St Nicholas' Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys, Walthamstow / Ilford, Essex
St Nicholas' Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys was originally established by Cardinal Wiseman in the 1850s in premises at the corner of Church Lane and Shernhall Street in Walthamstow. It was supported by voluntary contributions and primarily catered for the destitute Irish Catholic children. On December 31, 1861, the premises was officially certified under the Industrial School Acts to receive boys placed by magistrates for reasons such as vagrancy or parental neglect.
The School did not fare well in early official inspections. In December 1863, it was recorded that there had been much illness among the boys, many cases of desertion, and a great deal more punishment than was appropriate. At that date there were 60 boys in the School on average, with industrial training consisting of tailoring and shoemaking. By the following May, however, things appeared to have improved following the appointment of a new master, Mr Delaney, a former sergeant and quartermaster, with his wife acting as matron. A tailor and shoemaker had been engaged to conduct the industrial training, and there had also been improvements and extensions to the buildings.
The number of boys at the School grew steadily and by 1867 had reached 128. With the premises felt to no longer be adequate for their purpose, it was decided to transfer the School to a more spacious location. A suitable property was found at Little Ilford and the move took place in March, 1868. The Walthamstow site was subsequently occupied by the St John's Industrial School.
The School's new home, known as the Manor House, was located between Gladding Road and Whitta Road, Little Ilford. On March 26th, 1868, it was officially certified to accommodate up to 250 boys. Immediate extensions to the buildings included a new chapel, refectory and large workshops. The School site is shown on the 1898 map below.
Charge of the institution was taken by Monsignor Searle who resided in the small house built as the establishment's lodge. The other staff then comprised two schoolmasters, six industrial teachers, a housekeeper, nurse and general servant. The industrial training included carpentry, shoemaking, tailoring, knitting and gardening.
An inspection report in September, 1875, expressed concern about the high mortality rate of boys at the School, with twelve having died over the previous year. It was suggested that sickly constitution often found amongst the younger boys would benefit from better diet and clothing, and separate wards under female supervision. A year later, things had improved with the death rate down to six. In August, 1876, Monsignor Searle retired and the management of the house was placed in the hands of the Brothers of Mercy.
The School buildings were gradually extended and enhanced, and a swimming bath was added in 1879. In the following years, the School's reputation steadily increased as shown by the inspection report of 1889:
Number of inmates on day of inspection, boys, 234; of these 232 were under warrant of detention. Two on the voluntary list.
State of premises.—There are very few schools in the country which more thoroughly provide for the necessities of the case than this. There is very adequate and convenient accommodation. Fine open dry play-yards asphalted. A separate play-yard for the juniors; good covered sheds and gymnastic apparatus. There is a large swimming-bath, good range of workshops, and a good infirmary. The interior accommodation also is good, and I found perfect order and scrupulous cleanliness.
Health and general condition.—The health of the children is carefully watched and protected. There is plenty of air and exercise. There had been very little illness; a few cases Of mild ophthalmia and granular lid, but it had passed away. One case of phthisis The boys are carefully fed and clothed, and to this is owing so much that is satisfactory in the general condition of health. No deaths in 1889.
Conduct and discipline.—The school had been going on steadily; the report as to conduct was satisfactory. No insubordination or gross breach of order. Some cases of theft, laziness, disorder, wilful damage, quarrelling, and impertinence. One serious case of stealing keys; a small record of offences for so large a school. Boys well in hand and managed with much tact, special experience, and wisdom.
Educational state.—45 in Standard Five: reading fair, capable of improvement, halting, wanting in fluency; spelling very good; writing excellent; dictation good.; arithmetic 27 passed, 17 failed. 35 in Standard Four: very fair reading, a few indistinct; spelling, generally good; writing very fair, plain, and large; 8 failures in dictation; arithmetic very fair. 57 in Standard Three: fair reading, wanting in expression; good spelling; writing improved on paper; dictation all passed but 7, very well done; 11 failed in arithmetic. 50 in Standard Two: reading and spelling; good; writing very fair; dictation 3 failed, the rest good; only 1 failed in arithmetic. 35 in Standard One: the class did well. 10 in preparatory class, quite young; getting on. The junior classes need more teaching power. Boys under good control, willing, and quiet.
Industrial training.—The industrial training receives very careful attention. The new workshops answer their purpose well and are very much more healthy than the old ones. 39 boys work with the tailors; 47 in the shoemaking; good work was being turned out. 45 in the mat-making department. 21 in field and garden. A class of juniors knit and darn the socks, and three work in the bakery. There is an excellent laundry and the boys assist in the washing. There is a large and well-cultivated garden, which receives much attention and employs a class of boys.
General remarks.—The display of industrial products on this occasion was highly creditable:. From every department good specimens had been sent. Much good work is turned out. Some well-executed maps and drawings-were exhibited. There was a very interesting display.
Staff — Director, Brother Polycarp, and eight Brothers of the Order of Mercy; yard and drill-master, Mr. Eade; tailor, shoemaker; mat-maker, gardener, cook, and baker.
Average number maintained, 230.
Results on cases discharged in the three years 1886, 1887, and 1888.—Of 123 discharged in 1886-88, there are doing well 107, dead 2, doubtful 1, convicted of crime or re-committed 10, unknown 3.
The Brothers of Mercy resigned their charge of the School on October 23rd, 1899. On that date, Mr and Mrs Westall took up their duties as superintendent and matron.
The School established several Auxiliary Homes which provided a halfway-house for boys making the transition between institutional care and adult working life. These were located at: 55 Colebrook Row, Islington (open 1894-1900, for 40 boys); Woodgrange House, 607 Romford Road, Manor Park (open 1906-08, for 24 boys); 164-166 Sheringham Avenue, Manor Park (opened 1908, for 12 boys); and the St Nicholas' Hostel, Woodhurst Road, Plumstead (opened March 1916, for 92 boys; closed December 1916).
On Sunday January 6th, 1907, a fire broke out in the School's roof. Shortly before 4 a.m. a milk vendor on his way to work noticed the flames and raised the alarm. A bugle was immediately sounded by one of the officials and the boys, around 400 in number, were hastily awakened and marched to safety. The school room was gutted and the roof burned off. The only casualty was one of the firemen in attendance who was badly injured by a burning beam.
The School formally closed on December 8th, 1921. The site, which was owned by the Westminster Diocese Education Committee, is believed to have subsequently been used as light industrial premises. The original Manor House still stands but the other School buildings have now made way for modern housing.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
- Catholic Children's Society (Westminster), [formerly the Crusade of Rescue] 73 St Charles Square, London W10 6EJ. To enquire about access to the records of a child who grew up in one of the Society's homes, fill in the request form on the Society's website.
- 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.
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