Ancestry UK

North-Eastern Reformatory for Boys, Netherton, near Morpeth, Northumberland

In 1857, the cumbersomely named "Newcastle, Northumberland, and Durham Society for the Repression of Juvenile Crime, and the Reformation of Youthful Delinquents" opened the North-Eastern Reformatory School for Boys as a replacement for its existing Newcastle Reformatory premises.

The new School was erected at Netherton, near Morpeth, on a 10-acre site on the estate of Lord Carlisle. A further 30 acres of adjacent farmland were also leased. The public appeal to raise the projected £3,500 cost of the scheme was slow to meet its target and the plans drawn up, without charge, by three local architects were dropped in favour of a cheaper design concocted by the School's own management committee.

In June, 1857, a group of around 40 boys took up residence at the Netherton site. They were housed in temporary accommodation which was officially certified as fit for use on June 3rd. A few weeks later, on July 23rd, the foundation stone for the new School was formally laid by the Society's president, Earl Grey.

The new building, two storeys in height, was intended to be "of the very plainest description". It was designed to initially accommodate 100 inmates, although capable of extension to meet future requirements. Its layout was strongly influenced by the "family group" principle adopted at the Mettray reformatory in France. There were four sets of school-rooms and dormitories, each with its own external door, and isolated from one another except for a passageway which was only for the superintendent's use. A central facility for cooking, washing, etc. could be made accessible to one of the boys' sections at a time. The four dormitories — two on the ground floor, and two on the first — were each 42 feet by l8 feet. The two school-rooms on the ground floor were each 21 feet by 14 feet, and the two on the first floor 21 feet by 18 feet. The ground floor also included two store rooms, wash house, laundry, master's yard and offices, kitchen, offices, and lavatories. The upper floor included the master's kitchen, bed-room and parlour, a committee-room, and four cells. The attics of the building contained a nurse's room, bed-room, and infirmary, the latter being 18 feet square. The contract of £3,247 for the construction of the main building, together with a roadway from the nearby Stannington railway station, was awarded to local builders Messrs. Ivison and Welton.

The School site is shown on the 1883 map below.

North-Eastern Reformatory for Boys site, Netherton, c.1883.

During the 1880s and early 1890s, major extensions were made to the buildings. In June 1891, the premises were re-certified to accommodate up to 210 boys. The farmland worked by the School was also considerably increased, eventually extending to more than 500 acres.

The extent of the School buildings in 1897 is shown on the map below.

North-Eastern Reformatory for Boys site, Netherton, c.1897.

Netherton Reformatory southern range from the south-east, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

Netherton Reformatory southern range from the south, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

Netherton Reformatory southern range from the south-west, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

Netherton Reformatory southern range from the north-west, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

Netherton Reformatory southern range from the north-west, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

Netherton Reformatory southern range from the north-west, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

An inspection report from 1892 gives a good picture of the institution's operation.


Number of inmates on day of inspection, boys, 198, of whom 34 Were Roman Catholics and 12 were Jews. One of the masters is a Roman Catholic, and the Jews receive religions instruction from a rabbi who resides in Newcastle, and visits the school periodically.

State of premises.—I found the new buildings in course of erection, the principal one being, a large stone-built schoolroom occupying the whole of the east end of the play yard, and giving shelter from the east winds: The premises were in very good order. I should like to see something-done to modernise the accommodation in the dormitories, but they are comfortable enough. There are very large shops; the range for carpenters' and blacksmiths' work is 157 feet by 30. A farm of 508 acres, and very good farm-buildings.

Health and general condition.—The medical journal had been very carefully kept, and the only exceptions to general good health (except a few minor ailments) were one case of pleurisy, two of rheumatism, and one of diseased bone of band. The boys looked very robust and healthy.

Educational state.—Order and attention very good. The boys were quick and intelligent, and very anxious to pass a good examination. There were 40 boys in Standard Five: reading, writing, dictation, and arithmetic very good, only 1 failure in arithmetic, and 1 in dictation. 40 in Standard Four: a very good class, no failures. 55 in Standard Three: reading very good, writing very, good; all passed well in dictation and arithmetic. 43 in Standard Two: not a failure, very good work. 19 in Standard One: very good class, 1 failure in arithmetic. 1 in a preparatory class., The Diocesan Inspector had left a very good report of the religious education.

Industrial training.—To give an idea of the varied work in the institution I give a list of the way in which the boys were employed on the day of inspection: farm, 121; carpenters, 16; shoemakers, 6; tailors, 10; blacksmiths, 13; house, 13; sundry, 1; building, 6; brick-making, 9. There is no school where the industrial training is more practical and thorough. In the large shop there is a powerful steam engine, lathes for turning iron and, wood, drilling end various machines; a good trade is done in making and repairing agricultural machines, carts, &c. for the neighbouring farmers. The stock consisted of 61 head of cattle, 111 sheep, 228 lambs, and 9 horses. Many of the boys go out to work on farms, and the wages derived from this source figure largely in the account of the school profits. 460 out of the 508 acres have been bought by the managers, the remainder are rented. I found that 41 acres are being worked under the direction of the Durham College of Science, trying the effects of different manures in small plots of ground, 34 in number.

Conduct and discipline.—The superintendent reported that he had never had a better year as regarded conduct. The only cases of misconduct worth reporting were five cases of absconding, and two attempts to abscond. There had been a few cases of pilfering, idleness, and impertinence, but nothing of special importance. The boys are very well managed, kindly and firmly. The punishment and good conduct lists are posted in the schoolroom. Money rewards are given for good conduct and wages for work done.

Staff.—Superintendent, Mr. Middlemiss; matron, Mrs. Middlemiss; schoolmasters, Messrs. Elvish, Howie, Kelly, and Simpson; tailor, shoemaker, blacksmith, carpenter, mason, brickmaker, farm bailiff, whose wife attends to the dairy, five farm labourers: Clerk, Mr. George Middlemiss.

Average number maintained, 199. Total cost for 1892, £3,376 14s.4d.

Comparative cost per head on ordinary maintenance and management, £16 19s. 4d:

North-Eastern Reformatory for Boys carpenter's shop, Netherton, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

North-Eastern Reformatory for Boys smithy, Netherton, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

Another major building phase in the early 1900s created new dormitories, bathroom, lavatories, cook-house, stores, staff cottages and laundry. An inspection report in 1901 hoped that the new laundry would allow the boys to be provided with collars for high days and Sundays, and sheets to sleep in. It was said that Netherton was at that time the only reformatory or industrial school in England or Scotland which did not allow boys sheets to sleep in.

Netherton Reformatory north-western range from the south-west, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

Another regular complaint was that Netherton provided poor physical training facilities in comparison with most other institutions. This was remedied in 1903 with the conversion of the old laundry into a gymnasium and the weekly visit of a drill and gymnastics instructor. Other recreations for the boys included football, cricket, with matches organised with other local teams. An outdoor swimming pool was created at the south-west of the main building. Books and indoor games were provided for winter evenings and a chess tournament was initiated. A rifle range was set up in 1903 and a brass and reed band started.

In the early 1900s, classroom lessons included mental arithmetic, recitation, geography, history, singing, elementary science and horticulture. Agricultural work remained the staple of the School's industrial training. In 1901, the farm stock comprised 8 horses, 83 cattle, 219 sheep and 2 lambs. Other activities included shoe-making, tailoring, carpentry and joinery, blacksmithing, brick-making, and technical drawing,

From around 1907, the institution began to style itself as the Netherton Training School. In July, 1908, the foundation stone was laid for a new classroom block which came into use in October 1911. Also in 1911 it was reported that tooth-brushes were now in use.

The map below shows the layout of the site in 1922, by which time a hospital block had also been added.

Netherton Training School site, Netherton, c.1922.

Netherton Training School classroom block from the south-east, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1933, Netherton became an Approved School, one of the new institutions introduced by the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act to replace the existing system of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. Netherton accommodated up to 150 Senior Boys aged between 15 and 17 at their date of admission. A report following the change noted:

Owing to the ages, schoolroom work is shorter than formerly, and the longest period that a boy will remain in the schoolroom is now six months. To make up for the lack of schoolroom training a much more extensive Evening Class Course has been arranged, by which each lad will be taught the theory of his trade whilst at School.

Training is given in farming, gardening, carpentry in agricultural requirements, horseshoeing, and general smithing, field drain-pipe making, and other brick-yard manufactures.

It is particularly encouraging to note that the conduct of the boys has been most satisfactory, and Mr. Carnegie, the Head, master, reports that at no time during the year, was it found hard to maintain discipline. Senior boys are used extensively in keeping law and order, and this sense of responsibility has a very salutary effect upon the seniors, and has had telling results upon the conduct of the other boys. In return for this extra work, the seniors have extra privileges, being allowed to remain in their own room after the other boys have gone to bed.

Home leave is granted to all boys who have been in the School over a year, whose homes are suitable and this privilege has been much appreciated by boys and parents, and in no case has advantage been taken of the permission.

In 1973, the school became a Community Home with Education (CHE) under the control of Northumberland County Council. In the 1980s it became Netherton Park Juvenile Assessment Centre.

In more recent times, the site has been occupied by the modern buildings of Kyloe House secure children's home. In 2021, after standing empty for some years, the buildings were about to be demolished to make way for a new housing estate.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn, Queen Elizabeth II Country Park, Ashington, Northumberland NE63 9YF. Holdings: Punishment book (1889-1907); Photographs (c.1910).