Our history

William Quarrier, successful Glasgow shoe retailer, began caring for orphaned and destitute children in Glasgow in the early 1870s. He, himself, had experienced a very impoverished childhood, a situation which he overcame through hard work, determination and Christian faith.

William Quarrier

Quarrier set up the Orphan Homes of Scotland (now Quarriers)

Video and photography

‘Till We Meet Again
The video below is the story of when William Quarrier bought some land near Bridge of Weir and planned the construction of orphan homes in the 1870s. It features the life of Annie Blue, a former resident in Quarriers Village, before she migrated to Canada. The film was made by young people who live in Quarriers Village today and was made possible through a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Heritage Photography
Have a look at some of our heritage photos on Flickr from Quarriers Village in the 1930s

The Golden Bridge
Stories of migration, photos and Quarriers’ Narrative of Facts can be found here on The Golden Bridge

Early years

James Morrison St.
This was the principal site of William Quarrier’s night refuges. It was used as reception home and central contact point for the organisation and was a hostel for working boys and girls.

The Shoeblack Brigade
One night in 1864, William met a boy who was crying. He had been selling matches and some older boys had stolen them and now he would have no money. William decided that now that he was no longer poor he had to help. He called a meeting of street boys and formed the Shoeblack Brigade. The boys went out cleaning shoes on street corners – they kept some of the money they earned and the rest was used to replenish the stock of brushes and polish that they used.


William Quarrier, successful Glasgow shoe retailer, began caring for orphaned and destitute children in Glasgow in the early 1870s. He, himself, had experienced a very impoverished childhood, a situation which he overcame through hard work, determination and Christian faith.

Realising large institutional orphanages offered little in the way of a home environment to children in their care, Quarrier determined from an early age to set up a children’s village, where poor children from the towns and cities of Scotland might enjoy a new life in cottage homes, under the supervision of house fathers and house mothers.

With the support of a growing band of committed supporters, Quarrier was able to purchase land at Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, some 15 miles south west of Glasgow, and began to set up the Orphan Homes of Scotland (now Quarriers).

Over the next 20 years, the Orphan Homes developed as a self-contained community comprising over 40 children’s cottages, Mount Zion Church, a large school, a fire station, workshops, farms and other facilities.

William Quarrier also opened the first TB sanitorium in Scotland next to the village and set in train plans for a care facility for people with epilepsy, which opened in 1906, three years after Quarrier’s death.

The Orphan Homes continued operating much as Quarrier had begun until the late 1970s to 1980s. During the 1920s and the 1930s, over 1,500 children lived in the village at any one time. In total, between 1878 and the mid-1980s, over 30,000 children were cared for in Quarrier’s children’s village.

Major changes in childcare practice and legislation caused a drastic reduction in the number of children cared for in Quarriers Village during the 1970s and 1980s. Over the ensuing years, and particularly since 1993, major changes have taken place in Quarriers in respect of the range of services it provides and where they are provided.

The History of William Quarrier

William Quarrier was born in a tenement in Cross Shore Street, Greenock, on 16 September 1829. The entrance to the close was transferred to Quarriers Village and now forms part of the war memorial.

His father died when he was three years old and his family moved to Glasgow. William began working in a pin factory at age six, and he became an apprentice shoemaker when he was about seven and a half.

Glasgow was a wealthy, growing city at that time, but the people in the slums were very poor and William and his friends were often cold and hungry.

William later recalled:

“Thirty five years ago, when a boy of about eight years of age, I stood in the High Street of Glasgow, barefooted, bareheaded, cold and hungry, having tasted no food for a day and a half.

“And as I gazed at each passer-by, wondering why they did not help such as I, a thought passed through my mind that I would not do such as they, when I would get the means to help others.”

When William was seventeen he went to work as a shoemaker for a Mrs Hunter and began attending Blackfriars Baptist Church, where he became a Christian.

Through hard work, William soon had three shoe shops of his own. He married Mrs Hunter’s daughter, Isabella and they had four children – Isabella, Agnes, Frank and Mary.

But William never forgot the difficulty of his childhood and developed a strong social conscience. This would have a huge effect on the course of his own life and the lives of thousands of destitute children in Scotland.

One November night in 1846, William Quarrier was travelling home after a day’s work. While crossing Jamaica Street Bridge he met a matchseller who was crying because others had stolen all his goods. William gave the boy money, and as he continued towards home, he thought about what had happened to the boy and decided to do something about it.

Having been on trips to London, he had seen the shoe blacks, young boys who earned money by polishing shoes. He decided to write a letter to the Glasgow Herald stating that he felt something similar should be provided in Glasgow. Following this letter, a meeting was arranged and some 30 boys turned up, and from this meeting, Glasgow’s first Shoeblack Brigade was formed.

The Brigade continued to work well but William Quarrier felt that more should be done for those who were sleeping rough in the back alleys of Glasgow. So once again, he put pen to paper and sent a letter to the Glasgow Herald, outlining the need for a home for orphaned and destitute children. Following the publishing of the letter, he received a donation, and used this to open a night refuge at 10 Renfrew Lane, Glasgow, in 1871, and so the work of the Orphan Homes of Scotland was born.

The Quarriers Story by Anna Magnusson

This book, by Anna Magnusson, chronicles the history of Quarriers from its earliest days as a refuge for thousands of destitute children in Victorian Scotland, through to becoming one of the 21st century’s leading social care charities. It tells the inspiring story of how the vision and determination of one man – William Quarrier – created a legacy which continues to serve the people of Scotland to this day.

You can purchase the book for £9.99 through our fundraising department on 01505 616122/616132. Profits from the sale of each book go to Quarriers.

The Quarriers Story
In 1871, Glasgow shoemaker William Quarrier founded an organisation which offered help to the thousands of destitute children in Glasgow’s infamous slums. Shortly after Quarriers Village was opened, providing a refuge in the rolling fields of Renfrewshire. Since these beginnings, Quarriers has cared for over 40,000 children in need and now provides support and care for adults and children with a wide range of physical or learning disadvantages and their families. This is a detailed record of the organisation’s evolution and an inspiring story of one man’s legacy.

ISBN 1 84158 494 0