Institution Information - Dunfermline Poorhouse

Parish/County: Dunfermline, Fife

Alternative Names: Dunfermline Combination Poorhouse

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Text from 1857 Royal Commission Report

“DUNFERMLINE POORHOUSE; Visited 23d August 1855.

This house is situated close to the town of Dunfermline. Originally there appears to have been no intention on the part of the parochial authorities to receive fatuous or insane paupers, as no provision was made for their accommodation; but when the practice of admitting them became established, a room was appropriated to the reception of males and females respectively; and this amount of accommodation proving insufficient, an addition was expressly made to the building.

The house when visited contained 6 male and 9 female patients, under license, besides a considerable number of weak-minded or imbecile paupers, mostly females, not under license. Until 1851 none of the patients were under license, but in that year the Sheriff required licenses to be taken out.

Insane patients received from other parishes pay at the rate of 5s. a week, and ordinary paupers from other parishes pay 8s. 6d. a week. The average cost of maintenance, for sane and insane, was 8s. 9¾ d. per week for the last period of six months. The total number of paupers at the date of our visit was 160.

The rooms appropriated to the insane are at the east end of the building. The females occupy the ground floor; the males the floor above. The accommodation for the former consists of two rooms to the front of the house, and a lavatory and water-closet behind.

The first room contains three double beds. The bedsteads are of iron, the mattresses and pillows of straw, with two sheets to each, and sufficient coverings. On the whole, the beds appeared comfortable. The window is barred without, and guarded with wire within. The floor is of wood. The furniture consists of a bench without a back, and two stools. For ventilation there is an aperture, close to the floor, which communicates directly with the external air, and another near the ceiling for the escape of the impure air. The house is well ventilated, is warmed throughout by open fires, and is lighted with gas.

The second room contains two double and three single beds, occupied by seven individuals. It measures 18 feet long, 15 feet broad, and 15 feet high, equal to 578 cubic feet for each occupant. Neither of these rooms contains chamber-utensils; pails are placed in them at night. Indeed this is the practice in all the wards throughout the house. Of the occupants of these two rooms four were sane paupers, and one was a nurse.

The airing-court is very small, measuring 46 feet by 16. It is enclosed with high walls, possesses a very limited view, and is very cheerless. There is no single room for noisy patients, nor any means of seclusion.

The division for males is similar to that for the females, above which it is situated. The windows here are not barred, but have trellised shutters as guards, which are opened or kept locked according to the condition of the patients. The first room was occupied by an insane patient and a pauper attendant. In the second room were four double beds occupied by seven individuals, of whom four were ordinary paupers. Three patients of dirty habits slept in a room of the ordinary wards in separate beds. An old man and a weak-minded young pauper occupied another bed in the same room, the latter acting as attendant. The bedding of the dirty patients was drying in the airing-ground, and was very filthy and offensive. The washing accommodation and water-closet, are similar to those below.

The airing-court is rather larger than that of the females, measuring 55 feet by 20. It has a covered shed, but no seats. Occasionally the patients walk in the grounds, which measure about two acres.

The diet is according to the rules of the Board of Supervision, the medical officer having power to modify it for the fatuous patients, as he thinks proper. The latter take their meals in their dormitories. An attempt was made to give them their meals in the hall with the ordinary paupers, but some disturbances took place and it was given up. In general, the patients remain in their dormitories throughout the day. They have no occupation, beyond a little house-work, such as carrying coals, &c. Those who are able to read are said to be supplied with books and cheap periodicals. On the whole, the patients were clean, well clothed, and in good bodily condition.

There is no regular chaplain. The governor reads prayers daily, and also on Sundays when there is no clergyman; but in general one attends from Dunfermline. The patients have a warm bath once a. week, and the shower-bath is occasionally used as a punishment. The strait-waistcoat is applied by the governor at his discretion. No books are kept under the statutes regulating madhouses, and no Madhouse Register is transmitted to the Sheriff.

The lunatic wards are licensed for the reception of fatuous and incurable patients only. Accordingly, the licenses are all drawn out in a form, in which this is set forth. Two medical men certify, in the first place, that the patient is of " un-sound mind, and fatuous, and incapable of taking care of himself:" and further, "that to the best of their opinion and belief, and from an investigation that they have carefully made of the history of the case, there is no hope of improvement in the said A. B. by treatment in a lunatic asylum; that the said A. B. is quiet and harmless, and not subject to paroxysms of mania; that his care and safety will be properly provided for, by his being detained in the poorhouse of the parish of Dunfermline; and that his detention there will not be dangerous to the other inmates of the poorhouse."

This certificate is transmitted to the Board of Supervision, which thereupon grants permission to the parochial board to detain the pauper in the poorhouse; and upon this permission, and the accompanying medical certificates, the Sheriff grants his license.

Among the female patients we found the following:—

1. M. H., aged 21, convalescent from an attack of melancholia. The cause of her illness seemed to be overwork in her place as a domestic servant.

2. Mrs. T. Had been in the house about a month. Is suffering from an attack of melancholia, and can, with difficulty, be persuaded to take her food. This patient is not reported to the Board of Supervision, and is not under warrant.

3. M. B. Belongs to the parish of Athelstaneford in East Lothian, and was removed from the House of Refuge, in Edinburgh, about a month ago. She is not under warrant, but it is evident she is considered deranged, as she is charged for at the lunatic rate of payment. She is placed with the ordinary paupers.

4. A female who was in a strait-waistcoat. She is quarrelsome and mischievous, apt to strike, and to destroy her clothes. Hence she is kept almost constantly, both night and day, in a strait-waistcoat.

It is difficult to see how the first and last of these cases have been brought within the scope of the certificate granted by the parochial medical men. The first is curable, and the last is certainly dangerous to the other inmates. But although only fatuous, incurable, and harmless cases are avowedly admitted, the practical rule seems to be to receive all quiet patients, without much considering whether they are curable or incurable. If they become troublesome, noisy, or unmanageable, they are sent to the Edinburgh Royal Asylum, or to Millholme House at Musselburgh.

The irregularity of receiving lunatics without license, seems in a considerable degree to be due to the infrequency of the Sheriff's visits. The governor, who has been nearly three years in the house, has never known the Sheriff to enter it. The last recorded visit of this functionary is dated 28th August 1851.

As matters are conducted, there is no adequate check to prevent insane patients being received as ordinary paupers, on a simple order of admission from the inspector of the poor.”

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