Warwick County Asylum

A successful early reformatory

Hill Farm around 2005
Anne Langley

This pioneering reformatory was established by Warwickshire magistrates in 1818 in a rented 18th-century farm at Stretton on Dunsmore. It was run by a married couple and housed up to 20 boys (many from Birmingham)

The boys (aged between 9 and 19) were given a very short prison sentence and then hired by the Master of the Asylum as farm servants for one to three years. They were taught shoemaking or tailoring and placed in employment when they left.

Far more successful than prison

The Asylum reformed three-quarters of the boys (a few absconded and others went back to crime after leaving).The reformatory regime was far more successful than sending the boys to prison, which tended to turn them into hardened criminals.

The Asylum struggled financially and finally closed in 1856. It was, however, replaced by a larger boys’ reformatory in Weston under Wetherley. The buildings at Stretton on Dunsmore became Asylum Farm (later renamed Hill Farm) which still stands today off Frankton Lane.

A success story

July 17th 1825, Dorchester Barracks

Sir, I have taken the liberty of sending you these lines, hoping you are all well… We marched from Norwich barracks on the 6th of June for Hampton Court Palace, which is a very grand sight and we remained there about three weeks, for the review. The Duke of York made his appearance about nine o’clock, and every band in the field played “God save the King”. We first marched in half squadrons, and then trotted by the same; after which, we went through the same manoeuvring as at Waterloo. Our regiment got great praise. In the brass band, I now play the second bugle

Your humble servant E.F.

The price of failure: transportation

Dear School fellows July 1822

I write these few lines to you, to let you know how I am situated, seventeen thousand miles from you. I am at a place called Van Diemen Land [now Tasmania]. It is a very hot country. The summer work from six in the morning till two in the day, and sometimes there is twenty flogged in one day, for not being at work by time; and ten or twelve in one month, for bush ranging. It is a very cruel place for poor unfortunate men that are transported; and I hope you all will take notice by me, your dear fellow school-boy,

William Newton
Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land

Please note this is not the Hatton lunatic asylum of the same name. For further information see the booklet Warwick County Asylum: the first reformatory outside London by Anne Langley. The letters are quoted from the Rev. H.T. Powell’s Memoir of the Warwick County Asylum, published in 1827. You used to have to go to Birmingham Library to read this, but a facsimile has now been reproduced (with a rather surprising alpine scene on the cover) that can be bought for around £15.

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