Leicester Industrial School for Boys / Desford School / Polesbrook House, Desford, Leicestershire

In January, 1881, the Leicester School Board opened an Industrial School for Boys at Markfield Lane, Desford, near Leicester. On January 13th, the School was formally certified to receive up to 150 boys aged 8 to 12 years, including those placed under detention by the courts. The buildings, which cost more than £20,000, were formally opened on January 17th by Leicester-born MP, A.J. Mundella, with the Bishop of Peterborough also in attendance.

The School site is shown on the 1903 map below.

Leicester Industrial School for Boys site, Leicester, c.1903.

Former Leicester Industrial School from the south, Desford, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

An 1884 report on the building noted that:

It is an imposing brick structure, relieved with stucco, of fine architectural proportions, with a massive brick tower and a bold entrance porch of Norman arches in excellent brick work. Passing along a corridor we come to the school-room, a moderate sized room well lighted and furnished. Behind this are large lavatories fitted with a number of basins, over which are blacking brushes; also a clothes store, the walls of which are fitted with numbered lockers in which every boy keeps his clothes separate and in order. A door opposite these leads into a large asphalted and walled in playground, with a limited extent of shelter. Along one side of the playground are ranged workshops, at which the boys are taught trades. The first is the shoemaker's shop, well fitted with the usual implements, including a good pressing machine. The boots turned out are strong and well-finished, and it may be mentioned that a stall was established in the Leicester market for sale of goods made at this shop, but has recently been closed. Next is the tailor's shop, fitted with wide tables, sewing machines, &c, and behind this is a carpenter's shop. Outside the playground are the gasworks, engine house, dairy, and various outbuildings. Passing round the outside of the yard, we re-enter the main building by another, door, and are shewn the large dining room, the kitchen, with four large steam coppers and a steamer, a bakery, where half the bread is baked — l5 cwt. being consumed altogether in a week — the washhouse, where there are large machines for beating and whirling the clothes, and for fumigation; the laundry with steam-mangle and hot air closets; the larder, and swimming bath. We then ascend to the dormitories, which are of magnificent proportions, full of fresh air. These are arranged so as to be well watched by the teachers, from whose apartments the long rows of little beds can be surveyed.

Former Leicester Industrial School main frontage from the south, Desford, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Leicester Industrial School main entrance, Desford, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Leicester Industrial School entrance doors, Desford, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Leicester Industrial School north-west wing from the west, Desford, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Leicester Industrial School from the south-east, Desford, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Leicester Industrial School from the north-east, Desford, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Leicester Industrial School inner courtyard, Desford, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Leicester Industrial School inner courtyard, Desford, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

In addition to classroom education, the boys were provided with industrial training which included tailoring, shoemaking, and mat-making. The School's 64 acres of farmland provided agricultural and horticultural employment for the older boys.

The School's initial staff comprised the superintendent, Mr Thomas D. Adcock; matron, Mrs Mary E. Adcock; schoolmaster, Mr Robert Gamble; a tailor, shoemaker, farm bailiff, general assistant, and several men employed on the farm. In around 1895, the Adcocks were succeeded by Mr and Mrs Oxley who were still in post in 1911.

A report on the School in 1896 noted that the School could now accommodate 200 boys and its grounds amounted to 138 acres, of which 28 acres were garden ground. The stock consisted of 7 horses, 22 cattle, about 100 pigs, plus sheep and poultry. The farm buildings were extensive, but were scattered over the estate. The allocation of boys to various tasks was as follows: on farm, and fruit and vegetable gardens (stock boys included), 74; tailors, 18; shoemakers, 16; laundry, 18; kitchen and house, 16; bakers, 4; office boys, 4; full-time in school, 37; brass band, 24. The School had an asphalted playground, a cricket field with turfed a pitch, and a football field, with matches against outside teams being arranged. There was a fair-sized swimming bath, used once a week in winter, and more often in summer. Physical and military drills were given, and the text books used for the former was one written by Mr Oxley himself.

In 1897, a gymnasium and assembly hall were added to the buildings, and the construction of an isolation hospital was begun. The boys regularly performed well in sporting competitions. The School were runners-up for the Championship Cup at the Home Office Swimming Gala in September, 1910, and won the Ansell Shield and the Certified Schools' Championship of the Midlands in 1911.

On September 1st, 1910, an Auxiliary Home was opened in premises at 132 Highcross Street, Leicester, where up to 18 boys aged 14 to 16 could be accommodated. The home provided a supervised hostel for boys who were leaving the main School and taking up work with local employers.

In January, 1926, the Auxiliary Home moved to new premises at 'Winthorpe', 84 Westcotes Drive, Leicester, where 22 boys could be housed. In more recent times, the property has been occupied by a care home.

Former Leicester Industrial School Auxiliary Home, Westcotes Drive, Leicester, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

By 1920, Mr W.O. Braid had taken over as superintendent.

In 1933, the institution became an Approved School, one of the new institutions introduced by the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act to replace the existing system of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. Desford could then accommodate up to 175 Junior boys, aged from 10 to 13. The headmaster in 1935 was Mr C.J.W. Lane.

In 1973, the School, now run by Leicestershire County Council, became a Community Home with Education (CHE) known as Polesbrook House. The School finally closed in 1978.

The School building is now occupied by Kirby Grange residential care home and some new building has taken place at the north-east side of the site.

Records

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

Bibliography

  • Mahood, Linda Policing Gender, Class and Family: Britain, 1850-1940 (1995, Univeristy of Alberta Press)
  • Prahms, Wendy Newcastle Ragged and Industrial School (2006, The History Press)
  • Hyland, Jim Yesterday's Answers: Development and Decline of Schools for Young Offenders (1994, Whiting and Birch)
  • Millham, S, Bullock, R, and Cherrett, P After Grace - Teeth: a comparative study of the residential experience of boys in Approved Schools (1975, Chaucer Publishing)
  • None noted at present.