Ancestry UK

Perth Ladies' House of Refuge for Destitute Girls, Perth, Perthshire, Scotland

The Perth Ladies' House of Refuge for Destitute Girls was founded in December 1843 at a meeting, principally of 'Ladies belonging to the Evangelical denominations in Perth', held in the Guildhall. The Refuge was established following the Disruption of 1843 — a schism in the established Church of Scotland which led to the formation of the breakaway Free Church. Although plans for Perth's a Girls' School of Industry were already well advanced, supporters of the Free Church movement felt that a separate institution was required whose inmates would worship only at one of their own churches. The stated aim of the Refuge was to 'bestow the blessings of a religions education on girls who have been neglected by their parents, and to train them as useful servants.' The Marchioness of Breadalbane agreed to become Patroness, the Honourable Mrs. Maule became President, and large Committee of Ladies was appointed for management of the Institution.

The following May, following a period of fund raising, a suitable house was found in Methven Street, opposite the brewery. Its official opening took place on 23 May 1844. It subsequently relocated to Coal Shore (now Tay Street) but in 1847 was forced to move again owing to the construction of a new branch of the Perth and Dundee railway, which cut through the site. Its new premises were half a mile to the south of the city on what is now Craigie Knowes Road, Craigie. Accommodation was provided for up to fifty girls.

The School site is shown on the 1901 map below.

Perth Ladies' House of Refuge for Girls site, Perth, c.1901.

On 19 February 1854, the institution was formally certified under Dunlop's Act to operate as a Reformatory (later reassigned as an Industrial School), allowing it to receive children placed under detention by magistrates.

Early inspection reports for the establishment were very generally very favourable. In 1864, there were 49 girls in the school, of whom more than half were there under a detention order. Their classroom performance was said to be 'very fair'. Industrial training was given in needlework, housework and washing. A new dining room, with sick room and dormitory over it, was under construction. When that was completed, the old dining room was opened up to extend the size of the school room. The staff comprised the matron, Miss Janet Lowe; the schoolmistress, Miss Anderson; and a general assistant. The following year, Miss Anderson was replaced by Miss Alldiss.

In 1871, a further addition was made to the premises, comprising a schoolroom with teachers' apartments and dormitory above. Miss Low was now being assisted by her sister, Isabella Lowe, with another sister, Mary Ann Lowe, joining the staff soon afterwards. Miss Robina Whitelaw was now schoolmistress. After the death of Janet Lowe in 1873, Isabella took over as superintendent. By 1875, the two Lowe sisters had become joint superintendents and Miss Fraser succeeded Miss Whitelaw as schoolmistress. In 1876, Miss Milne became schoolmistress. A playground of about half an acre was added on land adjoining the school.

A new outdoor playshed and drying-room was added in 1879. The girls now made socks and stockings for several other Industrial Schools, which generated a useful income. A mark system was now in operation resulting in a loss of privileges for misconduct: no corporal punishment was used in the school. The older girls continued to be employed in the laundry-work, and kept the house clean and in good order. In 1881, Miss Gordon took over as schoolmistress, replaced in 1884 by Miss Marshall, and by Mrs Webster in 1886.

Isabella Lowe died in 1889. Mrs Webster, previously the schoolmistress, was then appointed superintendent. Miss McPherson became schoolmistress but was succeeded in 1891 by Miss Helen S. Kelman. After Mrs Webster's departure in 1893, Miss Kelman took over as superintendent.

An inspection report in 1896 described the school as a plain semi-institutional building situated on rising ground on the outskirts of Perth. The interior was said to be homelike, and most of the rooms bright and cheerful. The lavatory and bathroom were not so good, and the laundry, a short distance behind the house, was an old-fashioned wooden structure, adjoining the playroom and much in need of being entirely rebuilt. There was ground,either field or garden, on all sides. Classroom performance in composition, recitation, mental arithmetic, geography and history was 'very fair'. Singing was taught by a master who attended for an hour each week. Musical drill with dumb-bells, barbells etc, was carried on in the winter for two hours a week. There was a grass playground with a swing and a covered shed where each girl had a locker for her 'treasures'. On fine summer days the girls were allowed out by themselves for a roam over the hills and through the wood gathering wild flowers. Several treats and picnics were organised in fine weather, especially in the holidays which lasted six weeks. The school's library had a good collection of books and indoor games were also provided. There was an annual concert and magic-lantern and other entertainments were also given. The older girls with respectable relatives in Perth were allowed home once a fortnight, and others occasionally went home for a few hours. The girls were trained for domestic service and the older girls learned to lay the tables and wait on the officials. The seniors gained some experience in the kitchen and received instruction from the superintendent. All the girls learned to knit and sew. Some knitting done by one of the girls for the Sick Children's Hospital had won the first prize of a silver watch, among 600 competitors. Prizes were given twice a year for good work and conduct, and nearly every girl had a bank savings book. The demand for servants from the school was greater than the supply, so that there was no difficulty in obtaining places for the girls with wages starting at £7 or £8 a year. As a reward for steadiness, the girls were allowed to come back to the school to spend their holidays.

A new laundry was built in 1898, followed in 1899-1900 by an isolated infirmary, a kitchen with scullery, pantries, store rooms, and bathrooms for girls and officials.

At the 1909 inspection, it was noted that needlework was good, and that sewing and knitting have both been carefully taught. Fourteen of the oldest girls had been taught to cut out and machine garments, and had a very good idea of dressmaking. All the older girls now repaired all their own clothing. Laundry was well done: the clothes were a good colour and carefully ironed. Cookery and housewifery lessons had been given at the Evening Continuation Classes Centre. At the examination held in the Caledonian Road School the Craigie girls had secured three prizes for laundry work, three for cookery and four for housewifery. A course of lessons on hygiene had been given in the schoolroom. Physical drill was taken by the teacher for half an hour every day, and consisted of Swedish exercises and marching. The girls were taken out for walks twice a week. The whole school had had a month's holiday at Broughty Ferry in June.

Miss Kelman was still superintendent in 1920. Following a decline in numbers being placed at the school, its closure was announced on 4 July 1922. The existing inmates were transferred to the Perth Girls' Industrial School at Wellshill.

The Craigie premises then passed into private hands. The buildings no longer survive.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • None identfied at present — any information welcome.



  • None noted at present.