Philanthropy & Social Reform

Philanthropy & Social Reform

The population of East Renfrewshire remained fairly static until the late 18th century, when the Industrial Revolution changed the pattern of settlement and way of life. As more people migrated to the area, this increased population became concentrated in industrial towns and villages, bringing with it new social problems.

For some, the period brought with it exciting opportunities, with many able to rise from humble origins and create wealth, particularly in the manufacturing industries. However, on the reverse side, there was a widening gap between rich and poor, between landowners and their tenants and between employers and their employees.

Working conditions in the new industries, for the average person, could be tough and even dangerous with long working hours and for most of the 19th century children were used as a cheap labour source.

Although wages tended to be higher in the mills and factories than they would have been in agriculture, there was little job security. Works often went bankrupt and closed, employment could be seasonal, workers could be dismissed from their positions without any notice or reason, and housing was often tied to the workplace, meaning losing your job meant losing your home. In a pre-welfare state society, those falling on hard times relied on poor relief and the kindness of family to support them.

Health care and education at this time was also a privilege of the wealthy. Working class children had to help support their families and until the Education Act (Scotland) of 1872, children as young as seven would work the same hours as adults.

The majority of the population lived in crowded and unsanitary housing, which was an ideal habitat for disease and infection. Sanitation was primitive and there were several cholera outbreaks in East Renfrewshire which led to many fatalities. Infant mortality was high and the average life expectancy low.

The improvement in social conditions was a gradual process brought by many factors including enlightened thinking, government legislation and advances in medicine and sanitation. However, there was a also a movement of philanthropy amongst those who had wealth and status and who were willing to share it for the betterment of society. This sections explores the lives of some of the notable philanthropists and social reformers active in East Renfrewshire. Their motivations would no doubt have varied but there is no question that their actions enriched the lives of local residents.

James Cowan (1830 – 1907

James Cowan (1828 – 1907) is best remembered in Barrhead for his bequest of £10,000 to create Cowan Park.

Archibald Cameron Corbett (Lord Rowallan) (1856 – 1933)

Coming soon – check back later for updates!

William Mann (1853 – 1904)

William Mann (1853 – 1904) businessman, and philanthropist is remembered by the water fountain at The Avenue, Newton Mearns

Margaret Pollock Glen (1824- 1913)

Margaret Pollock Glen inherited great wealth in middle age and used her fortune to help public causes and those less fortunate.


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