Ancestry UK

Birmingham Girls' Reformatory, Smethwick, Staffordshire

The Birmingham Reformatory School for Girls was established in October, 1854. It was originally located in premises at 45 Camden Street, Birmingham, where on December 20th, 1854, it was certified to receive up to 20 girls placed by the courts as an alternative to prison. The School also took voluntary cases committed by relatives or friends.

On December 19th, 1856, the School was relocated to a property known as 'The Coppice' on Cape Hill, Smethwick, near Birmingham. The premises were certified for the accommodation of 40 girls. The three-storey house, which stood near where Raglan Avenue is now located, was set in fifteen acres of 'ornamental pasture ground' with fine gardens 'laid out in Italian style'.

As usual in such institutions, the girls received classroom lessons and also undertook laundry work, needlework and other domestic tasks.

In 1855, Mrs and Miss Whitby were appointed as the School's matrons, although Miss Whitby appears to have subsequently taken sole charge. In the spring of 1857, Miss Whitby resigned her post due to ill-health. Her successor, Mrs Anderson, appears to have been unequal to the post, with a resulting sharp decline in order and discipline. Miss Whitby resumed the role later the same year, continuing until her death in October 1873. She was succeeded by Miss Neale.

In 1873-4, there were outbreaks of scarlet fever and typhoid at the School, with two deaths among the girls and Miss Neale also laid up for some time. The establishment's water supply was found to be 'in an unwholesome state' and the drainage defective.

The School ceased operation at the end of September, 1879. Its managing committee attributed its closure partly to a decrease in the number of commitments to the School, partly to the expiration of the lease on its premises, and partly to the failure of sufficient interest in its operations on the part of the authorities and inhabitants of Birmingham. The girls under detention were either discharged to places of employment or transferred to other reformatory schools at Liverpool, Northampton and Bath.

The Cape Hill buildings no longer survive and the site is now occupied by subsequent housing developments.


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