The Reformatory, Industrial and Training School (RITS/1-16) archive held in PRONI comprises approximately seventy volumes. The archive spans over a century from 1874–1979, with the schools ranging geographically across the north of Ireland. It comprises volumes from the whole spectrum of society and contains registers for both female and male, and Protestant and Roman Catholic schools. The Reformatory, Industrial and Training Schools archive may be considered invaluable for researchers and genealogists alike and is outlined below.
Nineteenth Century social reform resulted in changes to educational and criminal law in GB and Ireland. These included changing social attitudes towards children that led to the adoption of legislation that enabled society to remove children who failed to follow society’s rules. In 1854, the Reformatory Schools Act in Great Britain was established, followed by the Reformatory Schools (Ireland) Act in 1858.
The Acts facilitated the creation of reformatory schools for children found guilty of criminal offences who had possibly been previously arrested.
In 1857, the Industrial Schools Act in Great Britain was established and a subsequent Act was passed in 1868 for Ireland. The Acts facilitated the creation of industrial schools. These were intended for neglected children or those who were considered to be in danger of contact with criminals. Prior to these Acts, children were either admitted to Prison, the Workhouse or “Ragged Schools” (so called due to the ragged clothes worn by the children, where they gained an education). PRONI’s oldest records are for Hampton House Industrial School (RITS/4), a Protestant girl’s school based at Balmoral, Belfast, for 1874-1932.
The Malone Reformatory (Training School) Belfast (1860-1968) was established by a voluntary body of citizens. Its records include registers in RITS/5 (c.1915-c.1979), school records in SCH/1033 (c.1866-c.1950) and records of the Cabinet Secretariat including financial requests and the proposal to create a Northern Ireland borstal Institution. This proposal culminated in the Malone Training School Bill (CAB/9/B).
By the end of the Nineteenth Century, Belfast’s economy was booming through industries such as linen trade and ship-building. Within the first two decades of the Twentieth Century, a decline brought many social problems, including the abandonment of children. Consequently, more schools were created. PRONI holds records for some of these Industrial Schools including, Saint Catherine’s, Strabane 1903-1949 (RITS/12); Saint Patrick’s (Milltown), Belfast 1911-1966 (RITS/13); and Middletown, Armagh c.1917–c.1971 (RITS/6). Further records for the Middletown School are held in PRONI’s private record archives such as, Middletown Boys (No. 1) School (D1495), Middletown Convent School (D1498), and Middletown No. 2 School (SCH/214).
Due to the lack of suitable buildings within Belfast, citizens who wished to create schools had to either look towards the city limits or to alternative options, for example the Grampian Training Ship (RITS/3) berthed in Belfast Lough. This Training Ship began its naval life as the “Gibraltar” in 1860. In 1889, it was loaned to the Belfast Training Ship Committee and renamed the “Grampian”, in consequence of the Royal Navy changing from wood to iron and from sail to steam. The foremast sails and whaleboats were retained on these old men-of war ships for the purpose of training inmates for future employment. When fully converted for use as a training ship, the accommodation comprised 300 hammock-type bunks. PRONI hold the records of the Grampian Training Ship from 1896-1899. Afterwards, children were transferred to Balmoral Industrial School.
Back on land, the Nazareth Lodge Industrial School (RITS/8) was established (c. late-1870s) and located at the Ormeau and Ravenhill Roads, South Belfast. The school incorporated Saint 0Joseph’s Orphanage for babies and was taken over by the Catholic Church in the mid-1950s. PRONI holds records for Nazareth Lodge Industrial School (RITS/8) from 1914-1948. PRONI also hold architectural records (D4260) and elevation drawings of its Chapel (D2403/ A/1). The archive D2740/3 holds annual accounts of subscriptions to Nazareth Lodge including subscriber’s names and addresses. Another Ormeau Park institution was Fox Lodge Industrial School (RITS/2). PRONI has records for 1884-1894. On 10 January 1884, Fox Lodge was granted a certificate to accommodate sixty boys and eventually rose to 133.
In 1897, the committee obtained a lease from Sir James Musgrave for a former Model Farm and 22 acres situated at Musgrave Park, Balmoral, Belfast. The certificate was issued on 23 November 1897. Fox Lodge was closed and the children transferred on 30 November. PRONI holds records for Balmoral Training School (RITS/1) from 1882-1965. The effectiveness of the Industrial Schools Act meant that by 1907 numbers had risen to 442 at Balmoral Training School. Following the passing of the 1908 Children's Act, industrial school committal became regarded as a last resort as children would bear the stigma for life. Numbers continued to decline except for a brief influx in 1917 with the transfer of young people from Meath Industrial School, Blackrock which had been requisitioned as a military hospital. By 1919, numbers had fallen to 263. Negotiations between the Balmoral Training School Committee and the Belfast Corporation resulted in the take-over of the school by the Belfast Corporation’s Children Act Committee on 30 June 1920.
The following year, the school's work was disrupted by the effects of civil disturbances following the partition of Ireland. Under the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act of 1921, the military authorities requisitioned Balmoral Training School for the purposes of billeting a regiment, resulting in the school seeking alternative premises. These were eventually found at the Belfast Workhouse, where the school carried on under difficulties until December 1922. In due course the school returned to Balmoral.
The outbreak of the Second World War presented further problems for the school. In 1940, notice was given that the school was to be converted into a military hospital. This resulted in less available accommodation. Eventually the Royal Army Medical Corps provided four hospital tents, each holding 25 boys on the cricket pitch in Musgrave Park and small tents for staff. The Committee continued searching for alternative premises and in October 1940 the school moved to the Victoria Homes which incorporated Shamrock Lodge Industrial School (RITS/11) on the Ballysillan Road, Belfast.
The Victoria Homes were founded in 1881 by the Belfast Women's Temperance Association with the first home for girls opening on 20 May 1882. Shamrock Lodge Industrial School (RITS/11) opened its doors in Lagan Valley in 1887. However, this home was still unsuitable and funds were raised to build a new school. In 1892, the first of the Victoria Homes, located at Ballysillan was opened. By the 1930s, there were six homes at this site including Shamrock Lodge Industrial School. PRONI’s (RITS/11) records date from 1904–1968. Privately deposited material includes D/3606 comprising minute books, reports, and registers from c.1866-c.1967, in addition to school records (SCH/178) for the Victoria Home Public Elementary School from c.1926-c.1933.
In October 1940, the girls from these schools were evacuated to Greenisland to newly acquired premises known as Whiteabbey. This school came to be known as the Sacred Heart Industrial School. PRONI holds records in RITS/10 (1925-1972) and various school records in SCH/1229 (c.1876 –c.1959).
For the same time period, PRONI holds records from the Ministry of Home Affairs (RITS/16) for 1921- 1956. The Ministry was responsible for various non-economic, domestic matters in Northern Ireland for 1921-1972 including Reformatory, Industrial and Training Schools. For further information on the operation of the Reformatory and Industrial Schools, the HA/10 archive held by PRONI contains documents including: Certificates issued, Inspector and Medical Officer Reports, Inquiry reports, rule lists and financial documentation. PRONI also holds within the Department of Education archive, correspondence registers for National and Primary Schools from c.1883 – c.1967 (ED/6/3) covering the six counties of Northern Ireland.
After the Second World War, another series of social reforms was implemented. This resulted in changes to educational law that reflected postwar society. For example, following the Children and Young Peoples Act (1950), Woburn House, near Millisle, County Down, was taken over by the Government and established as a Borstal Institution.
In 1956, an Act of Parliament - The Malone and Whiteabbey Training Schools Act - was passed, the effect of which was to amalgamate the Balmoral Junior School with the Malone Reformatory Senior School and to place them under a new Board of Management. In October 1956, the Board began its task of running three separate establishments: Sacred Heart (Whiteabbey) Industrial School for Girls, Balmoral Training School and Malone Training School. Balmoral Junior School was closed and the
borstal aspect of all three schools was moved to new premises at Woburn House. Currently, the Reformatory, Industrial and Training School (RITS) archive held in PRONI has six volumes
that are available to the public; the remainder are subject to a 100 year closure. However, requests for access may still be made in writing to PRONI. The types of records include School Admission and
Discharge Registers, Incident and Punishment Registers, Visitor Registers, Account Ledgers and
School Return Forms incorporating general school correspondence. Information contained within the
Admission Registers includes child details such as name, date of birth, address, reason and date of committal, and details of discharge. Further details such as parent’s names, the child’s physical appearance and level of education are also included in some School Registers.
Of particular significance, PRONI holds the first Industrial School Register (1884-1894) for Fox Lodge, Belfast when it opened its doors in 1884, and the final Industrial School Register (1896–1899) for the Grampian Training Ship, Belfast Lough when it closed in 1899.
Alan W. Robertson