Ancestry UK

Refuge / Reformatory / Training Home / Approved School for Girls, Wakefield, West Riding of Yorkshire

The idea for establishing a House of Refuge at Wakefield, for females discharged from prison, is said to have originated with a Mrs Hamer. On April 3rd, 1848, the proposal was unanimously endorsed by a meeting of county magistrates in Pontefract. The institution was opened on July 10th of that year in premises at St John's, Wakefield. The matron of the establishment in 1851 was Fanny Hesling.

In October 18, 1856, part of the House of Refuge site was turned over for use as a Reformatory as an alternative to prison for girls sentenced by the courts to detention. Up t 23 girls could be accommodated. The institution then became known as the West Riding Refuge and Reformatory for Girls.

An official inspection of the Reformatory section in 1868 found it in a very unsatisfactory state, although it was hoped that the new matron, Miss Nancy Nicholson, would improve matters. The following year, a much better report was given, both regarding the demeanour and educational performance of the girls, and the administration of the establishment.

In the late 1850s, plans were made to establish a new Reformatory in purpose-built premises at Doncaster, under the charge of Miss Nicholson. The Doncaster institution formally came into operation on September 6th, 1861.

The Wakefield site remained in operation under the charge of Martha Tyas, previously the schoolmistress, and took older cases. These included voluntary inmates, housed in the Refuge section, and court committals, housed in the Reformatory department. Inmates from both sections were employed in laundry work.

Miss Tyas received generally good reports but suffered from health problems. She also found it difficult dealing with the mix of inmates that the two parts of the establishment accommodated.

In 1865, it was decided that Doncaster could handle all the reformatory cases from the West Riding and that the Wakefield facility would cease operation. Its closure took place the following year and the Refuge reverted to its original function but now being known as the West Riding Industrial Home for Discharged Female Prisoners. Plans were put in hand to extend and improve the premises but fund-raising was so successful that it was decided to erect a completely new building on a site immediately adjacent to the old one.

The new premises were officially opened on April 3rd, 1872, with the inmates being transferred from the old Home a few weeks later. The building cost about £3,400 (not including £300 for the ornamental work outside which was paid for by Colonel Akroyd, M.P., chairman of the committee). The construction was carried out by Mr. Green, of Wakefield, from designs by William Swinden Barber of Halifax. The oblong building had a frontage of 163 feet and a depth of 39 feet, and was mostly three stories in height. The ground floor included the wash-house, drying room, laundries, etc.. The first floor included 'offices' of various kinds, and the second floor, with the exception of the chapel, was devoted to dormitories. The beautiful chapel, 18 feet wide, extended the whole width of the north end of the building. It included a stained glass window by Hardman, of Birmingham, on the theme of 'Faith, Hope, and Charity'.

The Home site is shown on the 1893 map below where it is referred to as the West Riding Industrial Home for Females.

West Riding Refuge for Girls site, Wakefield, c.1893.

The Home took females discharged from Wakefield Prison without charge, while those from other gaols were required to pay from 4s. 6d. to 6s. a week, or a single payment of £5. A few unconvicted cases were also received. The permissible age for admission was from 15 to 40 years. Certificates of health were required, and 'immoral persons' were ineligible for entry.

At the end of 1921, the institution — now known as the St John's Industrial Home — was closed, with more than a thousand women having been admitted since 1866. The premises were then transferred to the Wakefield Diocesan Council for Rescue and Preventive Work.

Under its new management, the St John's Training Home provided accommodation for up to 30 'girls needing disciplinary training', aged from 14 to 17 at their date of admission. The girls were trained for domestic service and found situations.

On October 14th, 1937, the Home was formally certified as an Approved School for Senior Girls aged from 15 to 17. The inmates were given domestic and laundry training.

In 1973, St John's was redesignated as a Community Home with Education (CHE) under the control of the West Riding County Council.

The Home finally closed in 1982. The building no longer exists.


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  • West Yorkshire Archive Service (Wakefield Office), West Yorkshire History Centre, 127 Kirkgate, Wakefield WF1 1JG. Holdings comprise: Admission register (1856 -1865); Registers (1885-1920, 1923-1981); Staff registers (1951-1974); Log books (1937-45, 1951-82); Visitors' Book (1861-1982); Photographs, plans etc.