Aunt used to work in residential children’s homes. We would visit when we little and for a day be part of the daily routine. I knew her career had begun in Scotland, but beyond that, very little.
It was time to ask.
She told me she had worked in the William Quarrier Home, but that it no longer existed. Back home, I had a quick surf and found it has a web page. A few emails were exchanged. Aunt was sent a copy of the history leaflet about the home, and I agreed to ask her more about her time there.
This is the result of our first chat:
My aunt worked at the William Quarrier Home for fifteen years. She is not sure whether she started there in 1940 or 1942, but she has a testimonial from Mr Munro which she will look out and it should give the dates.
She arrived from Belfast on 6th January, cold, tired after a sleepless night crossing, with all her worldly possessions in one suitcase. She was met by Miss Cameron, the senior house mother for twenty to thirty invalid boys. The boys had chest conditions, had problems with their nerves, were victims of the Blitz, or had suffered similar disturbance.
The children were due to arrive home from school. Aunt followed Miss Cameron to see what she had to do. It was the first time she had used a bread slicer. They got the white bread sliced and buttered ready to give to the children. So began her work at the home, as the junior house mother, assisting Miss Cameron.
Aunt had heard about the home while working in Belfast at the Claremont Street Hospital for people suffering from nervous diseases. She attended the Shankill Road Mission a couple of times a week, and there met a young woman visiting her family in Belfast, who told her about her work with the William Quarrier Home. My aunt, who was looking for work of faith, was immediately interested and the young woman arranged for her to be sent an application form.
Aunt and her co-workers were only paid if there was enough money in the kitty. As she says, “there wasn’t always everything you wanted, but there was everything you needed.”
In a way she feels the home gave the children too much protection. They were shielded from the outside world and when they had left and returned to visit would explain how hard they found things like going into shops and buying clothes and shoes. At the home they would go to the store with a note from their house mother saying what they needed and would be given it. Everything was very self-contained and the children found it difficult to adjust to the ways of the outside world when they had to leave, as most did, at 18. Some children who were on apprenticeships stayed longer, but the others went to senior girls’ and boys’ homes in Glasgow.
Church was a major influence in their lives. They attended twice a day on Sundays, taking children aged three and above. Mary tells how she would say to these youngest ones not to take their socks off, to be good and there would be a sweetie after the service. She’s not sure if other house mothers used similar bribes. Juniors wers schooled at the home’s own school. From about the age of eleven, seniors attended schools in the surrounding district.
Aunt became house mother after the house mother in house 13 had gone into hospital and died. It was to be a temporary post, and at first she missed working with the invalid boys and Miss Cameron very much, and looked forward to returning there. However, the matron, Miss Galt, explained that Mary was to be the permanent house mother at 13.
She had 35 children in her care, many under eight years of age, and she had no help other than the senior girls and boys. Life was hectic and she drank a great deal of coffee. Eventually she was joined by an assistant, Miss Nelson. The two became firm friends and Aunt cared for Miss Nelson until she died.