Our history

Quarriers is a unique, inspirational Scottish charity that grew from one man’s vision to an organisation that supports thousands of people to reach their potential. Its fascinating history spans 150 years, and it all began with William Quarrier.

William Quarrier

Early life

William Quarrier was born in Cross Shore Street in Greenock in 1829. After his father died, his family moved to Glasgow. Aged just seven, William began working as a pin maker, and at age eight, he was an apprentice shoemaker. He went on to become a successful shoe merchant, owning several shops in Glasgow.


One night in 1864, William met a boy who was crying. He had been selling matches and some older boys had stolen them and now he would have no money. William decided that now that he was no longer poor he had to help and established a Shoeblack Brigade for children living on the streets. The boys went out cleaning shoes on street corners – they kept some of the money they earned and the rest was used to replenish the stock of brushes and polish. This led to similar initiatives with newsboys and a parcel brigade.

The first support services

William Quarrier opened Renfrew Lane Homes in 1871 for orphaned and destitute children living in Glasgow, with two more homes to come in the following year. He also opened a night refuge in 1873.

Impressed by contemporaries Thomas Barnardo and Annie Macpherson using emigration to improve the lives of children in their care, William established a programme of emigration to Canada. 35 children from Quarrier’s homes made the journey to Canada in 1872, and migrations to Canada continued until the 1930s and to Australia until the 1960s. Stories of migration, photos and Quarriers’ Narrative of Facts can be found here on The Golden Bridge

Seeing there was more to be done, he wrote to the Glasgow Herald announcing plans to create a children’s village. This would be a homely living environment for poor and destitute children, and a real contrast to the institutional orphanages of the time. People across the country were moved by this proposal and began to send in donations.

The Orphan Homes of Scotland

In 1876, William purchased land at Nittingshill Farm near Bridge of Weir. He worked with architect Robert Bryden to plan the Orphan Homes, and building work on the first cottage began the following year.

The Orphan Homes of Scotland opened on 17 September 1878, with two cottages and a central building which served as a school and church.

Work on the homes continued steadily, and the village grew to include almost 40 cottages, a school, workshops, Mount Zion Church and a training ship where boys could learn skills for a career in the navy.

William Quarrier passed away in October 1903, and his wife Isabella passed away the following year. Their loss was deeply mourned by everyone at the Orphan Homes, and they were buried in the churchyard at Mount Zion Church.

Migration to Canada and Australia

Inspired by contemporaries Thomas Barnardo and Annie Macpherson, William established a programme of emigration to Canada. 35 children from Quarrier’s homes made the journey to Canada on board the St David on 2 July 1872.

Nittingshill Cemetery

Mount Zion Church and Nittingshill Cemetery were opened on 6 March 1888, some ten years after the establishment of Quarriers Village. William Quarrier and many of his family are buried in the Cemetery along with staff, families and those supported when the organisation was known as the Orphan Homes of Scotland and then Quarriers’ Homes from 1958.

Find out more.

View the graveyard plan.

The Colony of Mercy and the Consumption Sanatoria

In 1898, the first Consumption Sanatoria building opened in Quarriers Village. Two more sanatoria buildings and a hospital would follow, and over 11,000 patients affected by tuberculosis were treated in these facilities between 1898 and 1948.

In 1895, William announced plans to build The Colony of Mercy, a centre for people affected by epilepsy. The Colony, which was opened by William and Isabella’s daughter Mary in 1906, offered a comfortable environment for people affected by epilepsy to undergo treatment as well as learning skills in the workshops and at evening classes. The centre stayed at the cutting edge of technology and treatment, and in 1969, the Colony of Mercy became known as Hunter House Assessment Centre, and later The Scottish Epilepsy Centre, the only residential assessment unit of its kind in Scotland.

In 2013, The William Quarrier Scottish Epilepsy Centre opened in Glasgow, offering world-leading treatment and diagnostic facilities in a central, more accessible location.


The Education (Scotland) Act 1918 transferred the management of schools from school boards to regional educational authorities, meaning that schools could be more closely observed and regulated by qualified authorities. Therefore, from 1919, the Orphan Homes School was officially maintained and managed by the Renfrewshire Education Authority.

Between 1870 and 1933, a total of 80,000 children went to Canada, with around 7,000 children coming from The Orphan Homes of Scotland. It is estimated that there are around 250,000 descendants of these emigrants living in Canada today.

Throughout the 1940s and especially after the end of the war, child welfare became an increasingly important issue for both the government and the public, and The Children’s Act was introduced in 1948.

1948 also saw the establishment of the NHS, which meant that medical facilities such as the Consumption Sanatoria were now run by local health boards.

Recognising that children in the homes were far less likely to be orphans due to changes in healthcare and the falling rates of diseases like smallpox, the Orphan Homes of Scotland changed its name to Quarriers Homes in 1958.


Major changes in childcare practice and legislation came into effect, which had a significant effect on how children were looked after, and ultimately led to the numbers of children in Quarriers Homes decreasing. Between 1878 and the mid-1980s, over 30,000 children were cared for in Quarrier’s children’s village.

Quarriers began to expand with homes outside the village and in 1977, launched a family fostering project with Strathclyde which successfully found foster homes for 50 children.

In 1982, Quarriers Homes began to provide support services for people living with a disability. From 1990 onwards, the organisation diversified significantly and established services throughout Scotland, from Elgin in the north east to Dumfries in the south west. These services offer a wide range of support, from care homes and respite for people with a disability to accommodation for young homeless people, support for carers, family centres and community-based support for people living with epilepsy.

The organisation changed its name to Quarriers in 1998.

Present day

Today, Quarriers is one of Scotland’s largest social care charities, and while its headquarters remain in Quarriers Village, the organisation supports thousands of people every day through over 100 services across Scotland. Quarriers works with adults with a disability, children and families, young homeless people, carers and people affected by epilepsy, with a firm focus on the individuals and families who rely on the charity’s care and support.

Through this work, William Quarrier’s vision of making life better for families, however much the odds are stacked against them, lives on.

The Quarriers Story by Anna Magnusson

The Quarriers Story, written by Anna Magnusson, chronicles the history of Quarriers from its earliest days as a refuge for thousands of destitute children in Victorian Scotland, through to becoming one of the 21st century’s leading social care charities. It tells the inspiring story of how the vision and determination of one man – William Quarrier – created a legacy which continues to serve the people of Scotland to this day.

You can purchase the book for £9.99 through our fundraising department on 01505 616132 / 616054 or email [email protected]. Profits from the sale of each book go to Quarriers.

The Quarriers Story
In 1871, Glasgow shoemaker William Quarrier founded an organisation which offered help to the thousands of destitute children in Glasgow’s infamous slums. Shortly after Quarriers Village was opened, providing a refuge in the rolling fields of Renfrewshire. Since these beginnings, Quarriers has cared for over 40,000 children in need and now provides support and care for adults and children with a wide range of physical or learning disadvantages and their families. This is a detailed record of the organisation’s evolution and an inspiring story of one man’s legacy.

ISBN 1 84158 494 0