The History of Leith

April 4, 2005

Poor Law Administration.

From the Reformation till 1845 the relief of the poor depended mainly on kirk sessions, the money coming from church collections, gifts from parishioners, and fines imposed by the sessions. The following extracts from the records of South Leith Church show the manner of treatment of the poor in the seventeenth century
“22 Jany. 1685.—The Session ordained a groat per week to be given to a poor child in (3aldtoun (that is, the Calton, which then as now formed part of South Leith parish) who is fatherless and motherless and hath nothing qrby to be sustained or keeped from starvation.
“15 Mcli. 1691.—To Marjory Cruden who fell over the Shore among the ships anchors and was sore hurt, 14s.”
As the money mentioned is Scots money, and as 1691 would represent is. 2d. nowadays (1p now), it cannot be said that the treatment of the poor in those times was of too extravagant a nature. As a matter of fact, kirk sessions had sometimes very little in hand to disburse in the form of charity
In 1845 the Poor Law Act was passed under which two Parochial Boards for South Leith and the other for North Leith—were set up, each consisting of so many members nominated by the kirk session and so many elected by the ratepayers, and to these bodies the kirk sessions handed over the care of the poor. These Parochial Boards each built its own poorhouse, that of South Leith being erected in 1850, and that of North Leith in 1863. These two institutions have now been superseded by the large and modern poorhouse at Seafield.
In 1895 one Parish Council for the whole of Leith took the place of the two Parochial Boards, the members of the council being elected entirely by the ratepayers. The Parish Council not only looked after the poor, but performed several other duties as well. It levied the poor and education rates, attended to the registration of births, marriages, and deaths, and so on.
When the corporations of Edinburgh and Leith were amalgamated in 1920 the Parish Councils were also united, Leith returning eight of the forty-six councillors who comprise the Edinburgh Parish Council.
The poor Law was abolished in 1933.
Source John Russell 1922

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