A reformatory school was founded in Birmingham in 1852 by Joseph Sturge, in a house in Ryland Road; the Birmingham Reformatory School Society was founded to manage the school, and within a decade it had changed its name to the Birmingham Reformatory Institution.
The idea of a reformatory was quickly taken up, and in early 1853 premises were provided for the school by Charles Adderley, MP (later Lord Norton), on his land at Saltley, about two miles outside the city. Lord Norton spoke regularly in Parliament on educational issues, and in 1854 was largely responsible for the Youthful Offenders Act; he was also a member of the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Commission of 1883. He was a keen proponent of a ‘humanist’ approach to reformation, emphasising the value of education over harsh discipline, and this appears to have influenced the methods used by the school in Saltley. Lord Norton remained associated with the school throughout his life, hosting an annual day out for the boys and staff at his house, Hams Hall. Lord Norton died in 1905, and in 1908 the school changed its name from Saltley Reformatory to Norton Boys’ Home; however, it seems that it was more usually referred to as Norton School or Norton Training School.
The school originally provided space for 37 boys, rising to 100 by the end of the nineteenth century, and it provided education and training for them, in carpentry, shoemaking, and farming. Around 70 acres of farmland was eventually acquired, and outdoor work was given a prominent emphasis until well into the twentieth century. Boys were admitted between the ages of about nine and 17, although as time went on the number of younger boys declined, and after 1933 only senior boys were admitted.