Ancestry UK

Parkhead Roman Catholic Reformatory for Boys / Westthorn Approved School, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland

On 9 August 1859, a Reformatory for up to 100 Roman Catholic Boys was certified to operate in premises at Westthorn Mills, Parkhead, Glasgow — its location is also sometimes given as Dalbeth or Tollcross. The founder, director and superintendent of the establishment was the Rev. Anselm Robertson. The other staff initially comprised five brothers of the Benedictine order plus teachers for the various industrial departments. In September 1860, there were 65 boys in the institution.

Due to a lack of funds, coupled with the severe illness of Mr Robertson, completion of the premises — constructed around a former mill building — was slow to take place. An inspection in 1863 found the school to very dirty and in great disorder. The 1865 inspection report gave a much better account of the establishment. Classroom performance was satisfactory. Industrial training included tailoring, shoemaking, farm work, brick making, road-making, and levelling the ground for an adjacent Catholic cemetery. The average number of inmates was now 162.

In 1868, it was noted that the profits derived from brick-making and from the burial ground had enable many improvements to be made at the school. It was calculated that in 1867 the boys had helped to make 1,300,000 bricks. The number of inmates now averaged 198. The staff comprised the Rev. A. Robertson, a chaplain and assistant, two school teachers, a housekeeper and servants, and six industrial teachers.

In 1870-71, a 'mission' was held in the winter months with 'favourable results' in many cases. The farm garden now contained eight acres under cultivation and ten in pasture. The livestock included nine cows. Brick making, assisted by machinery, was still carried on upon a large scale. Despite its profitability, the school's inspector questioned whether such hard and dirty work was a suitable occupation for the boys. The activity was given up by 1873 and riveted shoemaking introduced in its place. However, after the space in the tailoring and shoemaking workshops proved inadequate to accommodate the extra numbers being placed there, the brickmaking was resumed.

The 1874 inspection noted that the overall management of the institution had passed into the hands of a committee, chiefly of Roman Catholic clergymen of Glasgow. In 1876, The Rev. Robertson was called to other duties and was succeeded as superintendent by Mr Patrick Harvey.

Additions to the buildings in 1880 included a new playshed, wash-house and drying closet. A joiner's had been added to the workshops. A large swimming bath had been installed. The School could now accommodate up to 200 boys aged from 12 to 16 years. The staff at this date comprised: superintendent, Mr James Garden; matron, Mrs Garden; two schoolmasters, tailor, two shoemakers, joiner, gardener, two labour-masters, drill-master, cook, laundress, and sick nurse. In 1881, Mr Thomas Brotherhood was appointed head schoolmaster.

The conduct of the boys at the school often gave serious cause for concern. In 1883, there were a good many instances of insubordination, violent behaviour, bullying, quarrelling, and several cases of absconding, though mostly of boys recently admitted. Other incidents included an attack with an open knife and one grave case of immorality. One one occasion in March 1884, after the school was over and the work-masters had been left in charge, a melée took place during which most of the school-room furniture was smashed, and most of the windows broken. Twelve of the ringleaders were flogged. A mark system was introduced in October 1884 whereby good conduct resulted in monetary rewards of 4d. to 8d. a month, with more for boys specially employed. Forty-five of the smaller boys were now occupied in making matchboxes. A brass band was started in 1885.

Following complaints by the inspector about the low ceiling in the attic dormitory and dampness and poor ventilation in the school room, a large new school room with a dormitory above was erected 1n 1890. The swimming bath was also moved to a more convenient position in the main building. All boys received instruction in the tailor's shop, and learned to mend their own clothes. The assignment of boys to industrial occupations comprised 18 tailors, 22 shoemakers, 7 carpenters, 42 match-box making, about 45 in the garden and on the land, with the rest employed about the house. The brass band now had 14 instruments.

An inspection report in 1896 presented a comprehensive picture of the institution. It noted that the main part of the building had formerly been a mill and bakery, and was old fashioned with low-pitched ceilings and small ill-fitting windows. A good schoolroom, dormitory, swimming bath and playshed had been added in recent years. Although the workshops were good, the farm buildings were too close to the main building and were in need of improvement. There were about 15 acres of land, most of which was cultivated as market garden. The stock consisted of 7 cows, a horse, and some pigs and poultry. The situation was open, but very little above the level of the river, which was within 100 yards. There were 202 boys in the school, with 74 out on licence and 2 absconded. In the classroom examination, recitation and composition were rated as 'good' and geography 'very fair'. The usual distribution to work was as follows: 30 tailors, 30 shoemakers, 7 joiners, 40 matchbox makers (juniors), 60 working on the farm, 3 attending to stock, 8 working the garden and greenhouses, 24 in the house, laundry and kitchen. Situations were found for the boys on leaving, and visiting was done by a special officer. The majority of the boys, however, lived with their friends, and (it was suggested) were consequently too apt to fall in with the old associations. Company drill and extension motions were carried out occasionally. There was a good yard,and a playfield was used in summer on Sundays and sometimes on a weekday afternoon. The good swimming bath was freely used in summer, and nearly all the boys could swim. Walks were taken once a week when the weather permitted. There were two day-outings in the summer, and a concert was generally given in the winter and magic lantern entertainments once a fortnight. The stock of books, which had got very low, was about to be replenished. The old schoolroom now served as a recreation room. Boys of good conduct were allowed home for a few hours on Sundays once a month, and those from other places for a few days occasionally. Some cases of indecency occasionally came to light. Bullying was put down as far as possible, and the smaller boys were encouraged to appeal to the superintendent for protection against anything like ill-treatment. There was a mark system, and the boys were allowed to keep half the money they earned by it. The cell was only used in case of necessity. The staff now consisted of the superintendent and matron, Mr and Mrs James Garden; chaplain, Rev. A. McDonald; schoolmaster, Mr Brotherhood; assistant schoolmaster, Mr Dickinson, succeeded by Mr James Driscoll, then Mr J Mulville from November 1895; tailor, shoemaker, joiner, warder, night-watchman, bailiff, two labour-masters, master of matchbox shop, van man, laundress, cook, domestic, and bandmaster (occasionally).

The School site is shown on the 1896 map below.

Parkhead Reformatory site, Glasgow, c.1896.

In 1901, sixty dummy rifles were procured, and some of the boys had drill and manual exercises as regularly as the weather permitted. The remainder had free gymnastic exercises. The following year saw separate towels being provided in the washroom, and a hot pipe fitted up for drying them.

After more than twenty years' service, Mr Garden departed in April 1903. He was succeeded as superintendent by Mr John Kearney. Mrs Allington was appointed as matron. The industrial training now included drawing, which was taught by a visiting instructor. Matchbox making had been replaced by biscuit-box making. The inspector suggested that licensing was being too freely and indiscriminately exercised.

Mr Kearney left in November 1904 and was replaced by Mr Archibald T. Quail. The construction and equipping of a gymnasium was completed. Following the partial collapse of the workshop block, a new range of buildings was erected containing workshops, laundry and washhouse. A new greenhouse was also built. In 1905-6, the School distinguished itself at football by winning the Benburb Schools, coming second in a five-a-side tournament, and reaching the semi-final of the Inspectors' Cup.

An unfortunate accident occurred in 1907 when one of the boys, showing how an officer had cut off the top of his finger in a machine,.cut off two of his own.

In September 1909, Mr Brotherhood died after almost thirty years as head schoolmaster. He was succeeded by Mr Gilmore. The rebuilding of the east wing was now completed, containing a sick room, isolation room and boys' washroom.

The 1911 annual inspection recorded 198 boys in the School, plus 41 on licence and 5 absconders. A new bakery had been built and equipped, new stables erected, and additions made to the equipment of the farm. Three new machines had been supplied to the shoemaking shop, and a new sewing machine to the tailoring department. Increased facilities had been provided for horticultural training, including the culture of fruit trees and bushes. In the classroom, singing (sol-fa) was rated as 'fair'; composition, recitation and geography as 'good', and mental arithmetic as generally 'very fair'. History readers were used in all the Standards, and object lessons were given in Standards I and II. Schoolroom and manual instruction drawing were also 'good', and wood-work exercises were very well done. It was intended to organise technical instruction in bakery and cooking on lines similar to those in the other trades. Of 180 boys in the school aged 14 or over, training in skilled industries was provided for 132. Of the 58 boys who had left during the year, 57 were disposed of to skilled or progressive occupations, including 7 who enlisted in the army, and 26 who entered farm service. The boys had given successful public displays of gymnastics, and most of the boys had learnt to swim. The staff now comprised: superintendent, Mr A. T. Quail; matron, Miss Agnes Corcoran, succeeded in April 1911 by Mrs J. Nicholson; head schoolmaster, Mr T.E. Gilmore, succeeded in November 1910 by Mr G. Brown; assistant schoolmasters, Mr P.J. Dolan and Mr P. Aherne; bandmaster, drillmaster, joiner, tailor, shoemaker, farm bailiff, outdoor officer, box-maker, carter, cook and baker, manual instructor (visiting), labour master, laundress; chaplain, Rev. J. Linster; medical officer, Dr H. J. Cosgrove; dentist, Mr J. Buntin.

By 1921, the institution had become known as Westthorn School. On 1 March 1930, its official capacity was set at 150 places.

In 1933, the establishment became an Approved School, one of the new institutions introduced by the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act to replace the existing system of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. It accommodated up to 150 Senior Boys, aged from 14 to 17 years at their date of admission. Mr Quail was still superintendent in 1934.

In July 1936, an order was issued by the Scottish Education Department prohibiting admissions to the School, a power that could be invoked if the Department were dissatisfied with the condition or management of a School. It is not clear, however, when the School finally closed.

The School buildings no longer survive and the site is now in use as farmland.


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