The story of William Quarrier
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 selling matches. He was crying because they had been stolen and now he would have no money. William decided that he had to help and established a Shoeblack Brigade for children living on the streets where boys could earn money cleaning shoes on street corners. This led to similar initiatives with newsboys and a parcel brigade.
In 1871, William opened Renfrew Lane Homes for orphaned and destitute children living in Glasgow. Two more homes opened the following year, and a night refuge in 1873. But he still felt there was more to be done. He wrote to the Glasgow Herald announcing plans to create a children’s village, a homely living environment for poor and destitute children that would be 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.
Inspired 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 on The Golden Bridge.
In the hope of providing children with a better life, William Quarrier established a programme of emigration to Canada. On 2 July 1872, 35 children from Quarrier’s homes made the first journey to Canada on board the St David. During the first few years, the children went to a receiving home in Belleville, Ontario, where they stayed for several months before being placed with families on farms and homesteads, mainly in Ontario. Quarriers soon established its own receiving home, Fairknowe, in Brockville, Ontario, and this was managed by William Quarrier’s daughter and son-in-law. Children journeying to Canada were accompanied by senior personnel from the Orphan Homes, and sometimes William Quarrier himself made the journey with them.Migration was paused between 1897 due to a change in legislation, then began again in 1904 and, with an enforced break during the First World War, continued until 1938. Throughout this period one or two parties of 50–70 children sailed to Canada every year. A total of 6,987 children emigrated to Canada through Quarriers.37 children were migrated to Australia between 1939 and 1963.
If you want to find out more about Quarriers migration, please contact our Aftercare Team.
n 1876, William purchased land at Nittingshill Farm near Bridge of Weir. He worked with architect Robert Bryden to plan the village, 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 that served as a school and church.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.
Mount Zion Church and Nittingshill Cemetery were opened on 6 March 1888. William Quarrier and many of his family are buried in the cemetery along with staff, families and people supported by the Orphan Homes of Scotland and then Quarriers’ Homes.
In 1898, the Consumption Sanatoria for people affected by tuberculosis opened in the village. Two more sanatoria buildings and a hospital would follow, and more than 11,000 patients 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 patients to undergo treatment as well as learning skills in 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.
Changes in government and leglislation, including The Education (Scotland) Act 1918 and The Children’s Act 1948, led to significant changes in how the homes were run.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. In 1982, Quarriers Homes began to provide support services for people living with a disability, and from 1990 onwards, the organisation diversified significantly and established services throughout Scotland, from Elgin in the north east to Dumfries in the south west.The organisation changed its name to Quarriers in 1998.
Today, we are one of Scotland’s largest social care charities, supporting thousands of people through over 100 services across Scotland. We work for and with people who need support, providing services for adults with a disability, children and families, young homeless people, carers of all ages and people affected by epilepsy.We are an organisation steeped in history, but we have a firm focus on the future and how we can evolve to meet the changing needs of the people we support. Through this work, William Quarrier’s vision of making life better for people in Scotland is very much alive more than 150 years on. In 2021, we moved our registered head office to the William Quarrier Scottish Epilepsy Centre in Glasgow. This places our head office in a flagship building with high-end conferencing facilities and takes the organisation back into the heart of Glasgow where our journey began.