Ministry of Labour Instructions Centres

Ministry of Labour Instructions Centres

In 1934 my grandfather worked at Bourne Transfer Instructional Centre in Lincolnshire. This was one of many work camps set up by the Ministry Of Labour to retrain unemployed young men. At Bourne, the men spent much of their time clearing the ground, which was owned by the Forestry Commission, prior to re-afforestation. Although grandad may not have learnt much about agriculture here, it did give him a taste for working on the land, which was something he did until the early 1950s as an agricultural labourer, cowman, farm bailiff and working with heavy horses. 

My grandfather & others at Bourne TIC in 1934

All I knew about Bourne TIC was a couple of photographs I found of grandad with “Bourne TIC 1934” written on the back, so I did some more research which I’ve gathered together here.


Between 1925 and 1939, the Ministry of Labour operated a number of training and work camps. The earliest of these, at Claydon in Suffolk, began operation in 1925 in the former Bosmere & Claydon union workhouse. Up to 200 unemployed men aged 19 to 25 (or ex-servicemen up to the age of 29) were trained either as ‘handymen’ for employment in Britain, or were prepared for work on the land in Britain’s overseas Dominions, primarily Australia and Canada. A second camp at Brandon, Suffolk, opened in 1926 and performed a similar role to Claydon. 

In 1929, an agreement was made with the Canadian government for the placing on the land in Canada up to 6,000 ‘trained and tested me’. Accordingly, four further centres were established, namely, at High Lodge, West Tofts and Cranwich Heath — all in Norfolk — and at Carstairs in Scotland. The new Norfolk sites were all on land leased from the Forestry Commission, while at Carstairs two farms with area of 1,000 acres were purchased. Five further ‘testing’ centres were also established at Bourne in Lincolnshire, Fermyn Woods near Brigstock in Northamptonshire, Presteign in Radnorshire, Swanton Novers near Melton Constable in Norfolk, and Shobdon in Herefordshire. The testing centres offered short placements as a preliminary to selection for assisted passages and occupied men in clearing Forestry Commission land prior to re-afforestation. 

However, rising unemployment in Canada curtailed the planned emigration scheme. Some of the centres were closed and the remainder designated as Transfer Instructional Centres (shortened to just Instructional Centres) in 1931 which aimed to physically harden or ‘recondition’ men who were said to have become ‘soft’ through a period of unemployment, particularly in unemployment blackspots such as coal-mining areas. Such men were coerced into attending the camps under the threat of losing unemployment benefit. The Centres continued in operation until 1939, with annual admissions reaching a peak of more than 24,000 in 1936.

Specific information about Bourne from Wikipedia

In 1926, when the Forestry Commission bought the depleted Bourne Wood from the Exeter Estate, the policy was to produce some timber as quickly as possible. Almost the whole area was planted with conifers. During the 1930s, the Ministry of Labour supplied the men from among the unemployed in the country generally. Many came from the mining communities of the Midlands and South Yorkshire. They were housed in one of a number of Instructional Centres created by the Ministry, most of them on Forestry Commission property; by 1938, the Ministry had 38 Instructional Centres across Britain. The hutted camp in Bourne was located on land which had been Estray Pastures and was to become part of the town as Woodland and Forest Avenues; there were also associated summer camps at Pickworth, Aslackby and Kirkby Underwood. 

From the BBC (pdf download)

The daily regime was organised around such heavy labour as “felling, grubbing roots, clearing scrub land, quarrying and road making” , almost always carried out on Forestry Commission land. IC regulations specified a working week of 44 hours, though new entrants were given a regime of lighter work – supplemented during the 30s with physical training classes – until they were capable of heavy labour. Pathé cinema news showed footage in 1933 of men felling trees in an unnamed labour camp – British Pathé, Scrapbook for 1933 (16:33 mins in). The Ministry invited the celebrated documentary maker John Grierson to make a half-hour documentary in 1936 which appears to have been shot largely in Bourne Instructional Centre – J. Grierson, On the Way to Work, National Film Archive, British Film Institute.

Details from Hansard, May 1935

By May 1935, there were 9 training centres, 16 instructional centres and 15 summer camps for unemployed men. 

Training Centres (9), at which selected men from the scheduled depressed and certain other areas are given a six months’ intensive course in a trade. These centres were non-residential, with the men living in lodgings near to the centres: 

  • Birmingham (Garrison Lane). 
  • Wallsend-on-Tyne (The Stadium). 
  • Bristol (Radnor Road, Horfield). 
  • Glasgow (Cowlairs Road, Springburn). 
  • Park Royal (Gorst Road, Park Royal Road, N.W.10). 
  • Watford (Southwold Road). 
  • Letchworth (Pixmore Avenue). 
  • Waddon (Stafford Road, Waddon, near Croydon). 
  • Slough (Slough Trading Estate). 

Instructional Centres (16), at which selected men from areas of prolonged and heavy unemployment are given a three months’ re-conditioning course to get them fit for labouring work. 


    • Carshalton (St. Heliers Estate, Selby Green, Carshalton, Surrey). 
    • Rheola (Resolvern, Glamorganshire). 


    • Bourne (Lincolnshire). 
    • Fermyn Woods (Brigstock, near Kettering, Northants). 
    • Shobdon (near Leominster, Herefordshire). 
    • Weeting (near Brandon, Suffolk). 
    • High Lodge (near Brandon, Suffolk). 
    • West Tofts (Mundford, Norfolk). 
    • Cranwich (Cranwich Heath, Mundford, Norfolk). 
    • Carstairs (Lampits Farm, Carstairs Junction, Lanarkshire). 
    • Glenbranter (near Strachur, Argyllshire). 
    • Kielder (Northumberland). 
    • Allerston (Low Dalby, Thornton-le-Dale, Yorks). 
    • Hamsterley (Bedburn, Hamsterley, Witton-le-Wear, R.S.O., Co. Durham). 
    • Kershopefoot (Newcastleton, Roxburghshire). 
    • Brechfa (Treglog, Llansawel, Llandilo, Carmarthenshire). 
    1. Summer Camps (15): 
    • Kirkby Underwood, Pickoworth Woods, and Aslackby, attached to Bourne Centre, Lincs. 
    • Wigmore Forest and Presteign, attached to Shobdon Centre, Herefordshire. 
    • Drayton Woods, attached to Fermyn Woods Centre, Northants. 
    • Harling, attached to High Lodge Centre, Norfolk. 
    • Lynn Road (to open 16th May), attached to Weeting Centre, near Brandon, Suffolk. 
    • Cynarth, attached to Brechfa, Centre, Carmarthenshire. 
    • Ballemeanoch, attached to Glenbranter Centre, Argyllshire. 
    • Whickhope, attached to Kielder Centre, Northumberland. 
    • Hockham Heath, attached to West Tofts Centre, Norfolk. 
    • Glangwili (Alt-Walis Road, Carmarthen), unattached. 
    • Redesdale Summer Camp (Low Byrness, Otterburn, Newcastle-on-Tyne), unattached. 
    • Gilling (Brandsby, Yorks), unattached. 

    More from Hansard: 

    April 1934 – numbers of centres and men in TICs 

    • 8 Instructional centres and 12 training centres (15 tented camps were also proposed) 
    • Number in training: 
    • Instructional centres – 1080 (capacity: 2085) 
    • Training centres – 652 (capacity: 2098) 
    • These numbers were affected by the Easter holidays 
    • Cost per man per year 
    • Instructional centres: 30s 8d 
    • Training centres:  11s 6d 
    • Costs exclude travelling expenses, capital charges and the amount of any insurance benefit or transitional payments to which the trainee is entitled 
    • May 1933 – number of centres and men – 
    • 9 Instrucional centres with 1718 men 
    • Attendence no longer limited to men for whom employment is likely to be available at the end of the course. In the first quarter of 1933, 16.5% of the men attending the courses found work at the end. 

    From the Learning Professor

    The centres were billed as “much-needed local employment and skills training”. However they: 

    • Weren’t employed, and the trainees received unemployment benefits (after deductions to cover board and lodging).
    • the Ministry of Labour was at pains to stress that its camps offered not skills training but an exposure to heavy manual labour.
    • the men weren’t usually local but were recruited from high unemployment areas.

    One thought on “Ministry of Labour Instructions Centres

    1. Hi there, I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed reading your ‘Instruction Centres’ article. I have been looking at there history myself because I am convinced my Grandfather too attended one, Hamsterley? No evidence like yourself (great pic) just conjecture based on his timeline and fragments of conversations I remember from my childhood.


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *