Glasgow’s Vulnerable – Home for Deserted Mothers

Site of Home for Deserted Mothers

Middle-class Victorians had great faith in the power of institutions to solve the problems of (mostly) the working classes. The middle-classes would organise public subscriptions to found the institutions and then raise the money or leave bequests to finance their running.

One such institution was the Home for Deserted Mothers, modelled on London’s Corum Hospital. It was aimed at first-time mothers with a single illegitimate child born in the workhouse. With no home to go to, Victorian philanthropists feared (with good reason) for the woman’s prospects and those of her child. The Home would provide temporary shelter, the babies would be “placed under the care of proper and trustworthy nurses” and the staff would seek to find the women work.

The Home was supported by voluntary contributions, its President was the Earl of Glasgow and its Vice-President Sir James King, 1st Baronet of Campsie. The Board of Directors was made up of the great and good (men) of the city, supported by a ladies’ committee and the Home was run by a matron. It opened in 1873, initially at 140 Rottenrow but by the 1880s moved out of the city centre to 308 Renfrew Street, when the annual through-put of women was around 50.

308 Renfrew Street, Glasgow

Although the original records have not survived, the 1881 and 1891 censuses suggest that mothers did not stay long in the Home and their babies were fostered very soon after birth. The 1901 census shows an increase in the numbers of mothers to eleven, only three coming from the Glasgow area. Among the rest, one came from the USA, one from Shetland and two from Ireland. The 1911 census reflects a similar scenario – nine mothers, including one from Canada, two from England and one from Ireland. They were mostly domestic servants and one an actress.

In the main, the Home does seem to have succeeded in its aims, and stories posted on social media about descendants of the children reflect a positive outcome. It moved premises during the 20th century to 123 West Regent Street where it continued to operate as a mother and baby home. It was closed down in 1965.

If you think your ancestor may have passed through the Home for Deserted Mothers, the following are the relevant census entries.

1881 644/9 2/10

1891 644/9 2/25

1901 644/9 2/23

1911 644/9 43/27

[Map courtesy Ordnance Survey]

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