Index  (i)  (ii)  (iii)  (iv)  (v)  Preface.  (1)  (2)  (3)  (4)  (5)  (6)  (7)  (8)  (9)  (10)  (11)  (12)  (13)  (14)  (15)  (16)  (17)  (18)  (19)  (20)  (21) 


The End of an Era.

It was a great shock to the Babingtons and the small Red House staff when John Wright became seriously ill with what sounds like flu followed by pneumonia. He was not only the owner of the school but also the main provider of the money. His wife Anne nursed him night and day. He eventually recovered but she took ill and died within a few days. Her pony and chaise were presented to the Babingtons. Her death was a great loss to the school because she had contributed in so many ways. In a letter to a friend, Anne's sister-in-law wrote this about her work at the school: "Being an enthusiast for natural history she communicated her delight to children who were entranced by her charming manner and by the animation of her descriptions. She could always claim the attention of rough boys at the Reformatory. No speaker was listened to with so much attention and effect; she had a beaming pleasant smile for every young person."

We also read that Anne used to take the boys on expeditions both for natural history and geology lessons. We know that they made a good collection of fossils and there is an account of younger boys being sent out to collect the material to try and make a copy of a bird's nest which she had found for them.

Anne had had three books published on geology and three on Natural history, also an outline of Jewish history to help young people to understand the Bible. One of her books on birds had brought congratulations from Queen Victoria who had instructed that the royal children should study it.

After his serious illness John Wright once again urged his nephew and heir, Philip Sewell, to return to England and live in Norfolk. This he soon did and having become a comparatively wealthy man, full of compassion, and understanding of men, he was able to help the Red House School in a marked way.

Before getting to the Sewell era it is worth considering the achievements up to this time, as seen by Government Inspectors. As early as 1856 the Inspector of Convict Prisons had visited the Red House after inspecting the Norwich castle goal where he had noted that the cost of prisoners' food was 4 3/4 pence per day per man. To his report on the prison he added this "The Buxton Reformatory School for juvenile delinquents appears already to have a beneficial effect on the city of Norwich. It is stated that the number of cases of juvenile delinquents has very greatly decreased in the city. Of the county at large it would perhaps be premature to speak though, having visited the school more than once, I have myself no doubt of a favourable result."

By 1868 there were over fifty boys in the school and the small staff was not sufficient to cope; but old John Wright could not now afford more. The Inspector of Reformatories at this time was a man who did not agree with Babington about punishment. He reported "I regret to find that the habit of absconding has not been cured; seven boys deserted in six months. I believe that a sound whipping would be a far better remedy for this offence than two or three months imprisonment in Norwich." The school was going through a bad patch. At this time Babington had only one man to assist him apart from the farm manager. Mrs Babington, who now had her two young sons to bring up, had one assistant matron. Thomas Babington, insisted that the school existed to help, not to punish; the Inspector could not move him over his views about punishment.
Babington's school timetable is interesting dividing the time of formal instruction equally between school work and trade training; when the senior boys were on one, the junior boys were on the other. On Sunday there was church at Marsham and religious instruction and in the evenings "slides, reading and singing". On Wednesday and Saturday there were games in the afternoon. Wednesday evening was sock knitting and darning for the whole school. On Saturday evening baths and change of linen were on the programme. The time-table was designed to give boys the opportunity to amuse themselves without getting into trouble. It was noted that "self dependence for an hour or so is invaluable, and a great relief to the staff". It was also advised that lack of a regular routine in home life was often the cause of boys' difficulties. For this reason the school routine was kept "quite regular".

The day went like this:
Summer, Rise 5.30a.m; make bed and early morning bread. Work: i.e. Farm tasks, Kitchen, Bakery, Room Cleaning.
7.30a.m. Breakfast.
8.00a.m. Prayers, medical inspection, clothes, and boot inspection.
8.15a.m. P.T.. 9a.m. School, or farm training.
At the end of the day bed was 7.45p.m. and lights out at 8.15p.m.

From the earliest days Babington, whom they nicknamed the Martello Tower, held a boy's Council each week. Misdeeds were considered also remedies and punishments. Stealing apples seemed to come up every summer. Corporal punishment was seldom used. Babington continued to be "tender to a degree". He always tried to give boys responsibility and to ensure that this was shared by two or more; he knew that a boy would seldom let another down. There was a system of good conduct marks and badges to denote a boy's performance. They were given pocket money.
A boy would be sent by the magistrates to the Red House for a specified number of years. If the school considered that the boy had performed well and should return home before his term was up then they could ask the Secretary of State to to order his release. Several of these early Secretary of State releases are recorded.
Babington's task, according to Wright , was "to fit the boy for life in this world and the next". Here is Babington's entry in the register about a young man who had been at the school as a "boy":
"Joe, aged 22, came to his death through a mass of earth falling on him alongside the railway cutting at Dunston. Poor Joe. I hope he was prepared. He was a good boy and always thoughtful about his soul. I have often heard him pray when he was not aware of it."
There is no doubt that Thomas Babington had complete faith.
John Wright lived to see the passing of the Elementary Education Act of 1870, when he was aged 76. This act established the concept of a nation wide education service supported by public funds but locally administered by School Boards. This delighted him because it gave all children a real chance. He died in the following year but not before Philip Sewell had been able to increase the Red House staff, by one "naval instructor" and a second craft instructor among others. Furthermore, some new buildings had been planned. The Government inspector's report for this year makes much better reading and it includes a warm tribute to John Wright as one of the earliest workers in the reformatory cause.