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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 October 2019
In 1938, the Reverend Digby Bliss Kittermaster, who became chaplain at Rochester Borstal after retiring as a housemaster at Harrow public school, started a diary in which he recorded everyday interactions with inmates and staff. The reputation of the borstal system was at its height in the 1930s owing to Alexander Paterson's reforms, based on the structures and character-building ethos of British public schools. Young people's voices were rarely heard in this progressive discourse of borstal reform and Kittermaster is unusual for articulating them, recording what he heard, teasing out the contradictions of Paterson's reforming aspirations and the reality of humiliation and intimidation that borstal boys often experienced. Kittermaster's public school background made him well placed to question the rhetoric of the public school reform model. His complex personal perspective suggests how humane emphasis on individual potential was subverted at Rochester by coercive structures of traditional prison improvement. Kittermaster's growing frustration at his own powerlessness supports a more nuanced interpretation of how the borstal system has usually been depicted in the Paterson era of reform, especially in relation to damaging mental and emotional costs to inmates and staff, which have been largely neglected in the scholarship of borstal in the 1930s.
I would like to thank Heather Shore and the anonymous peer reviewers for their helpful comments on this work. I should also thank the Trustees of the Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex, for permissions to quote from archival material.
1 Rev. D. B. Kittermaster, ‘A borstal diary’, University of Sussex, Mass Observation Archive (MOA), topic collection (TC) ‘Juvenile delinquency 1946–7’, 11/1/A. The diary is dated in the archive as 13 Feb. 1945–14 Aug. 1946, probably owing to being filed with correspondence and research material for a Mass Observation book, Report on juvenile delinquency, published in 1949. The dates should be 13 Feb. 1938–15 Aug. 1939.
For work on young offenders which uses chaplains’ reports and diaries, see Rogers, Helen, ‘Kindness and reciprocity: liberated prisoners and Christian charity in early nineteenth-century England’, Journal of Social History, 47 (2014), pp. 721–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Houlbrook, Matt, ‘Fashioning an ex-crook self: citizenship and criminality in the work of Netley Lucas’, Twentieth Century British History, 24 (2013), pp. 10–30, at p. 3CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. Young people in borstal were described as ‘inmates’ or ‘offenders’ rather than prisoners. They served a ‘period of detention’ rather than a sentence. See Reidy, Conor, ‘Institutional power and the Irish borstal boy, 1906–21’, Irish Historical Studies, 38 (2012), pp. 36–51, at p. 36CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
2 Jewkes, Yvonne, Crewe, Ben, and Bennett, Jamie, eds., Handbook on prisons (London, 2007), p. 44Google Scholar. In 1938, ‘around 60 per cent’ of discharged male offenders had not been reconvicted after a three-year follow-up: Cross, R., Punishment, prison and the public (London, 1971), p. 132Google Scholar; Rutherford, A., Growing out of crime: the new era (Winchester, 2002), p. 56Google Scholar; Jane Fryer, ‘Brutal exercise, hard work and strict education – topped off with a bit of musical theatre: the days borstals knocked yobs into shape’, 28 Mar. 2012, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2121843/Brutal-exercise-hard-work-strict-education--topped-bit-musical-theatre-The-days-Borstals-knocked-yobs-shape.html.
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8 D. B. Kittermaster, ‘Campbell College, Portrush, N. Ireland. Report on adolescents in wartime, 7 April 1942’, MOA, file report (FR) 1080, p. 1. In 1948, Kittermaster described submitting monthly directives: Kittermaster to W. D. Willcock, 2 Feb. 1948, MOA, TC ‘Material relating to Report on juvenile delinquency’, 11/2/A.
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23 Venn, J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses; a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900, part ii, from 1752 to 1900, iv, Kahlenberg–Oyler (Cambridge, 1951), p. 60Google Scholar.
24 It was also a ‘certified home’ for boys on licence from Reformatory. Kittermaster, ‘Treatment of juvenile delinquency’, p. 1.
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26 Kittermaster, ‘Early days at Shrewsbury House’.
27 Wellington Journal, 8 June 1907, p. 12. The Akbar was managed by the Liverpool Reformatory Association for Church of England boys.
28 Kittermaster, ‘Treatment of juvenile delinquency’, p. 2.
29 Kittermaster, ‘Early days at Shrewsbury House’; Christopher Tyerman, History of Harrow, p. 457.
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36 Kittermaster, ‘Treatment of juvenile delinquency’, p. 4.
37 His wife was the only child of George Latham Bennett. Coventry Herald, 23 and 24 Aug. 1912, p. 2. Bennett may have been Captain Bennett of the Akbar, who was described as ahead of his time in wanting to show the boys more kindness. He resigned his post in 1907: Liverpool Echo, 29 June 1985, p. 10.
38 The friend was Cyril Alington, an ordained minister, who became a housemaster at Eton College in 1904, head of Shrewsbury School in 1908, and head of Eton in 1917: Tim Card, ‘Alington, Cyril Argentine (1872–1955)’, ODNB.
39 Kittermaster, ‘Treatment of juvenile delinquency’, p. 1.
40 Times, 8 Mar. 1965, p, 15.
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53 Kittermaster, ‘Treatment of juvenile delinquency’, p. 1.
54 Ibid.; autobiographies of Borstal inmates, typed ms, 15 Aug. 1938, MOA, TC ‘Juvenile delinquency 1946–7’, 11/1/D.
55 Kittermaster, ‘Treatment of juvenile delinquency’, p. 1; Times, 17 Sept. 1951, p. 5; Jewkes et al., Handbook on prisons, p. 44. The diary in the MOA is a typescript, probably based on handwritten notes which were subsequently prepared for publication. The final page comprises a hand-written list of original names of inmates and staff and pseudonyms. This article uses these pseudonyms.
57 Mervyn Archdale, ‘Memories of Demesne Farm’ (from a letter written in 1993 to his cousin Ann Perfect Carpenter), http://www.archdale.ie/funeral/Memories%20Of%20Demesne%20Farm.pdf; Times, 8 Mar. 1965, p. 15.
58 Kittermaster to Willcock, 23 May 1947, and Willcock to Kittermaster, 24 May 1947, MOA, TC 11/2/A; Kittermaster, ‘Treatment of juvenile delinquency’, p. 1.
59 ‘Note for Convoy books, Juvenile delinquency pamphlet. Introduction by Tom Harrisson’, p. 2, MOA, FR 2474.
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73 Kittermaster, ‘Borstal diary’, 24 Mar. 1938, pp. 10–11.
75 Coldrey, ‘“The extreme end”’, p. 97.
76 Menis, ‘More insights’, p. 991.
77 Kittermaster, ‘Borstal diary’, 27 July 1938, pp. 27–8.
84 Menis, ‘More insights’, pp. 995, 997.
85 Kittermaster, ‘Borstal diary’, 30 June 1938, p. 25.
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119 Kittermaster, ‘Borstal diary’, 21 June 1938, p. 24.
122 Norval and Rothman, Oxford history of the prison, p. 143.
124 Kittermaster, ‘Borstal diary’, 4 Mar. 1938, p. 8.
130 Daily Mirror, 26 Sept. 1950, p. 3.
131 Cited in Menis, ‘More insights’, p. 995.
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134 Kittermaster, ‘Borstal diary’, 23 June 1939, p. 88.
136 Houlbrook, ‘Fashioning an ex-crook self’, p. 1.
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