Turvey Reformatory

Creation of the buildings

The Reformatory School was one of the first to be built in England.  The Reformatory Schools Act 1854 set out the principles of these vocational schools.  The funding for the building of this training school was raised by Thomas Charles Higgins (TCH) of Turvey House (1797-1865). TCH was Chairman of the Bedford Quarter Sessions.  He had decided that under the Bedfordshire project for young offenders, mostly under sixteen years of age, they needed to learn farming, agricultural work, shoemaking and tailoring to give them a second chance.  The project relied upon land being offered.  TCH offered 50 acres on his property at Northey Farm to the north of Turvey House.  Reverend Richard Fitzpatrick also offered land near Bedford.  TCH’s land was chosen with the understanding that the initial lease would be for 21 years at £15 per annum, “ten shillings to be paid immediately”.  The plans for the buildings were drawn up by Thomas Jobson Jackson, the County Surveyor.  It was agreed that the price of these buildings “was not to exceed the sum of £800”.

From 1856, the buildings consisted of a large school room and dining room with dormitories and smaller sleeping rooms for the boys.  They built apartments for the Superintendent, Matron, Assistant Matron, Schoolmaster and the two Labour Masters.  The out-buildings were a workshop, tool shed, bakehouse, dairy and open shed.  Their farm buildings were a barn, sheds and stables.  In 1858, 18 acres were leased.  In 1860, 4.5 acres were purchased from TCH.  A further 75 acres of farm land were added in 1887.

Committee of Visitors

The management of the Reformatory was carried out by the Committee of Visitors, consisting of volunteers and staff.  In 1857 the committee monthly meetings began.  In 1879, the Superintendent and Matron were Mr and Mrs John Jones; the Schoolmaster was Mr Gardner with his son as Assistant Schoolmaster.  In 1898, the Chairman was Major W.F. Higgins of Chantry House with Morris Fisher Cock L.R.C.P, Land Medical Officer; Reverend William Henry Denison MA, Honorary Secretary; John Jones, Superintendent; Mrs Jones, Matron; Miss Jones, Assistant Matron; John Gardner, Schoolmaster; Ernest Gardner, Assistant Schoolmaster.  In 1898 the Reformatory became Government Approved, indicating that it was self-supporting.

Practical Education

The Reformatory was certified from 9 April 1857 to offer places to 70 boys aged 13-15 years committed by magistrates for at least four years.  A payment of two shillings per week was required for each boy, plus £1 initial entrance fee.  In 1860 and 1898 there were 45 boys.  Each week the boys had religious instruction, three days of teaching from the “certified Schoolmaster” and two days of work.  By 1902 there were 80 boys.  By 1924 there were 115 boys following enlargement and improvement, including the building of an indoor swimming pool.

The boys were admitted from Buckinghamshire, Lancashire, Wakefield, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire (where TCH owned land), the borough of Leicester, Middlesex and Lincolnshire.  Other counties could apply for places “by agreement, and the managers do not object, upon proper application, to take in boys from other counties or towns.”  The staff could refuse to admit boys who were:  diseased, had “defects of the body and mind so as to prevent them from earning their own livelihood” or those who were “unsuitable for industrial training by the managers”.  In 1860, some counties were paying one shilling and six pence a week for the places, having provided their young people with a suit of clothes and boots.  Lincolnshire County Council contracted for ten years to have places for thirty boys under the age of sixteen years funded at four shillings per week and paying three pounds each for suitable clothing.

Each boy was given an allotment in the garden to work, with prizes for the best plots.  They grew barley, wheat and beans as well as raising cows, pigs and horses.  The boys made butter which was sold in the market.  They baked their own bread.  A tailor visited three times a week working with some of the boys on making and mending clothes.

Absconding Young Offenders

Robert Woodman and William Hodson absconded from the Reformatory School taking their overcoats with them (Bedfordshire Mercury, 1858).  Woodman from Luton was 11 years of age.  He had been sentenced to four years for stealing 19s and 6d.  George Thomas aged 17 years ran away on 14 January 1867 and was brought back by the Police on 17 January.  On 8 March 1881, the 17 years olds Sam Winters, Charles Bryans, James Tarry, absconded.  They were brought back and sentenced to three months in Bedford Prison.  Edward Brown aged 17 years ran away on 29 September 1887, and was brought back.  His punishment was 18 strokes of the birch rod.  On 21 October he again absconded.  On his return, he was given a further 18 strokes, then locked up for three days in the punishment cell with only bread and water.  He left again on 24 June 1889.

The Punishment Books for 1861 set out the range of punishments for behaviours such as using bad language, throwing stones or being rude:  bread and water for a day, six days of drill, strokes of the birch cane.

Sending Abroad

Shipping records in the late 1850s showed six boys from the Bedfordshire Reformatory School were sent to Melbourne.  Boys from this school were sent on the ship Laurentian to Quebec in 1895.

Legal Changes, Rebellion and Reform

In 1933, the Reformatory was one of the first schools to be re-designated as one of the new Approved Schools under the Children and Young Person’s Act (which replaced the earlier Reformatories and Industrial Schools Act).  They added gardening, carpentry, engineering and baking to the vocational skills being taught.

In August 1959, there was a serious disturbance during which many boys rebelled and carried out mass absconding.  They asked the press to interview them about their grievances and to investigate the ill treatment by the Head and Schoolmaster.  They accused the Head of unfair punishments, unduly long detentions before release on licence, withholding post and delaying outgoing post.  Victor Durand QC held an inquiry, finding some of the grievances were justified and some behaviour inappropriate.  The Head had been detaining the young people for longer than their sentences “to improve success rates”.  The findings became the Durand Report with recommendations which were implemented in all Approved Schools, including increasing officers’ salaries and building secure rooms for occasions of disruptive behaviour.

In 1973 the school was re-designated a Community Home with Education, becoming the responsibility of Bedfordshire County Council.  They carried out extensive re-construction, leaving only the original chapel.  The home closed in the 1980s.

Those buildings now form the Emmaus Community in which formerly homeless people join as Companions to be accommodated and supported in regaining confidence and learning new skills.


Bedfordshire Mercury,  29 November 1858.  Article on absconders.  Bedford

Punishment books for the Reformatory.  1861.  Bedford Records Office. Bedford

Admissions Registers for the Reformatory.  Bedford Records Office. Bedford.

Subscription Book Reformatory Schools Act 1835.  Bedford Records Office. Bedford.


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