Ancestry UK

Dundee Industrial Schools, Dundee, Angus (Forfarshire), Scotland

On 9 September 1846, a meeting in Dundee's Thistle Hall agreed to the establishing in the town of a Ragged and Industrial School for poor and destitute children, along similar lines to those set up in Aberdeen by Sheriff William Watson in 1841.

The school, formally known as the Dumfries and Maxwelltown Education Society's Ragged School, opened its first premises, a former machine shop located between Tay Street and Temple Lane, on 14 December 1846. According to a report at the time, 'the arrangements are very judicious; so many hours for lessons — so many for industrial training — several short intervals for play in the playground — and, when the weather is good and the whole Institution in full operation, the children will be taken out to walk on Wednesdays and Saturdays for an hour.'

On 25 October 1855, the town's M.P., George Duncan, laid foundation stone for the schools' new premises on Ward Road (formerly Ward Street), Dundee. The ceremony included the placing in a cavity in the stone of a glass vase containing a paper describing the nature and objects of the Institution, and giving a summary of its history with the following lists appended:

  • List of the Masonic Lodges present on occasion of laying the foundation stone.
  • List of the present Directors and Office-bearers of the Institution — to wit: the Committee of Management, the Ladies' Committee and the Teachers.
  • List of Committee of Subscribers to the Duncan Testimonial.
  • List of the Building Committee.
  • List of the Architect and Contractors.
  • A lithographed drawing of the building.
  • Copy of the first Annual Report of the Committee of Management to the Subscribers.
  • Copy of the Prospectus of the Ladies' Sale.
  • Copies of the following newspapers, &c.:— Times, Illustrated London News, Punch, Daily Scotsman, Dundee Advertiser, Dundee Warder, Dundee Courier, Dundee Saturday Post, Oliver and Boyd's Edinburgh Almanac and Angus and Mearns Rembrancer, and Dundee Directory.
  • The following coins of the reign of Victoria 1st, viz:— A sovereign, a crown, half-crown, florin, shilling, sixpence, fourpence, threepence, one penny, and halfpenny.
  • Programme of the Masonic Procession.
  • Parochial list of Poor of Dundee.

David Small, Esq, read the inscription on the plate lo be placed over the cavity in the stone, which was as follows: "Dundee Industrial Schools. Foundation-stone laid, with masonic honours, by George Duncan, Esq., M.P., representative in Parliament of the burgh of Dundee, 23th October, 1855. The fund provided for the erection of this building consisted of a donation of upwards of one thousand pounds from George Duncan, Esq., M.P., and of the proceeds of a sale of ladies' work, held in Dundee, in May, 1855. the annual expenses of the house being defrayed by voluntary subscriptions.

On 22 April 1856, the institution was certified under Dunlop's Act for use as a Reformatory (later reassigned as an Industrial School), allowing it to receive children placed under detention by magistrates. In June of the same year, it was realised that the school site, which had been provided by the town council, was too small to provide an adequate playground. Fortunately, a vacant space was available adjacent to the north of the site which the council agreed to put up for public sale, expecting no other bidders for the property. On the day of the sale, however, Messrs Gilroy, the owners of mill owner in the vicinity made it clear that they would bid any amount for the land. A compromise was eventually agreed where the plot was divided between the two parties. A few days later, however, the Gilroys decided to give up their claim on the land and the school subsequently acquired the whole plot. The new building came into use on 8th November 1856.

The Ward Road site is shown on the 1872 map below.

Dundee Industrial Schools, Ward Road site, Dundee, c.1872.

Former Dundee Industrial School from the east, Dundee, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

On 30 March 1861, the establishment was certified to operate as a Reformatory (later reassigned as an Industrial School), allowing to receive children who for various reasons were committed by magistrates to a period of detention. An official inspection in 1861 noted:

About 120 children were under instruction (76 boys and 43 girls), of whom 101 (62 boys and 39 (iris) were lodged on the premises. Only 20 boys and 2 girls were under detention. The master is now assisted by a very competent teacher. The first and second classes, comprising about 40 of the older children, read correctly, but in the usual monotonous tone. They spelt and answered my questions on the meaning of the words they read very well. They did fairly also in arithmetic (the simple rules). A large class room adjoining the school-room has been brought into use. The premises were generally clean and in good order. The dietary struck me as scarcely sufficiently nutritious, no meat being allowed except as made into the usual broth and soup. But I was assured that it is quite equal to what children of the working class in Dundee would usually get at home. Both the boys and girls seemed healthy and cheerful. The boys are employed in tailoring, carpentering, turning, and wood splitting. The girls in needlework, housework, and washing.

In December 1863, Mr Alexander William Small, the long-standing superintendent of the school, was taken into custody on a charge of embezzling the institution's funds over a period of ten years. He was subsequently sentenced to four years' penal servitude. As a result of the proceedings, the school was forced to greatly reduce its number of pupils and restrict its expenditure. The events also resulted in a reduction in the number of children placed at the school by magistrates. The new superintendent was Mr Thomas Smith, with Miss Isabella Thomson as matron.

An inspection in 1872 noted that the boys were employed in wood chopping, hair teasing, and sack making. The girls did the cooking and washing, knitted the stockings, made the shirts, and repaired the clothing. In the same year, Mr Smith moved to the Paisley Industrial School and was replaced by Mr Alexander Brydie, previously schoolmaster to the Mars Training Ship.

In January 1874, there was an outbreak of typhus fever at the school, as a result of which he died. He was succeeded by Mr Mackie.

As a result of the fever outbreak, and acknowledging the school's confined site, the school's managers decided to establish a new establishment for boys in a rural location. A suitable fourteen-acre site was found near the railway station at Baldovan, about three miles to the north of the town centre.

In 1877, Mr Mackie was succeeded as superintendent by Captain Penton Thomson. That year's inspection noted that the large room used as a dormitory in Museum(?) Street was very dirty and its condition discreditable. The good order of the school had been very much disturbed, primarily on the boys' side, with a large amount of absconding and a serious case of an attempt to set fire to the building. Several boys now work out during the day. The indoor boys were occupied with wood-chopping, paper-bag making, brush making, tailoring, and shoemaking. Tho girls assisted the matron in her household duties. They washed for the house, cooked, and repaired the clothing. All learned plain needlework. Miss Thomson was still matron and other staff included the janitor, T tailor, shoemaker, brush maker, two house servants; school teachers, Mr. J.B. Cuthbert and Miss C. Butler; assistant teacher, Mr. Craig; and an occasional music teacher.

The boys were removed to Baldovan on 31 May 1878, with the Ward Street continuing as a girls-only establishment under the superintendence of Miss Thomson. Miss Butter (or Butler) was schoolmistress.

Miss Thomson, who had had charge of the girls for 28 years, retired in 1890 and was succeeded by Miss Butler. An inspection that year recorded 81 girls under detention and 3 voluntary cases. In the work-room, an order was being executed for 800 pairs of socks for the Mars.

By 1893, there was a cottage at Baldovan, where two or three girls could be sent for a change of air. The following year, Mrs Mitchel had taken over as superintendent. Plans were now being made to relocate the school to a new site away from the town centre. The move to the new premises, on Blackness Road, Balgay Park, took place on 24 June 1896.

The Ward Road building was subsequently by the Salvation Army which still occupies it today.


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  • None identified at present.