Ancestry UK

Boys' Refuge Industrial School, Whitechapel, London

The Boys' Refuge was inaugurated in July 1853 in purpose-built premises at 28 Commercial Street, Whitechapel, London E1. The establsihment was intended as a refuge for boys between the ages of seven and fifteen, who, according to one report, were "idle, houseless wanderers, and destitute means of instruction". The facilities provided included workshops, dormitories, and a schoolroom. The building, designed by Mr F. Porter, was of a single story but capable of future enlargement. The cost of the land and building amounted to £2,250, with the necessary funds being provided by subscription. The formal opening of the building was carried out on July 13th, 1852, by Lord Shaftesbury. Also present was Mr Robert Hanbury, Junior, who had played a leading part in establishing the institution and became an ongoing and active supporter of its work.

In addition to classroom education the boys were provided with industrial training which included tailoring, shoemaking, cabinet-making and wood chopping.

As originally envisaged, the Refuge's premises were eventually enlarged, as described in a report by the governer, Mr George Davis, in November, 1869:

The new house was occupied in May last, the rooms of which are used for the following purposes, viz.:—Basement—workshop for wood-choppers: ground floor—shop and office; first floor—committee room and governor's sitting-room; second floor—governor's bed-room and kitchen; third floor—infirmary and servants' bed-room. The old residence has been converted into dormitories, thus giving more space and ventilation in the refuge dormitory. I have held out, as an inducement to the boys, a day's holiday once in three months, if recommended by their trade-masters, for good conduct and industry; and by the schoolmaster for attention and diligence in the school; and very many of them who have friends to go to have enjoyed this privilege. I am most happy and thankful to state that not one has abused the confidence reposed in him, but has returned to the refuge clean and punctual. A system of rewards has been established by means of a tubular sheet, marked by the trade-masters respectively; the amount (twopence per week) is fixed by the governor according to the number of marks; it has been found to work well, since its establishment, on 12th of February, 1859. One half is paid to the boys, and the other is put into the bank for them until they leave the refuge. The amount paid to them is spent weekly. I have allowed a woman, the wife of an invalid soldier, to visit the refuge with her basket of sweets, assuring myself of their genuine character by tasting them; the boys are perfectly satisfied with the plan, and I have not heard any complaints, As a farther inducement and stimulus, each boy has an opportunity of obtaining a 'good conduct and industrial stripe,' to be worn on the right wrist. Each boy, previous to receiving this mark of distinction, must have been at least six months in the refuge; must be recommended by his trade-master for good conduct and industry, and by the schoolmaster for good conduct and progress in school. He must not have been reported for lying, fighting, swearing, or dishonesty within the said term. He must be able to read, write, and cipher in the first four rules of arithmetic. I need scarcely say that the boys possessing this distinguishing badge prize it very much; and the fear of losing it is greater than the fear of any other mode of punishment; and those not yet entitled to it are striving might and main to obtain it and sometimes anxiously inquire 'When shall I get a good conduct and industrial stripe?' A monitorial system has been adopted in the refuge, which has worked well; each monitor has the letter 'M' marked on the collar of his Sunday jacket, which, with the 'good conduct and industrial stripe,' makes him a personage of some consequence. One boy is appointed head monitor, who wears the letters 'H.M.' on his collar, and two stripes on his arm; his duties are to superintend the sundry employment boys, to attend to the lighting of gas and fires, to march the boys in to meals, and take charge of them, should the schoolmaster at any time be called away. The boys are told off into six sections, a monitor to each section, whose duty it is to accompany his section in all its movements, to superintend its washing, cleaning boots, work, and class. I have, in a great measure, left the selection of the monitors to the boys themselves and I find it to work well; for, when boys have chosen their monitor, they feel bound in honour to obey him. I have trusted the boys to a great extent, and I find the result justifies the step. I leave unlocked all the places in the refuge (by day), and the result has been, that every boy having a drawer, has put his key in the case and left it in there; thus practically saying 'we can trust each other.' One hour in the morning has been devoted to military drill, which has been attended with beneficial results; it raises the boys, and gives them a more open look and manly bearing. A band of drums and flutes has been established under the teaching of Mr. Edward Hair, of the R. M. Band, Woolwich, who attends two hours per week. The progress of the boys has been good, and their proficiency fair; they are proud of and delighted with the band, and are ready at any time to give their kind friends a tune. A singing master has also been engaged one hour per week to teach the boys to sing, and they have entered into it with spirit, as indeed they do into all their undertakings, and are making satisfactory progress. The health of the boys has very much improved, and I have deep cause for thankfulness that, though many have been sick, none have died. Mr. Edmunds, surgeon, has been very kind and constant in his visitation. The boys still attend Divine service in Spitalfields Church, and this conduct has very much improved and their interest awakened, so much so that they have requested to be permitted to attend also on a week-day evening. The religious instruction is still very kindly undertaken by the Rev. J. Patteson, whose visits to the refuge the boys seem highly to appreciate.

On June 6th, 1867, the Refuge was certified as an Industrial School allowing it to receive boys placed under detention by magistrates. The superintendent and matron at this date were Mr and Mrs Darbyshire, succeeded in 1869 by Mr and Mrs Larcombe. The other staff then comprised the schoolmaster (Mr Hewitt) and four industrial assistants. In 1870, Mr and Mrs Larcombe were succeeded by Mr Thomas Langford, formerly master of the Forest Gate Schools, and his wife.

On March 6th, 1883, a fire at the School partially destroyed the workshop and its contents. The flames were confined to the lower part of the building and were soon extinguished, with no harm occurring to any of the residents.

In September 1883, the School was forced to vacate its premises due to a redevelopment of the area by the Board of Works. Although temporary accommodation was found at Park House, Leytonstone, the School's managers decided to resign its Industrial School certification and to close the establishment.


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