The work of Scottish ‘Asylums for the Blind’

The Royal Dundee Institution for the Blind, sale shop, Nethergate, Dundee, 1920s, National Museums of Scotland

There were ‘Blind Asylums’ in most of Scotland’s main cities, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee. The shop featured on the left was the outlet for goods made in the Blind Asylum in Dundee, and took orders for work such as mattress stuffing and goods. It was known locally as the ‘Blindie Shop’ and was located beneath Phin’s the Ironmongers, on the north side of Nethergate. Goods displayed for sale include baskets, chairs and mattresses.

Edinburgh’s Asylum for the Blind was founded in 1793 and was based in Gillespie Crescent. It was a charitable institution which provided both work and lodgings for its residents. They learned the necessary skills, such as basket-weaving (which men learned), brush-making, mat-making and mattress filling. The sale of these goods provided a source of income to pay for their keep. The asylum has since amalgamated with the Royal Scottish Blind School and still functions to provide education and work for the visually impaired and people with physical disabilities or learning difficulties.

Aberdeen blind asylum receipt, National Museums of Scotland

Alongside this written bill of work for mending a chair seat by the Aberdeen Blind Asylum, the heading shows that the asylum made ‘baskets of every description’, brushes and matting as well as ropes, twines and nets.

The Glasgow Asylum for the Blind was founded in 1825, and its stated aims were to provide instruction for the young blind and work for the adult blind. People were taught net-making, basket-making, knitting, weaving, rope-making, mattress- making, winding, flax-dressing and sack-printing. The sale of items workers made provided a small contribution towards the institution’s income. In 1828, the income from sales was £231. By 1900 it was £29,000.