Ancestry UK

Cotswold School for Boys / The Cotswold Community, Ashton Keynes, Wiltshire

In the early 1930s, a group of German Christians came to England to escape their increasing persecution by the Nazis. The Bruderhof, as the group called themselves, bought the 400-acre Westham Farm near Ashton Keynes, Wiltshire, and set up a community which aimed to live by the principles of the early Church. The buildings were considerably extended, effectively creating a small village. At the outbreak of the Second World War, rather than face internment in England, they resettled in South America.

On June 9th, 1941, the Cotswold Approved School for Intermediate Boys began operation at the site. The School was managed by the London Police Court Mission (renamed the Rainer Foundation in the 1960s). The premises could accommodate 140 boys aged between their 13th and 15th birthdays at their date of admission.

The School was operated on the 'house system' with the boys living in groups of about forty per house. Each boy was given an identity number which was marked on all his clothes and other possessions. Discipline was maintain with the help of a points system, whereby good behaviour earned rewards and misbehaviour resulted in a loss of privileges. Corporal punishment for even minor misdemeanours was commonplace. As well as classroom lessons, the School provided the inmates with training in agriculture, horticulture, carpentry, engineering and building. Marching and drill also formed a significant part of the daily routine.

The School entered a new era with the arrival in September, 1967, of a new Principal, Richard Balbernie. Now renamed the Cotswold Community, the establishment was the location for an experimental new approach in the treatment of Approved School inmates. The primary task of the Cotswold School was defined as the provision of therapy for boys suffering from serious psychological disturbance and damaged personalities — factors which were viewed as the root of their delinquency and subsequent committal to an Approved School. The Community's therapeutic work aimed to help 'emotionally unintegrated' boys achieve emotional integration. To this end, many changes were gradually introduced and new approaches explored. The number of boys was reduced to around thirty, with most of the existing inmates discharged back to their homes. Corporal punishment was replaced by a system of pocket-money fines and the former punishment cell block. The educational and training work became much more varied. New staff included a sculptor, a motor mechanic, a watchmaker, a horticulturist, a printer, a potter and an infant teacher. The boys also became involved in community decision-making.

The work at the Cotswold Community influenced the new type of institution, the Community Home with Education (CHE), introduced in 1973 to replace Approved Schools. The Community became a CHE under the management of Wiltshire County Council.

The Community finally closed in July 2011. There are plans to build housing on the site.


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.

  • Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Cocklebury Road, Chippenham SN15 3QN. Has a few building plans.
  • The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Holdings include Inspection Reports, Management Reports, and 'Indecency allegations against staff' in 1965-66.


  • Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
  • Hyland,Jim Yesterday's Answers: Yesterday's Answers: Development and Decline of Schools for Young Offenders (1993, Whiting and Birch)
  • Millham, S, Bullock, R, and Cherrett, P After Grace — Teeth: a comparative study of the residential experience of boys in Approved Schools (1975, Chaucer Publishing)