Two lads cause a rumpus in Highgate

Walter Howe and Josiah Flanders were, by all accounts at least, a pair of tearaways. Despite only being 16 years of age Walter had already racked up a considerable amount of ‘gaol time’. He had been confined in a juvenile reformatory as a boy and had been to prison twice in his early teens. Josiah had so far avoided imprisonment but his appearance, in October 1881, at the Highgate Police Court was not his first.

The Reformatory Schools Act (1854) established a series of reformatories across England and Wales. Pioneered by Mary Carpenter in Bristol these became (along with Industrial Schools) the forerunners of more modern forms of youth custody centres. Their aim was to  remove young people from damaging influences and environment (especially the slums of London and other major British cities) and set them to learn useful skills alongside a ‘moral’ education.

A further act in 1854 allowed juvenile offenders  aged up to 16 to be sentenced to between 2 and 5 years in  reformatory school as an alternative to prison. However, they still had to go to gaol for 14 days – to soften them up and give them a taste of what they might have to look forward to should they not choose to mend their ways.

Clearly this had little effect on Walter Howe.

The boys appeared before the magistrate at Highgate accused of wilful damage and assault. A nurseryman in Highgate (Henry Glass) was disturbed by the noise the blade were making and came out of his house to find them attacking his wall. When he told them to stop they turned on him.

In court Glass testified that Howe struck him twice in the face with a stick while Flanders thumped him with his fist. A police detective appeared to confirm that the boys had a history of bad behaviour; he detailed their convictions and described Howe as ‘a very bad character’.

The magistrate sent Walter to prison for two months and the other lad for one. Clearly neither were good examples of the success of Victorian youth intervention policies.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, October 25, 1881]

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