Craig Fees (2008), "Lost Bridges and Residential Therapeutic Child Care: Howard Jones (1918 –2007) and Reluctant Rebels"

(Published online in the Therapeutic Care Journal, 1st May 2008)


“The late August Aichhorn, in conversation with the author…”

(Howard Jones, Reluctant Rebels: Re-education and Group Process in a Residential Community (Tavistock, London) 1960, p. 62).


Open Pioneer Work With Maladjusted Children by Maurice Bridgeland (Staples Press, 1971), and you are immediately in conversation with a range of 20th century child care pioneers whom Bridgeland interviewed, and who then had the opportunity to read and comment on the drafts of the chapters that Bridgeland wrote about them. Their direct presence, mediated by a man who was himself a practitioner temporarily turned full-time academic, is part of what makes Pioneer Work a classic.

Open Reluctant Rebels by Howard Jones (1960) and you are directly engaged through him with a generation of practitioners who utterly changed the face of 20th century therapeutic child care. (“Some argue (as does Fritz Redl, in a personal communication to the writer”)… (Reluctant Rebels, p. 118)).

In the foreground are David Wills, Ted Seel, A.S. Neill; in the background Bruno Bettelheim, Ben Stoddard, Sidney Hill; alongside, J.L. Moreno, Harold Bridger, Maxwell Jones – people Howard Jones met, knew and/or worked with, brought together in this book at an astonishing moment in the history of residential child care when its horizons of influence were expanding so quickly that the origins of that influence and the opportunities to build secure institutional foundations on it were soon lost in the velocity and maelstrom of the movement itself, and have still to be reclaimed. But in Reluctant Rebels they are there and present, and that is one of the reasons it, too, is a classic.


Reluctant Rebels

By the time Reluctant Rebels was published in 1960 Howard Jones was already an established university lecturer and on a career trajectory which would take him away from the direct company of maladjusted children to international eminence in the field of sociology and criminology, writing the first British text book on criminology in 1962 and retiring as Professor and Head of the Department of Social Administration and School of Social Work at Cardiff University in 1984.

A contemporary review of Reluctant Rebels sees him in academic terms, saying he “writes from the standpoint of a Social Worker and student of social psychology, and brings to his writing an analytical mind, which results in the greatest care in annotation and bibliography, but unfortunately a far less readable book” than Fred Lennhoff’s Exceptional Children about Shotton Hall School, reviewed at the same time. In contrast “Mr. Lennhoff writes with the authority of an experienced practitioner, and with warm feeling for children…” (P.A. Willison, “Book Reviews”, Probation Journal 1962 10: 45-46).


Grounded in practice

But the secret to Jones throughout his career was that at his core he was and remained a thoroughly grounded practitioner. Well before the Second World War he was running a youth club for the YMCA in Birmingham, then becoming Deputy Warden of a hostel for boys in the YMCA’s British Boys for British Farms scheme, touring local farms to ensure boys placed there were being trained and not just exploited.

Over the next fifteen years of war and peace, following a career path strikingly similar to, and eventually intersecting with, that of David Wills – arguably the single most important influence in his early professional life – , Jones gained a deep and rich experience in working with a wide range of children and young people in therapeutic and non-therapeutic group settings, picking up academic degrees and qualifications in his own time as he did so.

His discovery of specifically ‘maladjusted children’ seems to have paralleled their discovery by society at large, as he described it in 1975, “During the infancy of the child guidance movement before the war” – at the time that he was working for the YMCA – “one hardly heard of such children. However, when war broke out, and town children were evacuated to the country to escape the bombs, all that changed.” (“Psychiatry and Politics”, New Behaviour, 14.8.1975, pp. 249-251).

His own war took him in 1941/42 from the YMCA to the Wallingford Farm Training Colony, a kind of early rehabilitation centre for adolescents in Oxfordshire (Bridgeland, p. 77). Twenty years earlier David Wills, coming straight from Norwich YMCA, had spent four years there, famously transforming under the influence of fellow brother Stuart Payne from “Basher Wills” – a frightened man who beat his way to authority over the adolescent group – to the charismatic pioneer of shared responsibility who inspired several generations of therapeutic child care workers with the possibilities of non-punitive therapeutic group living. Little had changed at Wallingford when Jones arrived. “You got accepted by the kids by beating one of them in a fight”, he said in 1998. “Eventually they would challenge you, and then you would have to beat them, and the others would be sufficiently cowed. So it wasn’t really a very nice atmosphere.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, he was only there for about six months. Then, gathering the necessary qualifications, and inspired by David Wills’ books The Hawkspur Experiment and The Barns Experiment, in 1945 he applied for a teaching position at Barns School itself. Having established Barns as a therapeutic community for difficult evacuee boys in 1940 on behalf of the Edinburgh Society of Friends, Wills had recently handed over its direction to headteacher Ben Stoddard and returned south, in anticipation of opening Bodenham Manor School in Herefordshire. Barns School itself had moved out of Barns House near Peebles in Scotland, lent during the war by the Earl and Duchess of Wemyss, to what was hoped to be its more permanent quarters at Templehall House in Berwickshire.

In the event – and Jones not surprisingly retained vivid memories of this fifty years later – faulty electrical wiring led to its burning down in February 1946, and the entire school community, including Jones and his therapeutic dog (“Ben Stoddard once said he thought the dog should have my salary”), moved to a temporary holiday camp before settling into its final home at Ancrum House near Jedburgh.

Jones was at Barns for two years, during which time Wills visited the school on a couple of occasions at least, giving the two a chance to meet and develop the friendship which may have subsequently led to Jones’s going to Chaigeley School, subject of Reluctant Rebels, and certainly to Bodenham which Wills was able to belatedly open in 1950.


Tavistock and Leicester

In the meantime, however, and explicitly emulating Wills (“I did that because I’d read about David doing it, and it seemed a useful thing to do”), Jones went from Barns to London to train as a psychiatric social worker. This crucially brought him into the orbit of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, under whose aegis Reluctant Rebels was later published, and introduced him to the socially engaged psychoanalysts there, among them Eric Trist and Harold Bridger, with whom he later developed the influential Leicester Group Work Conferences at the University of Leicester. As a qualified psychiatric social worker he then went to the Philanthropic Society School (an approved school, paralleling Wills’ pre-war stint at Richmond Borstal) at Redhill in Surrey, and then to Monyhull in Birmingham, working there with subnormal children, before going to Chaigeley School.

Chaigeley, the “Woodmarsh School” of Reluctant Rebels, employed “a method not very dissimilar from, and to some extent consciously based on, that of Wills, in terms of group therapy”, according to Bridgeland (p. 244), who encapsulated the school’s history this way:

“In many ways typical of the almost accidental growth of private schools for the maladjusted during the early 1940s, Chaigeley School was sponsored by the Society of Friends as an evacuation centre, became a school, found itself increasingly concerned with the re-education of maladjusted children, ‘moved house’ and was finally recognized by the Ministry of Education in 1944 as a residential special school for maladjusted children [the first to be so recognised], in which capacity it still exists.” (pp. 239-240).

Howard Jones then completed his career in residential therapeutic child care working directly with David Wills at Bodenham Manor School, first as a psychiatric social worker, “visiting the families and writing case histories”, and then as a teacher. He married a fellow teacher, and taking Bodenham, David Wills, and his deep experience as a practitioner with him in this way, embarked on his academic career (for the details of which see


Looking for the evidence base

In a 1998 interview Howard Jones referred to himself as a bridge. Michael Levi, Professor of Criminology at Cardiff University, puts his finger on this characteristic in his obituary, with a description that could be applied directly to Reluctant Rebels,

“Howard’s most notable contribution to social science was to help develop an evidence base and approach to social work and criminology that was analytically and empirically defensible but which was not reductionist or ignored emotional interactions, and which was forged in public debate with both practitioners and academics. In more recent times it would have been called evidence-led engagement with the field.”



Bridging to other fields

In the 1998 interview Jones was speaking specifically of being a bridge between the ‘maladjusted schools’ – a term which encapsulates that dynamic period when the pioneers flourished – and the variety of other fields with which he became professionally involved. There were the influential Leicester Conferences, devised together with Eric Trist and the Tavistock Institute at the University of Leicester, after Jones’ return from a North America tour where,

“I was able to meet some of these people [Redl, Bettelheim, Moreno..] and to therefore get to know something about the work that was going on in the field of group therapy, which seemed to me to be ready made for residential institutions really. And so when I eventually went to work in a university, I was very interested in the idea of applying this to the training of staff of institutions, and we started a series of group relation training conferences…”

These innovative conferences in their turn “trained prison officers and other people, as well as bringing industry together in the management of groups…The whole programme of group counselling in prisons developed out of this…So one of the spin-offs from the maladjusted schools was the counselling in prisons.”

Similarly, “I started going to the Third World to develop crime prevention programmes and to train people in these things, in these techniques. So that the bridge there, just as the bridge to group relations, was from maladjusted kids…”

The profound influence of the maladjusted schools on Howard Jones’s understanding, and his innovative application of their group work principles to other social problems is demonstrated in his 1963 book Alcoholic Addiction: A Psycho-social Approach to Abnormal Drinking, (Tavistock, London), reporting research he had carried out at the University of Toronto. Although challenged by the successes of the AA, the treatment of addictions was still surrounded by a sense of hopelessness and addicts by and large seen as lost.

Synanon, the California-based therapeutic community for addicts growing out of AA, had not yet burst onto the wider social stage – Daniel Casriel’s book So Fair a House: The Story of Synanon, published by Prentice Hall, appeared in 1963, the same year as Alcoholic Addiction; and Lewis Yablonsky’s Synanon: The Tunnel Back did not appear until 1965 (the year that Columbia Pictures released the movie "Synanon").

Jones is clearly not aware of the development of Synanon, and when he is considering the horizon for future treatments at the end of Alcoholic Addiction, and uses the term “therapeutic community”, he is applying the British model identified with Maxwell Jones and mental health to novel settings. “It may be”, he writes, “that what we have to contemplate in the treatment of psycho-social disorders such as alcoholism or delinquency is not so much group psychotherapy as the setting in train of therapeutic community processes..” (p. 176).

The citation he adds – to Reluctant Rebels, to Maxwell Jones’ Social Psychiatry (Tavistock, 1952), and to Redl and Wineman’s The Aggressive Child (The Free Press, 1957) – brings together American therapeutic child care, British therapeutic child care, and the pioneering work of adult British psychiatry in an explicit and precocious piece of bridge-building.


Therapeutic concepts

His is also among the earliest instances of the use of the still-new term “therapeutic community” to apply to residential therapeutic child care in Britain: George Lyward’s “The School as a Therapeutic Community” in Theoria to Theory Vol. IV – taken in the past to be one of the earliest – was published in 1970, seven years later.

He then dramatically extends this bridge, “The idea of the therapeutic community has been confined in the past to that of the fully-residential institution, organised for twenty-four-hours-a-day and seven-days-a-week treatment,” he writes, signifying that he is opening up the concept of ‘therapeutic community’ to apply to less total and less all-inclusive situations.

He goes on to discuss the possibility of therapeutic community hostels (a direct reflection of the therapeutic hostels for difficult evacuees from which so many of the ‘maladjusted schools’ developed?). He also goes on to say, “Such a therapeutic community is what (in these days of correctional liberalism) our prisons should be.” (p. 176)

In a very quick movement he has built a treatment paradigm for addictions from the lessons of the maladjusted schools, brought together British and North American experience; tied these into the adult psychiatric therapeutic community movement; extended the concept from a fully residential institution to a ‘transitional community’ – “an artificial society aiming, by the pressure of a thousand and one influences, to change the individual (criminal, mental patient, etc.) and then to dovetail him back into society.” (p. 176) -; and applied it to prisons and hostels, with wider references to the family and society.

All of this in 1963, twenty five years before the comprehensive collections policy of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre, over forty years before the various areas of the work began to be brought together in the peer review-based Community of Communities project of the Association of Therapeutic Communities and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.



In Reluctant Rebels you hear of David Wills from a close colleague and friend (“What a blessing”, he wrote when David told him of the imminent death of his first wife, “that Ruth is reconciled to death…When you feel able to do so we’d like you to come and spend a few days with us -” PETT Archive and Study Centre, PP/WDW 2J/9). When Jones writes about Fritz Redl’s Pioneer House for maladjusted children in Detroit, it is from having been there and consulted its records. When he mentions the Northfield Experiments and critiques Wilfred Bion’s account of them, it is from the point of view of someone who knew the Tavistock and had worked with Northfield pioneer Harold Bridger in the running of the first Leicester Conference. When he cites Borstal Lives by ‘Louis Edwards’, the 1939 book which features David Wills as Borstal officer Mr. Masters, it is having known the author, Judah Weinstein. Throughout Reluctant Rebels there are the people themselves. Jones is part of the times about which he writes; Reluctant Rebels is a primary source, of its time, about its time.

But there is a tension. In Reluctant Rebels we hear the sounds of transition. Howard Jones is moving away from the field of maladjusted children. The field is not going with him. He presents a challenge for extending horizons, which is not taken. He offers opportunities for grounding in research, which are not realised. Bridges, but not taken; and not being taken, are lost.


How did that happen?


Note: Unless otherwise stated, all quotes are from an interview with Howard and Bess Jones recorded by Craig Fees on January 29, 1992, and [formerly] available on the Internet at

Note: Howard Jones and ‘maladjustment”. In his 1973 David Wills Lecture, published as “The Myth of Maladjustment” in the Journal of the Association of Workers for Maladjusted Children, New series 2:2 (1974), pp. 106-112, Howard Jones writes, “But there is a myth contained in the very word ‘maladjustment’. There is a deception involved in its use. We who are using it are deceiving other people, but – even more worrying – are also deceiving ourselves.” (p. 106)

Note: The copy of Reluctant Rebels in the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre Library was found on a shelf in a secondhand bookstore in Oakland, California. In the days before the Internet, Hay on Wye had been scoured, and the Skoob guide to secondhand bookstores had been used to search stores all over Britain, from London to Glasgow, and Devon to Cumbria. All without luck. The late Sidney Hill, who opened Harmeny House in Scotland, and who worked with Howard Jones at Chaigeley, reached for his copy on a visit and found it missing; it had been lent and never returned. Is all this an indication that it was cherished? A number of copies are currently available via Internet book sellers, of course. It would be interesting to know their histories, and how others have responded to Reluctant Rebels.