St Mary's Roman Catholic Orphanage and Industrial School for Girls, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Following a cholera epidemic in Glasgow in 1832, the Sisters of Mercy founded an orphan asylum to 'provide for the maintenance, education, and religious instruction of destitute orphan children, left by the members of the Catholic Congregations of Glasgow'. It opened in January 1833 at Marshall's Lane, Gallowgate, but moved next to St Mary's Parish Church at 72 Abercromby Street in 1848. In the early 1860s, the running of the home was taken over by another order, the Franciscan Sisters.

On 25 November 1862, the premises were certified to operate as an Industrial School and receive children placed under detention by the courts. An official inspection in November 1863 found that 40 children had been committed to the establishment. The girls were taught and boarded in the female orphanage under the superintendence of four sisters of the Franciscan Order. A new block was subsequently erected to house the boys which effectively then operated as a separate institution.

The School site is shown on the 1893 map below. The address of the School was sometimes given as 590 Gallowgate where there was an access way to the premises.

St Mary's Roman Catholic Industrials School site, Abercromby Street, Glasgow, c.1893.

An inspection in June 1870 recorded 160 girls present, 147 under detention and 13 voluntary cases. Many of the them were very young. Their performance in the classroom was praised. Forty of the girls in the senior classes read fluently and intelligently, spelt correctly, wrote well from dictation, and could do a fair amount of arithmetic. Their industrial employment consisted of knitting, needlework, housework, and washing, including work and washing for the boys' department. The cooking for the boys was also carried out on the girls' side. The School's inspector suggested that the girls required more air, exercise, and freedom for moral and physical health and growth.

In 1872, an attack of typhus fever affected 100 of the girls, with two deaths resulting. The School's inspector suggested that the establishment should be removed to a greater distance from the town. In 1875, an outbreak of typhoid fever affected 20 girls who were sent to the Fever Hospital. This was followed by an attack of measles which affected 15 girls.

In 1876, the home was under the charge of the superioress Madame F. Lafanne, assisted by a staff of seven Franciscan sisters, plus a cook and laundress.

Some improvements to the building were carried out in 1878-79 to provide a better classroom and workroom, an extra bedroom, new laundry and drying room, and an outdoor shed where the girls could exercise in wet weather. In 1879, the superioress was Sister Mary McNally. In 1882, she had been succeeded by Sister Ursula McNally assisted by what were now referred to as seven Sisters of Charity.

In December 1885, the school suffered from a prolonged attack of typhus fever, with 65 cases occurring in all. Fortunately, it was of a mild type, but two girls died, and one of the Sisters also succumbed. The outbreak was the subject of special investigation and inquiry. It had probably introduced into the school, but had been allowed to get strength before it was fully grappled with. The premises were carefully examined, the sanitary arrangements looked into, and measures of prevention adopted. The School's inspector repeated his advice that the establishment should be moved into the country.

Sister Ursula McNally was succeeded by Sister M.A. McLean in 1886. By 1890, musical drill had been introduced as a means of exercise and development. The girls were also said to sing very well. Twelve girls at a time now went, all the year round, to Lady Bute's convalescent home in Bute, where they generally remained for three or four weeks.

An inspection in 1896 described the School premises as an institutional building in a poor quarter of the town. On one side it overlooked a disused burial ground, and on the other was hemmed in by the backs of the houses in Abercromby Street. The building adjoined the boys' school, and the refectory was common to both, the cooking, being done entirely on the girls' side. There was a detached laundry at one side of the play-yard. The lavatories adjoining the dormitories were old-fashioned, and the system of drainage scarcely in accordance with modern ideas; a few improvements had recently been made and more were in contemplation. In the classroom, composition in Standard V. was 'good'; geography in III., IV. and V. 'very fair'; mental arithmetic, 'fair'. A beginning had been made with domestic economy in the upper standards, and object lessons had been given to the juniors. Singing was taught by ear. Knitting and sewing received much attention, and with the aid of machines an immense amount of work was got through. Besides their own clothes and outfits, the socks and shirts for the two Roman Catholic boys' schools were made. The display of all kinds of useful and fancy articles was very creditable. All the housework was done by the girls, and the older ones waited on the staff and visitors. In the laundry all the washing for both schools was done, besides that for the staff of the girls' school. There were generally about six girls in the kitchen, but as yet there was no special course of lessons in cookery. There is no difficulty in finding places for the girls, with the wages generally commencing at £5 or 6 a year. Girls in situations were encouraged to visit the school on Sundays. Musical drill with clubs, hoops etc. was carried on in the winter. There is a play-yard, part of which was under the schoolroom, and formed a playshed. Both yard and shed were necessarily confined, but on fine days the girls were allowed out in front, to amuse themselves quietly in the disused graveyard. Walks were taken to the Alexandra Park twice a week, and the girls are allowed to break off for play. There was an annual excursion to the coast. and generally a couple of picnics in the country. Various entertainments were got up during the winter, such as cantatas, magic lantern shows, etc. There was a good library of 400 books, which the girls were encouraged to read. Occasionally girls with respectable friends were allowed home for a few hours, but this was not a general practice. The superintendent of the boys' school took the girls to pantomimes, circuses etc. The girls did not present a healthy appearance, and a large proportion amongst them were delicate and strumous cases. Even those who had returned from the convalescent home did not look much, if any, better. The occasional outbreaks of mysterious illness were a warning that something was wrong with the premises, and it would be well if the school were moved before another outbreak occurred.

By 1899, Sister Mary C. Macluskey had taken charge of the School. Before leaving, all girls now received three months of special instruction in the kitchen.

Also in 1899, a site on which to build new premises for the boys' and girls' schools was acquired on the Kenmure estate, near Bishopbriggs, four miles to the north-east of Glasgow. Prior to the construction work beginning, parties of girls were taken from time to time to spend a few weeks at the country house there, Kenmure House.

In the spring of 1901, an accidental fire occurred one night, doing some damage to a scorner of the school-room, of the dormitory above, and the roof. The incident was dealt with without panic and there were no casualties.

in 1905, the boys moved out to their new premises at Bishopbriggs. Apparently there was a change of heart regarding the girls, who remained at the Abercromby Street site.

In 1933, the establishment became an Approved School, one of the new institutions introduced by the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act to replace the existing system of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. It then, finally, moved to Kenmure and on 15 May 1934 was certified as the Kenmure St Mary's Girls' School, accommodating up to 40 girls aged from 6 to 12 years. The girls presumably occupied the old Kenmure House.

In 1943, the headmistress was Sister Mary Mercy Dollard. Instruction was then being provided in cookery, laundrywork, needlework and housewifery.

The girls' school was closed in 1954 when the very bad state of its building led to its certificate being withdrawn.

Neither the Abercromby Street nor the Kenmure buildings survive.


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  • No records noted at present for this establishment — any information welcome.



  • None noted at present.