Ancestry UK

House of Refuge / Shelter for Females, Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland

In 1840, the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry visited Greenock to raise awareness about the state of the town's prison and the need for instruction of the prisoners. Following her visit, the 'Greenock Ladies' Association for Promoting the Reformation of the most destitute of their own Sex in Prisons and Other Institutions' was formed. A scheme was instigated for the erection and maintenance of a Magdalen Home whose aim was 'to afford shelter to destitute and fallen females, training them for the duties of the household, and to assist in getting them into service with families.'

By 1843, an establishment variously known as the House of Refuge, or Shelter for Females, had been opened off Ingleston Street, Upper Ingleston, Greenock, with accommodation for up to 40 females aged from 15 upwards.


The House of Refuge site is shown on the 1897 map below.

House of Refuge site, Greenock, c.1897.

During a fever epidemic in the town in 1843-44, the management committee of the House of Refuge placed the premises at the disposal of Greenock Hospital for use as a convalescent home.

In 1845, the House was used for a period to accommodate orphans from the parish. In 1847-48 the building was taken over by the Greenock Parochial Board for use as a poorhouse for about forty inmates. In 1849, when there was an outbreak of cholera, the building was pressed into use as an isolation hospital. In 1851-2, the Board discussed plans to convert the building into a lunatic asylum, but eventually decided to establish a new poorhouse and asylum at Captain Street, Greenock.

In 1853, the House of Refuge reverted to its original function — the establishment's date of founding often is now often given as being in that year. Mrs Galloway was appointed as the home's matron, a position she held until 1861. The inmates were mainly occupied in laundry and needle work.

In 1902, the home's laundry was re-equipped with the latest machinery. The following year, an advertisement for the House of Refuge laundry offered:

  • WASHING and DRESSING all kinds.
  • CURTAINS done with the minimum of risk to the frailest fabrics.
  • BLANKETS washed with Finest Soap and Dried in Open-air.
  • SHIP WASHINGS a speciality.
  • Orders by post receive prompt and careful attention. Van to all parte of the town and Gourock and Port-Glasgow. Price-list and full particulars on application to the SUPERINTENDENT, INGLESTON HOUSE, UPPER GREENOCK.

In 1904, a continuing decline in the number of inmates at the home led its its management to apply for part of the establishment to be licensed to operate as a retreat for inebriates sentenced under the Inebriates Act.

The institution appears to have ceased operation in the early 1920s. The building had been demolished by the 1960s.


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  • None identfied at present — any information welcome.



  • None identified at present.