‘A backward lad’ – records of the children at the Royal Scottish National Institution

The cataloguing work on the Continuity of Care project is still going on, with work well under way on the 3000+ applications. The database to the collection now holds over 1000 items. But the number of items that show the abilities of the children themselves can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Opposite is a rare example of the literacy and numeracy skills of one applicant. His name

Handwriting and long division by George Aitken, 1886
Handwriting and long division by George Aitken, 1886

was George Aitken as he was fully able to write himself, along with his date of birth. To include an example of his numeracy skills is even more unusual. In his note accompanying these samples, A J Fitch, secretary to the Institution writes:

‘I have seen this lad and have difficulty in discovering his imbecility. The boy reads fairly well – writes and does sums. He is a backward lad consequent upon elipeptic [sic] attacks which prevents his attendance at an ordinary school.’

The Institution had a policy of refusing admission to epileptics. At the bottom of the medical certificate that accompanies most of the applications is the declaration:

‘Cases of Insanity, of confirmed Epilepsy, of the Deaf and Dumb, and of the Blind, are ineligible for admission, except upon payment’.

In reality this policy was readily overlooked. As Fitch himself commented in a note to an 1889 application:

‘ you have however somewhat relaxed your rule as to epilepsy and may be disposed to look favourably’.

Although easy to dismiss this change of heart as motivated by the payments anticpated from the parents, one application from 1891  shows an other side of the Institution. Subject to fits and ‘unable to make any payment’, she was still admitted.

Schoolroom at the Scottish National Institution, c1915
Schoolroom at the Scottish National Institution, c1915


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