Glasgow Barony, Lanarkshire

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After the 1845 Poor Law Amendment (Scotland) Act, poor law provision in Glasgow was divided between four parishes: Barony, City, Govan and Gorbals. Gorbals never set up a poorhouse and was absorbed by Govan in 1873.

Glasgow's Barony Parish Poorhouse at Barnhill was erected in 1848-53 to designs by George Bell and William Clarke. It was described in 1882 as "a very capacious asylum for the children of poverty and well adapted by its cleanliness, ventilation and position to mitigate the ills of their condition."

The poorhouse layout and location are shown in the 1914 map below:

Barnhill site, 1914.

In 1885, Malcolm M'Neill (Visiting Officer for the Board of Supervision) reported on conditions at Barnhill. The "Class C" diet he refers to comprised meal and milk for breakfast and supper, and bread and meat-broth for dinner.

  1. The House appeared to me clean and orderly throughout.
  2. My attention was attracted by the large amount of bread etc. stored in the Infirm Wards, and on enquiry I learned that the issue is made but once daily instead of with each separate meal. The Committee should consider this subject and in my opinion should direct the issue of each ration complete at the meal hour, and the removal after a reasonable interval of the unconsumed food.
  3. The women in the washhouse still receive tea and bread in addition to class C diet — an unnecessary, and in some respects, mischievous indulgence.
  4. The diet of the children is wisely varied, and their appearance is satisfactory, but I must still urge the substitution of sweet milk for butter milk in the whole of this class.
  5. When the furnishing of the test wards is undertaken I should propose to the Committee the abolition of the double bed to contain mother and child, and the introduction of a small crib for each infant, placed beside, or at the foot of, the mother's bed.

According to Barr (1972), strict discipline was observed in Barnhill. Able bodied inmates were required to make up 350 bundles of firewood per day and stonebreakers were expected to break 5 cwt. per day. Any inmate not producing the stated amount was put on a bread and water diet in solitary confinement for 12 hours. Disorderly conduct such as swearing or breaking of rules, resulted in being put on a diet, excluding milk and buttermilk, for a period of three days.

In 1904, the Glasgow City and Barony parishes merged. Barnhill was reconstructed and enlarged and the City poorhouse was closed. The existing inmates from City were moved to Barnhill which now became Scotland's largest poorhouse.

Barnhill poorhouse from the south-west.
© Heatherbank Museum of Social Work.

With the creation of a single poor law authority in Glasgow, three new establishments were built: Stobhill Hospital, and the Eastern and Western General Hospitals. These are described on the separate Glasgow City web page.

At the end of 1904, a report into the running of Barnhill poorhouse found that:

  • The staffing in the infirm departments was inadequate.
  • The administration of the stores department was incompetent and that the steward and his assistant should be dismissed
  • The day hall was unfit for its purpose
  • The governor, matron, and medical officer were not working harmoniously — if this did not improve, they should be dismissed

The report also noted the discovery that members of the Parish Council visiting the poorhouse had been given lunch, and that during the previous financial year they had consumed 36 bottles of whisky. During that period 30 visits had been mad, of which 13 were by professed teetotalers.

In 1945, Barnhill was renamed Foresthall Home and Hospital. After the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, it catered mainly for vagrants but had a geriatric section which was closed in stages between 1978 and 1983. It was demolished in 1988.

As well as the Barnhill poorhouse, Barony Parish erected a mental asylum at Woodilee in Lenzie in 1875.




Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.

  • Glasgow City Archives, The Mitchell Library, 210 North Street, Glasgow G3 7DN, Scotland. Holdings include: Plans of Barnhill poorhouse (c.1876); Abstract of receipts and expenditure of the poors fund (1849-50); General registers of poor (1868-84, incomplete); Applications for poor relief (1861-98, incomplete); Reports on poorhouse accommodation (1881-88); Registers of admissions and discharges (1940-78); Register of admissions and dismissals of children (1914-53); Registers of deaths (1949-74).


  • Glaswegiana — A Collection of Stories of Glasgow Past and Present by William W Barr (Vista, 1972).


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