stretching the family’s dominance over the most famous lunatic asylum in Britain to nearly 130 unbroken years.

Bethlam

image from: William Maitland, The History of London (London, 1739)

But what is really interesting about the Monro family is not so much what they did or what they achieved, but more what their experience can tell us about the assimilation of Scottish migrants in early modern England. The Monros integrated into English society rapidly and thoroughly, and their ability to do so, apparently without provoking any meaningful resistance on account of their Scottish roots, was partly down to their own attributes. They were, after all, well-educated, well-connected, comparatively affluent, and Anglophone, all of which helped them avoid some of the common hazards facing migrants. But the Monros’ assimilationist trajectory also underlines some important truths about the society around them. Firstly, it demonstrates that the Scottish community in London, of which Alexander Monro at least was a self-conscious part, occupied something of an optimum. They were sufficiently well-developed to offer a ready-made support-network for Scottish newcomers, while not being so all-encompassing as to encourage permanent ghettoisation. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it suggests that England itself was reasonably open to immigrants, so long, at least, as they were economically active and had skills that were of benefit to England.

But there is another, even more interesting thing about the Monro odyssey. As the generations passed, the Monros became progressively less Scottish, cutting most material links with their homeland (James Monro, for example, had sold off all his Scottish lands by the 1710s) and demonstrating precious little cultural connection. But there is no evidence that they attempted to replace this identity with any sense of ‘Britishness’. Instead, they underwent a process of thorough Anglicisation, marrying English spouses, joining English clubs, reading English books, and cultivating English friendships.

What this middle-ranking, professional family tells us, then, is that ‘Scottishness’ in the eighteenth century may have been much more easily shed as an identity than accepted historical narratives, which tend to emphasise the tenacious clannishness of the Scots, might imply. Simultaneously, while it is perhaps tempting to view the Monros’ journey from Fyrish to London as a microcosm of the emergence of ‘Britishness’, the reality is much more straightforward. You did not need to construct an innovative ‘British’ identity to succeed as a Scot in England. Instead, you could opt simply to become English.

Further reading

K.M. Brown and A. Kennedy, ‘Becoming English: The Monro Family and Scottish Assimilation in Early Modern England’, Cultural and Social History, forthcoming.

Andrews and A. Scull, Undertaker of the Mind: John Monro and Mad-Doctoring in Eighteenth-Century England (London, 2001)

S. Nenadic (ed.), Scots in London in the Eighteenth Century (Lewisburg, 2010)

Paupers and Poverty: Easter Ross Union Poorhouse

Tracy Kennedy is a lecturer in history and politics at Inverness College UHI with a particular interest in poverty, paupers and poorhouses.

In the admission records for the Easter Ross Union Poorhouse are details for one Margaret Macleod. Margaret, from Tain, was 15 when admitted on the 1st November 1850 and ‘in good health’. She was discharged in November 1852 after gaining employment as a servant. There is no information as to why Margaret entered the poorhouse, and none about how she felt about her admission.

Before the Poor Law Act (Scotland) 1845, parish relief in Scotland was controlled and distributed by the church. The Act created the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor, a statutory body to monitor the condition of the poor. Poorhouses became common: between 1850 and 1868 the number rose from twenty-one to fifty. By the late nineteenth century, many towns had at least one. Opened in 1850, the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse was at the start of that wave.

Construction began south of Tain in Arthurville in 1849.

Map of Tain PH

1871 map showing the location of the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse.                                                  Permission for use of image granted by Peter Higgenbottom http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Scotland/UnionsScotland.shtml

It was the first poorhouse to be built in the Highlands since the Act and could house up to 160 inmates. It was available for ten parishes: Edderton, Fearn, Kilmuir-Easter, Kincardine, Lochbroom, Logie-Easter, Nigg, Rosskeen, Tain and Tarbat.

Construction costs, and fees for the architect, Andrew Maitland, were originally estimated at £1,750 but the final bill was £2,524. The Board of Supervision issued rules and regulations for construction and management as they were determined that poorhouses should meet demand and be of a good standard. Indeed, these plans of Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse show a striking similarity to others built during this period.

Diagram of PH

                                         Plan of the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse                                       Permission for use of image granted by Peter Higgenbottom http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Scotland/UnionsScotland.shtml

 

Some of the first inmates included Sarah Ross and John Ross. They do not appear to have been related. Sarah was 83 and from Fearn. She was noted as being ‘rather infirm’.  Sarah left at her own request in July 1852. John, from Edderton, was 70 when admitted and was recorded as being ‘infirm’. He died there a year and a half later, from retention of urine. By the end of 1850, 55 people had been admitted, 36 females and 19 males. The youngest was 2, and the oldest 83. Most were either school age or elderly with 79% of men and 81% of women falling into these categories.

Not all Easter Ross people granted such ‘indoor relief’ accepted it. There was a general fear of entering the poorhouse throughout the United Kingdom. Life in the poorhouse was severe, families were often split up, and it bore social stigma.

It was generally cheaper to keep paupers in the poorhouse than provide ‘outdoor relief.’   A daily rate per pauper was calculated to cover items like food, fuel and soap. This, plus any medical expenses, was charged to the relevant parish. An 1852 report made by a Mr Peterkin for the Board of Supervision on the Easter Ross Poorhouse stated that:

… to the allowances of the [48 paupers] who have supported themselves without parochial relief, for two quarters and a half, a sum would be given equal to £59 19s. whereas, the expense of the paupers in the poorhouse, for maintenance and general expenses for three quarters, amounted to only £58 8s 1 1/4d.

While the Board of Supervision recommended a suitable diet, the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse followed a stricter menu of potatoes, oatmeal, and some vegetables: ‘there is no meat used for any purpose’.  Tain Museum states that the poorhouse followed an entirely vegetarian diet and that the food was ‘… grown on land (eventually amounting to 21 acres) owned by the Easter Ross Union.’

After 1930, the poorhouse became the Arthurville Poor Law Institution and was later a council-run home for the elderly. The buildings have now been converted to residential use.

Sources

Easter Ross Poorhouse [2017].  Workhouses.org  http://www.workhouses.org.uk/EasterRoss/ (accessed 01/08/2017)

Higginbottom, P., The Workhouse Cookbook (Stroud: The History Press, 2008).

Inverness Heritage Centre,  Easter Ross Poorhouse Records, CRC/8/5/1.

Levitt, I., Government and Social Conditions in Scotland 1845-1919 (Edinburgh: Blackwood, Pillans and Wilson, 1988).

Levitt, I., Poverty and Welfare in Scotland, 1850-1948 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988).

Meals fit for a pauper [2017]. Old Scottish

http://www.oldscottish.com/blog/category/poorhouses (accessed 27/08/2017).

Easter Ross Union Poorhouse (Arthurville) [2008].  Tain Through Time

http://www.tainmuseum.org.uk/imagelibrary/picture/number406.asp (accessed 17/09/2017).