Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Lists of the Edinburgh Poor

I spent this afternoon at the Edinburgh City Archives which is hidden away in the City Chambers, three floors below the level of the Royal Mile.

The main reason for my visit was to examine some records I had identified through the SCAN catalogue, Edinburgh Parochial Board: Lists of Poor 1840-1884. 

This record consists of two volumes and I looked at the second of these which covers 1869-1884 (SL8/7/2). This is a printed volume entitled ‘List of Poor in Receipt of Relief from the City Parish of Edinburgh’ and for each year the names of those receiving poor relief are divided up into the the following sections: 

Out-Door Poor 
Inmates in Poorhouse 
Inmates in Lunatic Wards 
Inmates in Morningside Asylum 
Lunatics Boarded with Relatives 
Lunatics Boarded Out 
Paupers Boarded in Institutions 
Invalids Boarded Out 
Children Boarded Out 
Edinburgh Poor in Country Parishes 
Country Parish Poor in Edinburgh Parish 
Children Receiving Education 

In the cases of children boarded out and apprentices only a name and identifying number are listed, but in most other cases an address or name of institution is also given. 

However, by far the most detailed section is for the out-door poor where the following information is provided: 

Roll Number 
Weekly Allowance 
Number of dependants (Male and Female) 
Religious Denomination 
Whether Member or Adherent 
Any Assistance provided by the Church 
Remarks (generally how long each person has been a member of their church but also details of any illness or disability) 

The vast majority of those who received outdoor poor relief were women. For example, in 1882 Alice C. Peacock was receiving 4s 0d a week. She was aged 31, living at 7 Stanley Place, and had one male and two female dependants. She was recorded as a member of St Mary’s Episcopal Church, which she had attended for 1 year nine months, but received no assistance from them. 

The men who received outdoor relief were mostly elderly although there are a few exceptions. In 1882 Archibald Sandilands, who lived at 3 Greenside Row, top flat right, was in receipt of 6s 0d a week. He was aged 39 and had three male and two female dependants. He was a member of the Greenside Established Church which he had attended for 8 years but again received no assistance from them. 

Archibald, his wife Elizabeth, and their six children were recorded living at 3 Greenside Row in the 1881 Census (RD:685/2 ED:3 Page:11). His older children may well have been considered old enough to work and therefore not dependants. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the person I was looking for today, but these lists are well worth a look if you think your Edinburgh ancestors may have received poor relief. 

Further details of the holdings of Edinburgh City Archives and a list of those who claimed poor relief from St Cuthbert’s Parochial Board in the period 1850-1852 can be downloaded from http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/downloads/429/archives-access 

Note: Edinburgh City Archives will be temporarily closed from 28 July until October 2011.


  1. Thanks for sharing this resource! I visited Edinburgh a few years back, but didn't get a chance to peruse these records. I particularly appreciate the link to SCAN - Scottish Archive Network.

    And we need to keep reminding researchers that the Edinburgh City Archives will be closed from 28 July until October 2011.

  2. Very useful to know about these lists, thanks for posting Kirsty!

  3. Would be good if these records were indexed/transcribed. There's a lot of people who'd gladly pay for the results, and can't access the records easily themselves in Edinburgh, even through a paid researcher.

  4. Kathleen,
    Glad the information was of interest. Yes, SCAN is a great resource, especially for identifying records from archives, like Edinburgh, that have only limited details of their holdings on their own websites.

    As these records are in printed bound volumes I think it would be pretty easy to digitise them and make them more widely available and it would definitely be a worthwhile project to index them. Another useful project (although much more time consuming) would be to index the various parochial board and poorhouse minutes which do include some references to individual paupers. That would go a long way towards making up for Edinburgh's lack of poor relief applications.


  5. Very interesting info. Thanks for posting.

    Are there any records at all after 1884? I was searching for someone who died in Craiglockhart Poorhouse in Edinburgh in 1914. I contacted the archives but was told the records don't exist. I found the death certificate but can't find where the person is buried.


  6. Andy,

    The 'List of Poor in Receipt of Relief from the City Parish of Edinburgh' volume mentioned in my post ends in 1884 and there appears to be nothing similar held at Edinburgh City Archives for a later date.

    The Archives has a few records for Craiglockhart Poorhouse in reference SL9 but these don't include lists of inmates and there appears to be very little for around 1914. At that period Edinburgh Parish Council was responsible for administration of the poorhouse and their records are in SL14. I understand from the archivist that although individuals paupers are occasionally named in minutes the chances of finding any reference to a particular person is pretty slim.

    Bit of a long shot I know, but I found a reference to some Tuberculosis patients being treated at Craiglockhart (not sure of the exact dates). If the person you are searching for happened to die of TB you might find information about them in the Tuberculosis registers which are held by the Lothian Health Service Archive (at Edinburgh University) http://www.lhsa.lib.ed.ac.uk/


  7. Thanks Kirsty. He died of heart failure. I had a look at the LHS website and they hold some remarkable stuff. Something to bear in mind for future reference.