The Royal Philanthropic Society ran a school in Redhill from 1849 until 1988. Many children were sent to the institution to correct their criminal conduct. Among the reoffenders who were sent to the school to gain experience in honest work and discipline was Thomas Jackson, a black child with Jamaican heritage who arrived at the school in 1906.
Thomas Jackson was the son of Charles and Lydia Jackson. Charles was born in the West Indies, in Jamaica, c. 1855, around twenty years after the abolition of slavery on the island. Lydia was also born in Jamaica, according to the 1911 Census entry for the family. Perhaps the couple were married there before moving to England to start a family. According to their entry in the 1891 census, the year after Thomas was born, the Jackson family were living at 301 Bache’s Street in Shoreditch, East London, where an immigrant population was growing around London’s docklands. Charles was earning money by ‘hawking’ dresses, an itinerant method of selling goods.
Later, in 1906, a 15-year old Thomas Jackson was found guilty of stealing two shillings and eight pence from a till. It was not his first offence: he had been caught stealing on a number of occasions dating back to 1904. On 14th February, after being remanded for seven days in Brixton prison, Thomas was sent to the reform to stay there until the age of nineteen. In the school’s admissions register, besides the archaic racial description (‘negro features, thick lips’), the registrar recorded that Thomas ‘bites his nails short’. Interestingly, having been at the school three months, Thomas was then baptised in May 1906.
There is additional information about Thomas’ family in the register. The family lives at Martin’s Road, near Custom House in the district of West Ham, London. It had grown to include Thomas’ elder and younger brothers and a younger sister too. Charles was earning ten shillings a week as a ‘bead necklace maker and hawker’. Lydia’s name was recorded but there were no further details about her. The family were still living in East London.
In 1906, the Royal Philanthropic Society’s Redhill site consisted of a farm and a number of houses. Pupils Living there were supervised while they worked on the farm by a master and his wife. The boys also learned practical skills trades. There was a chapel and an army cadet corps. Many of the pupils enlisted in the army, while others were sent back home. Yet more emigrated out of England altogether, encouraged to take advantage of job vacancies abroad, especially in Canada.
Thomas Jackson was visited by his mother a number of times. He was finally allowed to leave and return home to West Ham, aged nineteen.
Royal Philanthropic Society ‘Reform’ school, Redhill; Admissions Register (1906-1909, SHC Ref. 2271/10/25).
1891 Census entry for the Jackson family of Bache’s Street, Shoreditch, London (Class: RG12; Piece: 246; Folio: 67; Page: 34; GSU Roll: 6095357).
1911 Census entry for the Jackson family of Martin’s Road, Custom House, West Ham, London (Class: RG14; Piece: 9489; Schedule Number: 300).