The Christian Service Union (CSU), originally called the Christian Union for Social Service, was established in England in 1895 following the example of a 'Colony of Mercy' established by Pastor von Bodelschwing in Bielefeld, Germany. von Bodelschwing's vision had been to create a colony for 'unemployables', unskilled men, often of low intelligence or sometimes epileptic, for training and rehabilitation.
The CSU established its first farm training colony for 50 unemployable men at Lingfield, Surrey in 1895. Partial funding came from the workhouses where the men had previously resided. Lingfield's remit developed in 1899 when it established 3 homes, housing a total of 120 epileptic children. At this time there were an estimated 60,000 epileptic children in England; many of them living workhouse wards with senile or imbecile patients. Lingfield's aim was to provide medical care and training for future employment for such cases. The CSU also took control of the Starnthwaite home for epileptic boys in Westmorland.
By 1911 the epileptic patients had become the focus of the work at Lingfield and the CSU launched an appeal for a new farm training colony. In 1912 the Wallingford Farm Training Colony was opened at Turners Court Farm, Benson. Colonists were trained in all aspects of farm work and then were found work with farmers in the UK, or were helped to emigrate. Turners Court's development stalled during the Great War, and what work did go ahead was mostly staffed by conscientous objectors. Colonists numbered 83 in 1918, but had risen to almost 300 by 1923. The increase in colonist numbers necessitated the extension of Turners Court and a further 370 acres of farm land was acquired at May's Farm.
By the 1930s Turners Court's focus had begun to shift from the training of men to that of boys. Children's Committe's from around the country sent boys aged between 14 and 18 for vocational and character training. Many of the boys sent to Turners Court were considered to be 'problem' cases, being of limited intelligence, or coming from severely broken homes. The focus on farm training also began to shift, with training courses in shoe repair, brick laying, and painting and decorating being introduced at various stages. The use of the word 'colony' was also thought to be unsuitable and in 1959 the name 'Turners Court' was officially adopted.
Turners Court continued until 1991, although often beset by financial difficulties and falling student numbers. By 1988, large financial losses were being made and questions about the future of the school were raised. Proposals to sell of assorted properties and to reduce Turners Court's running costs were set in place. However the charity continued to sustain serious financial losses and the decision to close Turners Court was taken in January 1991. The site of Turners Court was subsequently sold for housing and became known as Oakley Court. Money raised from the sale of the site was used to set up the 'Turners Court Youth Trust', a charity for children a young people.
Further information on the history of the Christian Service Union and Turners Court can be found in items O33/1/N3/1 'Brief History of the Christian Service Union 1894-1963' and O33/2/PR1/1 'The History of Turners Court'.
This collection was deposited in 3 stages, as accessions 5485, 5694, and 5782, between 2005 and 2008, and was catalogued in November 2009 by Hannah Jones.
Items O33/2/CD1/1, 4-7 have been closed at the request of the depositor but permission to view these items may be granted to bona fide researchers on application to the depositor.