Ancestry UK

Greenock Ragged and Industrial Schools, Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland

On 29 December 1848, a large public meeting was held in Greenock's Middle Parish Church, resulting in the formation of the Association for the Establishment of Ragged or Industrial Schools in Greenock. The object of the Association was 'to reclaim the neglected and destitute children of Greenock, by affording them the benefit of a good common and Christian education, and by training them up to habits of regular industry, so as to enable them to earn an honest livelihood, and fit them for the duties of life.'

By the following September, the school had begun operation in premises at Factory Lane, Greenock (between Roslin Street and Laird Street, where the Tesco petrol station now stands). Mr Stewart was appointed as teacher. The establishment operated on the following principles: 'to give the children an allowance of food for their daily support; to instruct them in reading, writing, and arithmetic; to train them in habits of industry, by employing them daily in such sorts of work as are suited to their years; to teach them the truths of the Gospel, making the Holy Scriptures the groundwork of instruction; on Sabbath, the children shall receive food as on other days, and such religious instruction as shall be arranged by the acting Committee.'

On 15 April 1855, the school was certified to act as a Reformatory (subsequently redesignated as an Industrial School), allowing it to receive children placed under detention by the courts. Initially, however, the school continued to operate primarily as a day school, with accommodation for about 150 pupils.

In 1857-58, new premises for the school were erected at 13 Captain Street, opposite the Greenock Poorhouse. The land was provided by Sir M.R. Shaw Stewart, who also made a financial contribution to the scheme. Funding for the building, whose total cost was around £2,500, was also received from the government Committee of Council on Education, and a bequest from Mr Frogspawn of Cairnbrock. The rest was raised by donations and subscriptions. Plans were drawn up Messrs Boucher & Cousland, architects, for a brick building 'of the plainest description'. It provided large classrooms, boys' and girls' dormitories, a teacher's house, and a small playground behind each of the boys' and girls' sections.

An inspection of the school in 1862 recorded that there were about 80 boys and 70 girls in attendance, the majority of them very young. About half of the pupils were lodged at the school. The premises were noted as being very dirty, the beds untidy, and the whole school, especially the girls' department, as being in very indifferent order. A great deal of fever had occurred among the children. In the classroom, however, both boys and girls performed creditably when examination. The reading and spelling of the boys was particularly commended. The state of the school had improved by the following year. A laundry had been added for the use of the girls, and the boys' workroom transferred to the basement, the room previously used for this purpose being made into a second dormitory. A few of the boys under a magistrate's order were allowed to sleep at their homes. The industrial employment for the girls comprised needlework and knitting, with tailoring, shoemaking and woodcutting for the boys. The master of the boys' school was Mr Alexander Thomson, and the mistress of the girls' school was Miss Taylor.

The 1867 inspection found 72 boys and 60 girls in attendance. Sixty of the boys were lodged at the school, 49 being under detention orders; 55 of the girls were resident, including 17 under detention. The boys' industrial training now included wood-chopping and straightening nails from sugar casks, together with some shoemaking. The girls were occupied in needlework, washing, and housework. Miss Sharp was now schoolmistress and the resident matron was Mrs Barker.

A number of additions and alterations were carried out in 1870-71 as a result of which there was a more thorough separation of the boys' and girls' sections. The matron was now Mrs Johnson and the schoolmistress was Miss Banks. A boys' band had been established and had seventeen members.

The Captain Street site is shown on the 1897 map below.

Greenock Industrial School for Boys site, Greenock, c.1897.

In 1882, a charge was made of harsh treatment in the girls' department but after a full investigation it was concluded that the charge could not be substantiated.

Following continuing criticism of the boys' occupation of nail straightening, a new brush-making department was established in 1887. At that year's inspection, there were 22 boys occupied there. In addition, there were now 20 boys in the shoemaking department, 20 in the tailoring department, while 14 were still employed in nail straightening. In addition to needlework and knitting, the girls did the washing for the boys as well as themselves, made and mended the boys' shirts, and cooked the food for both sides.

The 1896 inspection report noted that football and other games were played in the playground and once a week a game was arranged with local teams on the public greens outside the town. Cricket was also played a little in the summer. A drill sergeant drilled the boys and put them through extension motions. In the summer, the boys bathes daily in a neighbouring pond, the majority of being able to swim well. Tho girls had no physical drill. Once a week in the winter end twice in the summer they took walks in the neighbourhood. In the winter, there was a weekly magic lantern show. The boys also went to see the Channel Fleet off Greenock by themselves and all returned punctually. The girls also went to see the ships on another occasion.

For a number of years, the school's inspector had been urging the removal of the girls department to their own separate premises. Following a serious disturbance on the girls' side in January 1896, one of the inmates set fire to her dormitory, hoping that in the confusion she would be able to get out to her friends. The fire was easily extinguished, and the girl in question was transferred to a reformatory. A subsequent inquiry concluded that girls in mixed Industrial Schools were at a disadvantage compared to those in their own establishments. Consequently, the Secretary of State insisted on the transfer of the girls at Greenock to separate premises. This took place on 31 December 1896 when the girls were moved into the premises of Greenock's Friendless Girls' Home. The boys also benefited from the change, gaining an additional classroom, playground and space in which to enlarge their workshops. Coinciding with the change, Mr J.B. Thomson became superintendent of the boys' school.

In February 1905, Mr Thomson resigned as superintendent and was replaced by Mr A.K. MacArthur. His tenure was short-lived, however, and he was succeeded in July 1905 by Mr D. Tudhope. The boys' industrial training now included drawing and 'manual instruction' (woodwork). A visiting sergeant took the boys in free gymnastics and marching exercises twice weekly. Applied gymnastics were taught by the by the assistant teacher. The boys were taken frequently to Prospect Mill for football, and had some open-air bathing in the Corporation's reservoir. As the result of a successful concert given by the boys in the Town Hall, there was a plan for camping out in the summer.

Following a decline in the number of boys being placed at the school, it closed in 1921. The buildings no longer survive.


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