The Little Commonwealth, Batcombe, near Evershot, Dorset
In 1914, an experimental scheme known as the Little Commonwealth was founded by George Montagu (later Earl of Sandwich) near Batcombe, about three miles to the east of Evershot. It adopted the principles pioneered in American projects such as the Ford Boys Republic in Detroit, set up by Homer Lane, which took children of all ages, including 'delinquents', and placed them in a self-governing co-educational community. After Montagu visited Detroit, Homer Lane was recruited to run the Little Commonwealth, which was located on a farm owned by the Montagu family.
On March 14th, 1917, the establishment was certified as an Industrial School, allowing it to received children placed in detention by magistrates. The premises were licensed to accommodate up to 25 boys and 20 girls.
The accommodation at the site comprised three houses, with an assembly hall and other buildings adjoining. In the main establishment, together with the other two houses, called respectively 'Bramble' and 'Bracken', resided a a section of the community's 'citizens' — the boys and girls. There was no separation of the sexes other than the sleeping quarters being in different wings.
The Little Commonwealth had its own internal economy, parliament, laws, court and a judge elected from amongst the inmates. The ethos of the community was that the superintendent a citizen, on a par with the boys and girls, and did not govern. Discipline was administered through the regular meetings of the court, with punishments including fines or the imposition of extra work.
Boys at the establishment worked as builders, plumbers, agriculturalists and caters. They were paid at the same rates as they would have been following these trades in London. They could also be dismissed, get into debt, and be 'sued' in the community's court for money owing. The girls performed the domestic work, while one of them managed the institution's shop. The girl in charge bought all her stock from outside suppliers and sold the goods in the Little Commonwealth's own currency.
Following accusations that Lane had engaged in immoral relations with some of the girls at the Little Commonwealth, its Industrial School certification was withdrawn on April 9th, 1918. The establishment was closed down soon afterwards.
The buildings now form part of the Friary of St Francis.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- Dorset History Centre, Bridport Road, Dorchester DT1 1RP. Has extensive holdings — see Online Catalogue.
- Stinton, Judith A Dorset Utopia: The Little Commonwealth and Homer Lane (2005, Black Dog Books)
- Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain s Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
- 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)
- None noted at present.
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.