Long before the ideas of the modern
welfare state took hold, throughout the 1700s and 1800s the Poor Law provided
some form of social security for the poorest in society. It relied heavily on church
donations and was administered through local parishes. Where the parish system
was insufficient, private charities sometimes
filled the gaps. The Orphan Hospital of Edinburgh is such an example. It was
founded in 1733 by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Donations
were given both in money and in kind – one baker in the Canongate donated 25
dozen bread rolls at the Hospital’s opening. By the early nineteenth-century
the institution had outgrown its premises, and in 1833 the Hospital moved into
a new building, designed by Thomas Hamilton, and became known as the Dean
This drawing by Thomas Hamilton shows the Dean Orphanage in Edinburgh before its construction from 1831 to 1833. Hamilton was the architect for the project and an accomplished watercolourist, who may have intended this drawing as a model for an engineer. Built of local Craigleith stone, the building is a curious mix of neo-classical and baroque features. It was designed to accommodate the Orphan Hospital of Edinburgh, which until then had been housed in the grounds of Trinity Hospital. During the 1990s the building was refurbished by architects Terry Farrell & Partners and in 1999 it was reopened by the National Galleries of Scotland as the Dean Gallery. The building now houses important Surrealist works and the Eduardo Paolozzi collection.
Thomas Hamilton was a Glasgow-born architect, whose best-known buildings can be found in Edinburgh. These include the Dean Orphan Hospital, now the Dean Gallery, the Royal High School on Calton Hill and the Royal College of Physicians on South Bridge. Hamilton was heavily involved in the 'Edinburgh Improvement Act' and was commissioned to produce two of the great bridges to join the Old and New towns. George IV Bridge was constructed between 1829 and 1834 and the King's Bridge, over King's Stables Road, almost simultaneously. An establishment figure, Hamilton was a founding member of the Royal Scottish Academy.