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Poor Houses

Prior to 1895, poor relief in Aberdeen was divided between two parishes: St Nicholas, to the East of Denburn, and the more well-to-do Old Machar to the West. In 1847, the two parishes briefly agreed to set up a joint poorhouse for the city. However, after failing to reach agreement on the scheme, the parishes proceeded to operate independently. It was only in 1895 that the two parishes were united for poor law purposes and administered by the Aberdeen City Council.

St Nicholas or East Poorhouse

The St Nicholas Poorhouse stood at the north side of Nelson Street, Aberdeen. In 1847, the Board of Supervision for Relief of the Poor published a model poorhouse plan "originally prepared for the united Parishes of St Nicholas and Old Machar, Aberdeen, and about to be erected with some slight modifications, for the Parish of St Nicholas". A bird's eye view of the model poorhouse, designed by architects Thomas Mackenzie and James Matthews, is shown below.  St Nicholas Poorhouse, Nelson Street, with 382 inmates in April 1881, is a Tudor structure, built in 1849 at a cost of £9300, and enlarged in 1869 at a cost of £3350 more. 

St Nicholas Poorhouse Site, 1890s
The location of the St Nicholas poorhouse are shown on the 1890s map. The layout appears to follow the model plan, with the addition of extensions at the far end of each of the main the main wings.

Model Poorhouse Plan for Town Parishes, 1847

The buildings were sold in 1908 following the opening of Oldmill Poorhouse. The site was later used for St Peter's Roman Catholic School, now demolished


a.k.a. Mount Street Female Penitentiary


Certified 5th March 1862 for 30 girls.  Closed 1901.

To the East of the area, between Westburn Road and Mid Stocket Road, were some houses, but a large area of the built up land consisted of an “Industrial Asylum and Reformatory for Girls”. Much of the south-east and eastern areas was devoted to industry – with a Tannery and Dye Works close to the Denburn for a supply of water, some ‘Handloom’ factories, the Rosemount Works and Winery, and the Gilcomston Brewery Mount Street, the name of which may have derived from the remains of the motte or 'mount'.

Old Machar operated a poorhouse, location unknown, from around 1849, with accommodation for 47 inmates. A new poorhouse, capable of housing up to 200, was erected in 1853 at the north side Fonthill Road, Aberdeen. The building was designed by William Henderson. The new poorhouse's location and layout are shown on the 1890s map.


Old Machar site, 1900.

Following the opening of Oldmill Poorhouse in 1908, the buildings were acquired by the Territorial Force Association and converted into Barracks. The site has now been cleared and redeveloped for housing.


Ellon Road, Gordon Barracks Parade Ground Barracks Block a, Old Machar
Block A 1935. 2-storey, 7-bay range with wider advanced and crowstepped centre bay with apex stack. Squared granite rubble with rock-faced base courses, finely tooled ashlar dressings with long and short quoins. Centre bay, 3 windows each floor. Outer bays, windows in pairs. All windows narrow with multi-pane. Sash and case glazing. Straight skews, end stacks, slate roof. Entrance at rear.   Block B 1935 2-storey, 7-bay range with wider advanced and crowstepped gabled centre bay with apex stack. Squared granite rubble with rock-faced base courses, finely tooled ashlar dressings and long and short quoins. Door off-centre left of wide central bay, 2 windows to left 3 above. Outer bays windows in pairs. All windows narrow with multi-pane sash and case glazing. Entrance to rear: straight skews, stack at E. Slate roof.  Block C 1935. 2-storey, 7-bay symmetrical range with 3 window advanced centre gabled bay with straight skews, stepped skewputt and centre stack. Squared granite rubble. Windows paired in outer bays; multi-pane sash and case glazing throughout. Slate roof; end stacks. Entrance at rear (S).

The Oldmill Poorhouse, Skene Road, Aberdeen,
Erected in 1904-7 to replace the existing East and West Poorhouses. It accommodated 961 inmates.
Oldmill site location and layout are shown on the 1925 map below

Designed by Alexander Brown and George Watter, the new poorhouse for the united parishes appears in many respects to follow the model plans prepared 60 years earlier. The central clock tower is, however, somewhat more substantial than that in the original design.

Oldmill Site, 1925

The late Sheriff Watson had opened his industrial school, to ensure the feeding and clothing as well as the teaching of "ragged" children even earlier than the same idea was developed in Edinburgh by Dr. Guthrie.  The foundation of other industrial schools followed his.  Aberdeen also possessed, till recently, a large Boys' Reformatory School. 

Though, in a local work published in 1893, it was optimistically stated that "the lads receive a good education at Old Mill, tempered with refining influences such as music and singing - and are healthy and happy," yet the institution has since been proved to be such an utter failure in attaining its purposed ends that it has been abandoned.  The whole question of the best method of dealing with neglected, depraved or "difficult" children was still in its infancy.

Certified 9th March 1857 for 150 boys.  Closed in 1898.
Poorhouses were intended to shelter the sick, insane, handicapped and disabled poor. But their Board of Supervision discouraged them from taking in those they thought to be lazy or immoral.

Oldmill Reformatory (1857), near the eastern border, 2¼ miles West of Aberdeen, was a large building, occupied by about 150 boys.

Oldmill was an Aberdeen Reformatory. A reformatory was something like a school and a prison for boys. It was set up in 1857. It held boys under 16 years old. These were boys who were getting into trouble in Aberdeen. The boys might be orphans. They were all poor. So they might be begging or stealing. The boys were held for at least 2 years but no more than 5. Whilst there they were educated, and taught a skill. Later the reformatory became a Poorhouse. Built as Oldmill Poorhouse 1901.  Later became Oldmill Hospital and then Woodend Municipal Hospital.  It now stands as the Glenburn Wing at Woodend General Hospital, Aberdeen.

September 1872 - Inspector commented "Special attention was drawn in the course of the year to the case of a boy named David Gillespie, who died after a long and tedious illness.  Complaint was made by the relatives that he had been much neglected at the school, and left to linger in a dying state, without proper medical treatment.  Inquiry was made into the facts of the case, and though the charges of cruelty and neglect were not substantiated, it was clear that the arrangements for special cases of continued and incurable sickness were defective.  The boy was left without medical advice, and no decided steps were taken to remove him to an infirmary, where he would have received regular medical treatment and careful nursing.  The want of cordial co-operation on the part of the officials has been the chief cause". 
~ Yet another
parental dissatisfaction.

The premises were described as ‘A handsome residence’ Built in 1855 - James Matthews Architect

On the 11th December 1914, the children's block, which accommodated 116, was totally gutted by fire. The blaze started at 10.30pm and all the children were rescued. However, one 2½-year-old boy went back into the building and died.

Between May 1915 and June 1919 Oldmill was evacuated and used as a military hospital, the patients and ordinary inmates being sent to other hospitals and poorhouses in the area.

The site was taken over by the Town Council in 1927 and became Woodend Municipal Hospital. It was again used as a Military Hospital during the Second World War.

The Hospital facilities transferred to the National Health Service in 1948, although Oldmill Home, the former poorhouse block, initially stayed under local council administration. It eventually became the hospital's Glenburn Wing, now renamed Woodend South, providing care for geriatric patients.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013