Ancestry UK

Smyllum Orphanage, Smyllum Park, Lanark, Lanarkshire, Scotland

The Smyllum Orphanage was founded in 1864 by Sister Teresa Farrell, a member of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, the order which ran the home. The Orphanage occupied a property known as Smyllum Park, near Lanark, which included Smyllum House and 100 acres of land. The establishment catered for Roman Catholic children aged from 1 to 14 years at their time of admission. In 1888, 440 children were in residence.

The Orphanage was supported by parochial boards, of which 42 had placed their Catholic children in 1890. The home also received income from its farm and garden, a government grant, and charitable contributions.

Unusually, for a home of its type, it received blind and deaf-mute children. In 1870, one of the Sisters was sent to London for several months training by Mr Van Praagh, a leading exponent of the oral system — the teaching of vocal articulation and lip-reading. In 1870, another Sister received instruction at the Catholic Institution for the Deaf at Cabra, Dublin. By 1880, the number of deaf children at the Orphanage had increased to 27. In 1911, a shortage of space at the home led to the deaf and blind children being removed to a new institution — St Vincent's, Tollcross, near Glasgow.

Smyllum Park, Lanark, c.1905. © Peter Higginbotham

Below is part of an 1889 report on the institution which touches on many facets of its operation:


The managers in presenting to the trustees and the public their Report for 1889, are again able to record a period of progress and increasing prosperity. The house and grounds forming the Smyllum property were purchased in the year 1864 for the purpose of establishing a suitable orphanage in which the children of Catholic parents might be educated and brought up in their own religion. A very important addition was made to this property in 1885 by the purchase of 59 additional acres of farm land. “A new and substantially built wash-house,” the managers write, “and laundry, admirably furnished with all modern appliances is another important addition which has been made to the institution since the issue of the last Report. The erection of these buildings had become an absolute necessity, if an important industrial branch of the employment of the girls is to be carried on with due regard to the health and safety of those engaged therein, and with profit to the Orphanage. In point of fact a fire (clearly traceable to imperfect structural arrangements) actually did break out in the old laundry last April, destroying clothes and furniture to the value of £4O. Obviously the Sisters could not, consistently with their duties alike to their young charges and to the interests of the Orphanage, run the risk of the recurrence of any future similar calamity. The new laundry will afford additional facilities for the employment of adult deaf mutes, and girls of weak intellect, who must necessarily work under personal supervision. It will also enable the Sisters to train other girls for whom the employment is suitable, for situations in public or private laundries; besides furnishing an important additional means of support to the institution and its inmates. The new buildings have been carefully fitted up with steam pipes connected with the kitchen, bath rooms, &c.; and while no unnecessary expense has been incurred, all the work in connection with these new premises has been done well, and done thoroughly. The accounts for this work have not yet been furnished in their entirety. Full details of them will be given in the next Report.” The Orphanage depends for its support upon (a) The proceeds of the farm, of a large garden and of laundry work: (b) The allowances paid by parochial boards, of which 45 send their Catholic children to Smyllum; (c) The Government grant to the schools; and (d) The generosity of a charitable public. There are at present 410 children in the three houses, 170 of whom are boys, 180 girls, 30 inmates of the nursery, and 30 deaf mutes and blind. During the past year 49 children have been admitted, 92 were provided with situations or were received by friends, and five died. During the past year the officials of the various parochial boards have visited the children sent by them to this institution, and have expressed in strong terms their satisfaction and pleasure with the condition and appearance of the children, the care bestowed upon them, their educational progress and general surrounding=. The remarks of these officials are all carefully preserved in the visitors' book. “We may perhaps,” continues the report, “be permitted to say a few words about two other departments of the Institution, namely: (1) The Deaf Mute and Blind home; and (2) The Nursery. The first of these has especial claims upon our Catholic readers from the fact of its being the only Institution of its kind under Catholic management in Scotland; while at the same time its claims may well appeal to the charitable sympathies of the general public on the broader grounds of the peculiarly helpless and afflicted condition of those for whom it is intended, and the admirable means adopted to minimise the disadvantages at which they are placed by their infirmities, and to open out to them a sphere of usefulness. It is now universally admitted by the highest authorities that the old system of isolating persons thus afflicted from the companionship of those who possess the full use of all their exterior senses, was a great mistake. Obviously special training is required in such cases, but experts are now universally agreed that such special training should not be allowed to supersede, but only to supplement such general educational advantages as are enjoyed by others. At Smyllum these principles are accepted, and acted upon with the happiest results. The Blind and Deaf Mutes associate with the other children, and by so doing acquire from them ideas and conceptions to which, if left to themselves, they must ever have remained strangers. The happy results of this system may be read in the bright intelligent countenances of these children, and further evidence of it is afforded by the beautiful specimens of fancy work executed by them. The deaf and dumb execute fire screens, hand-painted mirrors, inlaid tables, fretwork corner cupboards, frames, baskets, patchwork quilts and point lace. The blind knit, sew, and crochet. Many specimens of their work were to he seen in the Glasgow Exhibition of 1888. Referring to these exhibits the Glasgow Herald says 'I the case from Smyllum Institution at Lanark specimens of knitted and woollen. work are shown in exquisitely blended and complementary colours which would seem the work of those specially gifted with a sense of colour, rather than those deprived of that sense. The specimens of sewn work are very beautiful. They are the work of the Deaf Mutes of the same Institution.' The Deaf Mutes are taught by what is commonly known as the 'sign system' which has been found the most expeditious and effectual means of enabling them to interchange ideas with each other and with the outside world. Their instruction is entrusted to teachers specially trained for the purpose. A permanent home is afforded to those who are unfit to leave the Institution. In necessitous cases (and such only too often present themselves among our poor) children are received when only a few days old. Not unfrequently, owing to neglect and other causes, these poor little creatures are in a deplorable condition when admitted. In most cases, however, cleanliness, fresh air, and constant care work wonders.” The means of the Orphanage depend on (1) The farm work; (2) Parochial Board allowances; and (3) Government grant to the schools. The Sisters therefore make an earnest appeal to the general public for help.

Sister Teresa continued as the home's Mother Superior up until her death in 1913.

The Smyllum home closed in 1981 and the property has since been converted to flats.

In 2000, it was reported that the Daughters of Charity were being sued by former residents, who claimed that they had suffered beatings and force-feeding while inmates of the institution.

In September 2017, an investigation by BBC Radio 4's 'File on 4' programme and the Sunday Post newspaper examined death certificates in archives and found 402 children from Smyllum Park. Only two were found to have been buried elsewhere. The remainder are thought to have been laid to rest in an unmarked mass grave at St Mary's cemetery, a mile away from the former home.


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