The Cold Hand of Charity

Tales from the Edinburgh City Poorhouse

Alastair MacDonald

Taken entirely from contemporary accounts, this is the extraordinary story of the Edinburgh Poorhouse, often in the words of the officials and inmates themselves. With tales that are shocking and poignant as well as amusing, the world of the Poorhouse is brought to life in this book

Paperback £12.99

31 Illustrations inc. colour

ISBN 978-1-3999-0608-1



Chapter 1. A Law is Passed

Chapter 2. Something must be done

Chapter 3. The New Poorhouse

Chapter 4. Running the Poorhouse

Chapter 5. The Inmates

Chapter 6. Medical care

Chapter 7. In Court

Chapter 8. The Catholic Priest's Cab Fare

Chapter 9. Eternal Damnation

Chapter 10. The Ultramontane Miss Weir

Chapter 11. Some Notable Events

Chapter 12. The Poorhouse Poet

Appendix. The Burning of the ship 'Kent' 

                        by William   McGonagall

"To render the Poorhouse unattractive to the lazy and the vicious and to keep them under proper restraint when they are inmates, a harsher treatment and sterner discipline are necessary than if the good and industrious resided within its walls "

Circular to the Inspectors of the Poor from the Secretary to the Board of Supervision
Edinburgh 2nd February 1850

Poor persons may not be allowed to starve because they or their parents are vicious, but the law leaves to the bodies to whom its administration is entrusted choices as to the manner of affording relief and if parochial boards desire to discourage indolence, to detect imposture, to check extravagance and to reform or control vice, they must make work, confinement and discipline the conditions upon which paupers of this class are relieved



"When the bell rings at 2 o'clock, the dining hall door is opened and seven minutes elapses before the last man is seated. The time taken to the meal is either seven or eight minutes and the hall is cleared again at 2.20pm, altogether too short a time for proper mastication. A cause of much grumbling is the espionage that goes on continually regarding the taking away of some of the bread which the time allowed hinders them from eating. The centre officials warn the men of the dire consequences that would follow if they are discovered taking anything out of the hall"


"A good number of men and their wives reside in Craiglockhart and a moot point among them is the very limited time granted to them to foregather. A short half hour from 4 to 4.30 pm on Saturday afternoons is allowed, always in the presence of the officials, who take much interest in any conversation, no matter how private the confidences are. It is very humiliating."


About 1.00 the 200 inmates assembled in the dining hall where they were supplied with soup, after which, Mr Duncan Grant, Chairman of the House Committee wished them a Happy New Year. For no doubt this was a life of monotony and they would feel lonely at times, but they had very much to be thankful for. They were living in a house in the finest locality and had every comfort, indeed the managers even went beyond the statutory role in order to make them as comfortable as it was possible to be.







"Wrapped in a piece of blanket and two pieces of a cotton sheet, the newly born male child was found lying in the grass at the side of the road leading to the Poorhouse off Colinton"

"The 100 beds of pale faced, sad little ones ought to be an inspiration to the women of Edinburgh to see the Craiglockhart Poorhouse with its hospital receives its due share of financial support"


144 Comiston Road


This address appears on many birth and death certificates. This was once the Poorhouse gate house - it was used to minimise the stigma of the 'Poorhouse' on official records

"Comfort for the Poor and Care for the Ratepayer"
This motto was on the winning design for the new Poorhouse

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