industrial school

Straight and Narrow Reformatory, Industrial and Approved Schools

Speaker: Peter Higginbotham


Peter's talk entitled "Straight and Narrow Reformatory, Industrial and Approved Schools", provided an insight into his forthcoming book (Released June 2017). The talk covered a wealth of information.

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Peter delivered a talk about Children’s Homes, taking us on a historical journey from their inception to their eventual demise in 2000.

Prior to 1840, children were often treat and punished as adults. In 1832 the death sentence was given to boys for offences including: Stealing a child’s sixpenny story book, stealing a valuable comb, stealing a man’s stock and even stealing his mother’s shawl. However, in most cases the sentence was not actually carried out.

Peter introduced the Audience to a variety of Acts of Parliament Including: 

  • Philanthropic Society 1788 (Established for the protection children, and offspring of convicted felons)
  • Ragged School Movement (1818 John Pounds ‘crippled cobbler’, 1841 – Sheriff William Watson – Aberdeen, 1846 Mary Carpenter – Bristol and 1847 Thomas Guthrie – Edinburgh). Ragged schools provided foot, clothing, industrial training, sometimes accommodation.
  • 1854 Reformatory Act (for children convicted of imprisonable offences and voluntary cases)
  • 1857 Industrial School Act. The introduction of Certified Industrial Schools. Including caring for children for vagrancy and living in brothels. Mainly run by Waifs and Strays Society, Barnados and National Children’s Society. Education mainly based on religious studies. Children were heavily bathed once a fortnight. Also included training ships.
  • Certified Industrial Schools (Not to be confused with Poor Law Industrial Schools, run by Poor Law Authorities for pauper children)
  • Certified Schools introduced in 1862 (Voluntary run, boarded children by local authorities for problem children)
  • 1872 Education Act. Local boards set up who in turn set up Certified Industrial Schools, Day Industrial Feeding Schools and Truant (Short-term) Industrial Schools.
  • 1908 Children’s Act introduced IS’s for Physically Disabled, abused children etc.
  • 1933 Children’s and Young Persons Act
  • 1969 Children’s and Young Persons Act. Replaced establishments with Community Homes with education.


Problems with such Establishments Included:

  •  High turnover of staff
  • Financial problems from under-occupancy
  • Troublesome inmates
  • Staff inexperience, incompetence or self-interest (schools often reluctant to let kids out of license – as no money, washing clothes etc.)
  • Mount St Bernard’s RC Reformatory, opened 1856
    • 1836 mutiny
    • 1864 riot
    • 1870 boy died
    • 1875 mutiny 60 out of 200 escaped
    • 1878 mutiny, break out officer stabbed
  • Akbar Scandal (1910)
    • Reformatory School Horrors – boys tortured – Several Deaths, boys gagged with blankets before being birched with hawthorn branches
    • Ill canings as malingerers
    • Minor offences published with drenching
    • Several boys died after such punishment
    • The establishment Cleared – Boys were only gagged so passers-by would not be disturbed by screaming from the boys who were being punished.


Establishment Scandals Included:

  • Standon Bridge (1947) – Boys decided to murder headmaster, rob the safe and steal a car. They stole a rifle from cadet store, bit a teacher accidentally came across them and he was shot and later died. The boys fled through the snow and were traced and caught. The ring leaders were put in prison. This resulted in the school closing and was a major blow to Waifs and Strays Society
    Carlton (1959) Boys complaining about ill treatment, a lot were absconding and the boys invited press along to hear about grievances, which became a big story in the newspapers
  • Court Lees (1967) Ill treatment, licensing issues, teacher wrote to Guardian, constantly heard screaming of boys being punished, huge enquiry into punishment and grievances which led to the closure of the school.


Potential Records Available Include:

  • Census, civil death registers. etc.
  • Most admissions via Assize or Magistrates – records usually in county / metropolitan archives. (could be voluntary though)
    Cases may also feature in newspaper reports
  • Institutions kept
    • Admission / commitment registers
    • Licences and discharge records
    • After care
    • Punishment books
    • Medical books etc.
    • Survival very variable


Peter concluded the talk by showing members two excerpts from registers, held by the West Yorkshire Archives, which included photographs of the children.

Peter provided a potential wealth of information. His book on the subject is expected to be published in June 2017 ( It will certainly be a must for my bookshelf.