Providing for the Poor
Before the welfare state, the Church looked after the poor and the sick using donations and taxes to feed, clothe and house them.
Only the elderly and infirm were allowed relief. In 1845 Parochial Boards and Poor Inspectors were introduced to assess claims for assistance. Parishes came together to erect poorhouses such as the combination poorhouse at East Linton.
Some benefactors left money to be used to care for the poor by setting up schools, hospitals or trust funds. Mary Murray, who set up a school for the education of girls in Prestonpans, is just one example.
Those who were in work could insure themselves against hard times by joining a friendly society. By paying their membership dues they would receive a small sum of money when they were sick or out of work. Funeral costs for themselves and their spouse would also be paid.
Plan of Mary Murray institute, 1937
Ancient Order of Foresters apron. Original item can be seen in the museum next door along with further information on friendly societies.
“The ship provided education and training for the boys”
In the days before the social security system those in need of financial assistance often came to the parish for help.
The poor rolls show those applying for relief, and parish minutes give further information on each case. While most were given money or sent to the poorhouse, the North Berwick Parochial Board minutes show that in 1875 two young boys, William Dishington and John Black, were sent to the Mars training ship at Dundee. The ship provided education and training for boys, with as many as two-thirds of the occupants going into service in the Merchant Navy. John Black is later recorded in the parish minutes as having ‘went to sea’.
Image of the Mars ship, c. 1910
Extract from North Berwick Parochial Board minutes, 1875