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Historical youth provision in Preston, what happened to the bad kids?

Posted on - 2nd January, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News
Victorian children workers Pic: Primary Homework
Victorian children workers Pic: Primary Homework

Up until the 20th century the word ‘teenager’ did not exist. In fact it was not until the Second World War that the term began to stick. Before that children began work at the age of seven. Childhood for the poor was a grim affair, after the factories were established. However, In the hand-loom-weaver days children often assisted at home.

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An area known as New Preston became a colony of hand loom weavers employed by Horrocks. This was at the Stanley Street end of New Hall Lane. They were known as a ‘rough lot’.

Orphanages frequently had schools attached, one such was Shepherd Street School in Preston. This was part of Shepherd Street Mission.

Shepherd Street in the 1840s Pic: LCC
Shepherd Street in the 1840s Pic: LCC

This area of Preston was one of the poorest. In the image below, note the short hair. This was to encourage uniformity and assist with the treatment of lice.

Shepherd Street School in 1902 Pic: Mylearning.org
Shepherd Street School in 1902 Pic: Mylearning.org

School leaving age

State schooling was not compulsory for children until 1880, and even then it was only from the age of five to ten. This was an attempt to stop child labour in the mills. However, it was not popular with parents, who lost income.

The Victorian school experience Pic: VictorianChildren.org
The Victorian school experience Pic: VictorianChildren.org

Later, children often attended school for half a day and then worked in the mill for the rest of the day.

Gradually the school leaving age was raised and some youth support began to appear.

Punishment, what happened to the bad boys and girls?

Historically, youth offenders received some fairly brutal punishment, including birching. Birching involved beating the offender with birch twigs. This punishment was not abolished until 1948.

George Cruickshank cartoon 1839
A George Cruickshank cartoon from 1839 depicts birching

In the 19th century children were often sent to adult prisons, transported or even hanged. In 1880 over 800 children under the age of 12 were in adult prisons.

An influential report from 1815 – the Report of the Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increases of Juvenile Crime in the Metropolis – began to change attitudes, as did Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. His portrayal of youth crime eventually led to reforms.

Additionally, The Reverend John Clay worked with young prisoners in Preston during the 1830s. The Children Act 1908 stopped children being sent to adult prisons.

Borstal Boys

Borstal Boys Pic: Dorset Echo
Borstal Boys Pic: Dorset Echo

Later the Borstal system was used for young offenders. These were youth detention centres. If you were sentenced to Borstal you would receive ‘Borstal training’. The system began in 1902 and ended in 1962. Birching was still used as a punishment, but this was rare.



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