The Hidden Heritage of High Lodge

TS Cornwall at High Lodge in WW2

In around 1934, the ship TS Cornwall (TS means Training Ship) became designated as an Approved School, one of the new institutions established by the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act.

In July 1939, growing concerns about the various aspects of establishment's operation, coupled with deteriorating condition of the ship, led to a decision that the Cornwall would be closed in 1941. A few weeks later, in anticipation of the outbreak of the Second World War, the boys were evacuated to the (then disused) Ministry of Labour Camp at High Lodge

The 1939 register shows that there were eleven staff and 152 'trainees'.

The staff were:

  • Noel Corbet - Captain Superintendent - Captain RN Retired
  • Ralph Smith - Chief Officer - Commander RN Retired
  • Arthur Bainstow - Head Schoolmaster - Captain The Balck Watch, Retired
  • John Ellison - Schoolmaster
  • Ivy Wright - Nursing Sister
  • Richard Shepherd - Assistant Clerk - Royal Navy Special Reserve
  • Wilfred Watts - Physical Training Instructor - Royal Marines (rtd)
  • Orlando Todd - Seaman Instructor - Royal Navy (retired CPO torpedoes)
  • Robert Peebles - Seaman Instructor - Royal Navy (retired CPO)
  • William Whyman - Seaman Instructor
  • Maurice Reevers - Schoolmaster -

It seems that the staff and officers from the ship failed to control their charges once away from the sea. On Wednesday 8th November 1939, The Cambridge Daily News reported: Boys sent to Borstal Seven boys from H M Training Ship Cornwall, who are evacuees at High Lodge, Santon Downham, near Littleport, were sent to Borstal for two years at Brandon Petty Sessions on Monday. They were charged with escaping from this approved school.

In May 1940 the Home Office withdrew their Approval and the school was forced to close.

In September 1940, the ship (Cornwall), still moored at Denton, was hit by a German bomb and was effectively written-off.

On smaller devices this table will horizontally scroll

Date Details Reference
March 1940 Forestry Commission
T.S. Cornwall - Complaint against boys & suggestion that boys be transferred to the Camp at Harling where they will be less of a menace.
I am sorry to have received this complaint.
At the time we were in negotiations the the M/Labour for the use of these centres, the Department told us that particular care would need to be exercised in regard to those Camps on Forestry Commission land, and the C.I. on his visits to the Camps impressed on the Schools that they should take every care, particularly against the possibility of fire. The Camps are situated in the midst of forest of young trees, and fire would soon do tremendous damage.
If all that is said in the report can be pinned against the Cornwall boys, there is evidently a real lack of control somewhere. I suggest that it would be best for an Inspector to pay an early visit to the Camp & investigate the complaint.
National Archives MH_102_239
2nd April 1940 3. To C.I. to arrange an early visit.
1. Inform the Forestry Commission that the matter will be looked into at once and further comment will be sent to them as soon as possible.
[SofS much regrets that cause for complaint should have arisen after the assistance offered by the Forestry Commission in dealing with the problem of Emergency Accommodation.]
2. Send copy of letter to the Mgrs & say [] GH 2/4
Discussed with Mr Harris and C.I.
In this letter & in the report on /80-/79-/77 there appears sufficient ground for holding that the Capt. Supt. Had failed in his task of adapting the school to shore conditions, is unable to hold the boys, and should be replaced. The school should be reorganized as a senior school of the ordinary type, & if the managers are unwilling to carry on it should be closed and the boys removed as soon as possible, by transfer or licence. The necessary transfer would place great strain on senior school accommodation & we should endeavour to make a fresh start in these premises. The L.A. of the area (W. Suffolk) should be approached in the first place, but perhaps E. Suffolk might be induced to act if W. Suffolk will not. I am arranging to see the officers concerned at Bury St Edmunds & Ipswich in confidence next Monday.
National Archives MH_102_239
3rd April 1940 Dear Carter,
I am writing to you in strict confidence in the hope that your Authority may be able to help us in a difficult matter of Approved School accommodation.
You probably know about the occupation of the Ministry of Labour Training Centre at High Lodge, Brandon, by the boys of the Training Ship 'Cornwall' which was evacuated on the outset of war. Reports we have received from various sources indicate that the discipline of the School is going to pieces, and I fear that it will be necessary to close the School down entirely. I may say we have been dissatisfied with the condition of the School for some years, and had reached a decision to close it at the earliest opportunity before war broke out.
Unfortunately to close the School would mean the loss of 150 places for the Senior boys which at the present time we cannot afford to lose. If this School is closed down we should have to provide somehow or other the same number of places under other management.
National Archives Letter 3-4-1940
8th April 1940 [to]Pay-Master Captain J.R. Pitcairn, R.N.
8th April, 1940
I am directed by the Secretary of State to send to you the enclosed copy of a letter which he has received from the Forestry Commission in which serious complaint is made of the behaviour of the boys of the training ship 'Cornwall' in their temporary quarters at High Lodge Training centre, Brandon. It will be seen that the Commissioners refer to a number of cases of theft and damage and other lawless acts committed by the boys and state that repeated representations have been made to the school authorities without any apparent result. The Secretary of State greatly regrets to hear that this complaint is by no means an isolated one. Similar representations regarding the conduct of the boys of the 'Cornwall' have been made by the police and by local residents. The number of absconders from the school, at any rate during the first few months of its transfer, was very large and these absconders were responsible for a number of offences. It also appears that the number of boys from the 'Cornwall' ordered to be sent for Borstal training since they were transferred to Brandon is abnormally high compared with the record of any other Senior Approved School.
The Secretary of State recognises that the evacuation of a school under war conditions is apt to prove unsettling to discipline and this risk is increased where boys are moved from the cramped quarters of a ship like the 'Cornwall' to the freedom of country life. But, making every allowance for these circumstances, he cannot think that the Captain Superintendent and his staff have shown themselves possessed of the rather exceptional qualities which are required to control a school of this character under its present free conditions. He has formed this opinion after comparing the result of transfer in the case of other Senior Schools with boys of much the same type.
Sir John Anderson is aware that the Captain Superintendent has made a laudable attempt to carry on the traditions of the school in seamanship training and to develop other forms of training but the position of the temporary premises are not suitable for nautical training and this may well have caused some of the difficulties which have been experienced. As it seems unlikely that the school can never return to the training ship, it appears to the Secretary of State that the best plan will be to abandon the nautical training entirely and to convert the school in its present premises into an ordinary Senior School unde acivilian Headmaster and staff. With this object in view it would be necessary to transfer some of the boys to other Senior Schools and in particular those who desire to go to sea, to some school where their nautical training can be completed.
In asking the managers for their observations on the letter from the Forestry Commission, Sir John Anderson would be glad to have their views on the proposal made above and to know whether they would be willing to carry on the school under the proposed changed conditions. While he would gladly welcome their co-operation in continuing to carry on the school, he recognises that it must be difficult especially under the existing conditions of travel, for them to exercise the necessary supervision over the management of the school which is so far distant from their places of residence.
I am to add that the Secretary of State would greatly appreciate an early reply from the Managers and to say that if they would wish to discuss the matter with representatives of the Home Office, he would be glad to make the necessary arrangements to meet their convenience.
I am Sir Your obedient servant
National Archives MH_102_239
Dear Hill, Thank you for letter of of the 10th April. I felt rather rude in pushing you off in such a hurry on Monday, but I am afraid it was unavoidable.
You may like to know that we had a Meeting of the appropriate Sub-Committee yesterday and when your suggestion as to the future of the 'Cornwall' came up, the Sub-Committee unanimously agreed to recommend the Main Committee that they should take it over for the duration of the war. A the Chairman of the Council was in complete agreement with this suggestion, I think you can take it that this recommendation will go through. There was one point which occurred to me after you had gone. I am wondering whether it would be possible to spread some of the most difficult cases now at Brandon to other Senior Schools with a view to easing the position of a completely new staff, who would have no previous knowledge and experience of these cases, whereas established schools, such as Kerrison, can probably deal with them and absorb them into the school without any detriment to the tone of their school. Can I take it that I have permission to visit the 'Cornwall' at Brandon?
Yours sincerely
R.F.A. Carter
C.P. Hill Esq.,
Home Office,
Cleland Street,
National Archives MH_102_239
15th April, 1940
Dear Hill,
Thank you for your further letter of 12th April. In view of it I will ask my Chairman to persuade the press not to make any mention of the 'Cornwall' when the report of our Committee this coming Wednesday is made public.
As you know, I do not know very much about these schools but I should think an Intermediate School would be more suitable for Brandon than a Senior. Judging from what I saw at Kerrison some form of agriculture or horticulture is very desirable for seniors, and the soil at Brandon is not conducive to success in either of these operations.
Thank you for the arrangements you have made on my behalf with Shipley.
Yours sincerely
R.F.A. Carter
C.P. Hill, Esq.,
Cleland House,
Page Street,
National Archives MH_102_239
22nd April 1940 Dear Carter,
I understand from Shipley that Lord Loch and some members of the Finance Committee wish for further information on the question of the financing of the proposed school at High Lodge.
I could arrange to come down to Bury on Friday this week and try to give intelligent answers. No other day except Saturday will be possible for me this week, so I will leave you to suggest the time. I could manage almost anytime later than 11.0.
I have been thinking over the question of security of tenure which Lord Loch raised. No doubt if the school is a success, as we hope it will be, you would like to carry it on and not see your efforts go to waste. We shall have to arrange with the Office of Works for a lease of the land and huts to your Authority, and I am wondering what terms of tenancy should be an suggested. The same problem is arising with the new school which the Kesteven local authority are starting in a similar centre at Bourne, and the solution they suggested there was that they should be granted a lease for 7 years with breaks at 3 and 5 years. You could the offer applicants a guaranteed period of 3 years minimum with the probability of an extension if you wished to continue the School coupled in any event with our assurance of staff which may be displaced on the School closing, in Approved Schools.
I think the High Lodge Centre is actually on Crown Land so that a tenancy at will could probably be arranged if you preferred that but the alternative of some settled period to work to may be more attractive to you.
Yours sincerely
National Archives MH_102_239
The Secretary of State for the Home Department hereby gives notice that on the 5th May, 1940, the managers of the "Cornwall" Training Ship, Denton, Gravesend; Kent, in accordance with the provisions of Section 79 (3) of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, have notified their intention to resign the Certificate of Approval in respect of the School.
The London Gazette 31 May 1940