Advertisement
Books

JB Mylet: A dark history of orphanages and a mother’s childhood secret

The Quarriers Homes in Bridge of Weir, Scotland was where mum had grown up in the Fifties. So why had she never spoken about it until now?

How well do you know your parents? Not the people they became once they were parents, but the people they were before that, and when they were children themselves. I started really thinking about that when writing my book The Homes. I was 21 years old and my father had suddenly died, so I moved back home to be with my mum, who was 48. It was a time of much heartbreak and sadness, but it was also a time when I really got to know my mother.

We talked a lot about many things, including her life when she was younger. We didn’t have grandparents on her side – we were never told why, and we weren’t inquisitive enough to ask any further.

My mum had grown up in an orphan’s village called the Quarriers Homes in Bridge of Weir, Scotland (about 10 miles west of Glasgow). She had been given up when she was three weeks old. The Quarrier’s was a man-made village set up by William Quarrier in the 1870s to help with the problem of children living on the streets of Glasgow. At any one time up to 1,000 children would live in one of the 40 cottages within the village. The village also had a school, a church, shops and a hospital. My mum had gone there in the ’50s, and up until the age of six she thought all children lived the same way. She never knew that most lived with their parents and she had never met any.

Subscribe to The Big Issue

From just £3 per week

Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work.

She told me stories about the village. And when her friend Morag Jones, who had also been in the homes, came down to stay with us, they would talk about their time there, the good and some of the many bad things that had happened. In each other’s company they also regressed to behaving like the two friends they had been all their lives, rather than the parents I knew them as, and I saw a whole new side to my mum.

I wanted to tell a story set in the Homes as it sounded such a unique place. I felt not enough people knew about it, and that the generation who had lived there was dying out. I also wanted to reflect the amazing courage and determination of those children, especially my mum, to get through each day when you only had yourself and your friend to get you through. Although the Homes were set up with the best of intentions, there was some appalling treatment of children in those places. As the tagline of the book says, there were some good people there but there were also some very bad ones.

Ethical Shopping

Visit The Big Issue Shop

Browse our range of books and support a social enterprise today.

The story I wrote begins in 1963 when two girls are killed and the Homes is in panic and disarray. But I wanted the book to be about more than a murder mystery. I wanted it to capture the fear, hope and
bravery of the people there in such testing circumstances. It took me seven years to get the book right. I interviewed my mum extensively along the way to make sure the details and phrases I used were correct. The person who ran the entire village was called the Superintendent; the people who ran the cottages were the House Mother and House Father, along with a cook.

Advertisement
Advertisement
The Homes by JB Mylet is out now
(Viper Books, £12.99)

With my mum’s help I managed to set the scene for the story which occurs over one summer, when the lead character, 12-year-old Lesley, and her best friend Jonesy try to work out what is going on.

From the ’70s onwards there was a change in how orphaned children, or children who couldn’t be raised by their parents, were cared for. Fewer children were sent to homes and more were fostered. The Quarriers village stopped its childcare by the early ’80s.

In real life my mum’s story has a happy ending. In the last year, after finding out her birth mother had died, she got in contact with her four sisters who had never known she existed. And so, at the age of 72, she has gone from having no siblings to having four. And they are the most lovely of people.

There is a support group set up if you are a survivor of the abuses carried out at the Quarrier Homes


This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Advertisement

Bigger Issues need bigger solutions

Big Issue Group is creating new solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunities for the 14.5 million people living in poverty to earn, learn and thrive. Big Issue Group brings together our media and investment initiatives as well as a diverse and pioneering range of new solutions, all of which aim to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity. Learn how you can change lives today.

Recommended for you

Read All
Bliss Montage by Ling Ma review: 'Dreamlike and unsettling'
Book reviews

Bliss Montage by Ling Ma review: 'Dreamlike and unsettling'

John Vercher: We now know contact sports are dangerous – so is it ethical to watch them?
Books

John Vercher: We now know contact sports are dangerous – so is it ethical to watch them?

Must read books this autumn: An essential list to brighten the short, dark days ahead
Books

Must read books this autumn: An essential list to brighten the short, dark days ahead

Morbid Obsessions review: A safety blanket for the marginalised
Book reviews

Morbid Obsessions review: A safety blanket for the marginalised

Most Popular

Read All
How much will the Queen's funeral cost?
1.

How much will the Queen's funeral cost?

The internet's best reactions as Kwasi Kwarteng cuts taxes and lifts the cap on bankers' bonuses
2.

The internet's best reactions as Kwasi Kwarteng cuts taxes and lifts the cap on bankers' bonuses

From benefit claimants to bankers: Here’s what the mini-budget means for your pay packet
3.

From benefit claimants to bankers: Here’s what the mini-budget means for your pay packet

5 ways anti-homeless architecture is used to exclude people from public spaces
4.

5 ways anti-homeless architecture is used to exclude people from public spaces

To mark our new Arctic Monkeys exclusive interview, we’ve picked out some of our best band and musician interviews from the past, featuring Arctic Monkeys (2018), When Jarvis met Bowie, The Specials, Debbie Harry and more. Sign up to our mailing list to receive your free digital copy.