Thomas Guthrie, the son of a successful merchant, was born in Brechin in 1780. Educated at his local school, Guthrie was such a brilliant scholar that he was only twelve years old when he entered the University of Edinburgh in 1792.
After a period travelling abroad he worked in a bank until he secured from William Maule, the Whig MP for Forfarshire and a local landowner, the living of Arbirlot. A popular preacher, Guthrie helped his parishioners by establishing a savings bank and using his medical knowledge to help them in times of sickness.
In 1837 Guthrie moved to Old Greyfriar's in Edinburgh. Shocked by the poverty he witnessed in the city, Guthrie was responsible for the implementation of several social reforms in the parish. This included the establishment of schools and the introduction of a system of district home visitors.
During this period Guthrie developed radical political ideas and worked closely with Joseph Hume, the Whig MP for Montrose. A member of the Temperance Society, Guthrie also campaigned for better working-class housing.
Guthrie believed that improved schools would reduce youth crime and in 1847 published his book Plea for Ragged Schools, or Prevention is Better Than Cure. With the support of the Edinburgh Review, Guthrie was able to raise enough money to form a Ragged School where children were fed, clothed and given training. The success of Guthrie's ideas encouraged the government to provide funding for what later became known as industrial schools.
After Guthrie retired from the ministry in 1864, he worked for the Sunday Magazine. Thomas Guthrie died in 1873.