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That was life in a children's home forty years ago.

By JAN McQUEENIE...who spent seven years in Quarrier's Homes in Renfrewshire, three of those years with her young sister Isobel. People will think me ungrateful for writing this story, says Jan. But few can really visualise what life was like for some of the Quarrier's children.

Sunday Mail, May 27, 1984

Mrs Jan McQueenie spent the war years "In care" as one of 1000 girls and boys for whom children's rights were still a lottery. And Jan was one of the losers...

It all started on a cold, wet day. My mother, 11-year-old brother John, my four-year-old half-sister Isobel and myself, aged nine, had been trudging the streets of Glasgow for days.

Every day, since we disembarked from a Belfast boat, had been spent visiting austere buildings, while mother was interviewed by stern-looking officials. She had fled from my drunken, violent step-father and was seeking help.

On that day in 1939 we were back at the City Chambers in Glasgow, tired, hungry and soaked to the skin. I was stunned when my mother took a large brick and with a mighty heave, put it through a window of the City Chambers.

After the loud crash I found myself running. I ran on and on in the rain, up steep streets and past buildings.

I was found by two huge policemen late that night, huddled asleep at a back close entry.

I cannot remember whether I was carried to the police station, or taken by police car, but of this I am certain, I did not walk there.

The next thing I remember, was waking up, leaning against my mother, in a dimly lit room. It was in fact a police cell, and I was with my family again.

Two policemen came in with trays laden with cheese sandwiches, doughnuts and hot cocoa. To us, that night, it was like a banquet.

Next morning we were separated from our mother and eventually she returned, looking happier than I had seen her for a very long time.

There was to be no court case against her for breaking the window of the City Chambers, which she had done to draw attention to her plight and that of her children.

And there was more "good news." Isobel and I were to go into a good orphanage, a very special place, like a boarding school. My brother was to to live on a farm.

I was very afraid but shed no tears. I was to learn that during the next seven years, it did not pay to weep openly.

"When I am big," I told myself, "if I have children, I'll never put them into a home."

A big black car took us off. My sister sat beside me, alternately whimpering and sleeping.

Deep down inside me, I was filled with a terror I had never known. I tried to comfort my sister, who clung to me more than ever. The car slowed down and turned through a big gateway. We had arrived at Quarriers.

The two pathetically-clad waifs entered the hall of the big grey house that was to be our home for years.

Quarrier had been set up as a haven for needy children by a caring Christian man, William Quarrier.

My first impression of Miss Morrison, the woman who was to take the place of my mother for many years, was of a pleasant fairly plump lady with grey hair and glasses.

When she first met us, she spoke in a kindly way. I was soon to learn that one of the few times this tyrant ceased her shouting was when a "new one" entered the home.

"Say hello to your sisters," said Miss Morrison - not her real name, by the way.

"Hello," said 30 girls, whose ages ranged from about four to 15.

"What's your name?" She turned to look at us. "Janette Gordon," I stuttered, which I did not normally do. She repeated what I had said, mocking my accent.

"What's your name, then?" She looked at Isobel. No answer. "Her name is..." I was stopped abruptly in my reply. "Learn to speak when you are spoken to. Do you hear?" said Miss Morrison.

She gripped Isobel's left arm, and I could tell that she was hurting her - "What is your name?"

The child looked up into the hard face and said clearly, "My name is Isobel McKay, and I am four years old," just like her mother had taught her.


She told Isobel that if she was four, she was to act her age, "and stop that snivelling."

She then pointed a finger at two girls. "Get these two dirty tinkers downstairs and into the bath and give them a good scrub with carbolic soap, remember, and fine comb their hair too."

The girls who were to bath us were about 13. Then we were placed in the bath together and duly scrubbed with red soap, and a scrubbing brush which seemed to be made of nails.

They gave us some hints about the do's and dont's of the house. "Don't ever nod your head like this," said one. "If you do, you'll get it bashed against the nearest wall," said the other.

Finally, we were dried and clad in new white scratchy nightgowns, our hair was fine-tooth combed and we were given slippers.

We were now ready to be presented to "Mother." I never inwardly called her this or even "Auntie" as I did some of the other ladies I was to meet.

We were led into the playroom again. Miss Morrison sat on a large chair beside the huge polished table, facing the rows of children who were reciting the verses of a hymn. She turned to us.

"Have you had a good scrub eh? I'll bet you've never had a bath in your life before have you, eh?"

That was the way she spoke, often ending her sentences with "Eh?"

She went on: "Or seen a proper toilet eh?"

This taunting was always I part of our evening "Worship" - at the beginning, during "worship" and at the end.

The girls not criticised one evening, were not missed the next. Perhaps the potato peelings had been too thick, or someone had got their shoes wet - an unforgivable crime.

A child from our house dare not falter over the text in church. If she did, the child was severely smacked on the bare bottom, as soon as we arrived back at the house.

Occasionally, if Miss Morrison was in a good mood, the child got away with a lot of nasty nagging.

The punishment varied according to whether the girl was a "favourite" or a "hatred."

A bed-wetter was always put into a bath of cold water by an older girl on Miss Morrison's instructions. It was routine, as soon as they got up in the morning.

I got into the narrow sparsely-covered bed and bit my lip to keep me from crying out loud, the threatening voice still ringing in my ears.

Isobel had had a few accidents recently and was now a bed-wetter.

I still recall with horror the phrase this house-mother used on bed-wetters and other wrong-doers.

"I'll whip you to within an inch of your life."

It was one of her favourite threats.

It was wrong for anyone to use the bathroom during the night

Even the bed-wetters were not allowed to go.

In the morning we got out of bed at 6.30 a.m., turned our bedclothes down, then lined up outside Miss Morrison's bedroom door.

Each girl said to the door after knocking twice, " Good morning, Miss Morrison, Mary Watson," or whatever her name was.

The girls lined up in ages outside the dining room for breakfast and waited for Miss Morrison to come downstairs.

If it was a school day the bed-wetter didn't always get a thrashing, just knocked about a bit. We were not allowed to go to school with visible bruises.

On the first visiting day when I told my mother about the cold bath punishment, she did not believe me.

I asked my mother to take us home. She promised that she would. Very soon, she said, don't worry.

One morning at roll call I heard Miss Morrison ask another girl if her bed was dry. "One of these days I'll wring your sheet into a mug and make you drink it, do you hear?"

New trouble was soon In store for my sister Isobel.

She did not like porridge.

When Miss Morrison ladled out the porridge, she always gave the "hatreds" the lumps. Isobel was a "hatred" as was Mary Watson the bed-wetter.

Everyone had to eat every scrap of porridge, whether it was cooked, half cooked or raw.

If a girl was slow eating her porridge, castor oil was poured over it and she had to eat the lot.

Miss Morrison would come back into the room, drag her out of her seat by her hair, and make her stand facing the serving table.


She would slap her about, then push the plate into her hands. Sometimes she stuck her face into the porridge. Eventually castor oil was poured over it and she would be force-fed with the help of an older girl. If she was not attending school that day, she would be made to stand on her head in the corner of the hall between the kitchen and the playroom.

This, of course, was impossible but with the rough handling of Miss Morrison she would be forced to stand on her head and held that way, at the same time screamed at to "stop that noise, do you hear me."

Isobel would indeed be screaming. And inwardly I was screaming, too.

One Saturday morning there was a similar episode with Isobel ending up eating her vomit.

The following day at morning service we sang:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear,
What a privilege to carry,
Everything to God in prayer.

I used to think at times like this, some friend we had, when he allowed poor little Isobel to be made to eat her own vomit.

A few girls cleaned the shoes with a ration of shoe polish. They spat and brushed furiously on every shoe or boot, lining up the shoes for inspection.

If there were any damp shoes which could not be made to shine then according to Miss Morrison the owners had deliberately walked into water or snow and they were severely punished.

Even after a thrashing at inspection time the child would say, "Thank you, Miss Morrison."

I remember on more than one occasion at school I put a shoe or boot up my jumper, sometimes next to my skin, to try to dry it, first one then the other. It didn't always work.

I often wondered as a child in Quarriers, and after I had left, what would Mr Quarriers' reaction have been to the way of life to which we were subjected.

Our house was a house of fear where a sick child was afraid to tell anyone in case she was slapped about for feigning her condition, where a girl dreaded reaching the age of puberty, a condition which appeared to be a crime. Often a girl was deliberately ridiculed on entering this state, as all the children were stripped at the same time during a bathing session in the large cold bathroom.


Once I remember a girl running out of the lavatory screaming that she was dying. "Bleeding to death" were her words.

Instead of being taken aside and her condition explained to her, Miss Morrison laughed cruelly then shouted abuse at the girl at the top of her voice, coldly directing an older girl to see to her.

There was a spell of about three visiting days when my mother visited each time.

We had been in the home for over three years. She kept asking me why Isobel was thin and pale and cowed looking.

I told her again about some of the happenings but I did not think that she believed me.

A few visiting days later, we walked up the drive to the hall to meet our mother. One of my older brothers was with her. He was in Army uniform.

She told us the good news - Isobel was going home on the following Saturday.

I couldn't believe it at first. No more castor oil in her porridge, no more cold baths or punchings for Isobel.

She explained that the authorities at the home would not allow me to leave, as I needed to help with the younger children because of the shortage of adults owing to the war.

I was very disappointed but happy for Isobel.


Adapted from Along Life's Narrow Way, the autobiography of Jan McQueenie.


Happier days...and a future of hope.

Dr James Minto, director of the present-day Quarriers Homes said Jan McQueenie's story is of interest as a "peep into history."

He told the Sunday Mail: "Above all it underlines the extraordinary changes of the last 40 years."

"Mrs McQueenie was in care during the war when there were over 1000 children here.

"House parents were not trained and there was no outside mechanism to see that the children weren't cruelly treated. Children's rights were unheard of.

"The 1948 Social Work Act began dramatic changes to safeguard them.

"Children in Quarriers today (about 120, being reduced to 50) can go to a variety of staff if they have grievances.

"Corporal punishment of any kind is not permitted. And any mental cruelty by staff would be dealt with immediately.

"We know an institution can never be the same as a natural home.

"But our aim is to give a bright and optimistic future.

"Mrs McQueenie was unfortunate in her cottage.

"Many of her contemporaries have pleasant memories of different cottages.

"Later this year the whole Quarriers story is to be published and it doesn't shirk the facts about harsh regimes in some of the units.

"Around 65,000 children have passed through in 112 years.

"It would be strange indeed if all of them remembered their days with pleasure and gratitude."

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