Institution Information - Kirkcaldy Combination Poorhouse

Parish/County: Kinghorn, Fife

Alternative Names: Kirkcaldy Poorhouse

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Text from 1857 Royal Commission Report


This house is situated about half a mile to the east of Kinghorn, in a very open and exposed situation, close to the sea. It was originally intended, we were told, for the accommodation of 100 inmates, but now contains about 150, and is greatly overcrowded. Apparently, the admission of insane paupers was an after-thought, as no special accommodation has been provided for them. The present governor entered on his duties only about a month ago, and was therefore unable to speak on several points from his own knowledge.

The number of patients under license at the date of our visit, was 4 males, and 12 females, of whom 2 males and 7 females belonged to parishes not included in the combination.

The governor is not aware what rate of payment is charged for the latter, but the average cost of maintenance for all the inmates is at present 3s. 7d. a week per head, including every charge.

The license, on which a patient is received, certifies, that he is of unsound mind, fatuous, and incapable of taking care of himself; that there is no hope of improvement by treatment in a lunatic asylum; that he is quiet and harmless, not subject to paroxysms of mania; that his care and safety will be properly provided for by his being detained in the poorhouse; and that his detention will not be dangerous to the other inmates. Provision is then made "that the windows and door of the sleeping apartment shall be "safely secured, and that one or more individuals sleep in the same apartment with the patient, in terms of the act of parliament for regulating the custody, care, and confinement of furious and fatuous persons and lunatics in Scotland."

The house is of two stories; all the dormitories are on the upper floor. That occupied by the insane females differs nowise from the others, except in having padlocks placed on the windows, and in the door being locked at night. It measures 22 feet in length, 15 in breadth, and 10 in height, and contains seven double beds, so that each patient has only 235 cubic feet of air. Two sane paupers occupy one of the beds, and act as nurses. The bedsteads are of iron, the mattresses of straw, the pillows of tow, and each bed has two sheets. There are chamber utensils, but no other furniture. The patients occupy the dormitory also as a day-room, and, from want of benches, sit on their beds. They may share the day-room of the ordinary paupers, which serves at the same time as a work-room; but they generally sit in the dormitory. The room is heated by an open fire, and for ventilation has two large apertures opening into the corridor, covered with perforated zinc plates. The front wall is apt to be damp, from high winds driving the rain through the porous stone of which the house is built.

The day-room, or work-room, is on the ground floor, and contains two benches with backs, and several common forms. It is flagged, and on this account is occupied at night by a female of dirty habits.

The greater number of the females under license are apparently incurable, but there are one or two, who, it would be rash to say, could not be benefited by treatment in an asylum. At all events, they do not, in our opinion, come within the scope of the certificate above mentioned.

One is M. P. This woman was formerly in the house for a short time, and was discharged. About a fortnight ago she was re-admitted. She has delusions, and fancies one of the patients is her child.

Another is C. A., who seems to be more a woman of a violent and dangerous temper than a lunatic.

These two patients sleep in the dormitory above described; but in a detached building, which is, in fact, the probationary pauper ward, is another female, J. H., who is placed there as being noisy. Her malady supervened upon a nervous fever several years ago; for a long time her mother kept her at home, but now both mother and daughter are in the poorhouse. The mother sleeps in the same room. There is also in the same apartment, H. K., a maniacal patient, who is not under warrant. Two ordinary paupers also sleep here. Both J. H. and B. K. are dirty in their habits, and require great attention to keep them clean. They are certainly not fit inmates of a poorhouse.

That irregularities in the admission of patients are of frequent occurrence, appears from the following facts:—

C. A. was admitted on 12th November 1850; but a license was not obtained for her till 16th January 1851, although she was brought from a licensed house.

C. B. was admitted on 5th December 185J, and license was not granted till 26th September 1854.

M. P. was admitted on 11th August 1855, and license was granted on 21st August, application being made for it, for the special purpose of preventing her leaving the house. Had this patient been disposed to remain peaceably, she would have been permanently detained on the inspector's line of admission, on which she was originally admitted.*

* This patient was sent to the Edinburgh Royal Asylum on the 15th January 1856.

The four males, who are under warrant, are all imbeciles, and sleep in a room with eight ordinary paupers. But there is, besides, in the house, a considerable number of fatuous persons of both sexes, not under warrant. No great difference is made in the treatment of these two classes, except that those under warrant sleep in a room with padlocked windows, and locked door. The principal reason for taking out a warrant, seems to be, to obtain authority to detain patients who threaten to leave the house.

The males have a day-room or work-room similar to that on the female side. The lavatories on each side of the house adjoin the work-room, and the inmates, both sane and insane, must all come down stairs to wash. A bath for males, and one for females, is attached to their respective probationary wards. There is also one water-closet on each side within the house. The courts, of which there is one on each side for adults, measure respectively about a quarter of an acre, and serve both for ordinary and fatuous inmates.

The fatuous paupers, not under warrant, are admitted without any medical certificate. It remains with the inspector to decide, whether a license shall, or shall not be taken out in any particular case, and it is the duty of the house-governor to receive all the patients sent in by him. Thus if a maniacal case were admitted, the governor might call the attention of the surgeon to it, but could not otherwise interfere.

It does not appear that the Sheriff ever visits the house. At all events there was no record of any visit, and the governor had never heard of one having been made. No records, specially connected with the insane and fatuous paupers, are kept, and no Madhouse Register is sent to the Sheriff.

The diet is according to the tables of the Board of Supervision, but the fatuous paupers are allowed rather more food than the ordinary inmates.

No regular chaplain attends, but one of the paupers, who was formerly a schoolmaster, reads prayers morning and evening, and on Sunday evenings a minister always officiates.

There are scarcely any books to read except Bibles, and no means of occupation or amusement, beyond a little oakum-picking. About four acres of land belong to the house, but the fatuous paupers do not assist in its cultivation.”

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