Take a drive up to the Tokai Manor House and you’ll notice a house to the right with broken windows and a a verandah about to collapse. Just behind this house through a broken gate is the old Porter Reformatory. Plaster and paint is peeling off the walls. Nature is slowly taking over. The whole area is eerily quiet and still. I’d been wanting to go explore for years and when I mentioned it to Diane, she didn’t need a second invitation.
As you you enter through the doorway, stepping over the old wooden door, to the left, is a series of cells that would each house up to 8 boys. Behind each heavy door is a big open room with a concrete floor and one communal toilet at the end of each room. Strange pipes ran along the walls. Diane and I were trying o figure out what they were used for. Definitely not for central central heating. Thick bars block the windows preventing any kind of escape.
A row of solitary confinement cells run along the back perimeter of the reformatory. Small rooms with wooden floors and a little sky light high up. All four walls of each cell covered in graffiti, convict numbers and strange slogans scratched into the paint. Ivy is snaking into one cell and is making its way slowly up a wall. Each door has a small Judas window so wardens could look in on the boys.
Across from the cells is a large wooden hall, the ceiling has fallen in and the wooden floor is rotting, big holes in sections. Next to the wooden hall is an open ablution block. All the fittings are gone, it’s now just a concrete shell with patches of moss. A series of concrete wash basins line the outside wall, one full of water. The ferns are thriving.
The Porter Reformatory goes back to 1882 when the reformatory was found on the Valkenberg Farm. In 1890 the reformatory was moved to its current location next to the Tokai Manor House. The Porter Reformatory was built and designed by Sir Herbert Baker. Some online articles say Baker started his career by designing a small extension to the reformatory. Sir Herbert Baker was one of the most influential architects of South Africa designing buildings such as the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Boys that spent time at the Porter Reformatory were boys that were caught for petty crimes like stock theft, or housebreaking. They were sent to the Porter Reformatory to break down “wild and reckless” habits and to install obedience. Boys were allowed to spend 2 hours a day in the yard that served as a playground.
The reformatory was used until about 1985. Thereafter the area lay unused and vegetation took over. The Reformatory was formally closed in 2000.