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Our Story

The early years

In the early 19th century life was grim for the poor and destitute of Scotland’s newly industrialised cities, especially children without parents or whose parents were unable to look after them. There were jobs to be found in the Dundee but life in the city was hard. Cramped housing, poor working conditions and very little sanitation all took its toll on the city’s workers – and for those who were unable to find work, life was incredibly difficult.

On February 9, 1815, John Whittet junior, William Dick, David Adams and George Scott met in the Baker’s Room of the Trades Hall in Dundee to ‘deliberate on the propriety of attempting to open an orphan establishment in Dundee.’

One month after the initial meeting, a group of forward thinking Dundonians – doctor’s, mill owners, ministers, merchants and estate owners, met to discuss establishing an institution to care for and educate the city’s growing number of orphans. A Board of Directors (early Directors included James Keiller of marmalade fame, and James Chalmers, the inventor of the adhesive postage stamp) was appointed and ground work began. Funds had to be raised, a suitable building found, staff appointed.

Carolina House Pavillion GroupAs plans were made tragedy struck the city – on May 28, 17 people lost their lives in the 1815 Tay Ferry Disaster. According to a newspaper report ‘A good many people were ready to show their sympathy in practical form’. The added publicity worked to the advantage of the Directors by increasing public awareness of the plight of orphaned children. Donations poured in and once the sum of £700 had been raised a property in the city’s Paradise Road was rented, a ‘kindly woman’ was installed as matron and two teachers were recruited. At 10am on September 18, Dundee Orphan Institution opened its doors nine boys and twelve girls admitted as the first residents.

The house in Paradise Road soon proved too small for the needs of the orphanage so, when a larger property in Small’s Wynd came onto the market, the Society’s Directors agreed to buy it with payment in monthly instalments. Small’s Wynd was destined to house the orphans for more than fifty years. To help pay the increased costs, ‘day-scholars’ – mostly children of the poor – were admitted for education for a payment of one shilling per quarter.

Carolina House Trust: The House

On March 23 1830, Dundee Orphan Institution was granted a Royal Charter by King George IV – and promptly became Dundee Royal Orphan Institution.

A New Home for Orphan Institution

On September 29, 1870, Dundee Royal Orphan Institution’s new home, Carolina House, was formally opened and 55 children moved into the new building, which was also a school for the orphans and day pupils.

Built on ‘a most amenable site’ on the south side of Craigie Terrace, with views across the Tay, The Dundee Courier & Argus describes Carolina House as a ‘villa’. ‘The building is on three storeys and contains large and airy dormitories, classrooms, sewing rooms, dining hall, kitchen and scullery, wash house and laundry, lavatories, bathrooms etc besides the apartments occupied by the Master and Matron,’ continues the newspaper article. ‘There are spacious grounds surrounding the building and there is plenty of room for the children amusing themselves.’

The Directors’ Reports for the next few years show that the children and staff settled in well at their new abode, with each report outlining the numbers of children in residence (usually about 55) and the various trades the boys went to when they left, with, at this time, the girls almost always going into domestic service.

Education and Aftercare

Initially the children were educated in the Home, but the directors were aware of the limitations of their education policy, so by 1895, some of the children were enrolled at Glebelands School.

Several won bursaries to the academies and many gained dux medals and prizes later at the Dundee High School and Morgan Academy.

Another New Charter

Hitherto, only children born in Dundee could benefit from the power and scope of the home, but 1928 saw a new Royal Charter that opened the door to children from Angus, Fife and Perth.

By the 1920s – known as the ‘Depressing Twenties’ – state funded social welfare began to impact on the work of the Home but there was always a need for an institution to care for families who had lost one or two parents, or who, from broken homes or other circumstances required admission.

In the years that followed the end of the First World War, the notion of ‘charity’ also changed radically. In the orphanage the importance of a balanced diet and less restricted home life meant that life was similar to a well-run boarding school.

World War II

At the outbreak of the Second World War the financial problems of the Orphanage were only too apparent. Sixty two children were evacuated to Gray House in Invergowrie. While they revelled in their new environment, the Home in Ferry Road was taken over by the Admiralty for the duration of the war at a yearly rental of £250. Donations and subscriptions fell to as low as £60 – the lowest ever – and the children themselves tried to help out by donating their earnings at the ‘Tatties’.

Fifty former pupils served in the Forces. Four were killed.

The arrival of the Welfare State

The children returned to Ferry Road in 1946 after the Home had undergone an extensive and very expensive facelift. Since the passing of the Widows’ and Orphans’ Pension Act in 1937, the number of children admitted to the Home had been gradually shrinking.

Then in 1948 came the Children’s Act which heralded the Welfare State for orphaned children. Surprisingly the number of residents increased in the following year from 48 to 55. Unfortunately there was no corresponding increase in funding. It was as if people had become complacent and believed it was now a state-aided institution.

The Passing of an Image

Early in 1961, as part of a national survey, an inquiry was held by the Scottish Office into children’s homes in Dundee, and the Scottish Secretary drafted a scheme to be called ‘Dundee Children’s  Homes Trust Scheme 1962’. The directors objected to so many questions of fact and policy that the Scottish Secretary called a conference of all interested parties, and in consequence, the Orphanage remained a Home supported by voluntary subscriptions; control remained in the hands of seven directors elected by these subscribers along with two co-opted directors and representatives of Dundee Town Council and Angus County Council.

The name was changed to Carolina House, in recognition of its situation adjacent to Carolina Port.

One of the first steps the new Board took  was to divide the building into three family group homes with eight to twelve children in each – in keeping with the concept in the ‘60s of good child care practice.

With that, the old image of Dundee Orphan Institution was changed forever.

From 1965 to 2012

wee-boyAs approaches to child care have evolved nationally during the past half-century, so too has the structure and delivery of services offered by Carolina House Trust. Over the years there has been a move away from residential care for children towards care in the community and supporting families in their own homes.

In 1983 Carolina House moved to Strathmore Avenue in Dundee, and operated three smaller units – one for the little ones, and two for older children. On 1st July 1994 one of those units closed and an Outreach Project supporting young people leaving care was set up. In 1997, when the Trust moved to Roseangle, the residential units and then the Outreach Project were closed down. Care Rescue was set up in 2000 as a short term alternative to secure accommodation and for young people who were hard to place.  Between March 2000 and November 2001 respectively, Star and Tarvit residential units were established as part of the Care Rescue service.  In 2003 our Foster Care Service was established.

In the meantime, in 2001, the Moving On Team, was set up to support young people leaving care. This was and remains a partnership with Dundee City Council. In 2009 a review of the Throughcare & Aftercare service partnership with Dundee City Council took place where the roles of both organisations were clearly defined resulting in establishing a successful and positive service for young people.

In 2010 Carolina House Trust was commissioned by Dundee City Council to set up a Supported Lodgings Service. Supported Lodgings provide vulnerable and/or homeless young people who have been in care and are not ready to live independently with a safe secure place to stay.

In October 2012, Carolina House Trust launched their Supported Accommodation project – Carolina Mews – which was funded by the Big Lottery. The Project worked with the most vulnerable of care leavers to ensure successful life transitions from being looked after to young adulthood when they leave the care system.


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