Ancestry UK

Kilmarnock Ragged and Industrial School, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland

Kilmarnock's Ragged and Industrial School was established in the late 1840s, largely as a result of the efforts of the Rev. James Aitken. By 1850, it occupied Kilmarnock House, on St Marnock Street, a former town home of the Boyd family, the Earls of Kilmarnock.

On 2 June 1855, the establishment was formally certified under Dunlop's Act for use as a Reformatory (later reassigned as an Industrial School), allowing it to receive children placed under detention by magistrates. The premises could accommodate up to 100 boys and girls, aged from 8 to 16 years at their date of admission.

The school site is shown on the 1859 map below.

Kilmarnock Industrial School for Boys and Girls site, Kilmarnock, c.1859.

An inspection in 1858 reported that 'the appearance of the children and system and manner of the teachers were not very satisfactory.' In addition, the school rooms were stuffy and far from clean. The girls were employed in needlework and embroidery, and the boys in shoe-making. A considerable proportion of the children were there under detention. Things were much improved at the time of the next inspection. However only six of the 230 children present were under detention, due (it was suggested) to the intervention of the parochial board. The teaching staff appeared somewhat stretched, with 160 of the children being taught by the master and one assistant.

In November 1862, the school had 130 pupils of whom were partly boarded. Only 26 children slept on the premises, of whom 9 were under detention. The school expenditure on food, about 2d. per day per child) was unusually low. Its meagre dietary consisted of broth (made with meat) on 4 days, and pease or rice soup (made with milk) on 3 days each week, with about 5 oz. of bread for dinner. Oatmeal porridge, at the rate of a stone of meal for 46 portions, was provided for breakfast and supper, except for Sunday evenings when the children received some bread and a biscuit with molasses.

In 1864, the ragged children were removed to other establishments and the school was given over to children committed by magistrates. An inspection in June 1865 recorded 35 inmates (23 boys and 12 girls). The Catholic boys at the school attended the Catholic church twice on Sunday, in the charge of a person sent for them by the priest, and were visited by a priest for their religious instruction. Mr and Mrs Forrest were now superintendent and matron, with Mr Taylor as school-master. Industrial training now comprised tailoring, shoe-making, firewood cutting and hair teasing for the boys and needlework for the girls.

Improvements to the building in 1867 included a new laundry built, better lavatories, and a sick room. The boys slept in the attics of the house but did not have not single beds. The supervision of their dormitories was also less than satisfactory. Matters improved considerably in 1870 when the parochial board vacated the portion of the school building that they had previously occupied. There was now accommodation in the school for 100 children and separate beds were provided for the boys.

By 1872, Mr Taylor acted both as superintendent and school-master, with Mrs Wallace as matron. Unusually, however, Mr Taylor did not live on the premises and Mr Wallace took on the position of acting superintendent. My Taylor subsequently did become resident in the school but died suddenly early in 1874. Mr and Mrs Findlay then took over as superintendent and matron.

In 1874, it was reported that many of the older inmates were working on several days a week at a neighbouring tobacco factory. This arrangement had come to an end by the following year, much to the disappointment of the school's inspector. The inspector now regularly proposed that the Kilmarnock establishment should become a boys-only institution, with the girls being sent to the Industrial School for Girls at Ayr. His 1876 report noted that 'circumstances occurred during the year fully indicating the necessity for this change.'

In 1879, an adjacent property to the school was purchased to give the girls their own school and dormitory, although the dining room remained common. In 1881, however, it was noted that the girls' side was provided with only 16 beds for 33 girls. A block of new workshops for the boys was also constructed at around this time and matchbox-making added to their industrial occupations.

In 1882, Mr and Mrs William McMenan had become superintendent and matron. An expenditure of £500 was made on alterations to the building including raising part of the roof, laying new floors, reconfiguring a lavatory, repairs, and painting and cleaning the whole building. There were still only 17 beds for 34 girls, however. Fretwork had been added to the industrial training occupations. Some of the boys now spent time working outside with local tradesmen: seven at carpet weaving, four with tailors, one with a baker, and one with a butcher. A system of rewards for good works and behaviour was in operation.

A new laundry and drying room were erected in 1885. The following year's inspection noted that about 20 boys were employed in tearing hair for the upholsterers, an occupation was objected to as being unhealthy and teaching the boys nothing. A good deal of wood-chopping was done. Eight of the boys cut out fretwork in wood. Twelve tailors made all the clothing wanted in the institution by the boys, while the girls made the boys' shirts and did all their own work. All the inmates learned knitting and darning. The girls were taught to sew and assisted in laundry, kitchen, and house. There was a boys' drum and fife band.

The 1896 inspection noted that the boys' playground was small and they had no play-field, but went twice a week to a public park to play football. Good conduct boys were allowed out to see football matches. At least half the boys went out from time to time on messages or to do odd jobs in the neighbourhood. The girls had a small playground with a swing. They went out for walks once or twice a week.

In 1911, it was decided to close the girls' department, leaving no mixed Industrial Schools in operation other than a small number of Special Schools for children with disabilities.

The school was closed as of 31 August 1920 and the building was subsequently demolished. A car park now occupies the site.


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