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Children and the Law in Victorian Leeds

Leeds Reformatory School for Boys

The Leeds Reformatory School for Boys opened in 1857, and was run by the Leeds Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Offenders. The school was in Adel, in quite a rural area. This was because the Victorians felt that cities were dangerous places, full of bad influences, and that being out in the countryside would encourage children to be well behaved and to work hard.

Black and white photo showing many boys in a gymnasium.  They are sitting at benches with tables with various gym equipment around.
Boys in Reformatory School Gymnasium

The school had a shoemaker’s shop, a joiner’s shop, a smith’s shop and a gas house, as well as a number of farmyard animals. The school also had three acres of land set aside for growing crops. The school had its own band, as well as football and gymnastics teams. The Leeds Reformatory was unusual in that it also had its own swimming pool, which was built in 1888. The Victorians thought taking part in sports taught young children good moral values. A number of boys who left the school were apprenticed on fishing boats at Grimsby, so the school also felt that knowing how to swim would come in handy!

Black and white photo showing buys sat at various machines and equipment.
Leeds Reformatory School Shoe Making Workshop

The Leeds Reformatory closed in 1933, and became the East Moor Approved School. It closed permanently in 1991, but the original buildings (now listed by English Heritage) still stand.


Approved School – A type of residential school for young offenders, created in 1933 with the passing of the Approved Schools Act.

Juvenile Offenders – Children or young persons who have committed a crime.