Royal Philanthropic Society

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.

77 thoughts on “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

    1. Brian says:

      I was put into redhill 1981 to 1982 was held in the open unit, and left on day open new open unit,, was bad place,,they had two cell on the open unit,which they was only sent to put you in for 20 minutes at a time as we was under 14 brutal and violent horrible worst place I ever wEnt to age 12 ,,line up here line there ,,hav nothing good to say about the place,,Brian r

  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

    1. ryan says:

      hi I was in Garston 1979 to 1982

    2. Gerald Tillett says:

      Hi Bob i remember you and your brother, i was the one with the old car, the House-masters wife was sheila sheldrake,

      1. Maurice White says:

        Didn’t Ivan the coloured chap nearly lose his thumb pushing that old car…lol

        1. Gerald Tillett says:

          There were a few injuries with that old car, I remember Steve Brigden looking to see if there
          was any petrol in it with a lighted match, luckily the flame only burnt his hand.

    3. david potter says:

      i was there from 73 till 76 i can still remember some of the names of the lads who were there..

      1. Sharron says:

        Hello I went out with a lad from the school back then his name was Michael chambers nick name was gyp

      2. Pete Morris says:

        Hi, David , I was there 75/76. Can’t say I remember your name. I was in the secure unit. If you were in the open unit, that will be why.

    4. Maurice White says:

      I was in Garston in 1965 when sheldrakes were there do you remember Steve Brigdon, Geoff Dempster, Chris Turner, and obviously there were more but I was friends with Geoff never been able to track him down…

      1. Gerald Tillett says:

        Hello Mo, I don’t know what happened to Jeff, I know he was from the Eltham area, It made
        me laugh when he left, he was working for a builders merchants in Redhill and when he left
        the boss said maybe the cement figures will now work out right.

      2. Gerald Tillett says:

        Chris was a laugh, he had a warped sense of humor, do you remember don’t eat the bread
        pudding. Afterwards called dead fly pudding.

    5. Terry Harrington says:

      Hi Robert
      I wondered if you can remember a teacher named Walter Everett and his wife Gladys he taught horticulture or maybe farming he worked there from 1945-1975 I`m also interested in Ruth Virgo can you tell me anymore about her ?
      Regards Terry

      1. Tricia Johnston says:

        Hi. I lived almost next door to Walter and Gladys Everett. They were a lovely couple and he was into photography. I still have photos he took ofrom me and my sisters.

    6. Lois Amos says:

      Hello Bob, My great uncle Walter Ernest Everett taught horticulture at the school about the same time as you were there. I wondered if you ever came across him. I think he and his wife Gladys ( my great Aunt)/lived on site and knew Ruth Virgo who was a missionary at one time.

  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

    1. Maurice White says:

      Hi my name is Maurice White and I remember being there when the Sheldrakes were there and remember a few of the lads that were there..

  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.

    1. davis potter says:

      i can remember a Mr barret a house master who did boxing he lived there with his wife and child…

      1. Robert Coombs says:

        i Remember Him, Ernie Barret he took us for boxing and i used to be sparring partner for another kid.. Winston Nembard ifn i got his surname correct.

  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.

    1. John M says:

      Hi, I too was an inmate in the mid 70s. I remember it all just how you described it right down to the workshop facilities and only being able to view the garden from the cells. Passthrough there a few years back and the secure unit has now been demolished. I think you are right… It was a dumping ground for us difficult kids within the system. Do remember the staff being friendly and fair.

    2. Lol yes I was there 1970s you got it bang,not a good place I run away 2 bad were 70s and all that social services nonsense

  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.

    1. Lois Amos says:

      Hello Trish, it all sounds lovely there at that time. My Great Uncle Walter Everett was an instructor I believe in the gardening school/section around that time. He used to work at Kew, but went to work in the School at Redhill. I am doing family research on him as I was in Horticulture myself as a lecturer for a College in Enfield for many years and find it all very fascinating. I think he must have been a firm but fair man and a caring person as most real gardeners seem to be caring people.

    2. Bryan says:

      Hi Trish
      My father was a master and taught metalwork till he retired in 1981. I remember the Fletchers and went to school with Kelvin one of the sons. The swimming pool facilities was great in the summer time, and going to the Christmas eve service at the chapel was enjoyable. I also got eggs for my parents from the farm. Happy days.

  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)

    1. steve hicks says:

      i remember you well.hows things with you ?

  19. 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

    1. Andrew Wheeler says:

      My Father taught at the school between 1964 and 1967, and I was only 5 when we left. We lived in Haigh Crescent and I too remember the milk in churns on the doorstep in the morning and using the school pool in hot weather. Some of my earliest child memories from here

  20. GARRY says:

    I was employed at the Regional Assessmnet Centre as a Teacher from 1978 until 1982 until just after the new buildings were opened. Any staff or pupils from that period are welcome to leave comments for me!

    1. Brian says:

      Hi, was there from 1981′ till open new open unit,,1982″”” Brian rains bury,, have remember a lovely lady called Mrs […] I think she was in educational teacher what a lovely lady The rest of the staff mr […],he was a bully

  21. Kim Redman says:

    Hi There

    This is a long shot but anyone remember a Donald Wakeley or Wakerley who worked in the school?. He and my nan, Margerat lived in the Philantropic in the 1970’s and my nan is actually burried in the little church yard. I remember staying in the school holidays, collecting our eggs from the farm, swimming in the outside pool and long walks around the school.
    Any information would be greatly recieved.

    Thank you

    1. Bob elliott says:

      Hi kim
      I remember don and Margaret very well,
      I was a resident in the intensive care unit in the early seventies, and don was given special permission to take me and another boy out on occasion to work with him. I often had a cuppa with him and Margaret I seem to remember they lived behind the chapel, Margaret died shortly after I left in 1975ish don stayed on after the school closed and worked for the retirement home at the old training school site I went to visit him in the early 90s but he had moved away, hope this helps

  22. Kim Redman says:

    I also remember a school near by and when we visited I used to wait for friend to finish school. I think her name was Susan or Sandra. She lived across the road from my nan and I believe her dad died on one of our visits. She would be in her 40’s now. Again anyone with information I would be very greatfull.

    Kind regards

  23. Ian says:

    Does anyone remember or have knowledge of Jack and Ellen Stones who were staff / managers at the School in the period 1920 to 1945 – I think!

    Ellen was my grandfather’s sister.


  24. Brian says:

    Was put in redhill boys prison ,,1981/1982’was in there for 1year,,not 6 weeks like they told me, went they took me from my mans house,, when was carer order to was 18 years old and put into a boarding school ,,not a nice place like everybody trying to say about this place role for the topic assessment centre shu trying to say about this place role for the topic assessment centre ,,Brian, age 47″”cat ford,,

  25. Michael O Reilly says:

    I was in redhill in 1973,only there for six weeks to be assessed ,then moved to knessworth house in Royston ,don’t remember that much about my time there ,but do remember the secure unit

  26. Gerald Tillett says:

    I was in Garstons House in 1966 and remember Bob and George Allen, i was given an old car
    by the previous House Master before Ron and Sheila Sheldrake took over, nobody thought we would get it running and it probably caused some panic behind the scenes. I spent my time at Redhill working on the Farm and was sent on a course for Agricultural Machinery at The Hawthorns Technical College Redhill.

    1. Andrew fomella says:

      Remember Cornwall what a laugh

      1. Gerald Tillett says:

        Hi Andy, yes Cornwall was a laugh, I wonder if Trelights Farm is still run by the church at Winchester for underprivileged kids or has it been sold off to property speculators like so many things that were started as a charity.

  27. I was at the royal philanthropic school in 1968 and also moved into the secure unit that same year. I recall wearing the shorts and working in the dining room bumpering the floors with a long handled bumper until you could see your face in the wooden floor. There were long wooden oak benches and tables in the dining room, and we ate out of silver bowls. It was just like something out of oliver twist.

    1. Andrew fomella says:

      Remember it well Andy formella

  28. Redhill was dickensian in the 60s

  29. Andrew J Daniels says:

    As a child in the 1970s I used to go to the school every Christmas with the Salvation Army band. In more recent times I have visited the graves of my parents, both buried at Redstone Cemetary. Whilst doing that a couple of days ago I was shocked to find that apart from the old building at the entrance and the porch of the church (which is obviously going to be some sort of feature) the whole site has been bulldozed. It is all going to be redeveloped as a village specifically catering for people with visual impairment. It is quite odd to think of all that history, for good and ill, just being wiped away.

  30. Charles says:

    I was detained as a resident at the Community Home from 1973 to 1975/6, can’t recall the house although recall Ernie Barrett (boxing instructor) and his wife were the House master and mistress. I also remember my carpentry instructor Dave Sharratt, who taught me my basic joinery skills. I also recall the chap who ran the brick laying workshop(Mr Shelly I believe), telling me that he “knew all about the likes of me” with his thirty odd years of experience, and that my next stop would be ‘prison’! I remember telling him to f… off as he had no idea who I was. after Mr Barrett and his wife left I believe the next Master was a Mr Gold, who encouraged me to learn English, intimating that if he had met me six months earlier he could have helped me attain an English O Level. Whilst my time at the institution was quite harrowing I believe that messes Barrett, Gold and Sharratt were quite positive influences in my life as I have since succeeded in establishing a small carpentry and joinery business and attained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in criminology! If anyone knows any of the above please pass on my gratitude for their guidance and patience with me when I was an unruly adolescent!

    1. Ernie Barrett says:

      Hi Charles how nice to see you remember me and my wife. I am really glad you have done well for yourself.
      We have lived in France for the last ten years and enjoy the lifestyle here.
      Would be good to hear from you.

      1. Robert Coombs says:

        Well Hello Ernie Barret, i remember you also as our boxing coach and everything to do with the gym.. my housemaster was a Mr Welch or Welsh so long ago now my brain is a bit dull, then for my last year i was housed in Mr Lees house until i was old enough to go out into the big wide world on my own..

      2. Angus Wallace says:

        Good god Ernie “Sir” Barrett. What a blast from the past. I went from the secure unit to Mr Howards house (1971/72) I remember you well and Jock Mansfield with the Morris Traveller, (His pride and joy) I think in 71 we all went off to do the 100 mile canoe trip from Newton to Bewdley where I was the only RPSS finisher and that was only because I nicked a decent slalom canoe from a kid in our group who dropped out on the first day. The ones we built in the RPSS workshops were better fitted for use as fisheries protection vessels. Thanks for the memories although the secure unit was a hell hole. Angus Wallace.

  31. Charles says:

    I was at the RPSS in the 1970’s I remember Mr Barrett and his wife being the House master and mistress of the house I was allocated to. Also recall Mr Sharratt, carpentry instructor and Mr Gold an English teacher. Is there anyone else who recollects them?

  32. Peter Andrew says:

    My name is Peter Andrew I was at the school in 1961 till 63 my mates was Brian and Roger from Lestishire our house master was Mr Green.
    I worked in the building department under Mr Shirley.
    Without this school I think I may of got into more trouble , if anybody is still around I hope you have had a good life.
    Hope to hear from you

    Peter ANdrew

    1. Brian harwood says:

      Hello Peter , I was at redhill the same time you were, I worked with Mr Weeks (Jacko) in carpentry so we must have known each other, I remember Fred Coe and Barry Andrews. All the best brian

    2. Robert Coombs says:

      Hi Peter, I remember Mr Shirley in the building department, we had a strange old cement mixer there which was different from any other cement mixer i ever saw, it was like a flat drum with two wheels that went round with blades attached to mix the sand and cement, it had a chute with door on and you placed the wheelbarrow under the chute and opened the door to let the mixed mortar flow into the wheelbarrow. I went to Mr Shirleys home to help him replace the guttering on his house which he paid me for.. nice guy.

  33. Debra Wayland says:

    I worked in the kitchen for a couple of years till Jan 1985 and my mum, Shirley Strong, was a social worker there. We saw the boys come and go. The one I remember most is Luke though don’t recall his last name. He came back and visited my mum a few times after he left

  34. Desmond reilly says:

    Hi. Was was in the assesment centre 1979/1980. Was a happy place for me. I specifically remember a Mr Rogers. Think he was a house master and did carpentry. I worked on the farm grading eggs and with cows and used to walk a lamb named Lucy on a lead. Got on well there and staff tried to keep me there but was unable to as they did not have the educational facilities for me. I went on to Ardale C.H.E essex

  35. Kevin says:

    I was a schoolboy living locally in the 1950s; we used to think it an exciting “dare” to creep up to the chapel and ring the bell. The boys in the institution seemed to us to have a miserable time of it, the ones you could see were drudging about at vaguely agricultural activities and it was a very depressing place – hence the “thrill” for an 8 year old to risk creeping in to ring the bell.

  36. Terry Harrington says:

    Ruth Virgo was at the school in the mid 60`s does anyone know what her job was , was she a nurse by any chance ?

  37. Terry Harrington says:

    hi Having visited the Surrey history centre we found out that Walter Everett`s wife Gladys became matron at the school in the early sixties does anyone remember her or her husband Walter he taught horticulture from 1948-to mid seventies

  38. Jackie says:

    Does anyone remember Mick Thompson who was in the philanthropic but used to go out to work

  39. Jackie says:

    Does anyone remember a Mick Thompson ,who was there late sixties early seventies

  40. Peter Grover says:

    I was there in the winter of 1964, like colditze, awfull place, how people can think back with fond memory’s is beyond me?

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