Glasgow’s Vulnerable – Three hours in the Night Asylum

In our last newsletter we ran an article about Peter Allan, feature writer with the Glasgow Herald who used the byline ‘Rambling Reporter’ in 1862, although the bulk of his work appeared in the Glasgow Weekly Herald, founded in 1864. Member Bill Black has been cataloguing some of those articles and the following is Allan’s report of a night he spent in the Night Asylum in North Frederick Street, Glasgow 31st October 1868. Life was incredibly hard for most working people in Victorian times and many had to resort to these ‘poorhouse style shelters’ at some time in their lives. This is a long article but I think it conveys a truly heart rending picture of the grinding poverty many of our ancestors faced on a regular basis.

I have good reason to believe that a deplorable degree of ignorance prevails in Glasgow regarding some of our most deserving charitable institutions. The public are not exactly to blame for this; because annual reports are invariably dry as dust, and are therefore “skipped over” by the ordinary class of readers.

It cannot be expected, on the other hand, that people will go in crowds to examine those institutions “with their own eyes,” and the consequence is, that charities having strong claims upon the public are left to languish in obscurity. There is the Night Asylum 1Night Asylum for the Houseless

William Campbell (1796 – 1864) was a partner in the Glasgow drapery firm of J & W Campbell and a follower of the Rev Thomas Chalmers, a charismatic Church of Scotland minister in Glasgow. Chalmers was the minster at the Tron Church in the heart of the old city, by this time surrounded by decaying buildings, full of poor residents, often living in unspeakable conditions. Chalmers actively made efforts to improve the situation, although his ‘self help’ outlook has drawn criticism from later advocates of welfare. In 1837 Glasgow suffered a particularly severe winter and, as an associate of Chalmers, Campbell was anxious to do something practical to improve the situation of those in dire need. A Night Asylum for the Houseless had been established in Liverpool since 1822 and another existed in Dublin by this date. Campbell, in association with several other local business men, decided to open a similar establishment in Glasgow. Premises were obtained at St Enoch’s Wynd, off the south side of Argyll St. in a former granary, converted to be capable of holding up to 100 people per night. It opened its doors for the first time on 28th May 1838, being administered by a board of directors, of which Campbell was the first president.


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