Ancestry UK

Sailors' Orphan Society of Scotland Home, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, Scotland

The Sailors' Orphan Society of Scotland was established in 1889 by three of Glasgow's leading shipowners: Richard Hubbard Hunter, Alexander Allan and George Smith. Its object was 'to feed, educate or otherwise provide for the orphans or fatherless children of sea-faring men throughout Scotland, who have been left in destitute circumstances'. Funded by voluntary subscriptions and donations, it initially provided financial support to widows, allowing children to stay with their mothers. It also began to provide residential accommodation for orphans, occupying several properties in or near Glasgow.

In 1897, a gift of £10,000 by Charles William Cayzer, MP for Barrow in Furness and wealthy owner of a shipping company based in Glasgow. The money enabled the Society to build its own permanent establishment at Balrossie, near Kilmacolm (or Kilmalcolm), Renfrewshire, which opened in 1899.

The location of the Home is shown on the 1911 map below.

Kilmacolm Sailors' Orphan Home site, c.1911.

Kilmacolm Sailors' Orphan Home from the south-east, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Kilmacolm Sailors' Orphan Home from the south-east, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

In May, 1918, the large central building, which comprised two homes for boys and a hall, was gutted by a fire.

In 1931, the boys' section of the Home was closed, This was said to be due to relatives of the boys, who had previously wanted nothing to do with them, now withdrawing the boys in order to receive a 7s. 6d. per week government allowance for each child. The few remaining boys were transferred to the Quarriers Homes at the Bridge of Weir. The girls' section of the Home continued in operation until 1934. The property was then acquired by the Boys' Brigade for use as an outdoor training centre. During the Second World War, it became the headquarters for anti-aircraft activities.

In the early 1950s, plans were discussed to convert the premises for use by the St Mungo's Approved School at Mauchline. After the closure of St Mungo's in 1956, however, the Kilmalcolm site was instead sold to Glasgow City Council as a new home for the Mossbank Approved School. Although the council did establish a new Approved School on the Kilmacolm site, known as Balrossie School, the Mossbank School continued in operation.

Following the 1968 Social Work (Scotland) Act, Balrossie was redesignated as a 'List D' School. Since its closure in around 1998, the building has remained empty and increasingly derelict.

The Sailors' Orphan Society still exists and continues to give financial support to dependents of seafarers.


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  • Glasgow University Archive Services, 13 Thurso Street, Glasgow G11 6PE, Scotland. Holdings: Minute Books (1889-1957); Annual Reports (1900-62); Case Histories (1889-1919); Scrapbook (1900-38).