Ancestry UK

Birkdale Farm Reformatory / St Thomas More School for Roman Catholic Boys, near Southport, Lancashire

In 1871, the Liverpool Catholic Reformatory Association opened a Reformatory School for Roman Catholic Boys on Liverpool Road, Birkdale, near Southport. The Birkdale Farm School, as it became known, was a large establishment, with its purpose-built accommodation able to house up to 200 boys. The premises were officially certified for operation on November 10th, 1871.

The School site is shown on the 1928 map below.

Birkdale Farm School Reformatory for Roman Catholic Boys site, Southport, c.1928.

Birkdale Farm School Reformatory from the north-west, Southport, c.1908. © Peter Higginbotham

The School was slow to get going. It was not until March 9th, 1872, that the first inmates were admitted. These were 12 boys transferred from the Reformatory School Ship Clarence who were considered unfit for the sea. On March 26th, 14 more of the same were received. The first superintendent of the establishment was Captain Joseph Smith, with Mr Lawkins, formerly the assistant schoolmaster on the Clarence, moving to Birkdale as its schoolmaster.

Early inspection reports were concerned about discipline at the School, especially the bad behaviour by some of the older boys who had been transferred from the Clarence. There were also many cases of absconding. The accommodation for the officers was described as being rather deficient. A question was also raised about the School's farmland, whose soil was said to consist almost entirely of sand. The School gradually settled down, however. In 1875, the general state of the site had been much improved, as had the boys' conduct. It was reported that tailoring, shoemaking, wood-chopping and baking were being carried out, and that peas, carrots, potatoes and celery were being grown. There were now over 150 boys in residence. Captain Smith resigned at the end of 1876, following which there was considerable disorder. It took some time for his successor, Mr Daniel H. Shee, to restore things to normal. The other staff now comprised the schoolmaster, Mr O'Malley; chaplain, discipline officer, baker, cook, washerwoman, farm bailiff, labour-master and assistant labour-master, tailor, shoemaker, joiner and brush-maker.

In 1884, there number of inmates was more than 200. Mains water and gas had now been connected to the School. Thirty boys now worked as tailors and made all the clothing, shirts, socks etc. The shoemaker now employed 38 boys and produced footwear for the Clarence and the girls' reformatory at May Place. Fourteen boys worked in the bakery. Carpentry and wood-chopping were also carried out but brush-making had been discontinued. All the School's clothing was washed by the boys. A brass band and reed was in operation. In 1884, 28 boys emigrated from the School.

In 1900, the School was connected to the Birkdale main sewer. A new gas engine was installed in the joiner's shop to drive lathes etc. Industrial training now included technical drawing and the School's garden was equipped with extensive greenhouses. The physical drill was being supplemented by 'free gymnastics on the Aldershot system'.

Former Birkdale Farm School Reformatory from the north-west, Southport, c.2010.

Former Birkdale Farm School Reformatory from the north, Southport, c.2010.

Captain Shee resigned as superintendent on September 8th, 1909, after almost 33 years in the post. He was succeeded by Mr A. Henry who left on October 6th, 1911, being replaced by Captain Fitzgibbon, with Mrs Fitzgibbon as matron. Other staff at this date included a chief officer, Mr F. Billington; head schoolmaster, Mr E. Webb; first assistant schoolmaster, Mr M. McDonald; second assistant schoolmaster, Mr J. Hoffman; clerk and infirmarian, bandmaster, tailor, shoemaker, baker, joiner, farmer, assistant farmer, wood-turner, manual instructor and joiner, gardener, assistant gardener, singing master, gymnastic instructor, night watchman, cook, and housekeeper, laundress. Non-resident were the chaplain, Rev. E. O'Reilly; medical officer, Dr D. Mulholland; dental officer, Mr L. Whitlow; and veterinary surgeon, Mr A. Kershaw.

From 1913 to 1923, an Auxiliary Home existed at 28 Great George Square, Liverpool as a halfway house for boys leaving the School to take up employment in Liverpool.

In 1933, Birkdale Farm became an Approved School, one of the new institutions introduced by the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act to replace the existing system of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. The St Thomas More School, as it was known from June, 1935, accommodated up to 125 Senior Boys aged between their 15th and 17th birthdays at their date of admission. The training provided by the School included baking, cabinet-making, carpentry, joinery and gardening.

On Sunday, February 4th, 1945, police and firemen was called to the School to help deal with a disturbance in the course of which many of the boys had barricaded themselves in a dormitory. Staff had tried to quell the riot by directing water from the School's fire hose through the dormitory windows but its pressure was insufficient. Police broke down the dormitory door was a heavy axe but were assailed with boards with nails sticking in them, pieces of glass and parts of bedsteads. The two ringleaders, Peter Patrick Mellon (18) and Thomas Bulger (17), each had their period of detention extended by three months.

In 1940, the Liverpool Catholic Reformatory Association was renamed the Liverpool Catholic Training Schools Association. In 1973, St Thomas More became an Assisted Community Home with Education (CHE) run by the Association in conjunction with Lancashire County Council.

The former School buildings no longer exist and the site is now covered by modern housing.


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  • Liverpool Record Office and Local History Service, Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EW. Holdings include: Roll of Juvenile Offenders (1899-1944); New admissions (January-March and September-December, 1944); Various buildings plans (1904-27).