The Devon and Exeter reformatory School was set up in 1855 to take 30 boys. It was supported by public subscription and a Government allowance of 5 shillings per week for each boy and was one of the first attempts in the UK to remove young boys from contact with adult criminals in the hope that they could be saved from a life of crime by the practice of honest, hard work.
Of course, the building shown above did not then look as it does today but it was, basically, an ordinary gentleman's residence - the kind of place where many country people would find work either in the garden or looking after horses or doing carpentry or labouring work.
By all accounts, this school was well-run. There was a Superintendent and a farm bailiff who both lived in with their families. The Superintendent's wife was appointed to be the Matron. By the end of the 19th century, a schoolmaster was also officially appointed and a schoolroom set up. The boys were employed in farm work and working in the large garden of the house. When Mr and Mrs Harris retired in 1893, they had been at the school for over 40 years and had done well to create what was for some boys, the only "home" they ever knew.
All boys were sentenced to a period in Exeter's adult prison which included solitary confinement, at least one whipping and working at hard and pointless adult punishments like turning the crank or stone-breaking or turning on the treadmill, the idea being that a taste of what might lie ahead if they persisted in their criminal careers.
The following are the records of just a few of the boys the school tried to help. Try to imagine their feelings when they stepped out of the cart which brought them and looked around them. at the peaceful rural scenery.