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Kerrison Reformatory School

In 1856  Sir Edward Kerrison  of Brome Hall purchased Pool Farm for the purpose of establishing a Reformatory. There were 235 subscribers towards the cost of the purchase but the main cost was borne by Sir Edward. Pool Farmhouse was a very dilapidated building with a barn and other farm buildings with 11 acres 1 rood and 1 perch in Thorndon and approximately 5 acres in Stoke Ash. It was owned by the Hammond family and had two tenants, Miss Charlotte Hammond and Mr Berry who were kind enough to vacate the premises.

Between February 8th and March 13th the necessary alterations were made and after inspection by the districts Prison Inspector a certificate was granted by the Home Office for the `Suffolk Reformatory'.  On February 11th Mr and Mrs Robert  Gill  were elected by the committee as Master and Matron at a salary of £100 plus £50 allowance for rations.  On March 31st the first boy, committed at Bury Sessions was admitted.  A Labour Master, employed at labourers wages to assist in all outdoor employments was engaged.  When Sir Edward died in 1886, his widow, Lady Caroline Kerrison wished to perpetuate his memory by naming the Suffolk Reformatory as the Kerrison Reformatory and in June 1887 the Trust was formed.


Originally the boys would rise at 5.30am, clean their rooms, have prayers read to them and then given instruction in reading and writing.  With the exception of time allowed for breakfast and dinner the remainder of the day until six or seven o'clock was occupied in industrial employments; principally the cultivation of the land.   Instruction again in the evening and a chapter of the bible read and explained.  On Sundays the boys attended church twice a day.

Sir Edward took continued interest in the boys after they left the reformatory; the very first boy admitted was found work and lodgings by Sir Edward near Stowmarket, who was subsequently reconvicted in 1858, sentenced to twelve months hard labour and then visited in gaol by the master, Mr Gill.  The boy emigrated to America from funds raised by Sir Edward and eventually settled in Toronto.   In 1868 the 'boy' wrote asking for assistance, since his wife and two children had died of a fever leaving him in a very distressed state; two pounds was sent in reply.  He was employed as a car driver and was doing well, the last communication was that he owned land in Toronto.

Some of the offenders we as young as 11 years; one boy stole brass weights and was sentenced to 21 days imprisonment followed by two years at the Suffolk Reformatory School.

Two years after the Suffolk Reformatory opened, the demand for places increased to require the expansion of the premises bringing the number of boys resident to 45.

In 1882 Robert Gill died.  His son, Frederick Gill, was appointed as Master whilst his mother remained as Matron until her death in 1899; Mrs Frederick Gill took her place.


In 1882 a drum and fife band of 25 boys was formed;  the band became very popular in the county.  In October 1898 drums and fifes gave way to military band instruments and uniforms were acquired.  By 1901 the numbers had increased to 30 and by 1915 there were 53.  They were quite a sight in their blue uniforms with red trim when they marched up to church every Sunday.  When bandmaster Sapey resigned in 1934 and with no provision for the salary of a successor, it was reluctantly decided that the band should not continue.

1905 saw the introduction of a Wood and Metalwork shop for the training of 16 boys.  Home leave was featured for a few privileged boys until the latter part of the First World War.  At the same time the installation of a dental chair was accompanied by the appointment of the first school dentist who charged 2s/-d for fillings and 1 s/-d for extractions.  In 1912 the installation of telephonic communication with the Post Office in Eye was agreed to.


During the Great War some boys were occupied in munitions work and thousands of rifle clips and various types of military straps were made.  Local farmers found gang labour increasingly useful when at times the whole school took part.  The hiring of labour as a normal part of training continued until after the 1914-18 war.  Although labour recruitment was accepted in principle the demands during the Second World War grew to such an extent that it was regarded as a handicap in the training of the boys.

The Second World War saw the arrival of scores of evacuees, the gym became a distribution centre for them. The frequent air raid warnings presented quite a problem, boys having to be dispersed in various parts of the building or sent to underground shelters.  On September 20th 1940 a bomb was dropped in the school gardens damaging buildings and a greenhouse.  The school was brought into close contact with the troops stationed in the district; almost every day they would come to make use of the ablution block and the playing field was in great demand. Many boys were killed in both combats.


In 1922 uniforms were discontinued and blue serge suits for Sundays were purchased.  In 1925 Mr and Mrs Frederick Gill retired and Mr and Mrs W G Settles were appointed Headmaster and Matron.  Three months after his arrival Mr Settles had arranged and conducted the first school camp at Lowestoft.  He introduced a mark system in 1930 and annual leave of five to ten days was granted to all boys with good conduct.

The 1927 the Department Committee of Enquiry published the report into the treatment of young offenders which resulted in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.  The name reformatory was abolished and the title "Approved School" adopted.  The effect was that the school was now classified to cater only for senior boys of fifteen to seventeen years on admission.  The term of detention was for three years but all cases were kept under review.  This provision alone made life very hectic for a time and in 1934 there were as many as 43 admissions and 43 discharges.

The main games played at Kerrison Approved School were cricket and football.  Football graduated from the Side Meadow to the old Fire-Engine Meadow to Low Meadow and then to the new Braiseworth Playing Field.  A cricket square was laid on Glebe Meadow in 1926 until 1935 when the centre square was laid at Braiseworth.

Mr and Mrs Settles retired in June 1953 and on their departure the school had a history spanning 97 years.  Mr and Mrs D Kelly were appointed Headmaster and Matron and remained in this post until 1979. 

During Mr Kelly's term there were many changes notably the accommodation for 110 boys under a 'house' system. The first house, 'School House' was located in the main building.  Following the erection of three more houses, School House became known as Kelly House, a second was named after Mr Settles and the other two after the former managers, Gill and Henniker.  In January 1962 a five acre field known as Ploughed Smithies was bought from a Mr J Havers and became the present playing field.  A new gymnasium and open air swimming pool were built on this land.  Around this time just over thirteen acres of farmland were exchanged with the late Mr Jack Legros of Charity Farm whose land was situated between Kerrison and Glebe Farm. The land he received, called the Brakenhams, joined his own land down in Thorndon Fen. Part of the land Kerrison received from him now forms part of the set aside.

In 1964 Mr Blackshaw, Deputy Head and a few old boys formed the Kerrisonian Club.  The original aims were to raise funds for the purchase of tools or to help towards lodgings for any boys who left Kerrison and were in need of assistance.  The Club meets every year at Kerrison on a Sunday in July, and although the numbers have dropped because of age or ill health, many still attend.


Changes came in 1971 when the Children and Young Persons Act came into force.  This Act meant that the courts now had to convey the young offenders to the care of the local authority.  In 1973 Kerrison Approved School became a Community Home and was managed by Suffolk Social Services.  In 1979 Mr and Mrs Kelly retired and Mr D George took over. On November 20th 1984 a meeting of staff was held and due to economic reasons it had been decided to reduce the number of boys, to cut the number of House units to two and to reduce the number of staff.  The farm was to be disposed of as it was said that to retain it would provide no cost benefit and could only represent a growing drain on the reduced resources of Kerrison.  At this time Mr George left and Mr D Welch took over.  The establishment changed completely and by April 1992 Suffolk County Council decided to close the Community Home and hand back the resources to the Kerrison Trust; Kerrison became a resource centre.

Sir Edward Kerrison, 1821-1886, the second and last Baronet was the unopposed MP for Eye, 1859-66 and for East Suffolk 1866-67.  He was described in 1875 as having planned more institutions, organisations and public works than any other man in Suffolk during the last quarter century.  There is a Gothic memorial to him in Broad Street, Eye, in front of the Handyman Stores.

To see the 1911 Census for Kerrison  click here

This history page was compiled with the help of Mrs Irene Theoabld