Ancestry UK

Bedfordshire Reformatory / Approved School for Boys, Carlton, near Bedford, Bedfordshire

The Bedfordshire Reformatory School for Boys was established in 1857 at School Lane, Carlton, near Bedford — its location is sometimes also given as Turvey or Sharnhall. The School was built on land owned by Mr T.C. Higgins, Chairman of the Quarter Sessions and leading proponent of the scheme. On April 9th, 1857, the premises were certified to accommodate 70 boys aged 13 to 15 who were committed by magistrates for a period of at least four years. A payment of two shillings a week was required for each boy, plus a one pound initial entrance fee.

The location of the institution is shown on the 1901 map below.

Bedfordshire Reformatory for Boys site, Carlton, c.1901.

Carlton was primarily a farm school with agricultural work being the main form of industrial training engaged in by the boys. Each boy was given an allotment of garden ground to work himself, with prizes being awarded for the best ones. Items grown included wheat, barley, potatoes and beans. Cows, pigs and horses were reared by the boys and butter was produced which was sent to market. The boys also baked their own bread. A tailor came to the institution three times a week and, with the help of some of the boys, made and mended all the clothes.

In 1879, the staff consisted of the superintendent and matron, Mr and Mrs John Jones; the schoolmaster and assistant superintendent, Mr Gardner, assisted by his son; an assistant matron and a labour master.

Between 1902 and 1924, the accommodation was gradually improved and enlarged. An indoor swimming bath was among the new facilities provided. In December 1924, the premises were certified to accommodate 115 boys.

Carlton School swimming bath, c.1928. © Peter Higginbotham

In around 1933, Carlton became one of the first establishments to be redesignated as one of the new Approved Schools introduced by the Children and Young Persons Act to replace the former Reformatories and Industrial Schools. The range of training activities now included farming, gardening, carpentry, engineering, and baking.

Carlton Approved School from the north-east, c.1940. © Peter Higginbotham

In August 1959, a serious disturbance occurred at the School when several groups of boys openly rebelled against the institution's staff. They instigated a mass absconding and invited the press to come and report on their grievances against the staff and headmaster. Their complaints included ill-treatment by staff, unduly long detention at the school before they were released on license, the withholding of their mail and delays in despatching outgoing mail.

A subsequent inquiry by Victor Durand QC found that some of these accusations were justified. Its Report concluded that some staff had regularly administered illicit punishments. It also found that the headmaster had been detaining the boys longer than normal, claiming that was in an attempt to improve the success rate of the school. The complaints about mail had some foundation but were largely due to mismanagement rather than deliberate policy.

The Durand Report resulted recommended a number of changes in the Approved School system, including the provision of secure units or secure rooms for very difficult boys, the provision of more accommodation within the system, and improvement in officers' salaries in order to attract better quality staff.

In 1973, the School became a Community Home with Education (CHE) under the control of Bedfordshire County Council. A major reconstruction of the premises took place around this time. The original chapel still survives.

The site is now home to the Carlton Emmaus Village which offers accommodation, work and support to formerly homeless people.


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