Girls' Industrial Home, Coventry, Warwickshire

In 1846, an 'Industrial Home for unprotected females' was established in Coventry by a group of local ladies led by Mrs Joseph Cash, and with Lady Jane Peel amongst their supporters. The object of the Coventry Industrial Home, as it became known, was outlined in its fund-raising prospectus issued in January 1846:

Several cases of unprotected females having come under the notice of a few ladies, they have felt most anxious to devise a plan, by which young girls in friendless and exposed situations, be put in the way of obtaining honest and respectable livelihood, and thus prevent their being driven into paths of sin and shame.

In order to do this, it is proposed to establish an Institution, in which they may find a temporary home, and where the individuals are suitable, be trained for domestic service.

As it is intended that the inmates shall maintain themselves by their own industry, washing, needle-work, winding, etc. will he carried on at the Institution; to accomplish this benevolent design, considerable outlay will requisite, in order to furnish the establishment, and to carry it for the first few months, —it is for this purpose your donation is earnestly solicited; but it confidently expected that the earnings of the inmates will future sufficient to defray all the current expenses. "The Home" will be under the management a resident Matron, and Visiting Committee of Ladies, (now forming) of which Mrs Craig is the Treasurer, and Mrs Cash the Secretary.

You are again reminded that there are instances of unprotected girls now under the knowledge of the Committee, who will probably lose all their respectability of character, unless Institution of the above description be speedily formed for their reception.

By end of May, 1846, a property at 43 Leicester Street had been rented for the purpose and eight girls had taken up residence in the charge of a 'discreet industrious matron'. The enterprise was supported by a group at Leamington which contributed a third of the Home's costs and provided a third of its inmates. The Home was already advertising its services of 'washing by the piece or score, on the most reasonable terms' and 'plain needlework of all kinds neatly done, at the usual price.'

By May, 1858, a total of 138 girls had been inmates of the Home. Of these, 63 had taken up respectable places of service, 39 had returned to their friends, 2 had died, and one had been removed to penal reformatory. At that date, 42 of the girls were in service, 12 had married, and the number residing in the Home was 32.

The Home was always short of funds and, in an effort to boost its finances, it was decided in 1862 to seek accreditation as an Industrial School. The application was successful and the establishment was certified for this purpose in January, 1863. In addition to its voluntary inmates, the Home could now also accommodate younger girls who had been placed under detention by magistrates, and for each of whom a government grant of 5s. a week was payable. An inspection in October, 1864, recorded 29 girls in the Home, only 5 of whom were under magistrates' orders, the others having being received on payment from friends or as free cases. They were all in good health, and were mostly busily at work in the laundry. The premises had been much improved, with the room formerly used as a laundry having been made into a day room for meals, work etc; the laundry had been built out, and the old work room made into a dormitory. The standard of classroom instruction was rated as not very high. It was suggested that as most of the girls were aged 15 or more, the ladies who managed the establishment believed that a thorough training for domestic service was of more importance than progress in writing and arithmetic.

In 1867, the Home's staff comprised the matron, Mrs Holland; schoolmistress (afternoons only), Miss Browett; and a laundress. The older girls attended school only on Saturdays, being engaged in the laundry etc. for the rest of the week.

Due to declining health, Mrs Holland gave up her post in 1874. The Home's committee now decided to make the establishment more essentially an Industrial School than a training home for domestic servants. Mr and Mrs Allen were appointed as superintendent and matron, and a resident schoolmistress, Mrs Claridge, was engaged. However, the Allens quickly decided to move on and Mrs Claridge took charge of the institution. The large laundry operation was discontinued, and the younger girls were instructed in needlework, housework and washing. A new schoolmistress, Miss Beaumont, was subsequently appointed with a resulting improvement in the girls' classroom attainment.

In 1877, Mrs Claridge resigned due to poor health and was succeeded by Mrs Fanny Dalby. During the period of Mrs Claridge's ill-health, the level of discipline in the School significantly declined, a matter which raised serious concern in that year's inspection report.

There was a frequent turnover of schoolmistress, with the post being held by Miss Ward in 1878, Miss Day in 1880, Miss Phillips in 1881, Miss Wright in 1883, and Miss Dawson in 1885. Mrs Haydon succeeded Mrs Dalby as superintendent on April 12th, 1887.

In 1888, it was decided to rebuild the Home on the existing site. In fact, the accumulation of funds for this purpose had been taking place since 1874. While the construction work was carried out, the Home occupied some former school premises at 2 Chauntry Terrace. Miss Karl succeeded Mrs Haydon as superintendent in March, 1888, and the schoolmistress was now Miss Higginbotham.

The Home site (old building) is shown on the 1888 map below.

Girls' Industrial Home and School site, Coventry, c.1888.

The new building was certified for use on October 5th, 1889, with accommodation for 28 girls, aged 10 to 14 at their date of admission. The official opening, by Lord Leigh, was carried out on October 15th. The rebuilding work cost in the region of £1,500. Although the premises were described by the Home's inspector as 'very suitable', the schoolroom was said to be too small. The front of the new building is shown below.

Girls' Industrial Home, Coventry, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

Girls' Industrial Home dormitory, Coventry, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

In March, 1891, Miss Karl was forced to resign after punishing several girls by putting mustard plasters on their fingers. Miss Camp was then appointed superintendent, with Miss E. Pattinson now in the post of schoolmistress.

A special inquiry on the part of the Home Office was held at the Home on June 13, 1893, to investigate a case of alleged excessive punishment of one of the inmates by the superintendent. Emma Lee, aged 15, alleged that on May 25th, Miss Camp had given her twelve stokes with a cane upon her bare body in front of all the other inmates. The cause of the punishment was that, while Lee was cutting bread and treacle, she had been accused of allowing another girl named Polly Delves to take some, and of taking some herself. Three other girls (Polly Delves, Maria Stone, and Rhoda Wyatt) were similarly chastised on the same occasion. Miss Camp claimed that she had not known that the rules for Industrial School did not allow corporal punishment net to be administered on girls, and that it had only been used after a long period of misconduct by Lee. The Ladies' Committee of the Home was also criticised for failing to ensure that Miss Camp was fully acquainted with the rules governing the punishment. It was concluded that undue severity had been exercised, and Miss Camp submitted her resignation. She was replaced by Miss S. Goulding.

An inspection report in 1896 noted that the School had an attractive and convenient interior, the chief wants being a good playroom and cloakroom. The house stood close up to the pavement of a rather narrow street with factories not far away at the back. The playground was of a fair size, with a narrow garden border around three sides. The neighbourhood was said to be rather noisy at times and not too respectable. There was countryside within a five minutes' walk. In the classroom, singing (sol-fa), composition and recitation were rated as 'good', while geography and mental arithmetic varied from 'fair' to 'good'. Musical drill was carried out most mornings. Walks were taken about three times a week and some girls went out on messages. There were generally three or four treats and an annual outing during the 3 weeks' holiday. There were 170 books in the library, indoor games were supplied, and there was a cupboard for the girls' 'treasures'. An entertainment was always got up at Christmas. The girls were trained for domestic service, chiefly as under-servants or laundry-maids in better class houses. The superintendent herself supervised the instruction in cookery and laundry work, as well as house and parlour duties. Sewing and knitting were well attended to, and a quantity of fine needlework was done for private customers. The girls were specially taught to make their own clothes and outfits. The laundry was not carried on with a view to generating a profit. The girls were generally kept until they reached the age of 16, when they could start work at £5 a year with good prospects. Quarterly reports were received from the girls' employers, and the superintendent visited them as far as possible. The girls were said to be glad to come back and visit the School. Health was generally good and a new wing had recently been added to provide accommodation for the sick. There was said to be very little punishment. A mark system was in operation, with good conduct earning small money rewards and prizes of books etc. also being given.

Girls' Industrial Home laundry, Coventry, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

In September, 1904, the School's official capacity was increased to 32 girls. In the same year, a fortnight's holiday was taken at the seaside. A hockey team was also formed and given training by a lady friend of the School.

Girls' Industrial Home hockey 1st XI, Coventry, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

In May, 1905, the School's was increased to 50 places by renting a house opposite the main premises. Needlework was now taught in grades according to a new system that had been introduced, and dressmaking, cutting-out and machining were attempted by the older girls. Dumb-bell exercises were carried out, and recreation classes in hockey, dancing, games, fancy work, paper flowers and scrap-book making, crochet work etc. were conducted by ladies of the Committee. The children and staff enjoyed a fortnight at Rhyl during the summer.

Further expansion of the premises took place in 1909-10 with the construction of a new schoolroom, classroom, playroom, boot-room, dormitory with staff cubicle, staff bedroom, infirmary, and laundry superintendent's office. Two new outside fire-escape staircases were also added. A cottage next door was now rented as an Auxiliary Home to accommodate time-expired girls. A piece of land at the back of the house was purchased and presented to the School by a friend. In 1911, a further additional house was secured by the Committee. It provided sleeping accommodation for ten extra girls and also afforded opportunities for practical housewifery lessons. The School's official capacity was raised to 60 places on June 1, 1909, and to 80 places on November 25th, 1911. The additional properties may have included 1-3 Swanswell Terrace (formerly Swanswell Place).

In 1924, the School moved out of the city centre to new premises at Cash's Lane, Coventry, and became known as Newfield School.

Records

Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.

  • The Coventry History Centre, The Herbert, Jordan Well, Coventry CV1 5QP. Has records for Leicester Street and Cash's Lane sites (1894-1972). However they decline to provide any more detailed information.

Census

Bibliography

  • None noted at present.