The riverside at Castlefields

The riverside at Castlefields

Saturday 4 August 2012

Besford House and 'the Naughty Boys'

“Everybody knew it as the Naughty Boys' Home. It was set up as a way of getting children out of the workhouses. Most of the boys were under care orders – they were children whose parents could not look after them.”
I am having a cup of tea with Bill Preen, now aged 80. Today he lives happily with his wife Fran in Monkmoor, Shrewsbury. They are parents to three, grandchildren to four, and they love to do crosswords together. But life has not always been so pleasant for Bill. And he is telling me about Besford House in Belle Vue during the 1940s. It was his home at that time. He was one of the 'naughty boys'.
'Often boys would wet their beds and then the next day they would be beaten for wetting their beds. They got beaten every day. The great thing was not to show any emotion. I suppose it was the only way the staff could keep control of the boys. We were used to the cane. We were called the naughty boys because we would cause pandemonium once we were out in the community.'
Bill got in touch with me after seeing my column in this newspaper a few weeks ago in which I wrote about Besford House in Trinity Street, a fine Victorian building which is now under threat of demolition because developers want to build houses on the site. Its fate remains in the balance. 
That article did not go into the history of Besford House as a boys' home but it prompted Bill, who is writing a short memoir about his time at the place, to give me a call. He is hoping other ex-Besford House boys will come forward to add their reminiscenses to his to create a fuller story. Bill is one of three brothers who all spent time at Besford House.
' You see, my mother died. And we were taken away from our father. We weren't being looked after properly. We were seized.'
Bill was originally sent to a reception home and then to Sutton Lodge (which is today the Red Cross headquarters in Betton Street). Sutton Lodge, Besford House and also Pen-y-Bont, another large house in the area, were all children's homes at this time, explains Bill.
'I left Sutton Lodge at the age of eight and was moved to Besford House. They had 20 small boys who had a lady looking after them and 20 senior boys who had a lady looking after them. We had a cook and a superintendent and his wife. I was at Besford 1940 to 1948.
'You have to remember it was a different time altogether. People struggled in those days. They didn't even have lavatories in Rea Street then. There's a conduit still at the bottom of Betton Street which is where people would go and get a jug of water. Then they would go for a jug of beer at the Prince of Wales.
"I was only four years old when I was taken into care and I can still remember seeing for the first time the Lion on top of the Lion Hotel and the Dunn Cow on top of the Dunn Cow pub and I was afraid of them. I thought they were alive. I must have been in the car of a social worker and we drove past them and I was frightened.'
At Besford House we had to do all the work. We had to prepare all the vegetables ourselves. We had to cut all the firewood at Sutton Lodge and then take it in wheelbarrows to deliver it to each of the homes. We did all the cleaning, scrubbing of the floors. In the back hall there was a black mark on the tiles and we used to scrub it and scrub it with Vim but we could never get rid of that black mark. I could take you to it now and show you.'
Besford House was built in 1893. It began its life as a boys' home in 1911. “Guardians used to run all the workhouses, but then they were taken over by Shropshire Council in the 1920s, says Bill.
They were clearly tough days, but things began to look up as Bill grew from a boy to a man. He did well at school and went on to work in the civil service for two years before doing two years of National Service. He then got a job as a clerk at The Maltings and was offered a management post there within three years.
But whenever he and his brothers - Sid who lives in Shifnal and Arthur who now lives in Norway - get together, they will almost always exchange stories about their days at Besford House.


  1. I too was at Besford house and was beaten for wetting the bed! worse than that though, I was sexually abused most nights and have kept it inside for years. It was only because another lad came forward that prompted me to speak out.i am in the process of just talking to Victim Support so its early days yety

  2. I cant remember the exact dates I was at Besford House but not only was I beaten for wetting the bed I was abused most nights by a man I cannot recall but so were other boys. I have just contacted Victim Support now that I realise I am not the only one

  3. knock the place down... many sad memories for me there

  4. I was there late 73 to August 76 , I was also abused there, (Mr Hodges, Hodgkin, something like that), he got 5 yrs prison, we got nothing,not even counseling, I moved to Malta in 76, I didn't know others had come forward.

  5. My Dad John Roberts was in the home during the same time as Bill, does anyone recognise his name