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.
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.
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.
Easter Ross Poorhouse . 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 . Old Scottish
http://www.oldscottish.com/blog/category/poorhouses (accessed 27/08/2017).
Easter Ross Union Poorhouse (Arthurville) . Tain Through Time
http://www.tainmuseum.org.uk/imagelibrary/picture/number406.asp (accessed 17/09/2017).