Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from the city's archives.

Dec 8, 2014

Three hundred years ago, in lower Calton, ‘Paul’s Work’ was a privately run factory/school for orphan boys who were placed there as apprentices by the town council. Although ‘the undertakers’ did not pay the orphans for their work in the factory, they were expected to use some of the profits to provide the boys with the necessities of life and a basic education.

Paul’s Work was also subsidised by the Council, as this approach to dealing with orphans was thought to reduce the financial burden on public funds as well as preparing the boys for working life.

Hospital of Our Lady. Paul's Work. (D Wilson 'Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time' 1848)

In order to ensure public accountability, a committee, led by a town councillor, supervised the enterprise. On the 8th December 1714 the town council received the following report:

‘Report anent Paul’s Work’

‘Bailie John Osburn reported from the Committee anent Paul’s Work manufactory that the undertakers had implemented their part of the contract as follows, vizt: They had thirty two weaving looms all going in woollen manufactory: That they had received in thirty six apprentices for the first year six years of their contract. . .  And that the said apprentices were sufficiently provided in all necessars. . . And that they all can read and most of them wryt.’

As a result of this positive report the Council agreed to pay the agreed rent subsidy of £18 sterling per annum, and also to augment the schoolmaster’s salary from £60 scots to £100 scots. However the report also revealed that the boys were not always as compliant as the undertakers would like:

‘And that one of them had deserted. And that the said undertakers wanted to have presented to them one boye in place of the said vaccancy and six more in terms of the Contract. It was furder represented to the Committee that several of the boys were guilty of misdemeanours whereupon these that were guilty of the said practices being called in presence of the Committee gave them severall exhortations and not to be guilty of the lyke practices.’

Paul’s Work was located on the site of the original Hospital of the Blessed Mary of The Place of St Paul, founded in 1479 ‘for the reception and entertainment of twelve poor men'.

However, from the nineteenth century, much of lower Calton was demolished to make way for the railways, and today the north east area of Waverley Station occupies the site of Paul's Work.



From 'Nine Views of the Old Town of Edinburgh', unknown artist, oil on canvas, nineteenth century. City Art Centre, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries. Published in 'A Capital View' 2014. Click here for details. (Paul's Work is not included in this view of lower Calton. It was situated somewhere to the right.)


Interestingly, in the early 1800s before the railway arrived, part of the site of Paul’s Work had become the printing works of publishers James Ballantyne & Co. Here, in the Printing Office, Sir Walter Scott, anxious to retain his anonymity, visited privately to check the proofs of his 'Waverley' novels which were later to give the railway station its name.


Illustration is from James Grant's 'Old and New Edinburgh' (1882 edition)

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