Ancestry UK

Essex Industrial School for Boys, Chelmsford, Essex

The Essex Industrial School for Boys was founded in 1872 by Mr. Joseph Brittain Pash, of Chelmsford. Its first premises were a pair of ordinary dwelling houses at Baddow Road, Chelmsford. The School was formally certified to begin operation on March 4th, 1873. The superintendent and matron were Mrs and Mrs Shepherd. By the following year, two further houses had been, taking its total accommodation up to 50 places, with around 12 in each of the four properties. The boys' industrial training consisted of tailoring and shoemaking, with some of the younger boys employed in paper-bag making. The superintendent was now Mr Jarvis.

Early reports of the School lauded Mr Pash's efforts in establishing the School although the general lack of space and very small dormitories were noted as a concern. A large schoolroom of wooden construction was added in 1875, by which date Mr Goodall had taken over as superintendent. The other staff now comprised the matron, schoolmaster, shoemaker, tailoress and general assistant.

In 1876, it was noted that a fife and drum band had now been established and that the boys were drilled daily. Mrs Barrett was recorded as the School's matron. An 11-acre site was for a new building at Rainsford Road, Primrose Hill, Chelmsford, with £5,000 contributed towards the construction costs by the County of Essex, and £2,000 by the West Ham School Board. The older boys at the School contributed to the building operations at the new house, digging and clearing the ground etc. In 1877, there was another change of superintendent, with Mr Collins now in charge.

On February 4th, 1879, the new premises were certified to begin operation. The following day, the School was formally opened by the Home Secretary, Mr R.A. Cross. Six commemorative trees were ceremonially planted along the south side of the main block. The buildings, which provided accommodation for 150 boys, were designed by the Essex County Surveyor, Mr Stock. A contemporary report described the layout as follows:

The main building comprises two floors, and is in the shape of the letter E, with its back or principal arm facing the south. In the principal portion, which has a frontage of about 170 feet, on the ground floor are placed the central entrance and waiting-room, with offices on the right and left for officers and stores, and for the council. On the right of the centre is a dining-room, in immediate connection with the kitchen department, with stores below, and beyond this, occupying the ground floor of the east wing, is a dining-room for the officers, the bakehouse, laundry, washing department, and storeroom. Beyond the offices on the left of the centre and in immediate connection with the play-ground are lavatory and clothes rooms. Here also are the principal stairs leading to the boys' dormitories. Close to the last named offices, and at right angles to them, a central passage in the west wing passes through a group small domestic offices for the use of the boys, with a few punishment cells, and classrooms leading directly into the schoolroom, an apartment of 50 feet by 30 feet. On the one pair floor, and over part of the centre and west wing, and reached by an external staircase and gallery directly from the playground, which is on the west side of the building, are the workshops. Over most of the remainder of the west wing is the schoolmaster's house, containing a living-room, parlour, kitchen, offices, and bedrooms. Beyond the workshops, and reached from the principal staircase above mentioned, is the general dormitory, 121 feet long, 34 feet 6 inches wide, with an average height of 15 feet, occupying the remainder of the centre. A staircase is provided at the east end of this dormitory for the use the east wing, but placed as to afford a second means of escape for the boys in the event of fire. In the centre of the dormitory, accommodation is provided in the shape of two rooms, one on either front, with an interval of 11 feet between them, for the use of the officer in charge of the room. In connection with the general dormitory, and occupying the first floor of the east wing, are rooms for the matron and a dormitory for ailing boys, while beyond are rooms for resident officers. An abundant supply of good water is obtained from a well 35 feet deep. It is pumped by a steam pump.

Although not mentioned in the above report, the new School's facilities also included a swimming bath. In the new location, Joseph Pash took on the title of manager and director, which encompassed the former superintendent's role.

The School site is shown on the 1921 map below.

Essex Industrial School for Boys site, Chelmsford, c.1921.

Essex Industrial School for Boys from the south, Chelmsford, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Essex Industrial School for Boys from the south, Chelmsford, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Essex Industrial School for Boys from the south-west, Chelmsford, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Essex Industrial School for Boys swimming bath, Chelmsford, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

The boys spent half of each day in the classroom and the other half undergoing industrial training. As at Baddow Road, this continued to include tailoring and shoemaking, with carpentry now added. The large garden also provided considerable employment, supplying the School with vegetables and sending some fruit to the local market.

Essex Industrial School for Boys schoolroom, Chelmsford, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Essex Industrial School for Boys gardening, Chelmsford, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1880-81, during Joseph Pash's extended illness, his brother Arthur stood in for him as Honorary Director of the School.

In 1893, it was noted that 20 boys were working with the tailor, with a junior class doing darning and knitting, and several knitting machines were in use. There were 24 boys working with the shoemaker. Up to a dozen boys assisted in the laundry. Woodworking had been introduced, and a class of 32 boys were receiving instruction in the Slojd (or Sloyd) system. The boys sang well and a good band was maintained. There is a good drill-yard and the gymnasium was also used as a play-shed.

Essex Industrial School for Boys washing day, Chelmsford, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

In the 1890s, the School adopted a mark system, where pocket-money was earned by good conduct. The boys were encouraged to bank the money by receiving half-yearly interest of 2d. on every shilling The school library contained about 300 books, which were extensively used in the winter, when indoor games were also supplied. Gifts of old periodicals were received from time to time.

Essex Industrial School for Boys gymnastics, Chelmsford, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Joseph Pash retired in 1903 and Mr Charles W. Hayward was appointed superintendent, with Mrs Hayward as matron.

An interesting insight into life at the School is given by a postcard sent in 1906 by by one of the inmates. It complained that 'the hours are 80 per week' and that 'Smith', presumably another inmate, 'broke down completely.'

Essex Industrial School for Boys postcard from inmate, Chelmsford, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

From 1924, the institution was known as the Essex Home School. In 1933, it 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 School now accommodated up to 130 Junior Boys aged between their 10th and 13th birthdays at their date of admission. The headmaster was now Mr R.H. Fish.

In 1960, the School dormitories were converted into Nelson House — a 'house unit' for 35 boys and included small bedrooms each sleeping up to 6 boys. Two further self-contained units, named Churchill and Drake Houses, were built in the School grounds.

In 1973, the School became a Community Home with Education (CHE) under the control of Essex County Council. It closed in around 1980.

The School buildings no longer survive and the site is now covered by a housing estate.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Essex Record Office, Wharf Road Chelmsford CM2 6YT. Extensive holdings include: Admission registers (1872-1975); Discharge registers (1872-1975); Joint Admission/Discharge registers (1975-78); Log books (1923-80); Punishment books (1923-80); Absconders books (1955-79); Visitors books (1872-1974); Annual reports; Minutes; Building plans; Photographs; etc.



  • None noted at present.