Ancestry UK

Sandwell Hall Special Industrial School for Mentally Defective Children, Birmingham, Warwickshire

In 1898, Sandwell Hall, near West Bromwich, former home of the Earl of Dartmouth, was converted for use as a branch of the Winson Green Asylum and housed 150 'harmless lunatics'. Prior to that date, the site had been occupied by the Sandwell Hall Training Home.

Sandwell Hall Training Home, West Bromwich, 1890s. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1907, the property was leased to the Reverend Harold Burden who, because of his previous work in providing institutional care for inebriates, had been a member the 1904 Royal Commission for the Care of the Feeble Minded. Burden and his wife, Katherine, now decided to turn their hand to the running of an establishment for 'mentally defective' children. Their first project was Sandwell Hall which, on December 28th, 1907, became a special Industrial School for Mentally Defective Children. The School was given a temporary certification to accommodate 150 children, aged 7 to 16 years at their date of admission. The certificate was extended on May 1st, 1908, now with 200 places. After a further renewal in May, 1909, the certificate was made permanent in February, 1910, with its accommodation now specified as being for 200 boys. The girls then in residence were gradually transferred to other establishments including the Burdens' second establishment at Stoke Park, near Bristol, opened in 1909.

According to a report by Sandwell Hall's 'Corresponding Manager', Mrs Eileen Pinsent, the School's early days were marked by problems. Inadequate clothing was provided, and there was also a shortage of knives, forks, cups, hair brushes, night-shirts, or furniture for the staff. New admissions were not properly cleansed, and many of the children suffered from head lice. Medical facilities were poor, with no proper isolation rooms or convalescent wards. The School's first matron was found to be incompetent and was dismissed. Her replacement, Mrs Upfold, came from one of the Burdens' Inebriate Reformatories, and was said to be rough and uneducated, with a violent temper. She punished inmates who had wet their beds by allowing the smaller children who had been dry to pull up the nightgowns of the bigger ones and slap them. All of this was made worse by the fact that Harold Burden, officially the School's 'warden', lived in London.

Things appear to have eventually improved, however. An inspection report in November, 1911, recorded that there were were 194 children under care at Sandwell Hall — 172 boys and 22 girls. Of this number, 98 (all boys) were cases committed under the 1908 Children Act, the rest were either Boards of Guardians cases (52), Education Authority cases (40), or private cases (4). The School now had a staff of 31, comprising: medical superintendent (Dr Parries), visiting chaplain (the Vicar of West Bromwich), matron, one head and two assistant teachers, a kitchen mistress, laundry mistress, head gardener, four trades instructors, and a number of nurse-attendants and persons who acted as assistants for the various departments. The Hall's outbuildings had been converted into laundry, workshops, and isolation hospital, and the riding school had been paved to form a partly-covered playground. As well as some basic classroom education, the children were provided with instruction in garden, house, and laundry work, and workshops were provided for bootmaking, carpentry, tailoring, plumbing, brush-making and weaving. The institution was supplied with garden produce from the work of inmates; the children kept the buildings clean; they assisted in the cooking, preparation, and serving of food; they did their own woodwork repairs; and they made their own boots and clothes.

In 1913, the Burdens set up a trust known as the National Institutions for Persons Requiring Care and Control (NIPRCC) to take over the formal ownership of their various institutions which had by now all converted from inebriate reformatories to ones housing mental defectives.

The Sandwell Hall School resigned its certificate in December, 1921, and was closed.

Following damage by mining subsidence, the building was demolished in 1928.


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