Institution Information - City Poorhouse, Edinburgh

Parish/County: Edinburgh, Midlothian

Alternative Names: Edinburgh Poorhouse

Location Map: Click here to see a historic map showing the institution on the old site at Forest Road, demolished about 1870; and here to see the institution on the new site at Craiglockhart.

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Locating Records for this institution

For people admitted to Scottish Mental Health institutions from 1 January 1858 a record usually survives in the ‘Notices of Admissions by the Superintendent of the Mental Institutions’ which are held by the National Records of Scotland. We are creating an index to these records and can assist you in searching the unindexed period. Search our index here or read more about the project here.

Records kept by the institution are now held by the Edinburgh City Archives. You can read more about the records they hold for this institution here and here. Alternatively, you can contact us and we can assist you to gain access to the records relating to your ancestors.

Text from 1857 Royal Commission Report


The patients, at the date of our visit, amounted to 27 males, and 71 females. They have all been admitted without the warrant of the Sheriff; the house, under the Act 55 George III., cap. 69, claiming exemption, as a public hospital, from the obligation to apply for warrants; and ignoring the fact that all exemptions were annulled by the Act 9 George IV., cap. 34.

The house stands in an open situation in the Forrest Road. It was built for a reformatory school, but some obstacles intervening to prevent its being used as such, it was appropriated to the reception of the incurable insane poor of the city parishes. The supposed curable cases are sent to the Royal Asylum, where they are left as long as any chance is believed to exist of the patients being restored to reason. They are subsequently transferred hither. A committee of the parochial board goes to the asylum to decide on the cases to be removed, but no patient is transferred against the opinion of Dr. Skae, the medical superintendent.

The male patients sleep in a large ward about 60 feet long, and proportionally broad and high. It is airy and well ventilated, and lighted with gas. It contains twenty-three beds, many of them double, and some tables and benches without backs. The ordinary beds are clean and comfortable; the mattresses are of straw, and well filled. Patients of dirty habits sleep in troughbeds, on loose straw covered by a blanket, and are not separated from the other patients. Two female nurses, whose beds are inclosed by curtains, sleep in the ward. The windows open freely and are all barred on the inside. There are open fire-places without guards. The patients have no day-rooms; they take their meals at the tables in the dormitory. There is one male attendant, who has a free house with 14s. a week and his board. The patients were clean in their persons, and seemed well cared for.

The females sleep in the upper floors. One ward, of the same size as that just described, contains twenty-two beds, many of them double. Another ward, on the same floor, contains fourteen beds, several of them also double, and one or two of them trough-beds. These wards contain, besides the beds, benches without backs, tables, and a few stools. There is no day-room. A good many of the patients were sewing. The wards were clean, well aired, and comfortable; the beds generally clean and tidy; and the patients seemed well cared for. An attic is divided into six single rooms and a small dormitory with four beds, which are set apart for restless patients, who would disturb the tranquillity of the larger wards. There is another large attic, containing fifteen beds, many of them double. The accommodation for females is considerably greater than that for males.

In a separate building, which formed originally the offices of the Darien Company, are some single rooms for noisy and troublesome patients, and for the reception of cases sent in by the police. They are habitually occupied by female patients, but males requiring seclusion are also, of necessity, placed in them. All insane persons taken up by the police, are sent here, till it be ascertained to what parishes they belong, or till it be decided whether they are to be sent to the Royal Asylum or permanently detained in the workhouse.

The Sheriff makes no official visits to the house, and no records are kept in special connection with the insane. The chaplain attends every morning, and, on Sundays, has service for the patients, at which a considerable proportion of them are present. There is a small library to which the patients have access, but it consists principally of tracts and religious books. Some of the patients are allowed to go beyond the bounds of the house on "liberty days," which occur once a month.

The great defect of the house, and one which cannot be remedied, is the deficiency of ground. There are only two small airing-courts, of irregular shape, one for the males, the other for the females; both surrounded by high walls, and possessing scarcely any view. There is also a great want of the means of occupation, and the practice of placing two male patients to sleep in one bed is very objectionable.

Dr. Smith, the medical attendant, visits daily.”

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