Glasgow’s Vulnerable – Magdalene Institutions

Dalbeth House

I have seen Peter Mullan’s film “The Magdalene Sisters” several times and was impressed by its searing portrayal of Magdalene Institutions in the life of relatively late 20th century Ireland. He seemed spot on with his narrative of the treatment of mainly young Irish girls who were considered to be “fallen women” and consigned (as opposed to admitted) to the Magdalene Institutions where they were employed, unpaid, long-term in laundries, managed by religious orders. There is an allegation that they could not be released without papers being signed by an adult male relative. The phrase “fallen women” is not, so far as I can recollect, used in the film. I wondered whether these insitutions had been in existence for many years and if one might have been set up in the west of Scotland.

I then found the entry for what appeared to be a Magdalene Institution in the 1861 census for Shettleston, Glasgow, helped by a handwritten note on a microfilm box in the Mitchell Library. The use of the building as an institution caring for penitents was combined with use as a Reformatory.

Here is a transcription of my notes:-

Shettleston – 622/3

Enumeration Book for The Convent of the Religious of the Good Shepherd Annexed, Magdalene Asylum, and Reformatory School for Girls

RETURN of all persons who slept or abode in this Institution on the night of Sunday, April 7th, 1861.

Name Rank profession or occupation
Lucy Grant Robinson (34) (U) Religious (born England)
Isabella Georgina Clarke (48) (U) Religious (born England)
Ellen Bayliss (30)(U) Religious (born England)
Adriana Super (38) (U) Religious (born England)
James Rodgers (27)(U) Chaplain (born Glasgow)

Plus twelve others, the majority born in England, two in Ireland and two in Scotland. The entry under the “Rank, Profession or Occupation” column is consistently given (except for the Chaplain) as “Religious”. They are all unmarried. There is a column for “Position in the Institution”. Lucy Robinson is Superioress and Isabella Clarke assistant Superioress. The other two females named above are 1st Mistress and 2nd Mistress of the Asylum. There are separate 1st and 2nd Mistresses in the Reformatory School.

Then follow only the initials of forty three girls and women, ages varying between fifteen and forty eight. These are identified simply as inmates. “Occupation” etc. is given consistently as “Washing, Dressing or Sewing”.

Then follow the names of fifty three additional inmates. Ages vary between nine and sixteen. All are described as “Scholars” in the “Occupation” column.

I assumed that the first group, not being scholars, were in the Refuge, and that the scholars were in the Reformatory. I was startled to see that the identities of the women who had committed no crime had all been withheld from the census return, but that the identities of the Reformatory girls had not. I am not researching the Magdalene Institutions as such. The religious order concerned seems to have run Reformatories as well as laundries, etc. They might have done other work. The Order ran the Shettleston institution in 1861 as the Convent of the Religious of the Good Shepherd, according to the census.

A warning for researchers – females they are trying to trace may have been in the Refuge but won’t have appeared in the 1861 census. But what about the 1871 and 1881 censuses? Had anything changed?

The answer is YES. I found the Convent of the Good Shepherd, “with a Refuge and a Reformatory School adjoining, etc.,” also in the east end, in 1871. All the females are named this time, and it could well be the same building as in 1861. The names of those in charge have all changed. The word “Magdalene” does not appear this time but the Refuge is called a “Refuge for Penitents”. There are again two classes of females – one hundred and twelve in the Refuge, ages from fourteen to fifty five, with occupations given as “Industrial work or gardening or sewing or baking or shoe [cleaning?] or knitting.” Laundry work is not mentioned. That seems to be reserved for the eighty five girls, aged between eleven and seventeen, in the Reformatory, though I suppose “Industrial work” might have included washing and ironing. The occupation of the Reformatory girls is “washing, ironing, baking, scrubbing, sewing, cooking.” The word “school” appears on a later page giving the names of the Reformatory girls. The description “Scholar” does not.

The total number of Refuge Penitents and those in the Reformatory is one hundred and ninety seven.

By 1881 that number had increased to more than two hundred – one hundred and twenty in the Refuge and one hundred and one in the Reformatory. Interestingly, the Refuge females (still named) have reverted to the “occupation “of “laundresses” and “seamstresses” (and also house servants and farm servants). The “occupation” of the Reformatory girls (still named) is given consistently as “Scholar”. Maybe there is now greater emphasis on education, but only for the girls in the Reformatory. Neither group is recorded as inmates. The expression “Magdalene” is not used. The occupation of the sisters or nuns is “Religious of the Order of the Good Shepherd”. Lucy Grant Robinson, not recorded in 1871, is named again. She is now fifty four.

The naming of all inmates from 1871 made it possible to see whether any of them had been penitents in the Refuge for a minimum of 10 years. Up to six inmates were named in 1881 who had been there in 1871. It is impossible, however, to be sure of many of the “age” entries in 1881, owing to the age column having been defaced, possibly as part of the process of gathering statistics. The actual number of apparent long-term inmates may be as low as three.

As for the place of birth of inmates, in 1871 fifty two per cent were recorded as born in Scotland (57% in 1881), thirty five per cent in Ireland (30% in 1881) and twelve per cent in England and Wales (9% in 1881). The rest were all born abroad or at sea.

The Institution, so far as I can tell from reading on the internet, was not opened until just after 1851, and took over a mansion known as Dalbeth, London Road, Glasgow. I have not examined the 1851 census.

Map of Tollcross showing Dalbeth Convent
London Rd, Tollcross showing Dalbeth Convent and reformatory near Belvidere Hospital [courtesy NLS]

I have visited the place, which is next to the very large St. Peter’s cemetery, and have found that the buildings have been demolished. One exception may be a red-brick building occupied I assume as a superintendent’s house. I suppose another exception is the workshop occupied by a monumental mason. I attach a photograph of the house. My street map shows a small cemetery east of St. Peter’s, used possibly by the Convent. I could find no trace of this, though the graves may be covered in rubble. There are various articles on Google about Dalbeth. Some imply that buildings, other than the superintendent’s, exist.

Harvie Paterson member 5620

Editor – there is also a mention on the website of THE GLASGOW STORY of a Magdalene Institution in Lochburn Road, Maryhill.

Lochburn Home, Maryhill, run by the Glasgow Magdalene Institution for the Repression of Vice and for the Reformation of Penitent Females, illustrated c 1890. The original Glasgow Magdalene Asylum opened in 1815 in the then rural Parliamentary Road, to “rescue” and “reform” prostitutes at a time of increasing concern for the moral health of the country. Lochburn Home opened in 1864. The women were taught how to support themselves through industrial training, mostly in the institution’s laundries. An advertisement in 1888 claimed: “nearly 5,000 young women have shared more or less in the benefits of the Institution since 1859. During the same period no fewer than 1,080 young women have been restored to parents or friends, and 942 have been placed in domestic service or other respectable employment, while thirty-two were sent abroad, thus making 2,054 who have been rescued from a life of shame and restored to society, after having received the usual education and training in the Homes”. Lochburn Home closed in 1958 following an inquiry into the alleged ill-treatment of inmates.

Reference: Heatherbank Museum of Social Work, print 6413

Reproduced with the permission of Glasgow Caledonian University, Research Collections, Heatherbank Museum of Social Work

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