Farm Home for Boys, Walsham Le Willows, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

In 1896, the Waifs and Strays Society opened its Farm Home for Boys at Summer Road, Walsham Le Willows, near Bury St Edmunds. The property, formerly the Walsham Hall estate, was donated for the purpose by Bishop Thomas Wilkinson, although the Society had to purchase the estate's buildings. As well as the house and its surrounding gardens, there was a farm of about 150 acres.

Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

On August 3rd, 1896, the Home was certified as an Industrial School, allowing it to take up to 40 boys, aged from 7 to 14, placed there by the courts. Voluntary cases were also received. The first superintendent and matron were Mr and Mrs John Gill. Other resident staff include the schoolmaster, Mr J.L. Fish, plus an assistant matron and a labour master. On the farm were the bailiff, Mr Pulfur, and four labourers. Mrs Pulfur managed the dairy. Stock on the farm in 1897 comprised 16 cows, 5 calves, horses, and a number of pigs.

Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

The School was primarily focused on preparing boys for emigration to Canada. They were trained in agricultural work, with carpentry and tailoring also being added to the curriculum.

Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, c.1901. © Peter Higginbotham

Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, c.1907. © Peter Higginbotham

An inspection in 1898 noted that a tailor was visiting twice a week and taught four of the boys to repair clothes and make trousers. Two boys were being regularly employed in the garden and 28 boys work on a new vegetable plot on alternate days. Six boys carried out laundry and housework, and 28 were occupied on the farm. A mark system was introduced where good conduct resulted in monetary rewards each month. In November, 1898, Mr Fish was succeeded as schoolmaster by Mr Walter Denny. Physical drill was carried out three times a week and the boys were also taught gymnastics.

Dumb-bell drill at Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, c.1908. © Peter Higginbotham

Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, c.1913. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1902, seven boys at the School were transferred to the Shaftesbury training ship after having expressed a wish to go to sea. In the same year, a drum and fife band was started, several of whose members subsequently went on to careers as military bandsmen.

Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, c.1913. © Peter Higginbotham

In the summer of 1907, the superintendent, John Gill, died after a prolonged and serious illness. His widow was subsequently given charge of the School.

Washroom at Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, c.1913. © Peter Higginbotham

Operating the water pump at Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, c.1913. © Peter Higginbotham

Sport played an important part in the boys' activities. The School football and cricket teams played matches against other sides in the area.

Football team at Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, c.1913. © Peter Higginbotham

Each year, a contingent of the boys was prepared for their emigration.

Inmates off to Canada from Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, 1912. © Peter Higginbotham

Inmates destined for Canada from Farm Home for Boys, Bury St Edmunds, 1913. © Peter Higginbotham

The home relinquished its status as a Certified Industrial School in 1920 and closed at around the same time. The buildings no longer survive.

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)
  • Bowder, Bill Children First: a photo-history of England's children in need (1980, Mowbray)
  • Church of England Waifs and Strays' Society [Rudolfe, Edward de Montjoie] The First Forty Years: a chronicle of the Church of England Waifs and Strays' Society 1881-1920 (1922, Church of England Waifs and Strays' Society / S.P.C.K.)
  • Rudolf, Mildred de Montjoie Everybody's Children: the story of the Church of England Children's Society 1921-1948 (1950, OUP)
  • Stroud, John Thirteen Penny Stamps: the story of the Church of England Children's Society (Waifs and Strays) from 1881 to the 1970s (1971, Hodder and Stoughton)
  • Morris, Lester The Violets Are Mine: Tales of an Unwanted Orphan (2011, Xlibris Corporation) — memoir of a boy growing up in several of the Society's homes (Princes Risborough, Ashdon, Hunstanton, Leicester) in the 1940s and 50s.