Elizabeth Barclay House


© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2013). All rights reserved. (1907).

What’s in a name?

Founded in 1898 in Bodmin, the Elizabeth Barclay Home was originally intended for the ‘training of backward girls of good character who have passed the age of fourteen’: no girl who had ‘lost their character’ was eligible for admission. The home took in laundry from the local area and the girls were trained in this and other domestic chores with the prospect that some would then be able to go into domestic service. However, ‘low standards and bad habits’ were reportedly slow to cure during the home’s first year and others were found to be incapable of ever living in the outside world. Those who did not manage to ‘find improvement’ under this regime would be returned to friends or guardians….parents were not mentioned so we may assume that the girls in question were orphans.

None of the descriptions of the home sit well with modern readers: as well as being described as a place for ‘backward girls’ in its early years, it was also known as ‘an industrial home for girls of weak intellect’ and was described in The Times in 1912 as ‘the Elizabeth Barclay Home of Industry for the Feeble-minded’. Later, women who had given birth outside wedlock would also be considered candidates for improvement and it remained an exclusively female hospital until 1948 when men began to be admitted too. Treatment of the mentally ill of both sexes continued until 1990 when, like so many similar establishments, it was closed down.

With thanks to Cornwall Record Office and Bodmin Museum.