Ancestry UK

Schools of Industry for Boys and Girls, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

On October 1st 1841, a School of Industry for Boys, often said to be the first institution of its type in the British Isles, was opened by Sheriff William Watson in the old Greyfriars Parish School on Chronicle Lane, Aberdeen.

Sheriff William Watson. © Peter Higginbotham

The School was originally established as a branch of the existing House of Refuge on Guestrow, Aberdeen, supervised by the same staff, but with its own committee and funds — both institutions being financed by voluntary subscriptions. Each day, boys from the School of Industry marched to the House of Refuge for their meals. Those that were homeless also slept at the House of Refuge, while those with any kind of home returned there at night.

School of Industry, Chronicle Lane, Aberdeen, 1841.

A separate institution, known as the Soup Kitchen School, was founded in 1845 to deal with children involved in vagrancy and begging. Initially based in a room next to the public soup kitchen in Loch Street, the School moved the following year to Sugar House Lane to become the Juvenile Industrial School for Boys and Girls.

In 1845, the School of Industry moved to Quaker's Court, at 55 Guestrow, alongside the House of Refuge. In 1851, it was formally united with the Juvenile Industrial School to provide secular and religious instruction, together with industrial training, for children of both sexes.

In 1853, when the rent of the School of Industry was raised, the establishment relocated to part of the adjacent House of Refuge premises. On May 15th 1855, the School of Industry was formally certified under Dunlop's Act to operate as a Reformatory (later reassigned as an Industrial School), with Sugar House Lane housing boys and girls, and Guestrow boys only.

An official inspection in 1860 recorded that:

Both these institutions appeared to be working very efficiently at the time of my visit, and to give good grounds for confidence in their usefulness to their supporters. I should be glad to see the school teaching in the boys' department of the Sugar House Lane School more simplified and less ambitious. The reading book which I found the first class engaged in abounded in words which most of the boys found it equally hard to pronounce and to understand; and the readiness with which many of them sketched the outline of the coast of Scotland, and enumerated the chief town, rivers, &c, seems to me more striking as an act of memory than useful as a matter of practical acquirement. The writing from dictation, and the arithmetic, especially in the girls' school, were very satisfactory. All the children looked bright and healthy. The boys in the Guest-row School were also struggling with too hard a reading book; but they fought their way through the long sentences and difficult words very valiantly, and afterwards spelt and cyphered very fairly. The industrial occupations are chiefly of an elementary sort, such as picking hair, net making and rough tailoring. The effect these schools have had in reducing the amount of youthful crime and vagrancy in Aberdeen is well known. One important feature of their operation is the allowing the majority of the children to lodge at home. I concur with Sheriff Watson in thinking, that the keeping up the natural ties of family life is of great value, and that in the long run tho children will influence their parents for good by the knowledge and habits which they bring home daily from the school.

The two institutions moved out of Guestrow in 1862 to share more suitable accommodation at Skene Square, Aberdeen. In 1866, the Sugar House Lane building was closed after being condemned as insanitary. As a result, the House of Refuge leased its own premises at Ross's Court, Upperkirkgate. The School of Industry then occupied the whole of the Skene Square site, which was divided into sections for boys and girls.

In 1877, it was decided to move the boys out of Skene Square to new premises at Oakbank, about a mile to the west of Aberdeen. On November 26th, 1879, the Oakbank Industrial School for Boys was certified for operation and came into use before the end of the year. The Skene Square site continued in use until 1881, when the girls moved to new premises at Whitehall.


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