Now available on the Surrey History Centre website: search the Royal Philanthropic School at Redhill Registers of Admissions from 1788 up to 1906.

The Royal Philanthropic Society was founded in London in 1788 by a group of gentlemen, worried by the large number of homeless children in the city who could earn their living only through begging or crime. Click here to search for the Society’s records. The Society began its work in October 1788, placing one child out to nurse, and by 1792 were maintaining several ‘families’ of children, cared for and trained by craftsmen and their wives, in rented houses. In that year the first central institution of the Society was opened at St George’s Fields in Southwark. It was intended for the sons and daughters of convicts, and boys and girls who had themselves been convicted of crime. In 1802 a separate ‘Reform’ was opened for the criminal boys and the main institution was afterwards known as the ‘Manufactory’, since the boys were principally engaged in the manufacture of clothes, shoes, rope and other items. The Female Reform, although on the same site, was completely segregated. The Society was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1806.

A combination of financial problems and new approaches to the treatment of delinquents brought about important changes in the 1840s. The Female Reform was closed in 1845, convicts’ children were no longer accepted, and in 1848 the decision was taken to move the institution to the country. This was as a consequence of visits paid to Monsieur De Metz’s Colonie Agricole at Mettray, France; firstly by William Gladstone (a cousin of the statesman; later Treasurer of the Society), then by the Revd Sydney Turner (Resident Chaplain; later Home Office Inspector of Reformatories). An estate at Redhill was purchased, buildings were erected (designed by William Moffat, the partner of Sir George Gilbert Scott) and occupied in 1849, the London property being sold.

The Philanthropic Society’s Farm School, as it was now known, was organised on the house system, the sixty or so boys in each house being taught and supervised by a master and his wife. The original houses were Queen’s, Prince’s and Duke’s, but it was later considered better to separate the boys to a greater extent and new houses were built in different parts of the estate: Garston’s (1854), Waterlands (1855), Gladstone’s (1857) and Gurney’s (1861). Prince’s and Duke’s Houses were then closed.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries the school was classed as a reformatory, under the Reformatory Schools Act 1854, most of its pupils being committed by the magistrates and paid for by the local authorities. Farm work was the principal occupation, although carpentry, tailoring and other trades were also taught. The aim of the Committee was declared to be ‘to assimilate, so far as the diverse conditions permit, the life and administration of the school to that of the great public schools of England’.

Read more about the lives of two young Black boys at Royal Philanthropic School; Thomas Jackson and Thomas West.

Under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 the school became an Approved School, under the supervision of the Children’s Department of the Home Office. Around this period there was a relative shift in emphasis from manual labour to education in the classroom. The buildings were severely damaged by a flying bomb in 1944, but after the war the school extended its activities, and replaced many of the old buildings. In 1954 a Classifying School was opened, which assessed boys for all approved schools in South-East England; and in 1967 a Secure Unit for difficult boys. The Society had been granted the title ‘Royal’ in 1953 and the Training Unit, Classifying School and Secure Unit were known jointly as the Royal Philanthropic Society’s Schools. Each unit had its own head, under the supervision of the Principal.

The Children and Young Persons Act 1969 substituted community homes for approved schools, transferred supervision of the service from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Security, and made all individual homes a responsibility of the local authorities. Consequently, in 1973 control of the Schools passed from the Society to the London Borough of Wandsworth. The Training Unit, Classifying School and Secure Unit were renamed the Community Home, Regional Assessment Centre and Intensive Care Unit. The Redhill site closed in the bicentenary year, 1988. The Society subsequently re-established itself and launched a number of community based child care projects in Kent, Surrey and Wandsworth. The Society merged with the Rainer Foundation in 1997, becoming known as RPS Rainer and now as Rainer. In 2008 Rainer and Crime Concern merged to become Catch22, click here to visit their website.

The main records of the Society and its school held at Surrey History Centre survive from the foundation in 1788 and include annual reports, General Court and General Committee minutes, registers of admissions, and photographs.

20 Responses to Royal Philanthropic Society

  1. My mother, grandmother and grandfather lived in Garston House Labour Master\’s cottage on the estate at Redhill between 1893-1915; grandfather, George Arthur Miller, employed at one pound sterling a week as a Labour Master.

    My mother enjoyed the benefits of the Society\’s emphasis on musical instruction which was encouraged from the 1860s onwards at the Farm School. Two brass bands and one Reed band were formed by the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

    Staff, although on low wages, benefitted from milk collected from the dairy — my mother recalled such in many stories of her childhood within the grounds of the Philanthropic Society.

    My recent MA thesis is based upon the Society, namely

    The Philanthropic Society in Britain with Particular Reference to the Reformatory Farm School,
    Redhill, 1849-1900

    available in digital format later this year (2008) on the University of Western Australia\’s website.

  2. Robert Potts says:

    My Grandfather was tailor master at the school in the latter part of the eighteen hundreds to 1915. My Father and several of his brothers and sisters were born on the farm. Both my Father and Mother were the last persons to have their funerals conducted at the chapel. I am interested in the chaplains who served at the school over the years if anyone has a list please. As a boy I spent many happy hours in the fields and woodlands on the farm.

  3. chris says:

    i was at redhill in the early 80s for a short time for being a little devil like all kids,the only thing i got out of it was i was wrong for what i had done,the lads living with me had parents who didnt [care] about them,so put the parents in the prison because my friends thought they were

  4. Charles James Walker – School Master 1891- Interested for family history research – any info would be much appreciated,

  5. Cathy Balogh says:

    My Great Grandfather George Bugden was a “resident” in Gladstone, Philanthropic Farm school according to the 1891 cencus. Are there records that would show when he went there and for how long and possibly why?
    Any help greatly appreciated

  6. IL Weber says:

    I am interested in visiting the former Red Reform as part of a research project.Does anyone know if the building is still im existance,or open to be viewed?

  7. robert allen says:

    hi,my brother george and myself were sent to redhill in about 1965/6 ish,we were both in garston house ,mr sheldrake and his wife (?) not sure of her name now were the house-masters,ruth virgo (religous ) woman,worked there to,mr jack garland was the headmaster .if you would like to know of any thing else i could help you with i would bee only to happ to.thanks bob allen,from chatham kent

  8. robert allen says:

    hi my self and my grother george were at redhill in 1966,in garland house,with ron sheldrake and his wife were the housemasters

  9. robert allen says:


  10. phil says:

    Dear Mr Allen

    Thank you for all your comments. I’m sorry to see that you feel it has been a waste of time and that no one is interested. I can assure you this is not the case, we are very interested in, and read all the comments left on the site

    Comments appear on the site which means anyone who visits the site and the Royal Philanthropic Society page will see them and can either respond via the website or privately through me.

    We do not respond to every comment posted on the website but if the message includes a question it is forwarded to the relevant partner organisation for them to reply. As those replies are generally sent directly to the person asking the question they are not always posted on the website.


    Phil Cooper
    Exploring Surrey’s Past Project Officer

  11. Peter carter says:

    Does anybody remember a John Godfrey? He attended the school in the mid 1970’s. Any information would be gratefully appreciated.

  12. Roy Snelling says:

    I am looking for any information on Albert Selwood. I believe that he was a P.T instructor at the Redhill site. I know he lived there with his wife Beatrice and several children some of which were born there.

  13. F Arnold says:

    I was at Redhill about 1955/56 for a short while whilst being classified – eventually sent to St Christphers in Hayes Middx.

  14. John Dunnigan says:

    Hi all,
    Here is a snippet that will not be present in the records of the Society. I was an inmate, (aged 13-14) , of the secure unit for about 15 months or so back in the early70’s.Trust me when I say that the definition of Philanthropic, ( seeking to promote the welfare of others; generous and benevolent), was made laughable by the treatment we received and the conditions under which we were incarcerated.. The Society had clearly long given up on the idea of reform, training was non- existent and education was limited to English language with occasional forays into very basic math. It was a dumping ground for those of us whom the care system found difficult to deal with for one reason or another. The facilities sounded great in theory with: gym, garden, art room, carpentry & metal work shops and latterly basket weaving; trouble was that the size of most the facilities only allowed 3-5 people to use them at a time, the garden was only viewable from the cell windows, the gym was hardly ever used due to lack of qualified staff – many of whom only seemed to work part time or were only in the unit part time – each staff member was responsible for a different shop/room consequently when they were not present the activity they supervised was not available. Much of the time was spent watching TV or just sitting around. Solitary confinement was often used as a punishment, indeed I seem to recall that a new inmates first day was spent in solitary as a deterrent to future bad behaviour. To be fair the staff were, on the whole, pleasant and easy to deal with and unlike prison officers at the time were not in the habit of beating up inmates, other than that there was very little difference between the unit and youth prisons & yes I am speaking from experience there too. I can honestly say that the only effort made to end our offending was a psychological/psychiatric one; we were visited by every crackpot theorist in and out of the system with new ideas as to the root cause of our offending and or how to stop it. I would be happy to co-operate with anyone researching/investigating the unit.

  15. Steve White says:

    Is there any known WW1 roll of honour held in relation to the Redhill site please?

  16. Frances says:

    My Great-Uncle George Frederick Chick, bn. 1883, was listed as an ‘inmate’ at this School, aged 18, on the 1901 Census, but I’ve no idea why. He died four years later of meninghitis following a cricket ball injury. I assume he was either a felon of some sort of perhaps was ‘rescued’ from the poverty which we know existed within the family then.

  17. Trish Johnston says:

    My father worked at the RPSS from 1968 – 1976. There was a house with the job so we moved there as a family from London. My older brother, two younger sisters and I had a marvellous time running around the countryside with the children of the other staff on the estate. Our house, Ridgeside, Eastfield Road, was a white cottage on the edge of the estate and surrounded by fields, next door to the Farm Manager and his four sons (the Fletchers). I loved the surrounding countryside, the farm and the old buildings – it was a childrens paradise. We were also allowed to use the outdoor swimming pool when the boys weren’t using it, which was great in the summer. There was even a blue painted fountain, but it didn’t work. There used to be a lot of huge old greenhouses behind the pool that must have belonged to the old house which was the HQ of the school. There were lots of social events for adults and children. I particularly loved the harvest festivals in the old chapel, followed by a harvest supper. It was a great place to grow up and I remember it fondly and feel lucky to have lived there, I hated leaving.

  18. Bernard says:

    Hi from Southern France, I worked 3 years as a Child Care Officer in the Royal Philanthropic, until 1981, interesting times and lads, some of them kept in touch for a while, till I returned to France. Would appreciate some news about pupils and staff present at the time (I remember some names)

  19. […] to deter criminality in the hordes of children who lived in London’s slums, the Philanthropic Society, founded in 1788, housed destitute or vagrant children, the children of criminal parents and child […]

  20. Pamela Dean says:

    Our family lived at R.P.S.S. From1965-1974. My father taught metal work to the boys in the approved school secure unit we lived in Hawthorne way . We had milk delivered by the boys in a metal churn daily. We used the pool & played in what was known as the cage for ball games . We also roamed freely on the farm land . Yes I remember the chapel for church & my husband & I got permission to marry there in December 1973 & our baby baptised in 1975 My mother worked a short time at the old house on the telephone exchange . My brother & sister would play with all the loca l children it was great finding this site

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