April 11, 2018

‘Beyond the control of his parents’: Reformatory and Industrial Schools in Yorkshire

By Lucie Wade, Leeds Beckett University

Reformatory and Industrial schools were Victorian and early Edwardian institutions, which were established as a response to a perceived increase in juvenile crime. The schools operated from the 1850s until 1933, after which the two types of school were merged under the Approved Schools Act. While some of these schools left little archival material behind, some have amazingly complete records, and should be considered by anyone who wants to find out more about their criminal ancestors. This blog post will discuss what the reformatory and industrial schools were and how they operated, and will also provide a little bit of information about the kind of records schools left behind and how you might be able to use them in your own research.

Reformatory and Industrial Schools

So, what were Reformatory schools and Industrial schools? Both types of school began as a philanthropic effort in the nineteenth century, and aimed to deal with the perceived problem of juvenile delinquency, as well as provide relief for destitute children. Both of these types of institution became subject to governmental legislation from the 1850s on, but still remained voluntary institutions. Both girls and boys could be committed to reformatory and industrial schools, and the institutions were usually single sex, although there were many more schools in operation for boys than there were for girls. Initially, it was the reformatory school which was intended to cater for delinquent children, and the industrial school for the destitute; although as the century went on legislation was passed which meant that the lines between the two institutions became increasingly blurred.

The key aim of both the reformatory and the industrial school was to provide the children with industrial, moral and educational training. All schools were required to provide at least some level of education, but much more focus was placed on industrial training, as it was felt that if a child were educated in a least some sort of skill which they could use to obtain employment following their discharge, then they would be less likely to reoffend. However, moral training of children was also considered very important. All schools had some sort of religious training (although there were separate institutions for Catholic children), and many schools employed a marks system, where children were rewarded for good behaviour and punished for bad behaviour. For the most part, boy’s schools would teach their charges a manual trade, such as carpentry, tailoring, shoemaking, and girls would be trained up for a domestic position following their discharge.

One key aspect of these schools was the ‘aftercare’ which they provided. Schools were required to keep up with former residents for at least three years following their discharge, and encouraged past residents to write, visit and generally stay in touch. As well as this, schools usually put in considerable effort to make sure that resident’s walked out of the school into a job which had been found for them – in the case of girls, many went straight to live with their employers, and if they did not suit, could be returned to the institution until another situation was found. These schools were effectively providing a very early system of probation and rehabilitation.

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