It all happened at 8:15 a.m one April morning. I was about to go to school at my usual time when my housemaster at Aberlour Orphanage told me that I was to go instantly to the Warden’s office. As a young 14 year old boy who had already spent all my life at this Orphanage, my fear and concerns went straight into overdrive! Why was I being asked to the warden’s office at this time of the morning? What could I have been doing that was wrong? Had I been nicking apples in the AberlourVillage again…..hang on!….no….it was April and even I knew that apple nicking was only a sport for us after the summer!
As I walked to the warden’s office along the gleaming parquet floored corridors (which some Orphanage lads had been polishing since 7:00 o’clock that morning) and through the large ornately glazed double swing doors, I still had this uncomfortable feeling about my impending doom. You were only commanded to the Warden’s office if you had been up to some mischief and I was at my wit’s end to think what I has been doing that should mean an official order to see the Warden. Think Ron…think! What have been up to! The strap was usually meted out at the Warden’s office I had just a few seconds to think what I had been doing that should merit this early morning summons. I am now sure that this was where I developed my signature frown line placed between by eyes. All caused by a deep mistrust of officialdom and people older than me!
Two Wardens had been at the helm of Aberlour Orphanage during my 14 yrs there. Charlie Leslie was an odd mix of a man with a lined and craggy face (which for a 14 yr old seemed stern), a centre parting down the middle of his black hair (spooky!), odd spectacles, a penchant for German sausage dogs, (we had been told about the war and anything German was still treated with suspicion in early 1960’s Britain). To be fair, he had trouble filling the boots of his predecessor Clarence Wolfe (Woolfie) and was seen more of an administrator and architect of the demise and final closure of the place in 1967, much to the regret of not only all who knew and loved the place but to the locals in Aberlour and the clergy as well. The Orphanage had been built and run on religious grounds by the Scottish Episcopalian Diocese.
After a shaky tap on the Warden’s office door I was invited in. Alongside the Warden was stood a very large lady who I remembered as being a Miss Talbot who was an official of Edinburgh Council Social Work Dept (ECSW) and whom I had met previously when discussions were afoot to unsuccessfully return me to the family home in Edinburgh. This was the same ECSW who had decided that it was best to remove me and all of my 7 brothers and sisters to an Orphanage institute some 200 miles away from the family home because all 8 of us couldn’t live in a squalid 3 roomed tenement building in Leith, the suburb and Port of Edinburgh.
Instantly I was asked “Ronnie, Have you ever given any thought what you might do when you leave the Orphanage?”
Leave! Now that was a word I had never heard before! Leave! Me!
“Where would I go?” I sheepishly asked.
“A job” came the terse reply.
“Have you ever given any thought about what job you would like when you leave the Orphanage?”
This was getting easy now!
“Oh yes Sir….I’d like to be an engine driver!” What a numpty!…
I was the lad just a few months before who had seen the first of the new diesel powered “Sputniks” arrive at Aberlour Station because the nice old steam trains were to finish and it never dawned on me that engine drivers would be the last job on earth!
The Warden became a little tetchy at this reply and said as calmly as he could “Well, they are not really looking for engine drivers right now. Have you ever thought about an apprenticeship?” A what? I instantly thought. They never mentioned this new word at school. “What sort of things would you like to try?” but before I could blurt out anything the warden already had the answer and I recall hearing something about Electrics.
As I looked back at the Warden in an empty glaze, not knowing what these new words meant and before I could get my act together to try and gain the upper ground in this rather bizarre conversation he made a statement of utter surprise which has lived with me all my days.
“Well Ronnie, Miss Talbot is going to take you to Edinburgh and get you a job as an apprentice in Electrics”.
I know I sheepishly agreed to this arrangement but I certainly didn’t expect the next bombshell to hit me.
“So, we will just gather your things and Miss Talbot will take you to Edinburgh and sort it all out……today!…right now!”
What! Now! But…but what about my pals at school, my housemaster, my toys and games, my “pouckies” (anything from a watch, a wind-up musical instrument, a crystal set etc) I wouldn’t be saying cheerio to anyone.
It now appears that most Orphanage children were treated this way and this type of closure, to what was your family life and upbringing, dealt a heavy blow and deeply affected many in later life.
to read the rest of Ron’s story click here …
Memory contributed by Ron Aitchison from Craigellachie
Aberlour Orphanage Old Boys and Girls Memories Page (Aberlour Trust Website)
There are many former residents who are very proud to be a part of Aberlour’s history, and it has had a profound effect on their lives, and indeed ours.
They want to celebrate the rich and varied experiences of these people, and give an insight into how life at Aberlour was. That’s what this section of the site is about.
Aberlour Trust Bicentenary of events
The village of Aberlour will be celebrating its 200th anniversary in September, and the Aberlour Child Care Trust will be in attendance on the 14th and 15th.
All activities are to be held in the marquee in the Alice Littler Park.
The website also has information on the history of the Orphanage.
The Aberlour Trust has a series of recordings by people who remember the Aberlour Orphanage. You can watch videos of first hand accounts of life there including a
Aberlour trust interview with Ron Aitchison
It was a very difficult decision to close the orphanage and was part of a new emphasis on placing children in family homes instead of large institutions.
Press and Journal article about life in the Orphanage by a previous resident.
Archival information on Aberlour Orphanage is held by Glasgow Caledonian University.