Ancestry UK

Northamptonshire Society's Reformatory School for Boys, Tiffield, near Towcester, Northamptonshire

The Northamptonshire (or Northampton) Society was originally founded in 1812, but re-organized in 1854, with the Rev. H.J. Barton and Lord Alwyne Compton as two of its leading members. The Society's main object was the improvement of education in the county, including the establishment of an institution for young offenders. On January 21, 1856, the Society's Reformatory School for Boys was opened in premises on what is now St John's Road, Tiffield, near Towcester. It could accommodate up to 30 boys aged from 13 to 15 at their date of admission.

A report on the School in 1857 described it as follows:

New building of the farm or cottage style: kitchen and day-rooms conveniently arranged; dormitories well ventilated, but low; cells badly placed, opening out of work-room; premises generally clean and in order; aspect of boys good; master excellent and earnest; extent of land, 12 acres, well cultivated. The day-room is warmed by a stove, and only lighted on one side. The employments are farming, tailoring, and rough carpentry.

The School's master and matron at this date were Mr and Mrs Berin. In 1860, Mr Berin resigned his post due to the long illness of his wife. A new an inexperienced master was then appointed who proved not to be up to the job. An inspection report in 1862 found that the dormitory and school-room were wanting in order and cleanliness, and the boys very rough and careless, and unsatisfactory in their school work. Superintendence of the School was then given to Mr Goode, a former assistant master at the Bradwall Reformatory and master at the Glamorgan Reformatory. Mr Goode remained in charge until his death in 1879, following which Mr and Mrs Slack were appointed as superintendent and matron.

By 1880, following additions to the building, the School could accommodate up to 50 boys. The industrial training was chiefly working the School's garden and 45 acres of farmland, with a few of the boys making and mending their own clothes.

The School site is shown on the 1900 map below.

Northampton Society's Reformatory School for Boys site, Towcester, c.1900.

In 1900, William McColl and his wife Alice were appointed as superintendent and matron, taking over from the previous incumbents, Mr and Mrs Jones. It was the start of a long family connection with the School. The McColls's son, Trevor Lancelot McColl, took over as superintendent of the School in 1922, a post he held until his death in 1946.

In the early 1900s, a number of improvements and extension were made to the premises. In 1903, eight new pigsties were built. In 1908-9, the buildings were extended with the addition of new workshops, office, committee room, laundry, wash-house and store-room. Physical drill was a regular part of the boys' routine and part of the dining-room was fitted up as a gymnasium, where air rifle shooting was also practised. Football and cricket matches were played with other local teams, and fife and drum band was started. In 1908, the official capacity of the School was increased to 100 places. The industrial training now included shoemaking, tailoring and technical drawing.

In around 1925, the institution was renamed St John's School.

St John's School "Boys' Officials", Tiffield, 1931. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1933, St John's 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. It accommodated up to 100 Intermediate Boys aged between their 13th and 15th birthdays at their time of admission. The industrial training at the School was now largely confined to gardening and carpentry.

In 1973, the St John's became a Community Home with Education (CHE) under the control of Northamptonshire County Council.

The original buildings no longer survive and the Gateway School now occupies site.


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  • Northamptonshire Record Office, Wootton Hall Park, Northampton, Northants, NN4 8BQ. Holdings: Minute books (1854-1973, with gaps); Log books (1876-1982, with gaps); Admission registers (1872-90, 1908-36, 1972-80); Baptisms in chapel(1964-83).