A Button Apology


Picture Courtesy of Joe Tilt

‘Just a button’ is how Joe Tilt described one of his recent finds when writing on a detecting forum. In a way he was apologising to the members for ‘only’ finding a button. There was no need. His find was much more interesting than a hammered coin or Roman brooch where information is sparse or non-existent. The humble button spoke volumes and told us a lot about our recent social history.

Today we have Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOS) but in the middle 1800’s we had reformatory schools, a way to provide care for children involved in criminal or anti-social behaviour. In later times these young people were referred to as ‘juvenile delinquents’. It was a humble die-stamped two-piece copper-alloy button from an item of reformatory clothing that Joe had unearthed.

Bedford Reformatory School, a penal institution for young offenders, was opened in 1857, with room for 30 boys. Its purpose was to provide an alternative to prison. The inscription BEDFORD REFORMATORY is surrounded around a beehive (called a skep) surrounded by flying bees and has a simple looped wire shank, not back-marked. Similar depictions of bees flying around the skep –   symbolising industry, diligence and effort and the concept that work is rewarding, can be found on many late 18th century tokens.

Click to enlarge


Courtesy of Dave Derby

Indeed, detectorist Dave Derby found a similar button in Northamptonshire, which I have mentioned before, but it is worth a reprise. He calls it his ‘Bad Boys’ Button. I find it ironic that the back plate should bear the legend EXTRA RICH QUALITY.

Tiffield reformatory was founded in 1855 … or 1856, depending upon which research items you pin your faith, and is a good example of a Reform School that received boys from all over the country, and for various misdemeanours. The length of sentence was harsh – such as three years for stealing boots, the same for a chicken, and five years for stealing eight eggs.

In around 1925, the institution was renamed St John’s School and In 1933, St John’s became an Approved School, one of the new institutions introduced by the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act to replace the existing system of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. It accommodated up to 100 Intermediate Boys aged between their 13th and 15th birthdays at their time of admission. The industrial training at the School was now largely confined to gardening and carpentry.


An early example of re-cycling – how those buttons came to be found in fields. See an excellent explanation HERE.



I owe my subscribers an apology for the recent ‘outage’. Yup, I know the jargon! Because of my concern about the NOT SECURE notice in all post headings, I sort help to rectify and have a locked padlock showing. My reasoning was that phrase ‘not secure’ was having a negative effect on the trustworthiness of my blog.

What SSL does ( Secure Sockets Layer)

An SSL certificate encrypts all information transmitted to and from a website, ensuring it is protected from third parties attempting to access it. If you have an SSL certificate, your site’s URL will start with the prefix ‘https’ and a padlock icon will be displayed in the browser bar showing visitors your site is secure and their data is safe.

It is only because of the sterling efforts of Young John and the Guys (and Gal) at TSOHost that, metaphorically speaking, I am ‘up and running’ again. Thank you. There are still one or two problems to sort and we will try and deal with those as they occur. Unfortunately, unless I visit every post made in the last three years and change the link to the new server, you may not be able to gain access. Please let me know if you experience any other problems, and I shall try (with the help of my friends) to put them right.


10 thoughts on “A Button Apology”

  1. I live in a village near Bedford & in one of the local fields I must have found dozens of these buttons – perhaps the uniforms were used as shoddy – I too researched the story – and learnt something new – Buttons can be some of the most interesting things to research with fascinating stories and information…. As said no apology necessary Joe

    • ironic! you finding them Nettie.:)
      My first ever find was a Leamington Spa police button that I found in the grounds of the old Police station that I had my first office in when working for W.C.C.

  2. Good to read that your blog is on air again. I am sure it was very frustrating, nearly as bad as dealing with internet suppliers.

  3. that name, reformatory, has such negative connotations, John.. well at least to me.. Not that I have been in one.. It is just the name alone.

    And I know nothing, or less than nothing, when it comes to secure vs non secure sites.. All I know is that I truly enjoy this one.. and I will come to it unflinchingly.


  4. such a interesting read john …ive put a link up on pmdf in your latest blog post with some pictures of the reformatory

  5. John it’s the oddball finds that are the most interesting to me, though it’s not like I’m going to toss a gold or silver coin back onto the ground and walk away! LOL…

    One of my most enjoyable finds was a 1950’s phone token from Turkey that I found in a park in Ontario. I had no idea what it was, but the research (and subsequent learning) was the best part.

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