North-West London Preventive and Reformatory Institution, St Pancras, London
In September, 1852, George Joseph Bowyer, one of the teachers at the Phillips Gardens Ragged School in St Pancras, was approached by one of the boys in his class. The lad, aged 18, told how he was caught up in a criminal gang and, despite his efforts, had found it impossible to extricate himself or — because of having a criminal record — to obtain honest employment. Bowyer was persuaded to lend the boy a few shillings to set himself up as a costermonger and soon had similar requests from others in his class. He then rented a room where four of the boys could stay, although they were still subject to the taunts and pilfering from their former associates as they wheeled their barrows through the streets.
On December 1st, 1852, Bowyer rented a workshop with two rooms over it. A married couple were allowed to occupy the smaller of these rent-free in return for keeping the boys in order. The boys were initially occupied in wood-chopping and horsehair-picking then the husband of the couple who was supervising them was engaged to teach the boys rough carpentry. Two more boys soon applied applied to join the group. The income derived by the boys' work were used to cover the costs of running the establishment, but they received a portion, according to the amount of work done, for clothing etc. Next, an adjacent cottage was taken on and the premises enlarged, largely by the boys' own labour.
Bowyer managed to raise funds to expand the scheme, which became variously known as the St Pancras Reformatory or Bowyer's Reformatory. Additional premises were obtained at Beaumont Place, 19 New Road, where the trades of smithing and turnery were added to that of carpentry. In November, 1854, a committee was formed to manage the establishment which adopted the title of the North-West London Preventive and Reformatory Institution. A plot of ground was taken at the back of the Euston Road building where a dormitory block was constructed. A commemoration stone was laid by Lord Robert Grosvenor on October 11th, 1855, and the building was opened on December 19th, 1856. Bowyer, who held the title of Honorary Governor of the establishment, slept on the premises himself, with the carpenter as its resident master. The number of inmates rose steadily: 40 in 1855, 80 in 1857, eventually reaching its limit of 100 places. The establishment also took on a role of training masters for other Reformatories. At around this time, New Road was incorporated into Euston Road and the institution's address became 237 Euston Road.
Despite its title, the institution appears never to have acquired the status of a Certified Reformatory. However, it did became a certified Industrial School on December 18th, 1859, allowing the establishment to receive boys placed under confinement by the courts in addition to its voluntary residents. The inmates received training in trades which now included printing, turnery, carpenters' and smiths' work, polishing, tailoring and shoemaking. After a stay of about twelve months, they were helped find employment or sent out as emigrants. The establishment was strictly run and more than one in five left prematurely.
Magistrates placed very few boys at the Institution and in 1863, due to increasing financial difficulties, Bowyer decided to close the establishment.
On 15 October, 1874, the premises at 237 Euston Road, by then used as a piano factory, were damaged by fire. The Triton Square development now occupies the site.
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.
- None identfied at present — any information welcome.
- 'A Friend of the Institution' (ed.) Life Scenes from a Reformatory (c.1860, F. Guillaume)
- Carpenter, Mary Reformatory Schools, for the Children of the Perishing and Dangerous Classes, and for Juvenile Offenders (1851, General Books; various reprints available)
- Carlebach, Julius Caring for Children in Trouble (1970, Routledge & Kegan Paul)
- Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain s Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
- Abel Smith, Doroth Crouchfield: A History of the Herts Training School 1857-1982 (2008, Able Publishing)
- Garnett, Emmeline Juvenile offenders in Victorian Lancashire: W J Garnnett and the Bleasdale Reformatory (2008, Regional Heritage Centre, Lancaster University)
- Hicks, J.D. The Yorkshire Catholic Reformatory, Market Weighton (1996, East Yorkshire Local History Society)
- Slocombe, Ivor Wiltshire Reformatory for Boys, Warminster, 1856-1924 (2005, Hobnob Press)
- Duckworth, J.S. The Hardwicke Reformatory School, Gloucestershire (in Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 1995, Vol. 113, 151-165)
- Red Lodge Museum, Bristol — a former girls' reformatory.
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.