OVER the centuries babies have been left on doorsteps of houses, churches, hospitals or even in a shopping trolley in more recent times, when the mother felt ashamed of having a child out of wedlock or thought she could not cope with the baby.

Poverty was often a reason for abandoning a new born in the hope that someone would be able to care for the child and give him or her a better life. But having a child outside marriage also carried a stigma until recent times.

The mother was often shunned by society, especially the church who took a dim view on the matter. Sometimes, however, these mothers were traced or, wracked by guilt, have returned to try and recover the baby. One such case of abandonment in Dollar has remained a mystery for hundreds of years.

In 1742, Dollar had an estimated population of 500 with much of the local work on the land or in the local coal mines.

Money was tight for the ordinary folk, especially those with young families.

One May morning, Mr Clerk Burns, owner of the Gateside Brewery on Back Road in the village, discovered a baby boy lying in the malt kiln.

He was beautifully dressed and in his clothing was a large sum of money, but no note to say why he had been abandoned or who his mother was.

Whoever his parents were, at least one of them was wealthy.

Reference in old parish records stated the Dollar foundling was ‘barbarously and inhumanely laid down by its unnatural parents’. The formidable Reverend John Gray, known as The Baron due to vast land purchases while in office, condemned the baby’s parents outright.

Finding the boy caused a great furore in the village, especially as a wet nurse had to be found quickly.

Enquiries were made regarding his parentage but nothing came of them. The workers at the brewery decided the child should be baptised and he was known as John Dollar.

At the time, it was common practice to name foundlings after the place where they were found. According to the old Session Records in Dollar, an entry for Friday, July 30, 1742 ‘James Sorley, weaver in Dollar’ was to be the baby’s ‘sponsor’. Sorely and his wife Margaret Drysdale looked after the boy until adulthood with Mrs Sorely receiving funds from the church to help with the costs of raising him.

Around the same time of his discovery another abandoned baby was found at the head of a ‘hairst-rigg’ and she was baptised Jenny Rigghead.

During his time with the Sorleys it is likely John Dollar, the Dollar foundling, was taught at the local parochial school run by the church, and learned basic skills including weaving, his adoptive father’s trade, in order to find work.

When he was a young man, he suddenly left the village, and no one knew where he went. If the Sorleys knew, they never disclosed the information.

Speculation was rife. Some believed his mother had been in the village all these years keeping an eye on him and when the time came, she had him removed. But perhaps he simply left to make a better life for himself.

In 1890, almost 150 years since the baby had been discovered, a gentleman arrived in the village called Mr Dollar. As it was such an unusual name, the townsfolk took little time to conclude he was a descendant of the foundling.

He said that 120 years before a man called John Dollar had arrived in the southern counties of England and all he knew was that he had been born in Dollar in Scotland, and had gone on the have family, of which he was a descendant.

He was advised to go to Edinburgh and look at the session record where he concluded that the foundling was indeed his relative.

It is by remarkable co-incidence that the parochial registers were re-started after a six-year absence in May 1742 or the record regarding the abandoned baby may never have existed.

In 1847 the Registration Bill was put forward in Scotland, but it was not until 1854 that the Registration Act came into being.

The church had issues with the state taking over what it saw as its role, and the loss of income for session clerks, but parish registers were inadequate as in the case of the first two volumes of the Dollar records which had been carelessly kept since their commencement in May 1701.

However, the issues were resolved when the current session clerks were assured of their place in the system, but no others would follow.

Registration was compulsory but free, with the local registrar paid a certain amount per entry.

One copy of the registration was kept locally while the other was sent to the central record office at New Register House in Edinburgh.

If compulsory full registration had been in place a hundred years earlier, we may have known the identity of at least one of the Dollar foundling’s parents. As it stands the mystery may never be solved.