On 29th September 2019 a ceremony was held within the grounds of Quarriers Village, Bridge of Weir, to mark the reinstatement of headstones on the graves of children who died while resident in the Quarriers home. These headstones had been removed decades ago and their reinstatement, the result of a years-long campaign, brought comfort and painful memories in equal measure. The campaign was run by a group of survivors who were resident in the Bridge of Weir home, many of whom who suffered abuse by its staff.
The home was established by the Quarriers Homes charity, founded by philanthropist William Quarrier. Just a little research into his background suggests that his intentions in founding the charity and the children’s home were only good, so it begs the question – where did it all go so wrong?
Quarriers is not alone in its legacy of abuse. Similarly charitable efforts across Scotland have led to the running of residential homes and schools in which children were subjected to varying forms and levels of abuse which went largely unchecked. The ongoing Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is attempting to answer this question as a starting point for informing social care in Scotland in the future, but it is also important to look at the possible answers for their own sake; to simply bear witness to the past as part of a national effort to allow survivors to find their own peace.
William Quarrier’s philanthropy was shaped by his own experience of childhood poverty in Glasgow and driven by his Christian faith. He founded the Orphan Homes of Scotland, now Quarriers Homes, in 1871 and first established a refuge for children in Glasgow. The Quarriers Homes project, begun in in 1876, took the form of a village, intended to give children the care they needed in a setting as close to a normal family life as possible. They were placed in cottages with houseparents, in a village with a school, a fire station, hospitals, farms, shops and a church. William Quarrier and his family are buried within the church grounds, and it is here where the recent ceremony took place. Any children who passed away while resident in the home were to be buried alongside William Quarrier and his family.
It is clear that the charity’s founder had every intention of giving a family, stability, safety, education and opportunity to children who found themselves without. It is clear now, however, that many of the approximately 30,000 children who were resident in the village between 1878 and the 1980s experienced none of these things.
Some of the problems which led to the lack of care and therefore to the emergence of abuse lie in governance; some in supervision; and some in the sheer scale of the project. These problems have been echoed throughout the provision of residential childcare in Scotland.
Quarriers as it exists now is run by a Board of Trustees. These trustees interview for their positions and have diverse backgrounds and experiences. Like in any other profession they must provide references and are subject to PVG checks. But the PVG scheme was only established by the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 and is now managed by Disclosure Scotland, itself founded in 2002.
It was stated in evidence given to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry that, historically, the recruitment process for the Quarriers Board of Trustees (formerly the Council of Management) was less robust. The general approach to recruiting was that prospective members had to be of “good standing” within the community and would benefit the organisation in some way. There was, therefore, huge potential for unqualified or unsuitable individuals to be given a position of substantial power.
This extends to the employment of houseparents and other general staff later employed within Quarriers. The houseparents were not trained or qualified in social care – they were normal people, usually with a trade or other employment (the house father at least had to have full time employment; in the earlier years the house mother was responsible for the running of the cottage), tasked with caring for high numbers of vulnerable children. It was inevitable that those children would not receive the level of attention and care that had been lacking so far in their short lives.
It is not clear that the houseparents were supervised closely by the Board of Managers, and the evidence of many survivors suggests that the local authority did not play a significant role in checking up on life within the cottages. Despite the independent nature of Quarriers, there was statutory provision for inspections by the local authority, as well as the removal of a child should their welfare require it, in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and, prior to that, the Children & Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937.
Despite the good intentions behind the founding of the Quarriers village a large number of children faced systematic abuse throughout their time there. If anyone had thought to just look beyond surface level of that seemingly idyllic community it would have been obvious, but nobody did. Instead, those who were left without the care and protection they desperately needed faced a lifetime of unnecessary and avoidable difficulty.