Stranraer Reformatory School for Boys, Stranraer, Wigtownshire, Scotland
A ragged school was established in Stranraer in 1850. In September of that year it was operating in premises at Bishopburn with ten children in attendance. On 1 May 1855, the school was certified as a Reformatory under Dunlop's Act and was also certified under the 1854 Youthful Offenders Act.
In 1857, the school occupied part of the Stranraer poorhouse, with pauper children housed and trained alongside those placed under detention by magistrates. This arrangement was strongly objected to by the school's inspector, as were other aspects of the accommodation, such as most of the boys sleeping two in a bed. At the next inspection in October 1858, the school had been given notice by the poorhouse to find new premises. By the following year, the school was operating in a former tannery on Dalrymple Street. The site was certified for operation on 1 October 1859, with accommodation for 30 boys and 20 girls. The boys and girls were housed in separate sections of the building.
The annual inspection in 1860 recorded 42 boys and 21 girls under instruction in the establishment. Of these, 28 of the boys and 12 of the girls were under sentence of detention the remainder attending voluntarily, and with two or three exceptions lodging with their parents. The boys are taught in school each morning, and went out to work in the afternoon. They were employed in the cultivation of four acres of land annexed to the establishment, and in assisting the neighbouring farmers. There was also a tailoring class for those not employed out of doors. The girls did the cooking, needlework and washing.
In November and December 1861, strong winds blew off the roof of the school and much of the upper storey. However, the damage was rapidly repaired and disruption to the school kept to a minimum. In 1862, charge of the schools was taken by Mr Ross, formerly superintendent of the Glasgow Industrial School. The schoolmistress in the girls' section was Miss McKay. A few of the older girls were now allowed to go out for a part of the day to assist in domestic or nursery work.
In 1867, an additional dormitory was fitted up for the girls. Miss McKay introduced the making Kilmarnock caps, at which many of the girls had become very skilful. Miss McKay left the school the following year and was replaced by Miss Murray. Miss McKay's departure led to considerable unrest and misconduct in the girls' department. There were also cases of disorder and disobedience arising from the girls' school being too near the boys' department. In 1870, the school's directors decided to resign the girls' section's certificate and the following year the institution became a boys-only establishment. Mr and Mrs James Ross now had charge of the school.
After a period of upheaval during alterations to the premises, the school settled down. Its industrial training was a particular strength. The boys were in constant demand by the farmers in the neighbourhood. During summer months in the summer, the boys were sent out among the farmers to work at turnip hoeing in gangs of 30, under the charge of a master. Although this generally worked well, it caused an interruption in their boys' school work. The school's own garden of about 2½ acres was cultivated with profit. Other occupations included tailoring, shoemaking, carpentering, turning, paper-bag making, printing, book binding, rope and twine spinning, and net making. A large business was done with the home market and even Australia in sheep nets; the hemp was bought in the raw state, spun, tarred, and netted by the boys. The was a large workshop with 6-horsepower engine, circular saws, lathes, and other appliances for carpentering and joinering. A large trade was done in wooden garden labels, supplying nursery gardeners across the kingdom. All of these activities generated a good income for the school and made it far less reliant on voluntary contributions that was the case at many other institutions. In 1878, the inspector commented that n school stood before Stranraer in its practical and varied industrial training.
An increasing complaint by the inspector was the small and dark schoolroom, which also served as a dining and recreation room. A new schoolroom was built in 1876. The school could accommodate up to 100 boys, aged from 10 to 14 years at their date of admission.
On 4 November 1878, a fire broke out owing to the bursting of a flue cover and destroyed the principal workshops, which were unfortunately unusually full of stock. The local fire brigade attended but found their hoses proved inadequate and the water supply insufficient. The total loss was £1200, of which only £800 was covered by insurance. No blame was attached to anyone, and during the fire the boys behaved well and worked hard. A new range of workshops was erected, 184 feet long and 30 feet wide, which were ready for use by the end of August 1879.
The school site is shown on the 1893 map below.
In 1880, Mr James E. Ross — presumably a relative of the superintendent — had begun to assist in the running of the institution. The following year, he had been joined by Mr W. Ross. By 1883, the two had been superseded by the Ross's son George, who was now clerk and assistant superintendent.
In 1886, the school had a brass band of 16 performers. They were instructed by a visiting bandmaster.
Mr Ross died toward the end of 1895, after almost thirty years as superintendent. He was succeeded by Mr Hugh Graham, with Mrs Maxwell as matron. The change of superintendent was followed by a period of unrest, absconding and misconduct amongst the boys, with Mr Graham being assaulted. An inspection in 1896 found 79 inmates in residence with 16 out on licence. The allocation of boys to industrial training occupations comprised: 10 tailors, 8 shoemakers, 19 carpenters, 12 net-makers, 11 twine-makers, 2 printers, 2 in the engine room, 6 house boys and 9 gardeners. The brass band now had 14 members. It was noted that the boys formed the choir in one of the churches in the town. The boys performed drill for half an hour each day and did exercises with wooden clubs. On fine Saturdays they visited the links by the sea, and went sea-bathing in the summer. During the winter entertainments were organized and public performances given. Newspapers were allowed but the school's library was small. The issue of new cloth caps was said to have improved the boys' pride in their appearance. Mr James Ross now held the post of the school's secretary at a salary of £100 a year — the post was regarded by the inspector as a great indulgence for a school that was struggling to make ends meet, and whose duties could very well be carried out by the superintendent.
In 1899, a new joiner's shop was built, with a showroom fronting to the street. A new industry, picture frame making, was introduced during the year and was already proving profitable. The poor condition, overcrowding, and prevalence of fleas in the attic dormitories was severely criticised.
In August 1900, Mrs Maxwell was succeeded as matron by Miss J. McCallum. Mr Graham departed in March 1901, and was followed by Miss McCallum in May. Mr and Mrs S.J. Ferguson took over as superintendent and matron in April 1901. A new dormitory and washroom were under construction. A fife band was started. Drawing was added to the industrial training. During the potato picking season nearly all the school was away. During this period, the boys were now being brought back at the end of each week, washed, and given a change of clothes. The whole school had a day out in the countryside in the summer. Boys who behaved well were allowed to visit their friends for a week twice a year.
A new wing with dormitory, improved lavatory and washhouse was completed in 1902. A house adjoining the school was acquired, extending the frontage of the school. The secretary, Mr James Ross, resigned in July 1902. A manual instruction class was started. The whole school were taken in up-to-date exercises by the superintendent, and a beginning was made with applied gymnastics — horizontal and parallel bars having been provided during the year. Ten football matches were played against outside teams, six being won by the school. Swimming was practised in the loch, and games took place on a playfield, which unfortunately was about a mile away from the school.
In 1904, new gas pendants were installed in the dormitories and dining hall. The boys had now been issued with guernsey sweaters. Cutlass drill and highland dancing now featured among their activities. It was noted that the pipe band had generated a good number of recruits for the army.
Following a period of declining admissions, the school home closed in 1927. Part of the southern range may survive in the present-day Dalrymple Terrace.
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.
- The Ancestry UK website has two collections of London workhouse records (both name searchable):
- The Find My Past website has workhouse / poor law records for Westminster.
- London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R OHB. Item reference CLA/063/01/038 includes names of inmates committed 1884-1895.
- Carpenter, Mary Reformatory Schools, for the Children of the Perishing and Dangerous Classes, and for Juvenile Offenders (1851, General Books; various reprints available)
- Carlebach, Julius Caring for Children in Trouble (1970, Routledge & Kegan Paul)
- Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
- Abel Smith, Doroth Crouchfield: A History of the Herts Training School 1857-1982 (2008, Able Publishing)
- Garnett, Emmeline Juvenile offenders in Victorian Lancashire: W J Garnnett and the Bleasdale Reformatory (2008, Regional Heritage Centre, Lancaster University)
- Hicks, J.D. The Yorkshire Catholic Reformatory, Market Weighton (1996, East Yorkshire Local History Society)
- Slocombe, Ivor Wiltshire Reformatory for Boys, Warminster, 1856-1924 (2005, Hobnob Press)
- Duckworth, J.S. The Hardwicke Reformatory School, Gloucestershire (in Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 1995, Vol. 113, 151-165)
- Red Lodge Museum, Bristol — a former girls' reformatory.
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.