Ancestry UK

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.

Little Commonwealth, Evershot, c.1915. © Peter Higginbotham

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 in the workshop at the Little Commonwealth, Evershot, c.1915. © Peter Higginbotham

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.

Boys being taught building at the Little Commonwealth, Evershot, c.1915. © Peter Higginbotham

The shop at the Little Commonwealth, Evershot, c.1915. © Peter Higginbotham

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.


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