History of the City of Oxford High School for Boys

1881 – 1966


This history has been produced by many people.

Following the establishment of the City of Oxford School Association (COSA) through the initiative of Canon Geoffrey Hart (1938-46) in 2004 a constitution was drawn up. There were two aims identified in the Association’s constitution: ‘The immediate objects shall be (a) to enable former pupils of the School to keep in touch with each other, and (b) to prepare a History of the School from 1881 to 1966.’  Geoffrey Hart undertook the task of compiling the History.

Sadly Geoffrey died when he had meticulously researched only the early days of the School from 1881 to 1887. The task was then taken on by his successor as Chairman of COSA, Mike Chew (1943-51). The drafts of the first two chapters reveal how methodical and thorough Geoffrey was, using original sources. The subsequent chapters, manufactured mostly by Mike Chew, are less scholarly and rely on many third-hand sources, of which the main one is the dissertation The History of the City of Oxford High School 1877 - 1925, written by John L Marler (1959-64) in the late sixties/early seventies as part of his teacher training course at Culham College of Education. He was indebted to the help given him by F C (Freddie) Lay (Old Boy and Headmaster) and Ian H (Spud) Taylor (Science Master).

Spud Taylor was an enthusiastic custodian of all matters related to the history and development of the School, and Mike Chew wishes to acknowledge his particular gratitude to both John Marler and the late Ian Taylor for the information for chapter 3 onwards which has been available to him through their efforts.

The internet and the World Wide Web have made a huge difference to the material available to the general public, and we have made considerable use of Wikipedia and Google.

This History does not do justice to the achievements of many Old Boys who have become eminent in their fields of endeavour. Recognition, we hope, will hopefully be realised in a separate project which will provide career histories not only of illustrious Old Boys, but also of many much respected members of staff whose dedication has enhanced the success of our School.

In conclusion: this is not a conventional history of a school. It has been compiled and is continuing to develop in the style of Wikipedia, with the added safeguard that all material goes to the editor first before being incorporated into the text.

This is therefore the third issue the ‘first edition’: December 2016, fifty years after the School closed.

Chapter 1: The Foundation of the School

We begin by briefly outlining the beginnings of education for all children in Oxford. The one significant secular predecessor of our School was Nixon’s School, which survived from 1658 until it finally closed in 1875.

About this time Thomas Hill Green (1836-82), pictured, came upon the scene. He was a philosopher, idealist and political radical, and was charged by the government to make a thorough investigation of education in England and Wales. In1874 he joined the Oxford School Board, and in 1877 he became a member of the City of Oxford High School Committee, charged to explore the possibility of establishing a new secondary boys school in the city. There were other schools, particularly Nixon’s School, a charity school for the sons of Freemen of the City, but by 1873 the buildings were deteriorating and it was closed in 1885 by the Charity Commissioners.

Green bemoaned the fact that local children did not have an opportunity to attempt to gain entry to the university in their own town. He put his money where his mouth was, and he and his two sisters made a number of endowments. He died in March 1882, only a few months after the School opened.

The Foundation Stone of the School was laid on 13 April 1880 by HRH Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s fourth and youngest son. He was created Duke of Albany on his marriage in 1881, but he was a haemophiliac and died in 1884.

A cavity beneath the Stone a bottle was laid which contained a copy of that day’s Times and several coins of the realm.

At the luncheon following the laying of the Foundation Stone Sir William Harcourt, a distinguished proponent of the School, took the opportunity to refute that the School would be a middle-class preserve (Hear, hear.). “It is more than that. I hope it is intended to be a great stepping-stone between the poorer and wealthier classes of the community, and that those who by industry have so distinguished themselves in elementary classes may, taking advantage of this School, be able to rise to the University itself. (Cheers.)” The aim of the School was to prepare boys for the world of commerce and public service, and the best for a university education.

The building of the School necessitated the demolition of some two dozen dwellings. The site was made over to the Governors, but provision was made that if the School ceased to function the site would revert to the City Council. This happened about eighty years later in 1966.

The architect chosen for the project was Thomas Graham Jackson,

later to be created a baronet in 1913. In 1876

Jackson had designed the Examination Schools, the Chapel in Hertford College and, among others, the Military College at Cowley, on the corner of Oxford Road and Hollow Way as well as the Oxford High School for Girls in Banbury Road, which opened in 1881.

Forest Marble Stone from Bladon was used extensively, and the dressing stones were mainly from Clipsham in Rutland, a favoured source of stone for university buildings. Broseley tiles were used for the roof. It is said that stone was used from the old prison in Gloucester Green. The building contract was awarded to Charles Claridge of Banbury.

Right from the beginning there were financial constraints. Alderman Hughes paid personally for the clock. There was to be a Headmaster’s House and boarding facilities on site, but funds were inadequate, and the first Headmaster, Arthur Pollard, lived in Bradmoor Road and took in boarders there.

Jackson proposed the motto Nemo Repente Sapit (No one is quickly wise – or similar). This was freely translated by later generations of boys as “Don’t rush us” or “No-one repents wisely”.

Chapter 2: A very good start. 1881 -1887

The Headmastership of A T Pollard.

The School opened in the autumn of 1881 with forty-six pupils with much ceremony. Many dignitaries of town, gown, county and church were present and continued celebrations with an evening banquet in the Town Hall.


The first headmaster was A T Pollard who came from Dulwich College. He clearly did some of the teaching and there were five assistant masters, some of whom were part-time. Henry Wilkins, one of the first intake, later penned his impressions of the early days, and this appeared in the March 1924 edition of the School magazine. By the time Mr Pollard left six-and-a-half years later there were about one hundred boys.

The main income of the School came from fees at £4/10/- (pounds and shillings) per term. Over the next sixty years these were to rise by less than fifty percent. Boys from poorer homes needed to win scholarships, of which there were few at that time, despite the promises of the town council to provide fifty free admission scholarships each year.

In October 1881 Mr Pollard was given permission to take boarders at his house at a rate of £12 per term. The following year the Governors made provision for six admission scholarships for boys educated in public schools in the town. In the first year sixty boys from the town’s elementary schools sat the entrance examinations, so there was certainly a demand.

By 1882 the number of pupils had increased over 75% to eighty-one. The library now held 800 books. A field had been secured for football, two colleges made their cricket fields available for school use during the summer vacation. There were also a fives court and a gravelled tennis court.

The highest numbers achieved during the eighties were 115 in 1884, when the school was described as full, but then there was a decline to 96 in 1887. There was a consequent serious drop in income. There were promises of scholarships, but few actually materialised.

 During these early years academic successes were remarkable, both at school and university level. The School Register, covering the careers of those who were at the School between 1881 and 1925, showed how much the School sought to fulfil the dual vision of the governors – academic success and social inclusivity. A survey of the Register shows a wide range of occupations of parents of the early intakes.

There were serious financial problems at this time. The estimate of £8,000 to build the School turned into an actual £10,000, and this debt plagued the School for a number of years. It was probably the reason why Headmaster Pollard stayed at the School for only six-and-a-half years. He later became Vice Master of Manchester Grammar School and finally Headmaster of the City of London School. An article written by him about his time at the School appeared some forty years later in the March 1928 edition of the school magazine.

Chapter 3 The first twelve years of Mr A W Cave’s

 Headmastership 1888-1900

 A T Pollard’s successor as Headmaster of Oxford High School was Arthur Wilson Cave, who had been senior assistant master at the School since 1886. He was appointed Headmaster in December 1888 and was to remain Headmaster of the School for thirty-seven years. Arthur Wilson Cave was born in Brackley, Northants in 1857. He first attended the Free Magdalen School in this small rural town before gaining a scholarship to the more prestigious sister school in Oxford. He then read Mathematics at Magdalen College, gaining his BA at the age of twenty-one

His first teaching post was at St Thomas’ College in Colombo, Ceylon, and later he became an assistant master at the Colombo Academy there. The College of St Thomas the Apostle, founded in 1851, was, and still is, a private Anglican school, providing both primary and secondary education according to Christian values. The Colombo Academy was founded in 1836 as a private institution to educate the children of the upper classes and was apparently modeled on Eton College. When Mr Cave was there, it started to send pupils to Oxford University. It is now known as the Royal College, arguably the foremost Public School in Sri Lanka. In September 1886 Mr Cave returned to England to take up the post of senior assistant master at what was then called the Oxford High School. Two years later he was Headmaster. A meteoric rise, indeed.

Following Mr Pollard’s foundation work in developing the School’s reputation as a respected educational establishment in the city, Mr Cave’s reign saw increased academic success, more pupils on the school roll and more new buildings. Alongside this, however, was growing dependence on the local education authority and the government’s Board of Education. This was particularly the case after the First World War, when the increased provision of secondary education became an important issue in the country.

Even in 1922, however, as evidenced in the Editorial of the December issue of the school magazine, the country’s drive for expansion of secondary education was still being questioned.

“Certain people are now demanding that all children shall have a ‘secondary’ education, and this, without considering the cost or the advantage [sic] to the nation. For our part we cannot see how this is to be done, unless the whole system of elementary education is changed, and all the schools in the country are put on a dead level. We hope the ‘German’ methods are not going to find supporters amongst responsible politicians.

“There is a very broad and easily climbed ladder already, by which any boy may gain as much as he desires, let us leave matters alone now for another decade or two before we change. This restless age no sooner gets a scheme built up, then there comes a desire to pull it all down and build something else before the scheme is fairly tried.”

Under Cave’s headmastership numbers began to increase again. Assets were generally in excess of liabilities, though initially by a very small margin. By1892 the financial position was much more stable. The number of pupils began to rise steadily, apart from a couple of years, and this trend continued until the turn of the century.

That growth might have been greater if there had been boarding facilities at the School, as had been originally intended. To the left of the railings in front of the School there is a blocked doorway, which was to have been the entrance to the Headmaster’s residence and the boarding quarters of the School. Not unusually at this time, boys from surrounding districts were boarded out, and so were able to attend the School.  The first Headmaster A T Pollard was eventually given permission in 1881 to take in boarders at his home in Bradmore Road and later in 1891 the Rev H R Hall, for example, was given permission in 1891 to take 12 boarders, which increased to 18 a few years later.

More scholarships became available and in 1891 Greek was again offered free to scholarship holders. Academic success continued: four scholarships and exhibitions to Oxford in 1888, two in 1889 and one in 1891. The results in the Oxford Local Examinations were also very good.

 By 1892 the School was clearly in need of additional accommodation. This was identified as two classrooms, a Chemistry laboratory, Headmaster’s room and a caretaker’s house. The School’s original architect estimated the cost to be £4,000, but the Governors considered this to be too much. In the end it was decided to ask the City Council for a grant of £2,500 maximum. A letter from a Mr Nicolls suggested that a gymnasium and a playing field were required, but this was rejected out of hand as funds were not available. A Special Committee was set up on the suggestion of one Hugh Hall, initially an opponent of the School, but increasingly becoming one of its supporters. The Committee confirmed the absolute necessity of building two more classrooms and a laboratory, at a cost of £2,400.There was the usual haggling. One criticism was that the School was attended by pupils from surrounding districts such as Witney, Abingdon, Islip and Yarnton, thus providing education for families who were not ratepayers of the City of Oxford, who were to raise the loan.

 There was also the charge that the School was too middle-class. A staunch supporter of the School, Alderman Buckell, sought to placate such objections by suggesting that the School provide six additional free scholarships, two each year for three years, from local elementary schools. This swayed the argument, but in fact it was later decided that the scholarships would be given to boys from elementary schools already at the School, so that they could stay for six years instead of possibly having to leave after only three years.

The Science laboratory was built in 1894. It was to be used for Physics and Chemistry as well as serving as a lecture theatre. Two new classrooms were built onto the existing building in 1895.

 School numbers continued to rise. Eleven choristers were admitted from St John’s College. Following the demolition of Nixon’s School in 1894 some of its endowments were used to provide scholarships at the High School, and in 1895 the first three Nixon’s Scholars were duly recorded in the School Register.

 Nixon’s Free Grammar School had been founded in 1658 for the sons of freemen by John Nixon (or Nickson) (1588–1662), a mercer who was three times Mayor of Oxford.  The city council had first considered founding such a school in 1576, but only took action when Nixon offered £30 a year to pay a master’s stipend, provided that the city provided a suitable schoolroom. It was situated in the Town Hall Yard. It survived for 235 years until 1894, when it was closed, despite opposition by the Oxford freemen, following bad reports by the government inspector.

The story of Nixon’s School is recounted by Ian Taylor in more detail in the March 1964 edition of the School magazine, where there is a copy of an engraving by Thomas Riley of the school courtyard. There is also a photo of the Schoolroom in a very dilapidated condition in its closing years.

In 1896 there was further expansion for the School. No. 25 New Inn Hall Street was leased from the Corporation at £30 a year for use as the caretaker’s house and an additional classroom on the ground floor in the shed where the fire engine had been kept when the property previously formed part of the headquarters of the Oxford Fire Brigade. Necessary alterations to the property costing over £100 meant that the rent was raised to £35 per annum.

Sport and music flourished to an extent during this period of expansion, perhaps partly through the interests of the Headmaster who had been an oarsman in his university days and a keen musician. The annual athletics meeting became a regular feature, and by 1893 a ground at Osney was used for games, and Long Bridges bathing place was used for the swimming sports. In 1894 the prize giving ceremony was followed by instrumental recitals, literary recitations and songs. One such popular song was ‘Come into the garden, Maud’. Mr Cave’s daughter was Maud.

 After prolonged negotiations with St John’s College the Governors leased land for 19 years from Lady Day 1898 and a cricket field was laid out, fences erected, paths realigned and  a pavilion built for £281.11.10. Sport, however, remained an optional extra, and was charged for at the rate of 4/- per term for boys paying 12 guineas a year and 2/- for those paying 8 guineas.

Non-payment of fees became a problem from time to time. Reasons were often legitimate, such as sickness and temporary unemployment, but this was not always the case, and in 1898 the Governors stipulated that all fees should be paid within 14 days of the commencement of each term, and that the Headmaster should be instructed to refuse admission to any pupil whose fees for the previous term had not been paid.

At the turn of the century Governors became worried once again at the decreasing numbers of pupils and the resulting financial shortfall – 165 in 1898.

Chapter 4: The Early 20th Century

By 1901 the average number of pupils in the School had dropped from 165 in 1889 to 139, and the assets of the School were deemed for the first time in ten years to be less than its liabilities.

The number of scholars remained roughly the same, but the number of fee- payers dropped. It was not because academic standards had dropped during those years – in 1898 five pupils had entered Oxford University and in 1900 three more. The Governors thought that parents doubted that the School was making adequate provision for education in Commerce to attract fee-paying boys. Shorthand and Bookkeeping had been introduced in 1887, but they were extra subjects which cost half a guinea per term. In October 1901 the Finance Committee recommended that the fees for Bookkeeping should be ended and the subject should become a regular part of the school curriculum.

The Finance Committee anticipated that the Corporation would have to take a more direct interest in educational matters, thus predicting the 1902 Education Act, under which school boards were abolished and in their place Local Educational Authorities (LEAs) were created to organise funding, employ teachers and allocate school places. The Finance Committee in a sense pre-empted the impact of the 1902 Education Act by asking the Corporation to increase its annual grant to the School from £100 to £250.

In 1902 the Conservative government of the time introduced this new Education Act that abolished all 2568 school boards and handed over their duties to local borough or county councils.

These new Local Education Authorities (LEAs) were given powers to establish new secondary and technical schools as well as developing the existing system of elementary schools. The Education Act of 1902 provided for two types of state-aided secondary school: the endowed grammar school and the municipal or county secondary schools; thus setting the basis for school education for much of the 20th century. The School, however, remained largely independent until thirty years later when it became totally maintained by the Local Education Authority.

Nonconformists and supporters of the Liberal and Labour parties campaigned against the 1902 Education Act. John Clifford formed the National Passive Resistance Committee and by 1906 over 170 men had gone to prison for refusing to pay their school taxes. This included 60 Primitive Methodists, 48 Baptists, 40 Congregationalists and 15 Wesleyan Methodists.

The 1902 Education Act became a major political issue and was one of the main reasons for the
Liberal Party victory in the 1906 General Election. In fact the School had never been totally independent of the Corporation which had provided the site and half the cost of the buildings, and growing co-operation between the Governors and the Corporation became discernible after 1902. The provision of co-ordinated secondary education within the city became the subject of much debate and planning.

After 1902 the School’s financial problems began to sort themselves out. In addition to the increased grant from the Corporation the School benefited in 1906 from a legacy of £100 from the will of a benefactor, and the numbers entering the School in September 1906 rose to an unprecedented 172.

 In terms of improving facilities the Headmaster was also able to make arrangements for the School to use the University Gymnasium for School gymnastic classes, for which the School charged a fee of five shillings per term.

In 1903 the Oxford High School Old Boys Club was founded. Member of staff N J Soulsby produced a history of the Club in 1953 in a publication “Retrospect” in celebration of its fifty years of existence. This history is summarised in the penultimate section of this booklet.

In 1906 the School’s financial position had improved greatly with the increase in enrolments. 1906 also saw the first inspection by four members of the Board of Education. The report did not, however, consider the financial position of the School as satisfactory or stable.  Four of the seven permanent members of staff were undergraduates, employed because they were cheap. It was suggested that that the School’s important position in Oxford required it to have better qualified staff. There was no qualified Science master, and little science teaching was attempted. More should be spent on the Library and classroom equipment. It was estimated that the School needed a further annual income of £250 or more, from an increased grant from the Council or higher fees or through recognition under the Board’s ‘Regulations for Secondary Schools’ (which would entitle the School to financial aid via the Board).

At least the report was optimistic about the adequacy of the site for further expansion, but said that there was currently not enough accommodation for the number of pupils at the School. This was not entirely surprising, given the twenty percent increase in numbers between 1902 and 1906. The report noted that the Headmaster Mr Cave was held in high esteem by both staff and pupils. “He devotes himself entirely to the School ….and supervises much of the work for which others are directly responsible.”

Chapter 5 1907-1920: Academic improvement but financial worries.

In 1907 the Inspectors’ Report of 1906 was referred to a sub-committee of the governing body. It recommended that four additional classrooms were needed, at a cost of £3,000 – one for the sixth form, one for the fifth form, one for the third form (to relieve pressure in the main hall), and a physics laboratory. It also recommended that £250 per year should be provided to improve the provision of science education. Of this, £200 would be for a master and £50 for the upkeep of the laboratory and the purchase of additional equipment.

The only viable options to pay for all this were through additional payments by the Town Council or through a grant from the local Education Authority under the provisions of section 2 of the Education Act of 1902. The Report was passed on to the Town Council for consideration.

Negotiations were still ongoing in 1909 when a further inspection was made by the Board of Education, but the report proved to be very short as the ‘changes since the Full Inspection held in March 1906 have been slight.’ The School had been recognised as a pupil-teacher centre, and the Governors had resolved to admit a limited number of boys each year with a view to their eventually becoming pupil teachers. The School had also been recognised as efficient and placed on the Board of Education’s list of efficient Secondary Schools. This had enabled bursaries to be tenable at the School, and in 1909 there was one bursary pupil at the school.

One welcome change noted in the 1909 Report was the appointment of a permanent Science master. There had been an almost 400% increase in the numbers taking science between 1906 and 1909 to the grand total of forty-one. Facilities, however, were still poor. The teaching was good and from 1910 onwards regular scholarships and exhibitions were won to Oxford University.

If the Council was to provide extra funds it wanted more representation on the Governing Body, and three more extra Council-elected Governors were added, making a total of nine.

 Adding to the governors’ financial problems the City Estates Surveyor pointed out that the School’s lavatory facilities were considered archaic and unhygienic. The City Corporation agreed to pay the £187 cost, but the Governors had to sort out other defects at their own expense, such as elderberry trees growing out of the lead guttering. There was a fall in the number of pupils from 177 in 1907 to 153 in 1911. Although the School was doing well academically with fourteen scholarships and exhibitions to the University over a five-year period, liabilities exceeded assets by £278 15s 2d.

In 1912 the Governors recognised that £2,000 was needed for new buildings and a further £75 for the necessary repairs. A further £75 annually was needed to raise assistant masters’ salaries, and they wanted to appoint a science examiner. They therefore decided to ask the Council to increase its grant to £500 a year.

1913 proved to be a turning point. School numbers increased a little, academic successes included four awards at Oxford, and the Corporation agreed to temporarily increase its grant to £750 to help pay off liabilities running at that time at £533 plus a few shillings and pence. Indeed, with improving pupil numbers in 1914 the grant was maintained for another year. There were six scholarships and exhibitions to Oxford, among them an Open Science Exhibition to Jesus College by one FC Lay, who was to become Headmaster of the School from 1944 to 1962. By the end of 1915 much of the necessary extra building had been completed.

The School flourished during the years of the Great War in spite of the hardships of the times which affected most families. Assets now remained higher than liabilities, and school numbers rose in 1918 above 200 for the first time. There were university awards aplenty, including many in the sciences. Oxford Local Examinations results were excellent and the school was able to renew its lease of the playing field for a further 16 years.

Eighty-four Old Boys fell during the Great War, their sacrifice being recorded on a memorial erected on the Main Staircase in 1920. 639 Old Boys served during the war. 493 of them served in the Army, 58 in the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force and 312 held commissions.

Old Boys gained many decorations: KCB 1, CB 3, CBE 2, DSO 9, OBE 3, MBE 6, MC and Bar 3, MC 25, DFC 1, AFC 1, MM 3 and MSM 3. Four were awarded the French Légion d’Honneur, three the Croix de Guerre. Four received the Belgian Croix de Guerre and one the Ordre de La Couronne. Two won the Italian Silver Medal and one the Croce di Guerra.

In spite of the temporary improvement of the School’s financial situation the governors were aware of the need to increase the School’s income, and in May 1917 they set up a committee to consider whether the School should be placed under the Board of Education in order to obtain Secondary Education grants. It was eventually decided not to make an application for the time being, but the door was left open in case the School’s financial situation began to deteriorate. That happened quite soon.

By 1919 the School was in the red again, in spite of pupil numbers averaging 221 per term as opposed to 158 in 1913. This was probably as a result of the increased awareness after the Great War of the importance of secondary education. The Headmaster Mr Cave expressed concern at the increase of clerical work, organisational difficulties particularly with regard to teaching. Eventually the Governors did decide to bring the School under the regulations of the Board of Education.  This meant that some provisions in the original Trust deed were inconsistent with the Board’s regulations and had to cease or be modified. For instance, there had to be a conscience clause regarding denominational teaching and freedom of teachers from any denominational requirements. Also there had to be a required number of free places for scholars from public elementary schools.

The Board deemed the school to be suitable for 200 boys, but it noted the absence of a Manual Room or Art Room, and a Gymnasium. It also ruled that 25% of the entry at the age of eleven should be on free places.

Following an inspection of the School in March 1920 the School was placed on the List of Secondary Schools recognised for grants on the assurance that the Governors would immediately put plans in place for the required extension of the premises. The Inspectors were very critical of the premises and the equipment. Little, they said, had been done to keep pace with the increasing numbers of pupils as far as Science was concerned. The library was still serving as a Sixth Form room and the Masters’ Common Room. Three forms were being taught in the Hall. There was neither a gymnasium, nor manual Instruction room, nor art room. Boys had to hang their coats in corridors and wash their hands at a tap in the playground. There was no proper accommodation for bicycles. Buildings deemed to be temporarily satisfactory for 200 pupils were holding 229.

The Inspectors were also unhappy with the policy of employing undergraduates and beneficed clergy. Whilst masters were conscientious, their secondary interests ensured that boys were deprived of extra-curricular activities such as a Cadet Corps, Debating Society, Natural History Society, and there was a dull teaching routine in the classroom. In the past, they said, the Head Master had concentrated his efforts on maintaining a high standard in Mathematics and Classics to secure university places, but that time had passed. ‘The School is recognised as the most important Secondary Day School in the area and its curriculum needs to be thoroughly overhauled and extended.’ The School was also hampered by late entrants who were ill-prepared to benefit from the education offered by the School, thus restricting the progress of others. ‘There are too many boys who leave without having stayed long enough to make progress of any permanent value in the subjects which they have started ‘ In spite of their criticisms the Inspectors were not unaware of the merits of the School and had sympathy with its financial struggles.

Chapter 6 Growth

The expansion of numbers continued on into the late 1920s – 245 in 1920, 266 in 1921, 329 in 1922, 357 in 1923, 366 in 1924, which meant that planning for additional accommodation was difficult. The army hut which had been purchased in 1920 to serve as a gymnasium for the School was converted in 1921 into four classrooms, and an adjacent property at 25 New Inn Hall Street was brought back into use as an additional classroom. On the academic side the clergy and undergraduates on the staff were defended by the Governors following very good examination results. Playing field facilities (nine acres) in Marston Ferry Road were sought and acquired on lease.

 All these projects cost money, and the School’s dependence on the Council for funding became greater and greater. As a consequence the Corporation gained increased representation on the Governing Body with the election of three members of the Education Committee in addition to the nine governors already elected by the City Council. Additionally the City Treasurer was appointed in 1922 to act as Treasurer of the School. School fees were also raised, as another source of income, with additional charges for boys entering after the age of ten and for those coming from the country. A further economy measure was the voluntary reduction of salaries, now on the Burnham Scales, in line with cuts in spending countrywide following the Geddes recommendations, known as the ‘Geddes Axe’. The School was effectively being controlled by the Council.

Academic success continued through these years of expansion. Twenty-two scholarships and exhibitions to Oxford colleges were won during the period 1919-25. The relatively rapid expansion and changes began to affect the health of the headmaster who by 1920 had already served for 32 years. The large influx of boys, for instance, did not allow him to exert the personal influence which was his style. In 1920 he was allowed £10 a term to pay an assistant master to take some of the burden of clerical work off his shoulders in out-of-school hours, and indeed in 1922, whilst fixing the salary of future headmasters at £1,000 per year, the Governors awarded Mr Cave £1,200 ‘owing to exceptional circumstances and the hardships involved’. Furthermore the burden was eased through the appointment of an additional teacher to teach Mathematics. Amid all the practical changes the name of the School was officially changed in1924 to ‘The City of Oxford School’, probably to avoid confusing the School with the Oxford High School for Girls, and a house system was introduced to counter organisational problems, particularly in the area of sport. The house were named after illustrious Old Boys, namely Lawrence, Salter, Joliffe and Kerry.

Lawrence House was named after Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935). Most know him as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, a modern crusader knight in white flowing robes who led tribes of wild Bedouin in a fight for freedom against the Turks from 1916-18, as portrayed by Lowell Thomas in the early 1920s. Later this image was replaced by the flaunting masochistic ego-maniac of David Lean's film, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, released in 1962 and starring Peter O’Toole.

Lawrence was the second of five illegitimate sons. He gained a First in History at Jesus College, Oxford. He became a practising archaeologist in the Middle East, and his years in Syria paved the way for his role in the Arab Revolt, a defender of Arab self-rule during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and later at the Cairo Conference of 1921. In 1914, before the outbreak of World War 1, he had been co-opted by the British Army to make a military survey of the Negev Desert and later, as a British Army officer, he became renowned for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916-18.

     He wrote two books: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, based on his role in the Arab Revolt, and The Mint, an account of his experiences as a recruit in the ranks of the RAF. He translated a couple of works, and wrote about 6,000 letters. As an aircraftman in the Royal Air Force he helped in the design of high-speed rescue boats. He also served briefly in the Royal Tank Corps. He was a motorcycle enthusiast.

Salter House was named after Sir Arthur Salter (1881- 1975), who was the son of James Salter who owned Salter’s Steamers. He graduated with first- class honours in Literae Humaniores from Brasenose in 1903 and was Mayor of Oxford in 1909. He joined the Civil Service and was much involved in high positions with the Admiralty and Road & Rail Transport. After a period in journalism he was appointed Gladstone Professor of Political Theory and Institutions at Oxford and subsequently, as an MP, held a number of ministerial posts in government. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Salter of Kidlington in the County of Oxford in 1953, having received many honours, firstly as Companion of the Bath in 1918, Knight Commander of the Bath in 1922 and a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1944. He died in 1975. He was also MP for Oxford University from 1937 until 1950, when the constituency was abolished.

Jolliffe House was named after Arthur Ernest Jolliffe (1871-1944) who studied at Balliol College, Oxford. He was a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford from 1891 to 1920, and was also an assistant tutor at Jesus College, Oxford from 1903 to 1920. He was then appointed as Professor of Mathematics at the University of London, retiring in 1936. He was made an Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College in 1931 and of Jesus College in 1934.

Kerry House was named after Arthur Henry Gould Kerry (1896-1908), Oxford City Football Club 1907/08 to 1909/10 and 1913/14, Oxford AFA team 1910/11 to 1912/13). His background was quite different. A contemporary of TE Lawrence, he gained a First in Natural Science at St John’s College in 1912, then took up a series of teaching posts, punctuated by the Great War, in which he was a Captain of the Motor Cyclists’ Section of the Royal Engineers. After the War he was made MBE (military division).

Gaining three amateur international caps for England whilst with Oxford City in 1910, he left the club for three seasons to play for the Oxford AFA team, which was part of the breakaway amateur movement. The team which won the AFA Senior Cup in 1912 included no less than six Old Boys. After teaching at Millfield School, he was from 1925 a Housemaster at Eton College.

In 1924 the name of the School was officially changed to the City of Oxford School, and it was in this year that A W Cave tendered his resignation as Headmaster after thirty-seven years, citing the greater burden occasioned

by the increasing number of pupils and the need to bring in a ‘younger and more vigorous man ...to deal with the serious problems which have to be faced in the future’. The governors stipulated that the new Headmaster should be under forty-five years of age, and in 1925 appointed Wilfrid Parkinson, Chief Mathematical Master at the Merchant Taylors’ School. In the same year Mr Cave was accorded the Freedom of the City of Oxford. He died five years later in 1930.

Chapter 7:  Post 1925

From 1925 until 1966 the School had four headmasters: W Parkinson (1925-32), pictured alongside, J E Badham (1932-44), F C Lay (1944-62) and R W Bodey (1962-66) and it was a period of staff stability. During these years several members of staff completed at least twenty-one years of service and others were at the School for a considerable number of years. Indeed Messrs Badham and Bodey had both been long-serving members of staff prior to their appointment as Headmaster, and Freddie Lay had been a pupil at the School from 1908-15.

During the forty or so years following Mr Cave’s retirement, there were frustrated attempts to get the School moved to a new and larger site in north Oxford, as the George Street site became inadequate due to the considerable increase in pupil numbers. Three general inspections made by the Board of Education in 1928 and 1937 and its successor the Ministry of Education in 1955 had highlighted the problems.  During Parkinson’s stewardship the governors tried to resettle the School in Cutteslowe.

In the School magazine of December 1926 it states: ‘It has been common knowledge for some time past that the removal of the school to another site was being considered. The proposal to move it to the site at Cutteslowe, on the Banbury Road, has now been approved in principle......Some time must elapse between the final decision and actual migration...There have naturally been some feelings of regret among the older generation....but, frankly, those of us who have had to work under conditions of overcrowding and makeshift accommodation look forward to the chance of expansion with relief.’

In the March 1928 edition it says: ‘Meanwhile the erection of the new school is getting nearer. The architect, Mr W G Newton, F.R.B.A., who recently put up new buildings at Uppingham and Marlborough, has designed a new school for us which will satisfy the eye and give us the most up-to-date accommodation.

It was not to be. Although generally agreed in principle, the plan was defeated by a casting vote in committee.

During the headships of Badham (photo below) and Lay the governors tried to remove the School to its playing fields at Marston Ferry Road in north Oxford, but were thwarted by municipal politics and financial considerations. Marston Ferry Road would have proved an excellent site, as the school playing fields were already there and there was plenty of space for the school buildings. The last attempt to move the School to north Oxford took place in 1958/9, but at that time there was a clear divergence in opinion as to how education in England should develop. One faction wanted to retain a traditional grammar school. Another faction wanted a bilateral school – a step on the way to the introduction of comprehensive education. The stalemate was broken when Lay took up a suggestion made in the local press that the School should merge with Southfield (Grammar) School in east Oxford to form a larger grammar school in Oxford. The Headmaster of Southfield School was in favour, as were the staffs of the two schools, and the Education Committee agreed.

The merger was completed in the Trinity Term of 1966, and the school was named Oxford School. Until this came to fruition the day-to-day life of the School in George Street continued.  

Parkinson made it his business to modernise the curriculum and extend the system of teaching by subject masters rather than by form masters, and to replace retiring members of staff with better qualified teachers. There was a greater variety of subjects taught in the sixth form and better results in the Higher School Certificate. There was also more music within the curriculum than hitherto.  He introduced the chocolate-brown blazer. The tuck shop made its appearance. The School Magazine was taken over by the School itself from the Old Boys’ Club. In 1932 Parkinson moved to Bridlington School as Headmaster. Prior to coming to Oxford he had taught at Edinburgh Academy and then become Chief Mathematical Master at Merchant Taylors’ School. He also served with distinction in the Great War, and won the Military Cross.

Increasing financial dependence on the Oxford City Education Committee led the School to drop its public school status in 1932 and become maintained by the local education authority. Academic successes were maintained.

In Badham’s reign soccer was replaced by rugby football as the School’s winter sport. In 1940 the army hut was destroyed by fire and replaced by the provision of a geography classroom at the eastern end of the original school building of 1881. An art room and a small biology laboratory were added to the 1915 extensions.


Fifty-five Old Boys died in the Second World War. A memorial to their ultimate sacrifice is on the Main Staircase.  There was more emphasis on the part played by the Royal Air Force and by Civil Defence. Half of those who served were commissioned. Four reached the rank of General, a further four of Colonel, One hundred and ten were RAF Officers and of these fifteen were Squadron Leaders and three Wing Commanders. The memorial tablet on the main staircase to the Great Hall perpetuates the memory of those who lost their lives during the war. The Memorial Service held in March 1947 followed exactly the service that was held in 1920 and was conducted by The Revd N B Kent OBE, MA, RN.

Frederick Charles Lay (1908-15) was the first Old Boy of the School to be its Headmaster. On leaving school he saw war service in France with the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. He returned in 1919 to Jesus College to take up a Science Exhibition and to read Chemistry. Later he was senior science master at Liverpool College, first Headmaster of Wellingborough Grammar School (1930-37), and Headmaster of Doncaster Grammar School (1937-44) where he saw large extensions to the School carried through and completed by the end of 1940. It was the wish of many Old Oxford Citizens, as the Old Boys were called, to have an Old Boy as Headmaster when Mr Badham retired, the more so particularly for the projected move of the School after the war to Marston Ferry Road. The Governors appointed him Headmaster and he took up his duties in November 1944.

School fees in maintained secondary schools were abolished in the 1944 Education Act. The School became like other secondary schools of the time – entry was at ‘eleven plus’, pupils took the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate, later to become the General Certificate of Education (GCE) at O level and A level. Unlike in the earlier history of the School, when the main preoccupation was getting pupils into Oxford University, pupils began to pass on to other universities throughout the country.

Extra classrooms were made available in 1950 with the erection against the city wall of an aluminium structure housing three classrooms (and a small changing room for PE). In 1953 further teaching accommodation was made available by adapting nos 25, 27 and 29 New Inn Hall Street. No. 29 had to be demolished because of unsafe foundations and was only rebuilt at ground floor level. In 1955 one of the 1915 classrooms was converted into a lower school science laboratory.

It was somewhat ironic that shortly after the decision was made to move the school to the site of Southfield School in Cowley further accommodation became available further along New Inn Hall Street at what had been the Central Girls’ School. The girls were moved to Cheney School in Headington. The Central School for Girls had been founded in about 1797 and was originally housed in the old Wesleyan Chapel. It was taken over by the Oxford School Board in 1898.  Another building in the street was purchased from Balliol College and turned into a new, purpose-built school. The girls had moved in towards the end of 1900 and the school had been formally opened in January 1901. These premises now provided the boys’ school with additional classrooms, a hall converted into a gymnasium, a space for a metalwork shop and a small playground.

Freddie Lay retired in the summer of 1962. R W Bodey became Headmaster for the remaining years until the School finally vacated its two sites in July 1966, thus ending the eighty-five year existence of the School. Ralph W Bodey studied at University College London and joined the School 1927 as Physics Master. He later became Senior Master and in 1962 became Headmaster. From 1966 to 1969 he was Deputy Headmaster of Oxford School.

Chapter 8: The Old Oxford Citizens’ Society

In February 1903 a circular was distributed about the possible formation of an Old Boys’ Society. By this time the School was already well established and former pupils were successful in almost every walk of life. As early as April 1903 a dinner was held in the Clarendon Hotel, attended by 64 Old Boys. A steering committee was formed with Mr A E Jolliffe, Fellow of Corpus, as Chairman, Mr J A Salter as Treasurer, Mr C W Hurcomb as Secretary and Editor of the Magazine (with a master, the Rev HR Hall, as sub-editor). Headmasters A T Pollard and A W Cave were installed as Honorary Vice-Presidents. The society was originally named the Oxford High School Old Boys’ Club, which later became the Old Oxford Citizens’ Society, The original aims were to hold an Annual Dinner in Oxford about Easter time, to support a ‘school paper’, to play matches against School teams in term-time, and to play other teams in the vacation alongside players still at school.

Two months later the first ‘school paper’ was published under the name of the ‘OHS magazine’. The initial intention was to produce six editions a year, but by 1906 this was reduced to three editions. Curiously ‘practically none were sold in the School’. By 1904 the Rev H R Hall had taken over editorship of the magazine – a post he was to retain for twenty years.

Another project of significance which was introduced was the Register, which was to summarise the careers of former pupils. In time the Register contained details of some 2,000 Old Boys who had left the School by 1925, the year that Mr Cave retired as Headmaster. It was a labour intensive undertaking and the Register was not published until 1938, partly also because of lack of financial support (even though the School took over complete control of the magazine, thus relieving the Club of a relatively heavy financial commitment).

The Register bears testimony to the extraordinary range of successful careers of Old Boys. Interestingly 20% went on to the University, with some 5% being awarded Open Scholarship and Exhibitions. In 1921, for instance, there were 65 boys resident at Oxford Colleges. It was said that Old Boys taught at some time in nearly every Public School in the land. ‘Mr ‘Soller’ Soulsby, who in 1953 published ‘Retrospect’, an Appreciation of Fifty Years of the Old Oxford Citizens’ Society, refers to the very many success of Old Boys, both sporting and professional, albeit without specifically naming many. He also has a chapter on the two world wars, which have been covered elsewhere in this History of the School.

The final paragraph of this excellent publication is worth quoting almost in its entirety. ‘The Public School status which it had when the Club was formed, the School no longer claims, but the Old Boys’ Society is as important as ever. The strength of the Public School has been, and still is, the Old Boys’ Society. We live in times of change.....and the Grammar School may steadily take over the responsibility of the Public School. What has been a pillar of strength and an inspiration in one case will prove the same in the other. Public Schools have not all been equal in their achievement and output. Those with the best record have the strongest and proudest Old Boys’ Societies. If the Grammar School succeeds the Public School history will repeat itself; there will be schools which can point to outstanding and continuous successes. COHS, for a long time, is likely to be among them.’  Did Mr Soulsby get it right?

Chapter 9: The City of Oxford School Association (COSA)

This History of the School has been produced with the support of COSA. It seems therefore appropriate to pen a brief history of how COSA came into being.

After considerable discussion among a number of Old Boys of CO(H)S it was decided to convene a meeting to discuss the possible formation of an association dedicated to former members of the School. Since the School amalgamated with Southfield School in the Sixties to form Oxford School, this school had undergone many transformations until it was now no longer of particular personal interest to our Old Boys.
A meeting was held in 2004 at the Greyhound pub in Besselsleigh. Those present were Ron Baker (1945-50), Mike Chew (1943-51) Pat Cripps (1943-51), Maurice Croxon (1944-48), John Green (1944-51), Michael Harris (1944-51), Geoffrey Hart (1938-46), David Manners (1944-52), Roy Parsloe (1944-52), George Pulley (1944-49), Alan Trinder (1944-51), Terence Walsh (1944-49) and David White (1938-44). Geoffrey Hart was chosen to chair the meeting.

The meeting discussed a paper originally submitted by Geoffrey Hart (see inset), in which he proposed the formation of COSA – the City of Oxford School Association. His proposals were accepted in large measure and COSA was thereby officially formed. A provisional committee was chosen, comprising Chairman (Geoffrey Hart), Vice-Chairman (Mike Chew), Secretary (Alan Trinder), Treasurer (Graham Broadley) and Membership Secretary (George Pulley). Mike Chew’s offer to set up an association website was accepted and he also offered to produce an occasional newsletter.

The first Newsletter, 40 pages long, appeared in January 2005. The first AGM was held on Friday 4th March 2005 at the Four Pillars Hotel on the Abingdon Road in Oxford. About 80 Old Boys attended. Over 100 Old Boys and partners attended the first Annual Reunion Dinner which was held in the same hotel in October 2005 and the event has continued to be well supported, although with an ever ageing clientele they are lunches rather than dinners.

By the end of the first year membership had grown to a pleasing 187. Eventually we have achieved a membership of nearly 300. – no mean feat in the absence of relevant documentation to trace Old Boys.

The AGMs are now held in our old School in George Street at the invitation of the incumbents, initially the Classics Faculty of the University and currently (2016) the History Faculty, and continue to be well attended, although not as spectacularly as the first one in 2005. We are grateful to the Faculties for the very warm welcome they have always extended to us.

In the Great Hall we have a standing COSA exhibition and over the past ten years or so we have been able to restore to the main staircase the Lawrence plaque and other memorials, which were moved to the Oxford School in 1966.

† Canon Geoffrey Hart (Chairman 2004-7)

Mike Chew (Chairman 2007-12)

Professor Peter Hills (Chairman 2012 -)

Ron Baker (current committee member)

† Graham Broadley (Treasurer)

Mike Cross (current committee member)

Brin Harvey (Treasurer)

† Tony Jennings (Dinner Manager)

Roy Parsloe (current Dinner Manager)

Tim Pocock (current Treasurer & Membership Secretary)

† Ken Powell (Vice Chairman)

† George Pulley (Membership Secretary)

David Scothorn (co-opted committee member)

Alan Trinder (Secretary and current Vice Chairman)

† Michael White (Archivist)

Malcolm Williams (current Secretary & Editor)

Our thanks also to David Manners who has always been keenly involved in the preservation of archival material and to the late Ian (Spud) Taylor, without whose archival diligence and enthusiasm this History would have been nigh impossible.

Important information (valid in December 2016)


The COSA website (www.cosa.webplus.net)  is managed by Club Secretary Malcolm Williams, who can be contacted on williams.malcolm36@virginmedia.com.


Membership of COSA is open to all former pupils of the School. The Association Treasurer and Membership Secretary is Tim Pocock (timpocock1948@btinternet.com). Membership costs £10 per year. Life membership costs £50.

There is an informal chat room on facebook called the ‘City of Oxford School Chat Room’ which is managed by Mike Chew, who can be contacted on chewmike@aol.com and 01780 763496. This is a closed group. It is available exclusively to all Old Boys and former members of staff, whether they are members of COSA or not. If you are on Old Boy of the School you will be accepted. Just contact Mike.

As mentioned previously in this history of the School, it is hoped to compile a compendium of brief profiles of Old Boys, deceased and living, who have become eminent in their fields of endeavour, and of much respected members of staff whose dedication has enhanced the success and reputation of our School. Old Boys are invited to suggest entries either via the Chat Room mentioned above or directly to chewmike@aol.com.  This project will inevitably take a few years to complete. Be patient!

Playground Cricket by T E Lawrence (Lawrence ii in the OHS magazine of July 1904.
This is the earliest piece of writing that can definitely be ascribed to Lawrence, although a companion piece titled 'Playground Football' and signed 'Goalpost' had appeared in the March 1904 issue of the O.H.S. Magazine, and was written in a very similar style. Lawrence ii wrote:
'Playground cricket has no handbook, so I think that some hints to youngsters who aspire to gain honours in this subject will be acceptable . . . a cap will not do for the ball. It can however be a stone, or a piece of wood: I have even seen a potato used with success. One man bats, another forty or so bowl . . . The stumps deserve mention. A wooden wall was improvised for wicket-keeper, and 3 stumps were chalked upon it, in white and blue. These having slightly faded a second pair in white was applied to the first, coinciding in width but not in height; consequently six inches of blue overtop the white bails. The profound wisdom which dictated this may not appear at first sight, but the fact is that when big boys are bowling the blue is counted as the top; when big boys are batting the stumps do not extend beyond the white. That shows our wisdom.
'Unfortunately some facetious individual (we would duck him if we could find him) has added four more white stumps, and four more bails, which slightly disconcert the batsmen, but greatly improve the chances of the bowler . . . The bat is indescribable. A mass of willow, slightly rotten in places, and resembling a mop at the bottom. The handle is said to be cane, but one player who has had a most extensive and varied acquaintance with canes, both at home and abroad, declares that no cane ever stung like this bat, so it must be of some foreign substance. The balls go, some into the side windows of the school, some through those of the factory, others again attach themselves to the windows opposite.'

The following pages are taken from a School magazine where Ian Taylor explains the origins of the School Crest and Mottoes