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.