dr guthries boys school edinburgh dormitory

This  is  an  accurate  image  of  a  dormitory  at  Dr  Guthrie's  Boys'  School  in  1970 

Dr Guthries ragged school statue protest

There  is  a  100  year  D  notice  on  Dr  Guthrie's  schools  

There are very few photographs of the Guthrie schools. And of those that do exist, I am not allowed to show most of them


From the moment you entered the boys' school until the day you left, you were just a number. I was number 38.

 We had to sew our number on every piece of clothing we had, including our face flannel.

Dr Guthrie's Ragged Schools – Exclusively   for the Impoverished

At the age of 11. My perception of reality was so shaped by seeing violence and cruelty from staff that when I saw a boy being dragged out of bed by his hair in the middle of the night and then being dragged out of the dormitory by his hair, I assumed it was normal and that the boy was just being taken for a cold shower.


Guthries boys school liberton Edinburgh

At  Dr  Guthrie's  Boys'  School  there  was  no  tap  for  drinking  water  upstairs,  so  if  you  were  thirsty  you  had  to  drink  hot  water.

  It  was  a  grim  place


"When  I  first  arrived  at  the  Boys'  School  at  the  end  of  March  1970,  there  was  no  matron  on  duty;  there  was  no  matron  until  February  1972.  The  staff  always  measured  the  weight  and  height  of  the  boys.

  The  German  woman  who  became  matron  only  started  work  at  the  Boys'  School  in  February  1972". 

It is important to remember that I did not commit any of the crimes of which I was accused. On the day of my trial I was simply accused and found guilty. I was not allowed to plead not guilty. I was so small. I could barely see the judge from the dock.                                                             

 I should also mention that when I was at the Boys' School there were three boys from my tiny village at Dr Guthrie's Boys' School at the same time, I was one of them and I was the first. We were kept in separate dormitories.


The  internal  windows  of  the  dormitories  were  so  high  that  we  couldn't  look  out  without  standing  on  a  bed,  and  we  were  too  scared  to  do  that.  From  the  outside,  the  windows  look  normal 

At  eleven  years  old,  I  arrived  at  Dr. Guthrie's  Boys'  School

We were given a single pillow. Each bed had a red rubber mat that was badly worn, dirty and stained. Next to each bed was a very small, worn-out bedside cabinet.

When the staff came to wake us up in the morning, they would shout 'Get up, you bastard' into the ears of the children who were still asleep.

If you were unlucky enough to receive this treatment, as you lay there in a state of shock, your sheets would be torn off and thrown into the dormitory. 

The experience of being abruptly awakened by someone shouting in your ear 'get up you bastard' was extremely unpleasant, so much so that when I woke up during the night I was too scared to go back to sleep and stayed awake until the staff came to wake the boys. 


When all the boys got out of bed we had to take off all our bed sheets and fold them, including our pillowcase, into a square block at the foot of our beds and then stand at attention at the foot of our beds while our sheets were inspected. Sometimes the staff would throw our folded sheets on the floor of the dormitory if they weren't perfectly folded and make us fold them again.

After our sheets were inspected, we were all marched downstairs to the washroom where we brushed our teeth and washed our faces.

 Then we were all marched back upstairs to get dressed.


After getting dressed, we were all marched down to the dining hall for breakfast, where we were given a very small cup of milk. Sometimes the milk was sour and had a terrible taste. This milk was used for our cornflakes or porridge, and we had to leave some milk in the cup for our tea. Occasionally, instead of porridge or cereal, we were given a slice of toast or bread with a very small, hard-boiled egg. We were given a small packet of Anchor butter to spread on our bread or toast. There was never any sugar, butter, or jam on the table. Only a small, individual portion of butter was given to each boy.


The staff dining room was very different from the big workhouse-style dining hall used by the boys. The staff dining room had a long, dark mahogany table with a white tablecloth. They had silver cake stands and a cheese stand with a variety of cheeses and biscuits. They used different fancy plates.

 I don't know if they ate the same food as the boys, but I remember that their dining room looked lavish compared to the boys', like something out of Oliver Twist.


After breakfast, all the boys were marched down the corridor to a door that opened onto the large concrete square. But before we could enter the square, we had to go through a small room where each boy was given a box with our number on it.

That's where we kept our boots. Then we had to take off our slippers and put on our boots. 

"my boots did not fit properly. My toes always hurt, I don't think my boots had changed for two years because my feet had grown and the boots were too small, causing constant pain".


Every morning after breakfast, we had roll call in the square. We lined up in our four dormitories and shouted out our numbers. Then we were marched up and down the concrete square, as if we were in the army.

 This routine continued in all weather conditions, including rain, hail, sunshine, and even during a blizzard with six inches of snow on the ground.

I have this memory that it must have been the year the clocks didn't go back, because it was still dark at 9 o'clock in the morning, maybe the winter of 1970-1971, that day all the boys were covered in centimeters of snow, marching up and down the square. 


In winter, we wore a blue canvas shirt, a brown corduroy jacket and brown corduroy shorts.

They sewed up our pockets.

The staff took great pleasure in seeing us all shivering in the bitter cold... All of us were practically freezing to death. We had to walk around in these clothes even when it was below freezing, even when it was -10°C.

If you dared to put your hands down your shorts for warmth and the staff saw you, you were dragged into the headmaster's office, held over his desk and whipped on your bare bottom with a thick yellow Scottish tawse. 


There was a toilet in the corner of the concrete square. I started smoking at the age of eleven because it helped to mask the terrible stench of that filthy toilet. The cubicles had no doors, so you had to defecate in front of everyone. It took me a few days after arriving at Dr Guthrie's Boys' School to realise that I was better off using the upstairs toilet because it was so embarrassing to defecate in front of everyone. I only used the outside toilets when I was desperate. The toilet paper felt and looked like shiny tracing paper and was the cheapest I'd ever seen or used.


We would occasionally attend the woodwork class. The instructor was a decent man who never mistreated me. However, he could become angry over the smallest mistakes. He enjoyed smoking a pipe. 

Most days we just walked around the concrete yard, we very rarely went to the gym or the swimming pool, and when we did go to the swimming pool we were usually sexually abused. 


 When it was time for dinner, we all went back to the small room. We put on our slippers again and lined up in the corridor, then we were all marched up the corridor to the dining hall.

We got our dinner around 1pm. and it consisted of soup, lunch, custard, and cake. The food was OK, but that was all we got until we got a piece and jam and a cup of tea around 7.30pm. 

After dinner we were all marched down the corridor to the small room to change back into our boots. We just walked around the concrete yard until about 4.30pm, then we changed our boots for slippers and we all went into the TV room. 

I don't think I spent more than four or five days in a classroom in the 29 months I spent at Dr Guthrie's Boys' School. As I walked around the square I often wondered why they didn't educate me; they had me trapped, I had nowhere else to go and yet they gave me virtually no education. In the 1980s this failure to give me an education really bothered me: I had to lie about having O-levels on my job application forms.


At the age of eleven, I was sent to Dr Guthrie's Boys' School, although I had not committed the offences of which I was accused.

In 1988, I went to a solicitor to report that I had been abused. The solicitor told me that there was nothing he could do about the abuse if there were no witnesses. In response to my attempts to bring a case against them for failing to provide an education, the solicitor said that under Scottish law, my right to an education had been lost because of my status as a criminal.

Now, in 2024, I have many witnesses, but the law now says, 'If the abusers are dead, I have no case'.


I remember there was a small hut near the wall that divided the area where we had our sports day, and sometimes I was starving. Carrots and potatoes were kept in this hut, and sometimes I was so hungry that I ate the raw potatoes.

One night I sneaked downstairs to the kitchen because I was starving. I found everything locked up with huge padlocks, and the only thing edible was the hard fat on top of the next day's soup, and I could hardly eat it. 

We got our piece and jam and a cup of tea around 7.30pm then we all marched up to our dormitories, got a shower then bed. Lights were normally put out around 8.30pm


One night I was crying in bed and the night watchman found me there. When he asked me why I was crying, I explained that I had been hit with a medicine ball and that was why my hand and arm hurt. After taking me downstairs to the headmaster's door, the night watchman and the headmaster got into an argument. I was taken to a hospital in Edinburgh and had an x-ray.

My hand was broken. My hand was black, my arm was black up to the elbow.

The night watchman left his job after that night and I never saw him again. The night watchman was a decent and ordinary man compared to most of the other staff.


At the bottom of the dormitory there was a cupboard with a curtain. This was where we kept our Sunday clothes. You basically tried to find a jacket and trousers that would fit. Some Sundays you would be marched to church and either your jacket was too big or too small, or your trousers were too long or too short.

We weren't allowed to wear our own clothes to church, we had to wear what was provided. It was embarrassing to walk the streets of Edinburgh in 1970 dressed like that, we were really ragged.

 The suits were made of the worst material I've ever had the misfortune to wear. We stood out like sore thumbs in the embarrassing Sunday suits they gave us. 


One day in winter, all the boys in my dormitory were marched down to the shower block and a black disinfectant was poured into the bottom of the shower. The shower tray was plugged.

The boys' feet had to be sterilised because someone in the school had a verruca.

 Twenty boys were packed naked into the shower block, which had five shower heads. We were made to stand in three inches of disinfectant for up to an hour.

 We were all naked and shivering in the bitter cold, and I didn't feel human at all.


The dormitories were gloomy, dismal, dreary places. The atmosphere was Dickensian.

There were no books, no games, no toys - the only thing I was given was an old wooden spool with nails in it, and we used to make rat tails out of wool. 

 There were no curtains on the windows and no decoration on the walls.

 There was just a mirror screwed to the wall - that was it. 

   A  Victorian  workhouse  in  1970 


After  months  and  years  of  being  tortured  and  abused  by  loving,  compassionate  Christians,  we  should  really  thank  this  man 

Thomas Guthrie Edinburgh

Thomas Guthrie, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, 1862

Dr Guthries Association Edinburgh

Thomas Guthrie was a founding member of the Free Church of Scotland. Guthrie was involved in the government's effort to care for homeless and disorderly children. The first step toward achieving this was a law passed in 1854 (17 & 18 Vict. c. 74) allowing judges to commit vagrant youngsters to reformatory and industrial schools. In 1862, he was appointed Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. 



The use of transportation as a form of punishment was outlawed by the Penal Servitude Act of 1857 (20 and 21 Vict. c. 3). Children who would have been transported to Australia as convicts prior to 1854 now had to be housed in the new industrial, reform, or "ragged schools," as Guthrie referred to them.

Guthrie studied surgery and anatomy at Edinburgh University under Dr Robert Knox, but then concentrated on theology. Robert Knox was a Scottish anatomist best known for his involvement in the Burke and Hare murders.

Guthrie's institutions were always reformatories or industrial schools; they were never Christian ragged schools. This information is freely available online if required.

 In the 1850s he was asked why he continued to refer to his institutions as 'ragged schools' when the children who entered them were no longer ragged.


Here's an example, freely available online, of how brutal and cruel his so-called "ragged schools" really were, from Hansard 1854, before the Reformatory Schools (Scotland) Bill was even passed

House of Commons.   Wednesday, July 19, 1854 


 Reformatory Schools (Scotland) Bill - Mr Lucas MP

"said, he thought that a case of greater oppression could not be conceived than that a magistrate should be empowered by Act of Parliament to send a child to Dr. Guthrie's proselytising school, where it should be kept till the age of fifteen under the penalty of whipping and imprisonment"

Whipping was apparently commonplace at Dr Guthrie's Ragged Schools even in 1854

"I could see that these people liked to hurt children on my first day at Dr Guthrie's Boys' School in March 1970. 

On my first night, I had to take a shower, and the boy next to me in the shower block had been whipped. He had really been whipped. There were marks all over his back, his bottom, and the back of his legs. They were purple, yellow, blue, and black.

 He had been brutally beaten." 


I only go back to 1854 and these Dr Guthrie's schools

 - as far from a ragged school as chalk and cheese -

 seem to have had no other function than to cruelly mistreat and sadistically abuse the children of the poor.

How Dr Guthrie's schools were able to transform themselves from wretched children's prisons into  some sort of Christian, charitable, ragged school is a complete mystery to me.

In 2024. Is it appropriate to have a large monument in Scotland's stunning capital honouring the man who helped create the country's child prison system?

  Hundreds, if not thousands, of children were sexually abused and tortured in the institutions his statue honours. 


 The statue is a sarcastic mockery

 of every survivor


 Dr Guthrie's schools


 Please sign the petition

Boys at Dr Guthries School Edinburgh

I have been complaining about abuse at Dr Guthrie's Boys' School since 1988. I haven't made any progress. Some survivors have complained even earlier. Those who have attended one of Dr Guthrie's approved schools / List D schools are completely ignored and disregarded. There is no one to see or hear us, so we might as well be sitting at the bottom of a Fred Dibnah brick chimney.

 The fact that Dr Guthrie's survivors have to set up a website and a petition to let people know the truth is indicative of the appalling treatment some child abuse survivors have received in Scotland.

Cover up Dr Guthries List D school