Ancestry UK

Children's Home Records

Reformatories, Industrial and Approved Schools

The Reformatory system was created in 1854 to provide an alternative to prison for the under-16s convicted of an imprisonable offence, with Industrial Schools following in 1857 for those judged to be in physical or moral danger. The two types of institution were merged in 1932 and replaced by Approved Schools. Perhaps surprisingly, most Reformatories and Industrial Schools were privately run by charitable or religious groups. The survival of their records is therefore rather uneven.

Most of those entering Reformatories and Industrial Schools had been placed there by the courts and details of their committal recorded in magistrates' (Petty Sessions) records. These are generally found in the county or metropolitan archives of the place where the sentencing took place — this may be some distance from the institution where the young person subsequently became an inmate. It should also be noted that many of these institutions also took voluntary admissions, whose details will not appear in court records.

A few of these institutions were run by national charities including Barnardo's, The National Children's Home and the Waifs and Strays Society and, as noted on a previous page, their records will form part of each organisation's archives. A similar situation applies to institutions of this type run by other bodies (e.g. religious groups) which still survive and which maintain their own archives. Access to such records may incur a charge and also be restricted to former inmates or their immediate descendants.

Because they were subject government inspection, many documents relating to the operation of these institutions are held at the National Archives. Otherwise, the best place to look for surviving records is the county or metropolitan record office covering the area where a particular establishment was located.