WYAS Criminal records on Ancestry! Stephen Ratcliffe: one lie too far..

So, who was the face of our Criminal Records post from earlier this week? The story below relates to a young man in our Reformatory school collection – and you can find out more about him by viewing our criminal records collection Ancestry.co.uk!


Stephen Ratcliffe

Well, it was the face of a young man called Stephen Ratcliffe. Not only was he caught breaking the law, he was also later caught bending the truth…

Stephen was born in (Great) Yarmouth on the 8th October, 1892. He attended the Market School, but at some time in his early youth had to bear the tragedy of the death of both his mother and father. It appears that he had already spent time in an Industrial School in Yarmouth as a voluntary case, presumably as a way of putting him on the straight and narrow.

By 1908, he had moved to Leeds and was living with his sister, Alice Birkett, at 33 South Mount Street, Beeston Hill, Leeds. He was employed at Fowler’s works, and had been in some trouble already after it was alleged he had been stealing from them – even though he was considered later to have a ‘respectable’ character!

However, he was convicted in April 1908 of stealing a horse rug. Aged 15 and only 5 foot 3 inches tall, he was sent to East Moor Community Home School, Leeds, for the term of three years.

Like many of his friends, on his discharge in 1910 he enlisted in the Army – a life of discipline and adventure obviously appealing to him. Serving in the King’s Royal Rifles, regular updates suggest he was living a fine, upstanding life.

In early December 1914, he returned to the school. His discharge notes say that he gave ‘a very vivid description of his sufferings and three wounds during the retreat from Mons’. Moved, the Masters noted that ‘much sympathy [was] lavished on him’.

But there was one problem. It seems that Stephen was being liberal with the truth again, as his notes go on to state that ‘two days later we were informed that just returned from India and had not been to France’.


Excerpt from Stephen’s discharge notes, 1910

In 1915, Stephen was (genuinely) laid up in a military hospital suffering from frostbite. In his bed, he received a letter from one of his old teachers at Eastmoor, SL Whitman.

‘Dear Ratcliffe

I am sorry to hear that you are in hospital again.

After those three terrible wounds you received at Mons (wasn’t it?) you must feel keenly the indignity of being laid up with such a humdrum complaint as frostbite.’


The letter sent from his teacher gently reminding him of his tall tales..

Stephen no doubt reflected that you can run from some things – but you can’t run from the truth or, indeed, the withering eye of a teacher scorned.

All of these records are available in their original format at our Leeds office, though some restrictions may apply. Ancestry.co.uk is also available free of charge at all our sites.


4 responses to “WYAS Criminal records on Ancestry! Stephen Ratcliffe: one lie too far..

  1. Using other Ancestry records, 9688 Private Stephen Ratcliffe landed in France on 20 December 1914. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes that he died on 25 September 1915 (http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1625476/RATCLIFFE,%20S). He has no known grave and is listed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.

  2. archiveassistant

    Great! Thanks for that, that’s really interesting – so only a week after visiting the school and telling his tale, he was off out to France (for real, this time). Sadly, then, Stephen never made it to the end of the war – along with many other Reformatory school boys (if they weren’t already enlisted) – would do so shortly after the outbreak of the war.

  3. stephen ratcliffe

    My names stephen Ratcliffe only live 2 minutes from beeston wonder if we are related

    • archiveassistant

      Hi Stephen

      Maybe you would like to pursue this! Come and visit one of our archives to find out what we do and have!

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