Poverty and the Poorhouse: The Impact of Gender, Family and Migration on the Provision of Welfare in Highland Perthshire 1864 – 1884

Washbrook, Ruth (2021). Poverty and the Poorhouse: The Impact of Gender, Family and Migration on the Provision of Welfare in Highland Perthshire 1864 – 1884. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


The Poor Law (Scotland) Amendment Act of 1845 secularised the administration of poor relief in Scotland and legalised the building of poorhouses to provide for the aged and infirm, physically or mentally disabled and the destitute. Unlike English workhouses, Scottish poorhouses did not provide for the unemployed and able-bodied. Eligibility for poor relief was determined according to debility and destitution with moral concepts of the deserving and undeserving poor dictating the type of welfare offered and accepted. Relief decisions were made at parish level and could vary between localities with local Poor Law Inspectors interpreting national guidelines according to local custom.

In 1864, the Atholl, Weem and Breadalbane Poorhouse opened its doors to provide indoor relief for the poor of eleven parishes in Highland Perthshire. This region of rural Scotland had experienced high levels of poverty with significantly more women than men receiving poor relief. This was exacerbated by changes in agricultural practices leading to depopulation through migration and emigration. Relatively few local studies of the Scottish Poor Laws have been undertaken, with this area of scholarship considered as having largest gap in the historiography of experiences of the poor in Britain. To date no detailed scholarship of Highland Perthshire has been undertaken and this study therefore aims to address these gaps in Scottish Poor Law historiography. It will do so by examining how gender influenced the provision, administration and experience of poor relief in rural Scotland through analysis of the Poorhouse inmates between 1864 and 1884. Using quantitative and qualitative methodologies, it tests the contention that women were more vulnerable to poverty than men, concluding that being female did predispose an individual to poverty and this was exacerbated by the family status, illegitimacy and migration.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions