Ancestry UK

Hertfordshire Reformatory for Boys, Ware, Hertfordshire

A meeting held in Hertford on New Year's Day, 1856, resolved that it was desirable for a Reformatory School to be established in the county, and appointed committee to pursue the matter. A subscription was raised to fund the scheme and a 21-acre site was purchased at Wadesmill Road, Chapmore End, in the parish of Bengeo, near Ware. A major benefactor was Mr Abel Smith, a former banker and Hertfordshire MP, who furnished the funds for constructing and furnishing the building.

The School, which was usually known as the Herts (rather than Hertfordshire) Reformatory, was formally certified for operation on November 10, 1857, to accommodate up to 50 boys aged from 10 to 16. The first to be admitted, on December 8th, was from Hitchin. By February, 1859, there were 19 inmates although only 10 came from Hertfordshire. The remainder included five from London, two from Liverpool, one from Cambridge and one from Shropshire.

The School building was designed by Mr Smith of Hertford and adopted an enclosed courtyard layout, which had become popular for such institutions. The original site layout is shown on the 1898 map below.

Herts Reformatory for Boys site, c.1898.

The first master or superintendent was Mr Kitley, with his wife as matron. For reasons that are unclear, the couple replaced in 1860 by Mr James Fish and his wife, Eliza. The other staff at this date were a schoolmaster and an industrial assistant. Until the time of his death in 1875, the Rev. Charles Deedes acted as manager of the School.

The chief industrial training given to the boys was in agricultural work. By 1862, the School's farmland had been increased to 40 acres although it was said to be of inferior quality. Cows pigs and poultry were kept, and there a large garden was cultivated. The boys sometimes worked for neighbouring farmers. In the winter, the younger boys were employed in wood-chopping, mat-making, net-making, faggot-binding and stone-picking. In 1871, a cottage was built beside the site entrance to accommodate a labour master. The following year, instruction was being given in tailoring, carpentering and gardening. The boys did all the domestic work of the house.

In 1868, it was noted that two former inmates were now employed as under masters to assist with the superintendence of the School. Mr Fish operated a mark system by which good behaviour could earn small rewards or privileges. By 1874, Mr Fish's son, Ishmael Arthur Fish, had taken on the role of schoolmaster. Mr Fish senior died on November 25th, 1878, after having filled his post for 18 years. He was succeeded by his son, Ishmael, whose wife, Clara, became matron. Clara Fish died during an outbreak of typhoid fever at the School in October 1886, aged just 32. Mrs Webber was subsequently appointed as matron.

In 1894, the institution was incorporated under the Companies Acts as The Herts Reformatory Limited.

In 1893, an infirmary was added to the premises together with additional room for the superintendent and schoolmaster. An inspection report in 1896 levelled some criticisms regarding the buildings: the same room was used as a classroom, ding room and recreation room; the bathing facilities were very limited; the dormitories were cramped and had no provision for warming. From 1900 onwards, the School was considerably enlarged by stages and by 1915 had been almost entirely rebuilt. The first phase, opened in November 1900, resulted in a new dining hall, dormitory and workshop. On February 1st, 1901, the School's capacity was re-certified as being 80 places. New farm buildings were erected in 1902. In 1904, the School acquired the freehold of its site and now stood in 67 acres of ground. Construction work that year comprised a bake-house, laundry and washhouse on the north side of the yard, with a detached coal-house outside the yard. At the south side were a new manual instruction room, offices, common room and lavatory, above which were an isolation ward, nurse's room and kitchen. A covered shed and latrines were placed on the east side, and the schoolroom windows were enlarged. In 1906, a boiling house was erected for heating cattle food and "buffing osiers" [boiling willow sticks]. A new dairy and larder were added in 1908, and gas lighting installed the following year. Further extensions were made to the buildings in 1910 providing additional dormitory and schoolroom accommodation. On September 15th, 1910, the number of places at the School was officially raised to 100. In 1911, the dining room and kitchen were enlarged, and a new tailor's shop, store room, granary and strong room built. After further extensive alterations in 1915-16, the Schools capacity was increased to 125.

The layout of the extended buildings is shown on the 1923 map below.

Herts Reformatory for Boys site, c.1923.

Herts Reformatory for Boys from the west, c.1920. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Herts Reformatory — main building from the north, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Herts Reformatory — main building from the east, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Herts Reformatory — main building from the east, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Herts Reformatory — main building from the south, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Herts Reformatory — inner courtyard from the south-east, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

The School's entrance lodge was one of the few parts of the buildings not to be altered.

Former Herts Reformatory — entrance lodge, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

By 1902, Ishmael's son, James Ishmael Fish, had become schoolmaster after having held posts at the Newton le Willows and Saltley Reformatories. Ishmael remained as superintendent until his death in March, 1918. He was succeeded by Mr S.M. Palmer, who was still in post in 1936.

In 1923, the School changed its name to the Herts Training School. In 1933, it 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. The School now accommodated up to 110 Senior Boys aged between their 15th and 17th birthdays at their date of admission. It provided its inmates with training in farming, gardening, cabinet-making and baking.

In 1973, the school became the Crouchfield Community Home with Education (CHE) under the control of Hertfordshire County Council. The Home closed in March 1982.

The surviving buildings have now been converted to residential use.


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  • Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, County Hall, Pegs Lane, Hertford SG13 8DE. Holdings include: Printed Annual Reports (1888-1930); Management Committee Minutes (1857-1969); Training School Log Books (1892-1901, 1914-1960); Admission Registers (1857-1871, 1913-1960); Registers of Discharge and Releases on Licence (1875-1971); Pre-release Hostel Log Books (1962-73); Confirmation Register (1956-62); Various printed material and photographs.