Sunday, 7 December 2014


The story so far. "SCHOOLBOY GANGSTERS ROUNDED UP!"  screamed the local papers. According to Dr Meacock, who chaired the Special Children's Court, the boys,
 "constituted a centre of vice in the town,
and they must be dealt with drastically."

Those of you who follow this blog will remember that Dr Meacock was at the very heart of the controversy surrounding the life and death of Dr Horace Dimock, twenty years earlier, an unfortnate situation which resulted in the infamous riots. So, who were these five desperados, and what were the Industrial Schools to which they were to be packed off, until they reached the age of 16?

Firstly the names of the boys. I received this information from the County Record Office. I imagine they are all now deceased, but at the time their names would not have been available in the press, for legal reasons. They were:

Horace Stephen Freear, age 7
Frederick Hunt, age 8
Stanley Johnson, age 9
Harry Rivett, age 10
Harry Worth, age 10

Their sentence? To spend the years in an Industrial School, until they reached the age of 16. For Worth and Rivett - a 6 year sentence; for Johnson, 7 years; Hunt would serve 8 years, and Freear a staggering 9 years.

The words 'Industrial School' have a vaguely worthy ring to them. There's a suggestion that they were places where youngsters could learn a trade, benefit from a healthy lifestyle, and be taught the errors of whatever ways had led them to become inmates. Older readers will remember the words 'Reform School' and 'Borstal'. These days we skip around the  truth with phrases like 'Young Offenders Institution', but the fact remains that Industrial schools were usually grim places which probably served as training grounds for future lawbreakers. The industrial schools were invariably grim and forbidding places but it doesn't seem that one existed in Cambridgeshire, with the nearest one being in Suffolk.

To their eternal credit, there were those in Wisbech who thought the sentence handed down to these boys was excessive. To use modern parlance, they may well have been "thieving little scrotes", but even so, this was a draconian sentence, even by the standards of 1933. Spearheaded by a Baptist minister, the Reverend R N Armitage (pictured below), a fund was started to appeal the boys' sentence.

Then, the big guns turned on Dr Meacock and his fellow magistrates. The popular periodical, John Bull, said its piece.

After repeating the findings of the magistrates, the journal then let rip.

Early in the New Year of 1934, with the backing of the Isle of Ely Education Committee, a court declared that the sentences imposed on the lads were totally disproportionate. The Wisbech magistrates were humiliated, and costs were awarded against them. It was significant that no-one could explain why Dr Meacroft was even on the magistrates' bench in the first place.

So, what became of The Five Little Martyrs? The records tell us that a Horace Stephen Freear died in 1978, and that Frederick Hunt died in 1971. Of the others, no-one knows. If any readers have information about what these lads did with their lives once they were spared from years in an Industrial School, then Pickwick will be only too happy to publish it.