Poor Children

Poor Boy and Girl, c. 1890s

Poverty has always affected the young, old and those in between. West Lothian Archives hold some separate Children’s registers from the parish of West Calder dating from the late 19th and early twentieth century. The 1845 introduction of the Scottish Poor Law Act meant that annually appointed Parochial Boards in each of Scotland’s 880 parishes became responsible for the relief of the poor. The parochial boards were responsible for administering relief to children and adults alike and delivered relief in cash or in kind and set up poorhouses for the sick, disabled and insane. 

Children receiving poor relief directly from the parish were usually orphans or had been separated or abandoned by their parents for any number of reasons. The children would be boarded out to guardians or sent to poorhouses, orphanages or industrial schools. Separate registers for the application of poor relief for children were introduced in 1865 and these records provide very detailed information about the often heart breaking circumstances of children dependant on the local parochial board.

The West Calder Separate Children’s poor relief registers record the sad circumstance of a six-year old child removed to a Kilmarnock poorhouse whilst her mother completed a prison sentence. It would be two years before the child was reunited with her mother following her release from prison. One eleven year old child was separated from his parents and sent to an orphanage because he was ‘sleeping out at night and disobedient’. Children were removed from the poor roll as soon as they were able to work, usually by the age of fourteen. Reasons for discharge varied- gone to service, married, left the poorhouse, removed from roll by Uncle and gone to America, to name a few. Below are some examples of entries in the register:

 It is important to note that due to the nature of the information contained in these registers, a one hundred year closure period applies. If you are interested in consulting these records further, please contact the West Lothian Archives.

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