Reformatory Boys 3- George Cloke

George was born in Saltwood in 1858, the second child of William and Julia Ann (or Juliana) Cloke. His father was an agricultural labourer and later a quarry labourer.  George never attended school and by the time he was thirteen, he was at work as a ‘farm boy’, which mostly involved bird-scaring, and he also got some work helping the ‘navvies’ who were building the railway line from Sandling to Hythe.  His mother died in 1871.

William Cloke then moved his family to Albion Cottage in Stade Street in Hythe where he set up home with a Mrs Tanton, or, in the words of the authorities at the Royal Philanthropic School, where they ‘lived in fornication’.  William’s decision is understandable: he had only one daughter, Jane, aged nine when her mother died and too young to keep house for her father and two older brothers.

The arrangement did not work out well. George’s older brother, John, left to go into service in Kentish Town. Little Jane, at eleven, was sent to work in service in Sandgate.  George was simply turned out of the house.  He resorted to stealing and was found guilty, with William Impett, of stealing eighteen eggs from a shed in a field. On 23 Jan 1874 he was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment in Canterbury followed by five years at the Royal Philanthropic Reform School in Redhill. In the magistrate’s opinion, he was ‘utterly neglected’.

Official protection of vulnerable children was a long way in the future, and there was nothing else the magistrates could have done to safeguard George. Unfortunately, admission to a Reformatory was dependant on having served a prison sentence first.

He was described when he arrived at the School as being 4 feet 10 inches tall with dark hair and a ’round, chubby, rustic face’.  His father, who earned about  £1 a week in the quarry was ordered to pay one shilling and sixpence a week towards his keep, though the Town Council also contributed.

Boys working on the School farm

George did not get off to a good start at Redhill. Barely seven months after his admission he was punished by being isolated in the school’s cells for three days for breaking into a cottage on the site. Thereafter however, he mostly kept out of trouble, apart from a few minor infringements of the rules.

The only people to visit him during his stay were his brother and sister.  In  1878, George was given permission to spend Christmas with John, at his invitation. By then, George had been allowed out on licence to work in service.

He was discharged from the School in February 1879 and went to live in Chalk Farm, near his brother.  In September that year, he went back to the School on a visit and said he was doing well. He survived a period of unemployment the next year, but then got a job making new flowerbeds in Regent’s Park.

All subsequent reports back to the School suggest that he that he had settled down and was in good work, including labouring at Cannon Street on the Metropolitan Line extension. He married in 1881 and he and Matilda (or Mary as she was known), his wife, went on to have three sons and two daughters (though three other children died young). They lived in Napier Road, East Ham, near to the Central Park.

From about 1897, for nine years, he was employed by the Beckton Gas Light and Coke Company, but in January 1906 he was told his services were no longer required and was given one hour’s notice. He had the confidence to take the company to court, claiming that as he was paid weekly, he should have been given a week’s notice. His erstwhile employers contended that he was employed by the hour, but paid weekly for convenience and the magistrates upheld their claim. Fair employment law was also a long way in the future.

He soon found other employment and moved house to Telham Road, a five-roomed house which he shared with his son, another George, and his family. We know this from the 1911 census which George completed in a firm, clear script. Thirty-seven years earlier he had been homeless, illiterate and ‘utterly neglected’. If the Royal Philanthropic School gave him nothing else, it gave him literacy.

Information about George’s time at the Royal Philanthropic School is taken from their admission registers at Surrey Archive in Woking: 2271/10/16 page 205

 

Reformatory Boys 2 – William Impett

William Impett was born on 20 March 1860, the sixth child of Richard Impett, a labourer and his wife Phoeba Maria, a charwoman, who then lived in Lympne, where Wiliam was baptised. They later moved to Chapel Street in Hythe, which was little more than a lane behind the High Street, lined with small workmen’s dwellings. The family seem to have been respectable, except that Richard was once convicted of trespass in search of game at Sandling Park – poaching was generally regarded (except by landowners and magistrates) as an acceptable way of putting food on the family table when times were hard.

William attended the National School in Hythe for four years, but as soon as he could be useful and contribute to the family’s income, he was working with the ‘navvies’ on the construction of the railway line running down from Sandling to Hythe. His contribution was necessary because his father had become ‘crippled and unable to work’.  However, the work did not last long, possibly because William was only 4 feet 7 inches tall and ‘undersized’.  The Overseers of the Poor granted outdoor relief to his parents and their youngest child, but this did not extend to maintaining William once he was thirteen. He was judged to be able to go out to work and as he had no job, he was put in Elham Union Workhouse on 12 June 1873.

By now he had a reputation in Hythe of being a petty thief – though not yet convicted – and of being ‘very troublesome to the police’.  Once in the workhouse, he absconded, though he was found and returned.

He managed for a while to return home – perhaps his mother or a friend had found him some temporary work – but he also returned to crime.  On 23 Jan 1874, he was sent to prison for a month for stealing eighteen eggs. This was to be followed by five years detention in a reformatory. He served his prison term in Canterbury gaol, and exactly a month later, on 23 February 1874, still just thirteen years old, he was admitted to the Royal Philanthropic School at Redhill in Surrey, together with George Cloke, who was convicted of the same crime.

This institution had been established by the Philanthropic Society, a group concerned with the care of homeless children left to fend for themselves by begging or thieving. Those admitted were children of criminals or those who had been convicted of crimes themselves. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the school was classed as a reformatory, under the Reformatory Schools Act 1854, most of its pupils being committed by the magistrates and paid for by the local authorities. Farm work was the principal occupation, although carpentry, tailoring and other trades were also taught. The aim of the Committee was ‘to assimilate, so far as the diverse conditions permit, the life and administration of the school to that of the great public schools of England’. It encouraged many of its inmates to emigrate, usually to Canada or Australia, rather than face unemployment and a possible return to criminality, on their release.

The Royal Philanthropic Farm School near Redhill

William was almost immediately in trouble at the Reformatory, and weeks after his arrival was caned for ‘going dirty to chapel.’ The punishments continued through out his stay, mostly for what we might think of as horseplay or high spirits.  Every three or four months, he rebelled and was noisy, or disorderly in the dormitory, or threw things around. Sometimes he was confined to the School’s cells (not a feature of most English public schools).

He was visited occasionally by his family. His mother and her sister, who lived in Lambeth and William’s older brother Harry came in November 1874. In October 1875, his father and Harry visited. This was the last time William would see his father, who died in early 1876, aged fifty-nine. His mother and aunt visited again in June that year, but that is the last recorded visit until his release on 24 February 1879.

The school kept tabs on its ex-pupils, mostly via local police reports. Perhaps this was to assess the success or otherwise of its regime. William went straight into employment as a servant in Folkestone, but the post did not last long. By May 1880 he had no regular work. However, in September he wrote to the School that he was working as a deck hand on board the brig Florence of Whitstable, sailing from London to Hull.

Sea Street in Whitstable today

Whitstable harbour in the 1880s. Most of the traffic was to Newcastle to fetch coal

He continued sporadically in this line of work and lived in Sea Street in Whitstable, though he spent time in Hythe, perhaps with family. His mother and a couple of brothers still lived locally.

It was during one of these visits, in 1889, that he he was convicted of common assault and sent to prison again, this time for two months. Then one night in 1893, returning drunk to his home in Whitstable, he tried to kill himself. The knives he sharpened for the purpose were confiscated by his landlord but he then swallowed a packet of precipitate powder. He was taken to a police station and treated with an emetic, but then charged – suicide was then still a criminal offence. When he appeared in court again, he told the magistrates he had signed the pledge never to drink again, and was let off another prison sentence.

He had, however, not many years left to live. On 2 February 1898 a huge storm ravaged the east coast of England, with many losses at sea. William was one of them, swept overboard when his boat, the smack Ranger, en route to Grimsby was hit by a huge wave. He was a month short of his thirty-eighth birthday and had never married.

William’s behaviour after leaving the School – the violence, drink and suicide attempt – may suggest that he had been traumatised by his time there. We cannot know. What we can be sure of is that in his case, the system failed him.

The information about William’s time at the Royal Philanthropic School is taken from their archive (2271/10/16 page 206) held at Surrey Archives in Woking. 

Reformatory Boys 1 – the Dearman Brothers

On 5 June 1875, two boys were admitted to the Royal Philanthropic School at Redhill: Edwin Dearman, who had turned twelve the day before, and his brother James, a month off his fourteenth birthday. They had just served twenty-one days in Canterbury prison, convicted by the Hythe magistrates of begging and vagrancy and were to spend a further four years at Redhill. Both already had previous convictions, for firing straw, wilful damage, vagrancy and petty theft.The notes taken on their admission make sad reading.

Edwin, at 4 feet 6 inches tall, was judged to be ‘undersized’ and had ‘an old face.’ James was 4 feet 8 inches tall. He had been employed at stone breaking on the roads at seven shillings and sixpence per week per week and greasing railway wagons at six shillings a week. Both were illiterate.

Their father was William Dearman, a sailor’s labourer, reported by the magistrates to be of a very bad character. He had himself been in prison twice. Their mother, Mary, was also apparently of a bad character. The family lived in Dental Street in Hythe.  The boys had an older brother, William who was serving in the 36th rifles, a sister Eliza who sold watercress at Folkestone and lived in Sandgate and there were also  younger sisters, Elizabeth, Susan and Clara.

The Hythe magistrates reported that the boys had been convicted on 15 May 1875 of ‘unlawfully wandering abroad and lodging in an unoccupied house without visible means of sustenance’. They noted:

This boy and his brother bear very bad characters and are sent out by their parents nearly every day to beg, their father being a confirmed drunkard. Unless they bring home some food they receive a severe beating which causes them frequently to stay out all night.

The magistrates had limited options for helping Edwin and James: the reform school was the best one, but its admission rules required that they serve a prison sentence first. When they arrived they were separated into different ‘houses’ (the school tried to model itself on the English public school system). Visitors were allowed, but the only recorded visit they received during their time at the School was from their mother in 1876.

Edwin was regularly caned  during his stay for fighting, stealing, lying and disobedience. After his discharge, he sold herrings in Hythe, but then got work at sea on the coal brigs plying between the north-east ports and Kent. In September 1882 he served seven days for assaulting a police officer. He got married in 1887 to Mary Jane Stockbridge, but the marriage did not last and by 1890 he was living with Elizabeth Austen, a widow, in Middle Wall, Whitstable, where many of the brigs berthed.

Whitstable Harbour in the 1890s, when Edwin Dearman lived there

They had a least two children together, but the relationship was often violent and both liked a drink.  By 1909, Elizabeth had left him, taking the children to Dover. Edwin went to Woolwich, where the same year he was homeless and arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

He must have rallied as in 1916, he enlisted in the Royal Navy, though he was over fifty. He was soon discharged, not for drunkenness or bad behaviour, but simply for being too old.

Edwin died in Stepney in 1937.

While at the reform school, James was better behaved at first, apart from some minor infringements of the rules, but in 1878 he stole from a cottage on the grounds and was birched and confined in the cells for four days. He continued throughout the rest of his stay to be difficult – he used tobacco, bullied younger boys and cut up his own boots. In May 1879, it was reported that he had, when he first came to the school been keen to emigrate to Australia or Canada, but his family brought pressure to bear on him, saying they wanted him at home. They could, they said, get employment for him at sea. He was released on licence to work in May that year.

The ‘work at sea’ did not materialise. The next year, Hythe Police reported to the school that he was occasionally hawking herrings, but then he got full-time employment with a local fish-dealer, Stephen Cloke.  They suspected he was sometimes up to no good, but could prove nothing.

Then on 30 June 1884, James married Minnie Cousine at St Leonard’s church. Her full name was Miriam Ann and she was the daughter of  a Frenchman, Louis, and an Englishwoman, Mary and has been born in Heathfield, Sussex.  The love of a good woman evidently turned James’s life around. For a start, the children started arriving – there would be fifteen eventually, though one died young. The family moved from a tiny cottage in Chapel Street, a narrow lane behind the High Street, to a slightly larger house in Frampton Road. Then, while continuing to work as a labourer and later fish seller  James joined the lifeboat crew in 1890, eventually becoming coxswain. When he retired in 1917, he held five medals for saving life and had been granted a Royal National Lifeboat Institution pension. He was, rather mysteriously, known to the lifeboat crew as ‘Charcoal’.

The Hythe Lifeboat crew in 1891. I think James is fourth from right…

…an enlargement shows a similarity to the verified picture of James below

When war was declared in 1914, James enlisted in the army, despite being over fifty, giving his age as thirty-eight years and four months. The truth was made known to his commanding officer by the sergeant-major, who knew him, and he was sent home.

The war and the succeeding years brought much sadness to the family.

In 1910, James and Minnie’s sixth chid, Sam, had joined the army and served with the East Kent Regiment, the Buffs. He was mobilised at the outbreak of war in 1914 and sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force on 27 December. Six weeks later, on 10 February 1915, he died of wounds.

Samuel Dearman 30 July 1893– 10 February 1915 

That same year, John, the second son, died of natural causes aged twenty-eight and Stephen, the third son, who worked as a brewer’s drayman, joined up. He was wounded, invalided home, sent back to the front, was gassed and finally was taken prisoner in March 1918. He was home in time for Christmas that year. The sixth child, Edwin (or Edward) served in the Royal Field Artillery, but survived.

In June 1917, James and Minnie’s eighth child, seventeen-year-old Ben, was walking with his brother and two friends along the canal bank when they met two other boys, one of whom, the  fourteen-year-old, ‘Teddy’ , was carrying a rifle (for which he had a licence), as he planned to shoot rats. None of the boys actually saw what happened and at the inquest there was some disagreement as to whether Teddy knew the gun was loaded, as he was carrying cartridges in a tin box. They heard a shot and saw Benjamin fall, with his hand to his stomach. A local man and a soldier came to help and a doctor was called. Benjamin was taken home and then transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Folkestone, where he died following an operation. The coroner’s verdict was ‘Accidental Death’.

The fifth child, Bill, a milkman, presumably unfit for overseas service, joined the Labour Corps during WW1, but was suffering from TB, which was aggravated by the work he carried out. He was a patient in the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich for a while, but died at home on 28 July 1919.

The Commonwealth War Grave of William Dearman ( 30 November 1894 – 28 July 1919) in Horn Street Cemetery, Hythe

In 1922, both the eldest child, James Lewis (or sometimes Lewis James) and the eleventh, Polly died. James was thirty-nine and Polly nineteen. In 1927, their youngest sister, Kathleen (or Catherine) died ‘after a long illness’. Was the TB which carried off Bill to blame for all these adult deaths?

James died in 1936. His was a hard life, bravely lived. Minnie survived him by twelve years. She received help in her widowhood from the trustees of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. (1)

James and Minnie Dearman                                    Photos: Dave Lear

  1. Kent Archives EK2008/2 Book 19

Details of the brothers’ convictions, background and stay at the reform school are in Surrey County Archives 2271/10/16 pp 308-9

With thanks to Kathryne Maher for additional information and to Dave Lear for the photos of James & Minnie