Institution Information - St Cuthberts Poorhouse, Edinburgh

Parish/County: Edinburgh, Midlothian

Alternative Names: St Cuthberts Charity Workhouse; West Kirk Workhouse

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Text from 1857 Royal Commission Report


At the period of our visit the workhouse contained 517 inmates, among whom were 18 male, and 39 female insane or fatuous paupers. To a certain extent it thus constitutes a lunatic asylum, but, nevertheless, is not considered to come under the statutory regulations affecting them. Lunatics are received without any medical certificate, and without any warrant from the Sheriff; no books are kept in accordance with the Lunacy Acts; no visits are made by the Sheriff; and there is no proper record of the times and manner of restraint. The house governor and medical officer manage the patients as they think fit, under the supervision of the house visitors. But the house is at present in a state of transition, and additional accommodation is being provided with the view of receiving more patients, and obtaining a licence.

The patients have no day-rooms, and take their meals in their dormitories; but there is an intention to provide day-rooms. The men's dormitory contains eighteen patients, who generally sleep two in a bed. The room is crowded, and the ventilation very imperfect. The furniture is limited to benches and tables, but the latter are insufficient for the proper accommodation of the patients at meals. Many of them accordingly take their food off their knees. The beds are tolerably comfortable, with straw mattresses. The sheets are changed once a month. It is proposed to convert this ward into a work-room.

The women's dormitory is 65 feet long, 21 feet broad, and 10 1/2 feet high, equal to 14,332 cubic feet, and contained 40 patients, thus giving only 358 cubic feet to each. Most of the patients sleep two in a bed. The ventilation is very imperfect. On entering we found a patient with her hands strapped behind her back. She had been restrained in this manner all night, and had not been seen by the medical officer till about half an hour before our visit. On the removal of the strap, by our direction, she displayed some violence, but soon became calm. Her wrists were chafed, and her hands cold and swollen, from the pressure of the strap. The dormitory serves also as a day-room, but there is a deficiency of seats and tables. It is proposed to provide a day-room for the females also.

The nurses have two strait-waistcoats in their keeping, and may thus have recourse to restraint whenever they choose, without any efficient check on the part of the governor or medical attendant. Five cells have lately been built for the reception of refractory and noisy patients, but they are still too damp to be used. At present the nurses are paupers; but it is intended, when the house is licensed, that they shall be of a better class. Besides the patients in these dormitories, a few are mixed with the sane paupers.

The clothing of the patients seems sufficient. There is a warm bath, which is always used on the admission of patients, and there are lavatories and water-closets for each ward.

The ground belonging to the workhouse is of very limited extent; and this want, owing to surrounding buildings, cannot be remedied. Two small airing-courts are the only places for exercise, and, at the time of our visit, both were in great disorder, owing to recent building operations.

The dietary for the males and females is the same; but the insane, by directions of the medical officer, receive daily 6 1/2 oz. more bread than the other inmates.

The average cost a week per head of all the inmates of the poorhouse for the last six months was—

For food, fuel, and clothing, £0 2 1

For salaries, feu-duties, &c., £0 0 6 1/2

Rent, £0 0 3

Medical care, £0 0 1

[Total] £0 2 11 1/2

The medical officer attends daily. He has full powers to order any additional diet or medical comforts. His salary is £60 a year.

As already stated, no visit is made to the house by the Sheriff, but a list of the insane and fatuous patients is sent twice a year to the Board of Supervision. The surgeon and chaplain make monthly reports which shew the rate of mortality; and the surgeon makes an entry whenever restraint is used with his knowledge.

On 17th November 1856, we again visited this house, and found that a license had been obtained in August 1855. The lunatic wards contained 82 patients, classified as—


Curable 5, Incurable 28; [total] 33


Curable, 11; Incurable, 38; [total] 49

Of these patients there had been admitted—

From the Poorhouse, 10 Males, 6 Females

From the Royal Asylum, 22 Males, 37 Females

From the Parish, 1 Male, 6 Females

[Total] 33 Males, 49 Females

Some of the curable cases had been brought from the Royal Asylum; others had been admitted directly from the parish. The licenses make no distinction between patients considered curable, and those supposed incurable. A considerable number of fatuous patients remain in the ordinary wards.

Day-rooms have now been provided, which are clean and orderly, but they contain no other furniture than tables and benches without backs. The dormitories are well ventilated, but still somewhat overcrowded, each patient having on an average about 460 cubic feet of air. Both day-rooms and dormitories have open fire-places guarded with gratings. The wet patients occupy the same dormitories as those of cleanly habits; the beds of the former have stretched canvas bottoms, on which the patients lie, without any intervening sheet or blanket; but the bedsteads are closed below by zinc troughs, which have been lately added on the recommendation of the medical officer, as the patients suffered from cold. All the patients now sleep in single beds; those for cleanly. patients have straw mattresses and pillows, two sheets, sufficient blankets, and a coverlet. The dormitories contain no other furniture than the beds and chamber utensils; on the female side, they are still partially occupied by the patients during the day, who then sit on the beds. There is no separate sick-room on the male side; but on the female side, a dormitory has been subdivided to form one. None of the windows are barred, but some have the lower half protected by trellis-work.

Nominally, there are four attendants for the males, viz., the governor, a head attendant, a second attendant, and a pauper assistant. Practically, however, there are only two: the head attendant, and the pauper assistant. The governor has the whole house to manage. The second attendant is superintendent of shoemakers, and as such, is mostly occupied with the ordinary inmates. The head attendant receives £1 a week, without board; and the pauper assistant Is. a week, with his maintenance.

For the females there are, besides the matron, three paid attendants, one at £12 a year, and two at £10, exclusive of board, but with washing.

The male's airing-ground is 27 yards long, and 14 broad; that of the females 27 yards long, and 13 broad. They each contain central grass plots with surrounding walks, and are open only to the north, in which direction they look ont on the backs of houses. The high buildings of the poorhouse prevent the sunshine from reaching them at all in winter. There is, besides, a small narrow yard, enclosed by high walls, which is used as a bowling-green by the males.

The patients were clean and orderly in their persons, sufficiently clothed, and appeared adequately fed. They take their meals in their day-rooms. About twenty-five of the females are occupied in sewing, knitting, and household work. There are some books and cheap periodicals for both sexes, and a weekly dance; but the males are almost entirely without the means of occupation.

A chaplain visits the house twice a day during the week, and thrice on Sundays. A considerable proportion of the insane patients attend his services.

Mechanical restraint has not been employed since the license was obtained. There are seclusion-rooms both on the male and female side, but they appear to be little used.

The Weekly Register and Madhouse Register are now regularly kept; and the Sheriff and medical inspector visit half-yearly.*

* Further details connected with this house will be found in the evidence of Mr. Greig, inspector of the poor of the parish.”

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