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Poorhouse Past

28 October 2015
Picture courtesy of Craig Statham
Picture courtesy of Craig Statham 

Many visitors to our offices in Eskbank comment on what a lovely building Dundas House is, but what a lot of you may not know is that it was built in 1848-49 as the Dalkeith poorhouse for the 12 parishes of Borthwick, Carrington, Cockpen, Cranston, Crichton, Dalkeith, Fala, Lasswade, Liberton, Newbattle, Newton and Temple. 

The architect who designed Westfield Park was William Lambie Moffat and it was built to accommodate 120 inmates, including 8 "certified mental defectives".  In order to provide additional accommodation for the sick, the building was extended in 1867.  The pictures below give a feel for how Eskbank looked around this time.

According to the 1881 census, at which time the population of the member parishes was 38,104. the Governor of the Dalkeith Poorhouse was a Mr Robert Trotter of Eyemouth and it was home to inmates ranging in age from orphans Peter Clark (aged 7) and John Clark (aged 5) to dressmaker Catherine Thomson (aged 74).  The majority of the inmates were over 50 and are listed under many varied occupations from tailors to bakers, hawkers to fieldworkers and shoemakers.  Presumably these inmates had become too old and infirm to earn a living.

An article on the Lothian Lives website gives a rare insight into life in the Dalkeith Poorhouse in 1868, especially for the more rebellious inmates.  They had to follow strict rules, and refusing to work, disobeying the Matron, swearing, fighting and "fleeing the grounds with clothing" could lead to corporal punishment. 

It is recorded that, on 6 December 1868, 32 year old Jessie Murphy and 23 year old Susan Crease were "riotous and fighting' for which their punishment was to be deprived of what little food they were usually given.  Corporal punishment was the fate of four "unsettled" boys between the ages of 10 and 11 who ran away with clothing - which was treated as theft.

After 1930, the Poorhouse became Westfield Park Institution and Home and subsequently Highbank Care Home for the elderly, being renovated as office accommodation in the early 1990's -  where Springfords and the ghosts from the poorhouse have happily co-existed ever since!  

Old Eskbank 
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