Ancestry UK

Ragged School / Reformatory School for Boys, Inverness, Inverness-shire, Scotland

The Inverness Ragged School for Boys and Girls was founded in 1852, with Miss Campbell of Kilravock being credited with being amongst its leading proponents. On 24 January 1853, the School began operating in the former Tanner's Lane school-house, off Tomnahurich Street. The opening was reported as follows:

The room is a large, well-lighted, and commodious building, conveniently situated for the majority of those who are likely to take advantage of its erection. The "fittings" of the class-room are of the simplest kind — desks and forms, a stove, and a few "slips" to be used as writing models. The kitchen challenges a more minute inspection. A large boiler stands in the centre of the room for cooking purposes; attached to it is a large washing apparatus, into which warm water can poured from the boiler, and at which the children must wash themselves on coming to school, if that operation should not already have been performed; beside it is a long substantial revolving towel, and abundance of good brown soap. Below the wooden screen which fences the kitchen off from the school-room, is a series of large bins full of meal, barley, split pease, and bread. A formidable row of tin jugs, ladles, pepper boxes, etc., adorn the wall; and the large coal-box is well filled. The kitchen is under the superintendence of an active cleanly housewife, who seems to keep everything snug and tidy.

Twenty boys and girls were admitted to the school at its opening. The arrangements had not been sufficiently matured to admit of a larger number at first, but ten more will be admitted each week until the full complement of about 150 be made up. The plan to be pursued is very simple. The children must make their appearance at the school every morning before half-past eight. When it is seen that they are all as clean and tidy as circumstances will permit, they sit down to a comfortable breakfast of porridge and milk; then comes a short time for play, after which the children return to take part in divine worship. At half-past ten the labours of the day commence, the master instructing them in the usual branches of education. The girls will be taught sewing and knitting in addition by the female teacher. Then comes, or will come when the school is sufficiently advanced, the hour of "industry," or learning a trade.

At Aberdeen and elsewhere it customary to set the boys to tease hair for the upholsterers, for which they get about one half-penny per pound. Here it is hoped that, with the assistance of an old pensioner in the town, they may be able to instruct the boys in the useful and profitable trade of making nets for the herring and other fisheries. The girls will find ample employment in supplying the market with knitted wares, and in doing the sewing work which has been promised by families in the town who are interested in the progress of the institution. The dinner provided on Monday was basin of substantial barley broth, with a portion the ox-head from which it was made, and a half-penny roll. The children partook of it gladly, and with unmistakable relish. A fair portion of play-time is allowed to the boys, but the afternoon and evening have their appointed duties in the school-room. As a sort of reward, the children get another basin of porridge and milk before they leave for the night. As the class of persons to whom this boon is given — and they were represented on Monday by many of their number, who, with young poverty-stricken children in their arms and clinging around them, came anxiously to inquire when they might look to seeing one of their many helpless children upon the fund — have no means of giving abundant and wholesome food to their children, there need be no fear that they will lack exertion to insist on the regular attendance of the children at school, and thus secure the ultimate prosperity both of the children, themselves and of the school which has been erected in their behalf.

Provost Simpson presided over the ceremony. The Rev. Alexander Munro prayed that the Institution might be blessed to good and pious works, and the Rev. James Mackay delivered a few appropriate words of admonition to the boys, as to their future behaviour and implicit obedience to the master, without which they would inevitably be turned out of the School. The company then left, expressing to Mr Mackay, the master of the school, their warm hopes for his success with the first score of ragged scholars.

As well as receiving a basic classroom education, the children were instructed in occupations such as net-making, hair-teasing and oakum-picking.

In order to improve its finances, the School applied for certification as a Reformatory, and was formally accredited on 21 December 1855. In 1857, plans began to be laid for the construction of new premises, These were given a major impetus when, on the evening of 26 December, the classrooms and workshops of the institution were completely destroyed by fire. The events were reported as follows:

One of the little urchins attending the school, having become owner of the sum of one penny, invested it powder, and amused his companions at school by making small explosions in an ink-bottle. But having been detected by the master, and punished for this breach of discipline, he went out of doors and blew up the remnant of the powder, all except one little pinch which he carried in his hand to the shoemaking-room. There were only two or three boys here, engaged in brushing their shoes as the last act of the evening before going into the bath and attending Divine worship. A lighted paper was procured, and the powder was puffed off in the boy's hand. At this critical juncture the master's voice was heard summoning the boys to the bath, and they scampered away down stairs, thinking no more about their play with the last of the pennyworth of power. The lighted paper was unfortunately thrown on the floor in the immediate vicinity of a bundle of rags and clippings accumulated in the course of making clothes for the boys — for this room was appropriated for tailoring purposes as well as to shoemaking — and somehow, probably by the violent shutting of the door, the paper was blown among the rags and set them on fire. The room contained a great deal of combustible materials, and in a very short time it was irretrievably on fire. The servant in the kitchen was the first give the alarm; the gas-pipes were melting, and the lead dropped through the wooden floor so as to attract attention. She went up stairs and saw the shoemaking room, and the printing-room immediately adjoining it, flames. Mr Craster was at the time addressing his usual lecture to the children after prayers; the alarm having been given, he ran up stairs and saved some of the books of the institution and what other articles could be laid hold of; but the heat was too great and the fire too rapid to save much. A couple of boys were immediately despatched to the Police Office for the fire-engines, which were soon on the spot under charge of Superintendent Sutherland. But there was no fire plug near the place, and the hose had to be carried across the garden of Ness House, and water furnished from the river. The engines were of very little use except to prevent the spread of the conflagration to the wooden sheds and thatched houses adjoining the school; or, as some one among the crowd said, they managed to "save the charcoal" and "keep the ashes cool." This was no fault of the fire brigade, however, for the partitions of the house being entirely of wood, and every room fitted with wooden benches, etc., the destruction was almost instantaneous. The manufactures of the establishment were also highly inflammable, being chiefly tarred sheep-nets, wool-bags, etc. The fire began at about halt-past seven o'clock, and in less than an hour the roof had fallen in, and the building became a total ruin.

In 1858, work began on construction of new premises at 46 Rose Street, at the back of Farraline Park Institution (now Inverness Library). The new building was formally opened on 4 October 1858 and certified for operation on December 20 with accommodation for 80 boys aged 12 to 14 years. The building, designed by local architect Mr Ross, could accommodate 112 pupils — 72 boys, and 40 girls — with up to 42 able to be confined to the premises under the sentence of a magistrate. Hot and cold baths for boys and girls, a kitchen-house, and rooms for master and matron were provided. Initially, the School received voluntary day-pupils who were taught and fed on the premises. By 1860, however, it admitted only those committed for detention. At first, the boys and girls were taught together but, following pressure from the government inspector, they were placed in separate sections of the building. Thanks to the varied interested of the superintendent, Mr Craster, the boys' industrial training included carpentry, clog making, tailoring, printing and net-making, in addition to the cultivation of the garden. By 1862, Mr John Grant had become superintendent of the School, with Mrs Grant as matron.

In 1864, following a decline in the number of girls placed at the School, it was decided to make the establishment boys-only and the few remaining girls were transferred to the Aberdeen Girls' Reformatory. However, A day school was provided for local girls of the ragged or industrial school class. Some of the boys came from remote parts of the Highlands and knew only Gaelic and no English, which caused difficulties in the classroom. Two from Skye had never been in church or heard a minister.

In 1865, a laundry and cow-house were added to the premises, with two cows being kept. Further additions were made to the premises in 1869 including an extensive range of new workshops. The following year saw the construction of a new washroom and sick room and the installation of new earth closets. A new dining-room with a dormitory above was erected in 1875. The School site is shown on the 1875 map below.

Inverness Reformatory School for Boys site, Inverness, c.1875.

In 1878, Mr and Mrs Grant moved to take charge of the Kibble Reformatory, Paisley. They were succeeded as superintendent and matron by Mr Malcolm McPherson and his wife.

Following a steady decline in the number of boys being placed at the School, and the ensuing drop in its income, the managers decided to resign their certificate and close the School. This was carried into effect in March 1885. Seventeen of the boys under detention were transferred to the Old Mill Reformatory, Aberdeen and the remainder were discharged.

The School building no longer survives.


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.

  • Inverclyde Archives, 9 Union Street, Greenock PA16 8JH. Has Financial records including correspondence (1852-57).