The Red House Changes To Meet Changing Conditions.
Farming had been important to the Red House for three reasons. Their farm had usually "made a profit" which helped to improve the standard of living of the boys. Secondly, many boys subsequently went into farming. Finally, those managers who had subsidised the school depended on the prosperity of farming among other things. Before the 1914-18 war farming had been prosperous and during the war it had been subsidised; but now, in the 1920's things were very different. The guaranteed price for farm produce had been withdrawn, the Red House was not doing well and the managers were no longer able to give the same financial support to the school.
At this time Local Authorities and Guardians were also "feeling the pinch"; more and more of them failed to pay the proper maintenance fees for boys whom they sent. The school struggled to keep down costs. Old William Jeckell, who had been farm bailiff for so many years, now retired. He was not replaced and one of the managers undertook to run the farm using his own men and implements until better times returned. This was Mr A.C.Rayner of Brampton Hall.
Throughout these difficult post-war years there were too many visits by inspectors. The Home Office inspectors were helpful even if they sometimes recommended things which the place could not afford. Other inspectors were less welcome; these included the inspectors of corn crops, of machinery and of hygiene. Then there were the auditors. They all wanted returns but the only clerical assistance the Babingtons had was from their young son. In 1923 it was agreed that the school could have a telephone; Whitehall approved the rent of £8 and agreed to pay £4 per year towards the costs of calls. Two years later they actually recommended that the school should spend £25 on a wireless receiver which was eventually built by Mr Cox and was a success. Alfred Babington had thought of retiring in 1922 when he reached the age of 60 but then elected to stay on until he reached the age of 65. He still enjoyed parties and outings although these were not on the scale of his younger days. His October blackberry walks for the boys went on until the end, with the picnic lunch at a farm on the heath. One outing to the sea-side had a sad ending. A boy found a detonator and bought it back to Buxton; it exploded doing serious damage to his left hand. This was an LCC boy and they said that the managers should provide compensation, which they did. From then on they took out an insurance policy; this provided indemnity up to £500 for 100 boys for a premium of 7/6d.
In two successive years the school estimates were slashed; for example the doctors fees had been running at £60 a year when he had done a terrific amount through two bad influenza epidemics and one of diphtheria. Now only £25 was to be allowed for medical fees. Once again there was no money to increase wages and in many occupations under government control the wages were being reduced. The Red House managers agreed a concession for the resident officers; they would be allowed a late pass till 11pm instead of 10pm when not on duty! In order to assist in supervision and to help develop senior boys, some were appointed monitors. More local voluntary help came forward. One of these helpers took some little boys out for the afternoon and bought them white mice; these multiplied and it was some time before the school got rid of them.
The gardens and horticultural sides were doing well; they sold 11,000 narcissus blooms at one go and tomatoes sold very well. The Home Office agreed to a second large glass-house being built but it was a further four years before they would pay for a heating system! At this time the school had just got an excellent man who had been with the Horticultural College at Reading; he was Mr Shilling who was very good with the boys and able to teach them a good deal. At the same time shilling could grow flowers and vegetables profitably which was very important.
The number of boys at Buxton had come down from 100 in 1918 to 60 in 1924; then it fell dramatically to 38 in September 1925. The managers wanted to know what had gone wrong; Miss Sewell, who was constantly in touch with local authorities, saw that the situation had changed. More use was being made of the Probation Act and the country now had a surplus of places in reformatories and industrial schools. She wrote a personal letter to the Chief inspector of the Home office Children's Department and arranged to see him in London.
The outcome of this visit was a proposal for a trial scheme to meet the growing need for places for dull and backward boys. Some staff changes would be required. The Home Office would send:- (i) Boys weeded out from special schools as not quite normal but not certifiable or mentally deficient. (ii) Boys from ordinary schools who were doubtful cases or abnormally backward
No certifiable cases would be retained at Red House and boys sent would be carefully examined each year by the Home office using "intelligence tests". The proposal were discussed in detail when the Medical Inspector of Home Office schools came to Buxton for this purpose. The managers agreed and Margaret wrote to the Chief Inspector to say that the "the managers are prepared to fall in with your scheme and to do all they can to make it a success. They think it may prove very interesting and that it is a job a worth doing. Our doctor, too, is prepared to take a very warm interest in it." These dull and backward boys were not to be kept separate from the boys of normal ability; they were to be integrated with them as far as possible. Success would depend on each child being treated as an individual.
This scheme had been agreed between the Home Office and the Red House within eight weeks of Miss Sewell's visit to the Chief Inspector. This was a wonderful Testimony of her vision, her drive and her tact. After all these years this was the opportunity to make the changes that she had longed for. These included the creation of a home atmosphere at Red House; the school to be not so big that the Head could not know each boy and his background; and, finally sufficient staff to treat the boys as individuals and help with their individual problems. All these things should now be possible due to these changes which had been agreed and others which were under discussion. Early in 1926 the first five "feeble-minded" boys arrived and one year later there were fifteen of them.
1927, the Babingtons' final year at Buxton was a happy one. The cost of living was falling and the school numbers were up to 50. Margaret Sewell had taken over the correspondence about jobs for those due to leave and Alfred had taken time to get his new house ready at Reedham. In June he attended the Triennial Conference for Superintendents which was held at Liverpool and very much enjoyed this five-day gathering with old friends. This year the Red House boys went to camp at Waxham travelling by lorry instead of using the farm carts. Of the many old boys who visited the Babingtons before they left there are special notes about two. Dix left £1 to be divided between the boys; the other old boy was with a firm of shoemakers in Bermondsey. He suggested that the Governor should visit them on October 24th when a shoe would be hoisted to the top of St Crispin's Church Tower on the feast day of this patron saint of shoemakers. This ceremony was to be followed by some hospitality. In July 1927 the managers advertised for a new Head who might be of either sex; this provision was a surprise to some of the staff. The notices appeared in the The Schoolmaster, The journal of Education, The Certified Schools Gazette and the Times Educational Supplement. Well over one hundred applications were received and carefully sifted by Margaret who selected twelve for examination by all the managers. Six of the twelve applications were sent to the Home Office who rejected three and the other three applicants were interviewed by the managers in September. Two married couples attended also one man who bought his fiancee. Mr Augustus George Clement and his wife were chosen on 24th September and the appointment was approved by the Home Secretary on 1st October. The starting salary was to be £378 and £80 for Mrs Clement as matron.
The managers at this time included -
Major Henry Marsham who had been Chairman since 1906.
Mr P. E.(Ted) Sewell, J.P. of Dudwick House who was owner of the school and farm.
Miss M.A.Sewell, Dudwick Cottage.
Miss Margaret Marsham, daughter of the Chairman.
Dr Wright, school doctor in earlier years.
Mr A.C. Rainer, Brampton Hall
Mrs V. Clutterbuck, Marsham Hall.
The Rev Alex Crawford, Rector of Marsham.
The managers were now meeting once each month; at their next meeting they agreed about their leaving present to the Babingtons. They also took note of Home Office Variable Grant approvals; £200 for alterations to the headmasters house, £55 for a chaff cutter and £12 for the school's first typewriter. All the managers seemed to be doing something for the boys, either teas or outings. Mr Rayner took the older farm boys to a cattle show. At their committee meeting on 21st December 9127 the managers presented Mr & Mrs Babington with a tea service and a silver salver with the following inscription on the back;
"Presented by the Managers to Mr & Mrs Alfred Babington on their retirement after 291/2 years faithful service as Governor and Matron of the Red House Farm School from 1898 to 1927."
The superannuation scheme, which had been started in 1917, provided Alfred with a lump sum of about £500 and an annual pension of nearly £200 which he was to enjoy for his remaining seventeen years. Mrs Babington, who had only contributed for a very short time, received a lump sum. Alfred now left the school where he had been born and where his father had been appointed Superintendent 72 years earlier.
At this time of change at Red house it seems worth recording Margaret's own description of the school.
" We are primarily a Home Office Industrial School for normal boys between the ages of 7 & 16, but as numbers are low due to the extended use of the Probation Acts and partly to increased costs of maintenance, the Home Office suggests that we should admit a certain number of feeble-minded children and we now have 13 such. We definitely do not take children who are certifiable as mentally defective, but lay ourselves out for the "border-line" cases who can with due precautions, be trained with normal companions. The social position of children varies; some are low class coming from poor and generally bad homes; others come because of misfortune and are of quite good class. We have lately admitted the son of a professional man in a good position but his wife is in a lunatic asylum and the boy began to show signs of abnormality; in the opinion of Dr Wright he has improved under discipline and good conditions. The child you mention might I think be of the same class and it sounds as if he might be a case for us. If you think so will you fill up and enclose the form I enclose? This will show you that we admit Poor Law and voluntary cases as well as those committed by Magistrates. In these last cases the Treasury pays half-maintenance."
The departure of Alfred Babington marked the end of an era. His father had probably had an easier and happier forty years at Buxton because John Wright and his nephew Philip Sewell gave all the financial support that seemed necessary; with this support the Governor and his wife could concentrate on the boys and their needs. During Alfred's thirty years this financial support almost vanished; furthermore he had the terrible war years and the disheartening post-war period when the country was nearly bankrupt. In these circumstances great stress was laid on economy and Alfred gave much of his time to the farm because it seemed vital that it should be profitable. He had not so much time left for the boys, but Mrs Babington always found time for the young ones.
Margaret Sewell, though no longer young was in touch with developments in other special schools. She was still Chairman of the Committee of the Women's University Settlement in Nelson Square, Blackfriars, London, and on the Committee for the New Ideals in Education. The courses of lectures which she had developed became the precursors of various University Schools of Social Science. With all her contacts it is not surprising that Margaret had heard of Mr Clement's work at Chislehurst and had suggested that he should apply for the Headship at Buxton.
Fellow managers and the various inspectors now had to understand that there were more important tasks for the school than the original one of "developing habits of industry which would help to cure boys of delinquency". The school staff would have to have to adapt to new ideas as experiments developed. Margaret recorded her views that "The Place is now well equipped but lacking in human contact; the new head must get to know every boy and his problems. Every child wants to matter to someone; their future depends on this school". This lady now proposed that, at her own expense, she should build two houses for staff; this would make it easier to attract the quality of officers needed for the future.