A Turbulent Beginning
After this incident the governor was dismissed and Thomas Babington accepted the appointment. Wright said that governors were meant to last; Babington remained for 42 years and his splendid wife filled the appointment of matron for a long time. The account book shows that the salary for the two of them together was, to start with only £3.6.8d per month. Other items in the school accounts of their first month include 7 tons of coal - £7.7.0d, 2 pigs - £1.7.6d, candles 8/-, Mr Saye, ploughing field in 3 1/2 days - £1.4.6d. Then there were materials for the school tailor who made the clothes, the shoemaker, the baker, the cook and the farmer. The baker, by the way, later founded a well-known Norfolk business which still prospers. This school had to pay rates to the local authority yet the latter made no contribution towards the upkeep of boys from the area who were sent to the school.The account book records the all-important contributions received from the sponsors.
Thirty young "criminals" were sent to the Red House in the two years before Babington became governor; most of them were aged 17-22 on arrival. After this time the age dropped and twelve became a more usual age; but in the register I see a boy aged eight, sent for stealing rope and iron bolts. His father is paralysed and his mother hawks herrings in Yarmouth. His reports end with "1861 - gone to sea; 1864 - came to see me, a first rate sailor; 1868 - received a letter from him, now married with wife and two children".
Babington kept a careful record of every boy with notes about his background and progress; even after a youth had left the record was continued when the governor visited old boys or their employers. At the Red house most of the boys learned farming while a few were trained by the school's staff as bakers, tailors and shoemakers. A most helpful thing was that they were taught to read and write, at a time when only a proportion of children attended school in Norfolk. Mrs Babington used to write to those who had left and they usually wrote back; sometimes the reply would come a year or two later, after a spell away at sea or on war service in the Crimea where the Norfolk regiment had been sent. Years after leaving Buxton a man wrote; "The school wanted me to succeed. I had never before known anyone wanting me to be worth anything."
The strength of the school was about forty boys and the register shows that by the year 1870 well over two hundred had been admitted. The majority seems to have made good after leaving. Many went to Canada and America and continued to write to the Babingtons and even visit them years later.
Now and again the school received a boy who seemed to be "crazed" to use Babington's own words from the register. Anne Wright, whose teaching was so popular with the boys, was a help with these cases; she had time to listen to difficult boys. Her writing about such boys is interesting; " A boy who is unhappy with himself in unhappy with everything. We must help the boy to find himself, a self from which he never has to get away." Over and over again she stressed how important it was to listen to a boy; that was the only way to get to know him better and then to help him.
It is natural to ask how much of the early achievements of the Red House came from men like Wright and Babington and how much from the women; one must also ask what inspired them. We know that their work was firmly rooted in deeply religious feeling, but Wright's moral reactions seem to have been based on his own observations of the conditions in which some children were living in Norwich and London. He had visited the brickyards and coal mines in the Midlands and Yorkshire and seen children working there in appalling conditions. He was satisfied that it was best to train the majority of Red House boys in agriculture; he and his friends could usually find them their first employment. The fact is that under Wright and Babington young people were soon leaving the Red House in a far better position to earn a living than would have been possible without the dedicated work of the men and women whom the Wrights had gathered round. The care with which John Wright personally found jobs for those who were due to leave the school was notable; he and Babington then followed this up by visiting the young men at their place of work and seeing the employers, even as far away as the Midlands.