Cunninghame Combination Poorhouse

The Cunninghame (or Cunningham) Combination was formed in around 1856 and initially comprised the parishes of Ardrossan, Beith, Dalry, Dreghorn, Irvine, Kilbirnie, West Kilbride, Kilwinning, Stevenston and Stewarton. Later members were Dundonald, Dunlop, Galston, Kilmarnock, Kilmaurs, Loudoun and Symington. Fenwick joined in 1895 and Largs in 1906. Other parishes, such as Kilbride and Kilmory from Arran and Old Kilpatrick in Dunbartonshire, paid to send paupers to the poorhouse.

In about 1889, Kilmaurs established its own local poorhouse or almshouse in a rented property which the parish subsequently purchased around 1900. In 1904, the building was reckoned to be able to accommodate up to 6 men, 2 women, and 2 children.

Cunninghame Combination Poorhouse was built between 1857 and 1858 at the north-west of Irvine on what is now Sandy Lane. The Governor, David Hunter,and his staff of three admitted the first four inmates on the 20th September 1858. The establishment was officially opened two days later. The Governor in 1873 was Hugh Lockhart who was still there in 1897 at a salary of £75 per annum.. The significance of the word Combination in the original name of the institution refers to the poorhouse being built to serve a number of parishes within North Ayrshire, which were also jointly responsible for its funding.

The original establishment comprised the main accommodation building, which also incorporated accommodation for the governor, a chapel, bath house, bake house, cobblers, and other various workshops. The space between the buildings was used a an exercise yard. When first constructed, the poorhouse could accommodate ten males and 10 females inmates, who would have been categorised as imbeciles or idiots.

The rear parts of the main building included kitchens, chapel, bakehouse, bathhouse and cobbler’s workshop. The areas between the buildings formed exercise yards for the inmates.

In 1858, separate accommodation was provided for 10 male and 10 female “pauper imbeciles and idiots”. A separate asylum building was later erected at the rear workhouse building.

Many additions were made to the buildings in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including a new west wing, and a further wing at the south-west containing a new board room and offices. A separate house at the south of the main building may have become the Governor’s quarters.

Considerable expansion also took place at the north, with additional infirmary accommodation, and a large group of single-storey buildings which may have been further workshops.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was considerable expansion on the site including a detached house for the governor. In 1892. a report drew attention to the indiscriminate burying of Protestant and Catholic paupers who died in the institution. It was further reported that the ground (part of the gardens) had been used more than once, and that were no records showing where a family might erect a gravestone should the occasion arise.

An inspection by the Scottish Board of Supervision in 1880 found that “the House continues clean and orderly but I observed with surprise that the Committee still maintain the custom of providing but one sheet for each bed.” It also noted that “for the safety of officials, it is important that some formal record should be preserved for the punishments inflicted in School” and that “entertainments given to the inmates should be limited to those of good character and to the children”.

Another report by the General Superintendent of Poorhouses in 1892 alleged that “paupers dying in this House, whose bodies are not claimed by friends, are buried in an enclosed part of the garden. I am surprised that no complaint has arisen with regard to this practice and I am afraid that a great scandal may at any time arise. Protestants and Roman Catholics are buried indiscriminately. The ground has been twice gone over during the present Governor’s term of office. If any descendant of a deceased pauper, who may have prospered in the world, desires to erect a headstone to his parents’ memory it will probably be impossible to indicate the place of sepulture.” Cunninghame responded that there had never been any complaints about this long-standing practice and that the ground in question, some 508 square yards in extents, was walled off from the poorhouse garden. Some action was clearly taken however, as the 1911 Ordnance Survey map shows an area at the north of the site now formally designated as a graveyard.

During the First World War, when the Renfrewshire Combination poorhouse at Crookston was taken over by the military muthorities, over a hundred of its inmates were transferred to Cunninghame.

In 1930, control of the poorhouse site passed to the local authority and the establishment became the Cunninghame Home and Hospital, providing a 106-bed hospital, wards for the elderly, a mentally defective unit, and an asylum block. It became part of the new National Health Service in 1948 and in 1958 was renamed Ravenspark. It continued to provide psychiatric and geriatric care up until its closure in around 1996.

In 1948, the NHS took over responsibility for the facility, and in 1958 the name was changed to Ravenspark Hospital, where psychiatric and geriatric care was administered.

In 1996, the hospital closed and remained empty and derelict until the early 2000s, when the site was sold for redevelopment. Most of the buildings were demolished to make way for flats, and the area is now known as Ravenspark Village. Development of the site came to a stop during 2008/9, attributed to the recession, leaving a number of the derelict building to stand on the site, presumably waiting for an upturn in the prevailing economic conditions.

In 2011, development work restarted, and in December 2012 the BBC carried a story about a mass grave being discovered by workers on the site. Work was stopped on that part of the site while police and archaeologists investigated. Such discoveries have to be formally investigated, to confirm the remains are historic and not current. However, in this case the source was soon identified: “A report by the General Superintendent of Poorhouses in 1892 alleged that ‘paupers dying in this house, whose bodies are not claimed by friends, are buried in an enclosed part of the garden'”. A fairly detailed account of the activities taking place at the establshment was provided by the BBC.

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