Ancestry UK

Wandsworth Boys' Home Reformatory, Wandsworth, London

In 1852, the Friendless Boys' Home was established in 1852 in premises at Bridge House, on the banks of the River Wandel, to the north of the Wandsworth Brewery. Its operation was funded by Miss Portal and the establishment was managed by Mr John Leyland (or Layland) under her direction.

The Bridge House site is shown on the 1868 map below.

Wandsworth Boys' Home Reformatory site, Wandsworth Common, c.1868.

On October 18th, 1858, the Home was certified as a Reformatory but also continued to receive voluntary admissions. The Boys' Home Reformatory, as it became known, could accommodate up to 100 boys aged from 10 to 16 years at their time of admission.

An inspection report in 1858 described the premises as "a large and convenient house, with offices and garden attached; workshops and a good school-room have been added since, and a large dormitory is now in the course of completion." There were further additions to the buildings in 1859. The placing of all the boys in one long detached dormitory was questioned by the inspector as seemingly being at odds with the institution's title of "boys' home".

By the end of that 1859, court committals accounted for almost half of the inmates. Curiously, many of these came from Lancashire.

In addition to their classroom lessons, the boys were provided with industrial training in shoemaking, tailoring, and carpenters' and smiths' work. They also carried out wood-cutting, and cut and sorted rags for a nearby paper mill, generating a useful income for the Home. For boys with a musical interest, the Home had a wind band.

The Home kept up a correspondence with the boys who left, and their employers. Of 56 boys discharged in 1861-3, 41 were found to be doing well, 7 had relapsed or were doubtful, and 7 were unknown.

An account of a visit to the Reformatory was published in 1863 by William Blanchard Jerrold under the title Children of the Street.

In 1866, the staff were listed as Mr Leyland, manager; Mr John Newland (superintendent and schoolmaster); Mrs Newland (matron); drill master, tailor, shoe maker, etc. Mr Newland was Mr Leyland's son-in-law.

In 1867, part of the Bridge House premises was divided off for use as temporary accommodation for a new Industrial School for boys who had not been convicted of any crime. It subsequently became a permanent institution, known initially as the Boys' Home Industrial School. It was managed by Mr and Mrs Wren.

In 1868, the Reformatory moved to new buildings which had been erected on Spanish Road at the west side of Wandsworth Common. The new premises were certified for use on March 26th, 1868, although the boys were not transferred from the old site until the following September. This was partly due to a serious outbreak of fever at Bridge House which was said to have been caused by "the effects of the repeated high tides which occurred in the early part of the year, which laid the yards, gardens &c. under water and covered them with mud."

When fully completed, the new premises could accommodate up to 200 boys, aged from 10 to 14 at their time of admission. The main accommodation was in a row of six terraced houses, ingeniously constructed so as to be convertible from an institution into private houses if necessary. Behind was a small playground with other facilities at each side including extensive workshops fitted with steam saws, planing machines etc. On April 5th, 1870, when the workshops were virtually finished, a fire was deliberately started in them by one of the inmates. Within the space of two hours, the workshops, machinery and stock were completely destroyed, along with the stables and engine room. George Jackson, aged 15, was later charged with having started the fire. The cost of the damage reckoned to be around £3,000 and none of the property destroyed was insured. Within a year, the workshops had been rebuilt on an even more extensive scale.

The Spanish Road site is shown on the 1895 map below.

Wandsworth Boys' Home Reformatory site, Wandsworth Common, c.1895.

The standard of the boys' educational attainment was criticised in an inspection during 1871. Perhaps as a result of this, Mr Newland gave up his classroom duties and Mr Hinde was appointed as schoolmaster. Following inspection two years later, it was reported that the educational problems had been resolved although it was suggested that the number of staff for so large an establishment was inadequate.

By 1880, the staff comprised the superintendent and matron, Mr and Mrs Newland; schoolmaster, Mr Jackson, and two assistants; a tailor, shoemaker, carpenter, labour-master, broom-handle maker, clerk, and two domestic servants. Fourteen boys were working as tailors, 6 as carpenters, 30 as broom handlers, 30 as sawyers and mill boys, 4 as engine boys, 9 as stable boys, 20 as laundry boys and scrubbers, as 50 as woodcutters. The cooking and all the work of the house were also done by the boys. In 1885, tin-working and tin-box making were introduced.

In 1883, Mr Newland became the Home's general manager, with Mr Jackson appointed as superintendent and schoolmaster. Mr Newland held his position until his death after a long illness in 1894. He was succeeded as manager by the Rev. C.M. Kelly.

Due to financial difficulties, the Home closed in 1901. As envisaged by John Leyland, the block at the south of the site was then converted to residential use, which it remains to this day. The rear of site was later occupied by the Post Office Telegraphs department and then by a vehicle workshop. The area is now covered by modern housing.


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