Boys' Refuge / Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys, Liverpool, Lancashire
In 1865, Father James Nugent founded a Roman Catholic Boys' Refuge and Night at 22 Soho Street, Liverpool. Its aim was 'to save the destitute and homeless street boys from want, ignorance and crime.' The establishment was run by six members of the Christian Brothers.
On March 5th, 1868, the Refuge was certified as an Industrial School, allowing it to receive boys whom magistrates had committed to a period of detention. The property provided accommodation for about 40 boys. In addition to classroom lessons, the boys were given industrial training which included printing, tailoring, shoemaking and paper bag-making. The printing department derived an income through by a contract with the publishers of the Northern Express newspaper for use it made of the printing machines etc.
In 1869, the establishment moved to new premises at 62 St Anne Street, formerly used as a judge's lodgings. The property, with accommodation for 150 boys, was formally certified for operation on May 10th and the existing inmates transferred to their new home in June. The superintendent was Brother Tertullian.
The School site is shown on the 1891 map below.
As before, the industrial occupation provided for the boys comprised shoemaking, tailoring, paper-bag making and printing, with the newspaper printing arrangement continuing as before. A boys' band was also established.
In 1871, it was reported that gymnastic apparatus has been erected at the cost of Mr George Melly, M.P., and was proving to be a great source of health and amusement to the boys. At the same date it was recommended that the practice of keeping cows in the yard should be discontinued.
In 1873, a new engine was installed an a new printing shed erected. The printing office employed 24 boys and printed the Catholic Times. Lithographing was also carried out. The School was generally judged as satisfactory although the bedrooms were reported as being very crowded It was also suggested that there far too strong a tendency to parade the boys about the streets, and to allow the band to attend public meetings. From around this date there was increasing complaint by inspectors about the state of the premises. A small outdoor shed was being used as a schoolroom and was crowded and unhealthy. Beds and bedding were in a neglected state and there an want of order and cleanliness throughout the building. The washroom was in a bad state and inadequate for the number of inmates. A bathroom was needed.
In 1878, Brother Ater became superintendent. Promises were given to improve the state of the buildings but little actually happened. An inspection in 1885 expressed concern that there had been nine deaths in the preceding year, a rate which was quite abnormal. It was suggested that female care was needed, particularly for the young and often half-starved children coming into the School. In response to the growing criticism, there was a complete change of staff at the School taking effect on March 1st, 1886. The Christian Brothers departed from the School and a secular superintendent, Mr R.G. Montgomery, was appointed, with Miss Montgomery as matron.
Under the new regime, the School showed a rapid improvement. In 1887, the premises were bright and tidy, and the dormitories clean and well-ventilated. A new printing shed was added and a carpenter's shop established and fitted with a 77 horse-power gas engine and saw-bench. There were now 16 boys being trained as shoemakers, 18 as tailors, and 12 working in the printing shed. A female teacher took the junior classes. A junior class knitted and darned the socks and repair clothing. The boys did all the work of the house and assisted in the kitchen and laundry.
In 1889, Mrs Birchall became matron, with Mr Robert Lane as deputy superintendent. The following year, Mr Thompson was briefly superintendent, then succeeded by Mr and Mrs Henry Pridgeon, who went on to remain in their posts for more than twenty years.
In 1893, there were additions to the buildings including a larger refectory, officers' room, and a new dormitory. In the same year, the School established a branch home at Oakhill, Old Swan, Liverpool. The property was an old mansion with a good garden, glasshouses, and about 10 acres of meadow. This had enabled the superintendent to take the boys out into the country for change of air on Saturday afternoons and general holidays. It also provided outdoor employment for the boys in growing vegetables. The house, which could accommodate up to 30 boys, was formally certified for use on December 19th, 1893.
An 1896 inspection report noted that the front part of the Refuge stood flush with the pavement of one of the main thoroughfares in rather a squalid part of the city. The buildings at the back enclosing the play-yard had been rebuilt, extended, and improved in recent years. The boys at the main School were occupied as follows: tailors, 14; shoemakers, 15; joiners, 6; printers, 40; bag makers, 33; cooks, 5; bakers, 4; wood-chopping, 28; grooms, 3; boiler boys, 2. The tailors and shoemakers mainly produced items for the institution, together with a small amount of private work and fancy costumes. The groom boys attend to a horse and trap and received a useful training. The printing department was equipped with half a dozen machines, stereotyping frames, etc. Their work included the setting up of a periodical. The brass and reed band was in great demand, was a source of revenue, and provided a good outlet for boys to army bands. Musical and physical drill were carried out for three-quarters or an hour daily. The yard was fairly spacious and the boys allowed to play freely. Football was popular. Of 42 matches against outside teams, the boys had won 41 and drawn 1. They were not satisfied unless they won by a margin of at least 6 goals. They were allowed out on Saturday afternoons to watch football matches. There was an annua1 trip on the sea, and every boy had at least a month at Oakhill. There was a troupe of Morris dancers, in costume, who also performed at bazaars, etc. Various entertainments were organised in the winter, and all the pantomimes were visited. The library had about 350 books, besides old illustrated periodicals. A mark system was in operation, with bad conduct resulting in the loss of Saturday afternoon privileges. There was a system of monitors, who received many rewards. Of 29 boys discharged in the preceding year, 9 had entered army bands and 3 bad good situations in the Cunard Company's service.
In 1910, an Auxiliary Home, known as Nugent House, was established at 8 Canterbury Street, Liverpool, with its use shared by the Refuge and the Beacon Lane Industrial School. It provided supervised hostel-style accommodation for boys leaving, or on licence from, either institution and taking up outside employment. The Home, which could accommodate 12 boys, was formally certified to begin operation on 11th February, 1910. In 1913, the Home moved to new premises at 26 Village Street, Everton, formerly used as an Auxiliary Home by the Everton Terrace Industrial School. The new establishment, which housed up to 18 boys, received its certification on 24th February, 1913. The Home was formally closed on April 22nd, 1921.
Following a steady decline in the number of boys being placed at the Boys' Refuge, it closed in 1922.
The St Anne Street premises no longer exist and a factory occupies 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.
- Liverpool Record Office and Local History Service, Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EW. The School's institutional records were deposited by Nugent Care in 2012 and are currently being processed.
- Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
- Mahood, Linda Policing Gender, Class and Family: Britain, 1850-1940 (1995, Univeristy of Alberta Press)
- Prahms, Wendy Newcastle Ragged and Industrial School (2006, The History Press)
- None noted at present.
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.