Institution Information - Aberdeen Poorhouse

Parish/County: St Nicholas, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire

Alternative Names: St Nicholas Poorhouse

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Text from 1857 Royal Commission Report

"ABERDEEN POORHOUSE; Visited 27th July 1855.

This Poorhouse is a two-storied building of considerable size, situated in the suburbs of Aberdeen. It is of recent erection, and cost £9400, including furniture and about five acres of land. It was built to accommodate 450 inmates. The highest number hitherto received is 407, and the average number has been about 350. At present, the number of fatuous patients is 27, namely, 18 males, and 9 females.

These are all considered incurable, and have, for the most part, been several years in asylums, before being placed in the poorhouse. Before admission, the permission of the Board of Supervision is obtained, otherwise the Sheriff refuses to grant his warrant. The permission of the Board is given on the certificate of two medical men, to the effect that the patient is harmless and incurable.

It may be remarked that the reception of fatuous patients into this workhouse was not originally contemplated; but the house not being full, economy suggested that harmless and fatuous patients might be advantageously received. The part of the house, now occupied by them, was originally intended for young men and women of dissolute character.

Of the fatuous patients, 8 males and 5 females belong to other parishes. For these, 4s. 6d. a week is charged, exclusive of clothing. The charge for sane paupers of other parishes is 4s., and for children 3s. a week. Each inmate costs at present, on an average, about £8, 17s. 6d. per annum, including rent and salaries; but last year the average cost was £7, 3s., and it is calculated that there is a difference of £5 a year between the expense of a patient in the poorhouse, and of one in the Royal Asylum. The fatuous paupers are not strictly separated from the other inmates.

Thirteen male patients, and a pauper attendant occupy a dormitory on the ground floor. The bedsteads are of wood or of iron, the mattresses of straw, and the pillows of chaff. Each bed has only one sheet. Four double beds were in use. There is no separate day-room for the fatuous inmates, but one or two of the patients frequent the general day-room. Seven patients were picking oakum in this dormitory.

Four patients sleep in a dormitory up-stairs, with several sane paupers. Patients of dirty habits have the same kind of bedding as the other inmates, but trays are placed under their beds, and the bedding is more frequently changed.

A room, originally intended for convalescents, is appropriated to patients requiring seclusion. It contains three beds, and is principally required for cases of delirium tremens, and occasionally for other patients in a state of excitement. However, whenever an inmate becomes so excited as to render seclusion necessary, notice must be immediately given to the Sheriff, who causes an investigation to be made, in order to ascertain whether the patient should not at once be removed to an asylum. To insure this being done, two additional columns, beyond those required by the Lunacy Acts, are introduced into the Madhouse Register. One is headed “Occurrence of any fit, or paroxysm of mania or “violence, and nature thereof,” and the other simply “Remarks”

Notice of any entry under these beads must be immediately given to the Sheriff. The following case illustrates the working of this regulation:—A female patient struck a nurse; the house-governor placed her in seclusion, made an entry under “Remarks,” and sent for the medical officer, who made an additional entry under the same head, to the effect that the mental condition of the patient had not undergone any particular change. A copy of these entries was sent to the Sheriff at Edinburgh, who directed the procurator-fiscal to investigate the matter.

There are 9 females under warrant, besides two or three imbeciles, who are detained without the Sheriff's license. There is considerable temptation to avoid applying for a warrant, as its first cost is 13s., besides a similar annual sum for the renewal of the license. The female patients are not separated from the ordinary paupers. One dormitory, for instance, contained six fatuous patients under warrant, two imbeciles not under warrant, six ordinary paupers, and two infants. There is no day-room for the female patients, except the paupers' workroom, which some of them occasionally visit.

There is a general dining-hall, where such of the patients as are able, take their meals with the other inmates. Two or three benches are set apart for them.

Some of the male patients are employed in picking oakum, one works as a shoemaker, and another carries coals. A few of the females sew; but very little work is done either by males or females. The general diet of the house is according to Class B. of the scale of the Board of Supervision; but the fatuous patients are said to receive additional food, though not according to any fixed standard. They were sufficiently clothed, and were clean and orderly in their persons and dress. The chaplain attends every morning and evening, and on Sundays there is an evening service in the dining-hall. Prayers follow the meals, and the patients remain with the other inmates.

Besides the open fire-places, there is a heating and ventilating apparatus in the house, which, however, does not work in a satisfactory manner. The draught is frequently reversed, and the air flows in by the apertures in the ceiling, instead of flowing out, as intended.

There are airing-courts behind the house for the fatuous patients, which are used also by the infirm ordinary paupers. They are laid down in gravel, and have colonnades as shelter from the weather, but they possess no view. They are provided with necessaries. There are water-closets in the house, but the patients are required to use the out-door conveniences as much as possible. Lavatories are attached to the several dormitories.

The medical officer attends twice a day. His salary is £45 a year. The Sheriff makes occasional visits, accompanied by a medical man, and the procurator-fiscal, but no record of them is kept."

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