Books

JB Mylet: A dark history of orphanages and a mother's childhood secret

The Quarriers Homes in Bridge of Weir, Scotland was where mum had grown up in the Fifties. So why had she never spoken about it until now?

illustration of a children's home

Illustration: Vincent Roché

How well do you know your parents? Not the people they became once they were parents, but the people they were before that, and when they were children themselves. I started really thinking about that when writing my book The Homes. I was 21 years old and my father had suddenly died, so I moved back home to be with my mum, who was 48. It was a time of much heartbreak and sadness, but it was also a time when I really got to know my mother.

We talked a lot about many things, including her life when she was younger. We didn’t have grandparents on her side – we were never told why, and we weren’t inquisitive enough to ask any further.

My mum had grown up in an orphan’s village called the Quarriers Homes in Bridge of Weir, Scotland (about 10 miles west of Glasgow). She had been given up when she was three weeks old. The Quarrier’s was a man-made village set up by William Quarrier in the 1870s to help with the problem of children living on the streets of Glasgow. At any one time up to 1,000 children would live in one of the 40 cottages within the village. The village also had a school, a church, shops and a hospital. My mum had gone there in the ’50s, and up until the age of six she thought all children lived the same way. She never knew that most lived with their parents and she had never met any.

She told me stories about the village. And when her friend Morag Jones, who had also been in the homes, came down to stay with us, they would talk about their time there, the good and some of the many bad things that had happened. In each other’s company they also regressed to behaving like the two friends they had been all their lives, rather than the parents I knew them as, and I saw a whole new side to my mum.

I wanted to tell a story set in the Homes as it sounded such a unique place. I felt not enough people knew about it, and that the generation who had lived there was dying out. I also wanted to reflect the amazing courage and determination of those children, especially my mum, to get through each day when you only had yourself and your friend to get you through. Although the Homes were set up with the best of intentions, there was some appalling treatment of children in those places. As the tagline of the book says, there were some good people there but there were also some very bad ones.

The story I wrote begins in 1963 when two girls are killed and the Homes is in panic and disarray. But I wanted the book to be about more than a murder mystery. I wanted it to capture the fear, hope and
bravery of the people there in such testing circumstances. It took me seven years to get the book right. I interviewed my mum extensively along the way to make sure the details and phrases I used were correct. The person who ran the entire village was called the Superintendent; the people who ran the cottages were the House Mother and House Father, along with a cook.

The Homes by JB Mylet is out now
(Viper Books, £12.99)

With my mum’s help I managed to set the scene for the story which occurs over one summer, when the lead character, 12-year-old Lesley, and her best friend Jonesy try to work out what is going on.

From the ’70s onwards there was a change in how orphaned children, or children who couldn’t be raised by their parents, were cared for. Fewer children were sent to homes and more were fostered. The Quarriers village stopped its childcare by the early ’80s.

In real life my mum’s story has a happy ending. In the last year, after finding out her birth mother had died, she got in contact with her four sisters who had never known she existed. And so, at the age of 72, she has gone from having no siblings to having four. And they are the most lovely of people.

There is a support group set up if you are a survivor of the abuses carried out at the Quarrier Homes


This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Parasol Against the Axe by Helen Oyeyemi review – electrifying, experimental writing
Books

Parasol Against the Axe by Helen Oyeyemi review – electrifying, experimental writing

The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan review – a droll insight into a year of loss
Books

The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan review – a droll insight into a year of loss

Top 5 books about the British seaside, chosen by crime writer William Shaw
Books

Top 5 books about the British seaside, chosen by crime writer William Shaw

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard review – the moral conundrums of coming of age
Books

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard review – the moral conundrums of coming of age

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know