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Reformatories and Industrial Schools

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Although the workhouse system provided a safety net for destitute children and their families, there were other groups of 'problem' children for whom different types of institution evolved. Two of the most important of these were Industrial Schools and Reformatories which, from the 1850s, catered for a wide variety of children. These included those who were neglected or whose parents were engaged in immoral or criminal activities, or who themselves had already committed criminal acts — young people who might in more recent times be referred to as 'juvenile delinquents'. Whereas Reformatory Schools aimed to redeem those who had already committed an offence, Industrial Schools were targeted at a slightly younger group who were considered in danger of drifting into criminal activity.

It should be noted that a few poor law authorities set up establishments also known as "industrial schools" in the 1830s and 1840s. These were specifically for pauper children — orphaned or abandoned children who had been taken into care, or those whose parents were in the workhouse. These workhouse industrial schools are described in a separate page.

One of the earliest attempts to deal with delinquent children took place in 1756 with the founding of the Marine Society "for the purpose of clothing landsmen and boys for the use of the king's ship, and as an expedient to provide for poor boys who might become a nuisance." The training ship Warpsite was the outcome of this movement.

In 1788, the Philanthropic Society was set up "for the protection of poor children, and the offsprings of convicted felons; and for the reformation of those who have themselves been engaged in criminal practices." In the same year, the opened what might be considered the first ever reformatory in Southwark. In 1849, the Society opened a Reformatory Farm School at Redhill after visiting the farm colony at Mettray in France.

A number of individuals also set up influential establishments during this period which catered for poor or neglected children:

  • Between 1798 and his death in 1838, Thomas Cranfield, a tailor and former soldier, built up an organization of nineteen Sunday, night and infants' schools situated in the poorest parts of London.
  • From around 1818, John Pounds (1766-1839), a crippled cobbler in Portsmouth, began giving local poor children free lessons in reading, writing, arithmetic, bible study, carpentry, shoemaking, and cookery.
  • In 1841, Sheriff Watson established the Aberdeen Ragged School for boys.
  • In Edinburgh, the Rev Thomas Guthrie Promoted the idea of ragged schools through his 1847 pamphlet Plea for Ragged Schools. In the same year, he set up three schools in Edinburgh at which children received food, education, and industrial training.
  • In 1844, Lord Shaftesbury formed the Ragged School Union which eventually established around 200 free schools.

Lambeth Ragged School, 1846.

Reformatory Schools

In the first part of the nineteenth century, penalties for those found guilty of crimes would, by modern standards, be considered exceptionally severe. In 1833, a boy of 9 was sentenced to death (though not actually executed) for stealing 2d worth of paint. Two boys of 15 were transported for seven years for stealing a pair of boots. Such treatment began to be questioned and in 1837 Parkhurst prison was used to provide an experimental reformatory regime for young offenders. They were provided with outdoor industrial training, combined with school instruction and religious teaching. The establishment had mixed results and closed in 1864, with the authorities indicating that private or charitably run establishments were preferable for such purposes.

In 1846, Lord Houghton attempted to introduce a parliamentary bill to establish a reformatory schools system. Although the bill did not become law, increasing interest in such a scheme led in 1851 to the first conference on Reformatory and Industrial Schools held in Birmingham, following which several new voluntary schools were established:

  • Kingswood Reformatory at Bristol opened in 1852 by Miss Mary Carpenter and Mr Russell Scott.
  • Saltley Reformatory opened in 1852 by Mr Adderley (later Lord Norton).
  • Stoke Farm Reformatory set up in 1854 by Mr Joseph Sturge's efforts to deal with sixteen of the worst boys in Birmingham, whom he placed in the hands of a working shoemaker.

The Reformatory School Act of 1854 enabled voluntary schools to be certified as efficient by the Inspector of Prisons, and also allowed courts to send them convicted juvenile offenders under 16 for a period of 2 to 5 years. Those entering reformatories were first required to spend a period of fourteen days in prison. Parents of inmates were required to contribute to the cost by a payment of up to 5s. per week. Also in 1854, the first girls' Reformatory School opened in Bristol.

Sunderland Girls Reformatory, c.1911.
© Peter Higginbotham

Industrial Schools

Certified industrial schools were promoted as an alternative to reformatories by a group of magistrates, MPs, and social reformers such as Mary Carpenter. After thir unsuccessful campaign to remove the prison requirement for those entering reformatories, the Industrial School was put forward as an analogous institution but aimed at a younger age group and without the prison element. Initially, under the Industrial Schools Act of 1857, children aged seven to fifteen who were convicted of vagrancy could placed in an Industrial School. A further Act in 1861 defined four categories of potential entrants: under-fourteens found begging; under-fourteens found wandering and homeless or frequenting with thieves; under-twelves who had committed and imprisonable offence; under-fourteens who parents could not control them.

The first Industrial School was established at Feltham as the result of a private Act of Parliament in 1854 although did not come into operation until 1859.

Another Act in 1866 consolidated and amended the previous legislation and raised lower age of entry to a Reformatory to ten. The 1866 Act also transferred overall responsibility for the Schools to the Prison Authority and a single Inspector was to cover both types of establishment. From 1871, children under fourteen of a woman twice convicted of "crime" could be sent to an Industrial School.

Cockermouth Industrial School, c.1910.
© Peter Higginbotham

Under the 1876 Elementary Education Act, School Boards were authorised to establish Industrial Schools and Day Industrial Feeding Schools "for those children whose education is neglected by their parents, or who are found wandering or in bad company". Day Industrial Schools were defined as institutions "in which industrial training, elementary education, and one or more meals a day, but not lodging, are provided for the children" for their "proper training and control". Day Industrial Schools were established almost immediately at Liverpool and Bristol, shortly followed by Gateshead, Oxford, Yarmouth, and a second school at Liverpool.

Bootle Day Industrial School, c.1905.
© Peter Higginbotham

From 1880, any child under 14 found to be living in a brothel, or living with or associating with common or reputed prostitutes, could be sent to an Industrial School. A further Act in 1893 raised the age of admission to Reformatories to 12, and the obligatory age of release was reduced from 21 to 19.

Industrial Schools, in common with the Separate or District Schools run by the poor law authorities, often ran a military-style band which gave the boys a musical training and could also lead to a crareer as a bandsman in the army or navy.

East London Industrial School band, c.1909.
© Peter Higginbotham

Truant Schools

Another new type of school that appeared following the 1876 Elementary Education Act was the Truant School where children who persistently refused to attend elementary schools could be detained for a period, typically one to three months, under a very strict regime, and then released on a renewable licence to attend a normal school. The first Truant Schools to be established were at London, Liverpool and Sheffield.

The London School Board initially planned that inmates should be kept in complete silence, except for during schoolwork, but the Home Office did not approve this proposal. Instead, children were required to perform drill instead of being allowed to play.

Highbury Grove Truant School, 1895.
© Peter Higginbotham

New Arrivals at Highbury Grove Truant School, 1895.
© Peter Higginbotham

Certified School Establishments

In the wake of the 1854 and 1857 Acts, Reformatory and Industrial Schools were set up across the country, all of which had to be officially inspected and certified before they could begin operation. By 1875, there were 54 certified Reformatory Schools and 82 Industrial Schools in England and Wales. At the same date, Scotland had 12 Reformatories and 27 Industrial Schools. By 1885, there was a combined total of 61 Reformatories, 136 Industrial Schools, 9 Truant Schools, and 13 Day Industrial Schools. Generally schools took either just boys or girls, and some schools were specifically for Roman Catholic children.

The boys' schools included a number of naval training ships. Amongst the Reformatory ships were the Akbar, moored on the Mersey at Rock Ferry, near Liverpool, the Clarence for Roman Catholic boys at nearby New Ferry, and the Cornwall on the Thames at Purfleet. Industrial School vessels included the Formidable in the Bristol Channel, the Wellesley on the Tyne, and the Mars on the Tay.

The Cornwall, c.1910.
© Peter Higginbotham

After 1908, a number of "special" Industrial Schools were set up for children with particular conditions, such ophthalmic problems, epilepsy, or what was termed "mental defectiveness".

A final category of establishment was the Auxiliary Home. These were usually small homes linked to larger Reformatories or Industrial Schools and which sometimes catered for particularly difficult cases, or as a half-way house for inmates who were about to leave to go into employment.

The majority of the schools were privately run, often by religious groups. The schools were not always successful and some closed within a few years. For example, a Reformatory was opened in 1856 by the monks of St Bernard's Abbey at Whitwick in Leicestershire. The school, or 'agricultural colony' was took up to 250 delinquent Roman Catholic boys and was run with the help of lay assistants. However, the staff were unable to control their charges. There were several riots and in 1878 after sixty boys escaped, after attacking the master in charge with knives stolen from the dining room. The establishment was closed in 1881 after its certificate was withdrawn.

Separate web pages list Reformatory and Industrial Schools that in England & Wales and Scotland.

Regents' Park Boys' Home printing shop, c.1910.
© Peter Higginbotham

The 1908 Children's Act

The 1908 Children and Young Person's Act, sometimes referred to as the 'Children's Charter', carried out a major revision of the existing legislation relating to children and introduced a variety of measures for their legal protection. Parents who ill-treated or neglected their children could now be prosecuted. Foster parent now had be officially registered with their local authority. The Act also banned the sale cigarettes to children, their visiting pubs and pawnbrokers, and their employment in dangerous trades like the scrap metal industry.

Children who broke the law were now dealt with by special juvenile courts. However, the 1908 Act still maintained the distinction between Reformatory Schools and Industrial Schools. Reformatory Schools continued to receive youthful offenders below the age of sixteen, while Industrial Schools received children under fourteen found to be destitute, begging or wandering the streets, or whose parents were deemed unfit to look after the them, or who associated with reputed thief or prostitute. The Act included a provision for children to be transferred between the two types of school. A period of probation, supervised by a probation officer, became available as an alternative to being sent to an Industrial School.

The Akbar Scandal

In October 1910, the weekly magazine John Bull published an account of "Reformatory School Horrors — How Boys at the Akbar School are Tortured — Several Deaths". The story was based on information given to the paper by Mr and Mrs Adams, the former deputy superintendent and matron at the Akbar Nautical Training School at Heswall. Amongst their accusations were that boys were gagged before being birched, that boys who were ill were caned as malingerers, that punishments included boys being drenched with cold water or being made to stand up all night for a trivial misdemeanour. It was further alleged that boys had died as a result of such punishments. A subsequent Home Office investigation by Under-Secretary C.F.G. Masterman rejected all the charges although found that there had been instances of "irregular punishments". John Bull stood its ground, calling Masterman's report a "white-washing" and claiming that staff at the school who had spoken out against its principle, Captain Beuttler, had been threatened by a Home Office Inspector. As a result of the continuing disquiet over the affair, Home Secretary Winston Churchill appointed a Departmental Committee to conduct a broad review of Reformatories and Industrial Schools.

Another press condemnation of Reformatories came in the shape of a series of six articles in the Daily Mail which claimed that they were "Schools for Crime". Amongst the Mail's allegations were that the boys lacked proper supervision, and were supervised by men who had no training in prison routine. The fact that the Reformatories and Industrial Schools were predominantly run by voluntary rather than state organisations was also criticised. (In 1911, none of the existing 37 Reformatories was run by a local authority, and only 22 of the 112 Industrial Schools.)

As a result of this bad press, committals to Reformatory and Industrial Schools declined steeply with the result that by 1923, forty of them had closed. In 1925, the Home Office set up a Departmental Committee to examine the future of the schools. The Committee issued its report in 1927.

The 1932 Children and Young Persons Act

In 1927, a Home Office Departmental Committee Report recommended that the distinction between Reformatory and Industrial Schools be abolished and replaced by a single type of establishment to be known as an Approved School. The new Schools were to cater for all classes of neglected and delinquent children." This recommendation came into effect through the 1932 Children and Young Persons Act (slightly revised as part of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act). The Act provided various courses of action for what were now described as "juveniles in need of care or protection" and "juvenile offenders", including being sent to an Approved School, put on probation, or put into the care of "any fit person". Courts could, in addition, sentence male juvenile offenders to be "privately whipped with not more than six strokes of a birch rod by a constable". The Act also introduced Remand Homes for accommodating youths temporarily held in custody, for example to await a court hearing.

Following the Act, many former Reformatory and Industrial chools converted to become Approved Schools.

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