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The article below was written in 1978 for the school's 50th anniversary by Ralph Mann who was then Head of History and appeared in the special magazine produced on that occasion. I have added a few comments, these are in italics.

CLASS OF '28.

© R.N. Mann 1978


It must have been an act of faith by Oxfordshire County Council to build a Grammar School in Chipping Norton in 1928. The whole district was visibly in decline, and there was little indication that any recovery was likely to take place in the foreseeable future. Population statistics show that almost every village in the district had shrunk to the smallest size ever recorded. Chipping Norton, at 3,500, had been declining since the 1890s and was now no larger than it had been before the great expansion of the Bliss Mills in the mid-nineteenth century, Enstone, Churchill, Salford, Cornwell, Chadlington, the RoIlrights, the Tews and Swerford were all smaller than they had ever been since 1801, and Charlbury and Hook Norton smaller than since 1811. Only Heythrop and Kingham, artificially inflated by their residential establishments, showed any increase on their size a century earlier.

The reasons for this drastic depopulation are not hard to find. Since the 1670s, the free trade policy had led to a collapse of agriculture and of traditional rural life. Labourers emigrated to the new Dominions or drifted towards the new industrial towns; smallholders battled unavailingly against low prices; few farmers could afford the mechanisation essential if they were to compete with industrialized agriculture of the new world. It seemed as if the days of the English farmer were numbered.

Nor was there any substantial alternative industrial employment. True, the Mill and the Brewery still employed labour, but neither of them on the scale of the nineteenth century, and Hitchman's was to cease brewing in 1931. The Morris works at Cowley employed 5,000, but few if any of them commuted from as far away as Chipping Norton. In addition, the slump since 1921 had made matters worse. Chipping Norton suffered as much as any rural district, without the compensation of any of the newly developing electrical and motor industries. The General Strike of 1926, apart from its effect on the local railway, had made little impact on the life of the district. Oxfordshire County Council might well have considered that it was not worth investing ratepayers' money in such an area of stagnation.

On the other hand, it was certainly true that Secondary Education was needed in the district. For four centuries Chipping Norton had had its own Free Grammar School, but by the middle of the nineteenth century it was in a serious state of disrepair. Moreover, after the 1820s, its numbers were rapidly dwindling, and its Master was reduced to advertising for pupils in the Banbury Guardian, as in this item from 19th July 1855:

"FREE GRAMMAR SCHOOL. CHIPPING NORTON. The attention of Parents seeking a superior School for their Sons, is respectfully invited to this ESTABLISHMENT where a sound Classical and Commercial Education is combined with unusual comforts and indulgences. Reference to Clergymen or Parents of Pupils. Terms on application to the principal Mr E.R. Hartley."

In 1950, Miss Dorothy Hartley, a descendant of the last Master, presented his old desk to Chipping Norton School. Inside the lid, a handwritten notice headed "Lesson to be learned before breakfast" gives an indication of the curriculum:

Sunday Collect and hymn
Monday Crossman catechism
Tuesday English grammar and parsing
Wednesday Geography
Thursday Latin Grammar
Friday English grammar and parsing
Saturday Geography

Finally, the school closed. Most of the old buildings (near the parish church) were demolished (click here for information on what remains) and the site, buildings and endowments were transferred in 1859 to the National School Society. The effect of this change was chiefly educational: in place of a small, market-town Grammar School catering for the sons of local tradesmen, the National School provided basic instruction in the 3 R's for the working-class children of the borough, for whom there were certainly to be no unusual comforts and indulgences. The National School was not the only elementary school in Chipping Norton; the Baptist Church had sponsored a British School which was heavily endowed in the mid-nineteenth century by the support of William Bliss II, and occupied substantial premises in New Street (until recently the Chipping Norton Recording Studios - JM), and by the 1840s Holy Trinity Church was similarly maintaining a Catholic School. But all these schools provided an elementary education only. Careful scrutiny of the information in the 1871 Census Return shows that the great majority of all the children in Chipping Norton attended school, at least in theory; attendance reached a peak in the age-range 10-11; thereafter it rapidly fell away, and only a handful of children over 12 are recorded as still being at school, despite William Bliss's clearly-expressed disapproval of child labour.

After 1892, it again became possible for very few promising pupils from Chipping Norton's elementary schools to obtain a County Scholarship at Burford Grammar School, but competition was very fierce, and Burford in any case only provided for boys. For those who did not obtain a coveted scholarship, the opportunities for secondary education were very limited. Upper middle class children might be sent away to a public boarding school, but for most children in Chipping Norton the only alternative to the elementary schools was a small fee-paying private school. There were several small schools of this sort for girls, especially in Rock Hill, 35 New Street, and Harraden House. For boys, there was the pretentious Collegiate School, which offered a commercial education under a multiplicity of subject classifications, and decreed that its pupils wore mortar-boards. For farmers' sons, Burford Grammar School, with its agricultural bias and its weekly boarding facilities, continued to provide the only feasible secondary education in the early twentieth century. In addition to the County Scholarships, Burford began to provide its own free places for boys after 1910, and these were extended also to girls by 1923.

In the meantime, Oxfordshire had. begun to experiment with its own secondary education as a result of the 1902 Balfour-Morant Act. Witney schools were reorganized in 1902. In 1923 the County Council took over responsibility for the old Banbury Municipal School which had provided secondary and technical education since 1893. This provided a welcome opportunity for promising youngsters from Chipping Norton who could travel to Banbury daily by train for a season ticket which worked out at only a few pence for the return journey. In this way, Mr Jack Burden of Chipping Norton, who retired from the headship of Grimsbury Secondary School a few years ago, received his secondary education. In 1930, Banbury County School moved to its new site at Easington, which is now the nucleus of Banbury School. In 1924 Oxfordshire opened its County School at Bicester. This pattern of secondary education in the county was designed to supplement the existing independent Grammar Schools by providing a sound grammar-style education for scholars. The principle upon which this was based was equality of opportunity for talented children to qualify for higher education and for entry to the professions. For this purpose, the County Schools provided a different curriculum from that available for older pupils in the Senior Elementary classes of schools such as the Green School, opened on 11th January 1897.

Earlier in the 1920s local opinion in Chipping Norton had been canvassed, and was strongly in favour of the establishment of a Grammar School here. The decision to construct the school was included in the County Council's estimates for the years 1927-30, and the design was drawn up by the county surveyor, Mr W.A.Daft. The site chosen was already famous locally as the spot where, fifteen years earlier, Gustav Hamel had given two exhibition flights in his Blériot monoplane. The construction was entrusted to the Oxford firm, Messrs Hinkins and Frewin, and was completed in local squared stone, with Bath stone dressing, and roofed with Stamford stone tiles. The caretaker's house was built at the same time as the school.

When the school was opened, on 3rd May 1928, there were forty pupils and four members of the teaching staff. Mr and Mrs Lainchbury undertook the work of caretaker and school cook respectively. The Headmaster, Mr Basil C.Orme M.A., aged 35, was educated at Selwyn College, Cambridge, where he graduated in History, and had taken the Diploma in Education at Cambridge in 1920. He had served in France during the war, where he was twice wounded. From 1920 to 1923 he taught at King's School, Grantham, and from 1923 to 1928 he was head of Hackney Downs School. The Deputy Headmistress was Miss Evelyn Jones, M.A. aged 41, who took First Class Honours in French at Birmingham University, and had been teaching at King Edward VI School, Handsworth. She remained at Chipping Norton School for eighteen years, during which time she was the commandant of the Girls' Training Corps during the Second World War. After her retirement in 1946, she continued to live in Churchill Road, Chipping Norton until her death in March 1974 at the age of 87. Miss Ellis, whose degree was in Geography at Aberystwyth University, came to Chipping Norton from the Belmonst School, South Tottenham. Mr Bonham had a BSc in Agriculture from Reading University, and had previously been teaching for four years at Moulton Grammar School, Lincolnshire, Shortly after his appointment, he married one of his colleagues, Miss Sollers, whom he had previously known at Reading, and he died many years ago.

The school had fifteen governors, appointed by the County Education Committee, who included representatives of the Borough of Chipping Norton, Chipping Norton Rural District Council, and Oxford University.

The original forty pupils in the school showed a marked imbalance of sexes; there were twenty-five boys and fifteen girls. The largest single contingent were the twelve pupils transferred from Banbury Grammar School. Eight had previously attended private schools; these, having passed an entrance test, were admitted as fee-paying pupils at four guineas a term. There were five boys from Chipping Norton Council School and three girls from Chipping Norton Girls Council School; there was also one girl from Chipping Norton Church of England Girl's School. Two boys - brothers - came from Kingham Hill School where their father was the Farm Bailiff, and two other pupils came from Churchill Church of England School. The remaining pupils came from Chadlington Church of England School, Great Tew Church of England School, Enstone Church of England School, Erdington Secondary School at Birmingham, Harrow County School, Ledbury Grammar School and the City of Oxford school. The youngest pupil was nearly eleven and the oldest nearly seventeen, but half the pupils were aged 13-14.

Of the original forty pupils, three went to Universities on leaving school, and three went to Teacher Training Colleges; two transferred to other schools, Five went into agriculture, four into clerical work, two into journalism and two into the Post Office. Two became accountants, and one went into banking. One entered the Town Clerk's Office, one became a Road Surveyor's Clerk, one applied to enter the Customs and Excise Department, and one went into the Civil Service, three left for retail trade. One joined the Bliss Mill, and another took up an engineering apprenticeship. One became a Governess and two took up nursing; two left school to stay at home, and two remained unemployed.

Mr Orme taught History and English; Miss Jones taught French and R.E., Mr Bonham taught Botany, Physics and Chemistry and senior Maths until the appointment of a Mathematician, Mr Barron, the following term. Miss Ellis taught general subjects in the lower school, and Geography. Art and Music were taught by Mr Frost and Mr Palmer respectively - two part-time teachers who came across from Banbury, where Mr Palmer was organist at St Mary's Church.

The plan of the school was in the shape of an E. The main entrance was in the middle of the west front (now the Middle School office), with the Headmaster on the right and the school Library on the left. Straight ahead was the school hall (the present day library - JM), with the stage at the rear. Behind the stage was the wood store where carpentry was taught, and which was used as a dressing room for plays. On the left of the hall was the Mistresses' Staff Room, which Miss Ellis had to herself; on the right of the hall, connected by a serving hatch, was the school kitchen. For the first term, Mr Bonham also enjoyed the privacy of the Masters' Staff Room. Miss Jones, as Senior Assistant Mistress (she received the title of Deputy Headmistress later), had her own office. There was no central heating, and all rooms had coal fires which were tended by the caretaker, Mr Lainchbury. The girls' entrance was at the end of the north corridor, where the mirror on the wall (still there) was intended to teach them deportment as they walked along. The first classroom on the left was for Domestic Science: cooking was done on a coal-fired range, although there was also a gas ring. There was also a coal-fired stand on which flat-irons could be heated. At the end of the room there were two store-rooms used for food and cooking utensils. The boys' entrance was at the end of the south corridor, where the laboratory was situated. These two corridors led out directly on to the concrete playground which extended the length of the east side of the school.

No candidates, of course, sat for any public examination in the summer of 1928, but in the following year there were three candidates for the Oxford and Cambridge School Certificate examination. Subsequently the school transferred to the Oxford Local Board. In those days, the chief aim was to obtain "matric" - that is, exemption from the matriculation requirements of Oxford and Cambridge by gaining Credits in five subjects from specific areas in the School Certificate examination.

The first name on the school roll is that of Mr Harold Barnes. Miss Eileen Meades, who is the historian of Chipping Norton, was the first Head Girl and Miss Olive Meades was the first pupil to complete the whole school course from first year to third year sixth form.
The following is an alphabetical list of the names of the first forty pupils:

Barnes, Harold
Bunting, Thomas Lionel
Burbidge, Gwyneth
Clark, Eric Ernest
Edginton, Francis Ernest
Edgington, Graham Claud.
Gibbs, Jack French
Griffin, Gordon Gabriel
Harrison, Wilfrid.
Harvey, Lulu Mary
Hawes, Sidney
Jacques, Ronald
Jepson, John
Jones, Peter Henry
Kemp, Jeanne
Maddox, Conroy Ronald.
Mann, Leonora Mary
Meades, Eileen Emily
Meades, Olive M
Meades, Muriel Gladys
Moulder, Vera Agnes
Moulder, McDonald William
Norwood, George Basil
Padley, Walter Ernest (Walter later became a Labour MP and Government Minister - JM)
Pauling, Nellie Kathleen
Pascoe, John Gibbard
Rastall, Cynthia Peggy
Roberts, Joan Mary
Robertson, William Peter
Scott, George Richard
Scott, Percy
Smith, Maurice Austin Valentine
Turner, Donald William
Wiggall, Agatha Esme
Willetts, Kathleen Mary
Woodward, Dorothy Jane
Woodward, Ralph Hazleton
Woolcock, Geoffrey Dennis
Worvill, Roy

On the first day, the most memorable event seems to have occurred during mid-morning break. The enterprising occupant of the house opposite the main entrance on the Burford Road had taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the County School and had opened a small sweet shop. The older pupils from Banbury County School had been in the custom of buying sweets from a local shop at Banbury during break, so they set the example by leading a mass walk-out of pupils at Chipping Norton. However, they were rapidly overtaken by Mr Orme, his academic gown flying in the wind, and were quickly shepherded back into the school. Of course, the Burford Road was not so busy then as it is today, but no doubt Mr Orme's prime consideration was to establish the school bounds during working-hours.

Fortnightly progress reports were taken home by the pupils, showing a grade for each subject, these were signed and brought back to school.

The formal opening of the school took place on the afternoon of Thursday 17th May 1928. The guest speaker for the occasion was Dr Pember, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, who was welcomed by Alderman W.N. Rowell of Chipping Norton. Major A.J. Edmondson, M.P, thanked Dr Pember, and the Mayor of Chipping Norton, Councillor J.J.Marshall, concluded. In the course of his speech, Mr Rowell said to the pupils that he hoped they would live to look back with pride to the fact that they were the first scholars at the opening of the school. "There is one thing about it, and that is education is about the only thing that's lying about free, you can take big chunks of it and nobody will stop you."

It is pleasing to think that, on the school's fiftieth anniversary (in 1978 - JM), not only are there many of the first forty pupils still with us, who can look back with pride on the achievement of the school, but also two members of the original staff; Mr Orme and Miss Ellis.

From 1931 onwards, the population of Chipping Norton began to increase, and this extended to many of the surrounding villages after the end of the Second World War. By 1939 the school roll had risen to 160, and there were ten full-time and four part-time teaching staff. Full fees were still £4-4s per term, and school dinners cost 6d each, or £1-l2s a term. The school colours were dark green and tangerine; pupils were expected to wear the school hat (girls) or cap (boys), the badge, and the school tie. Girls wore drill-slips and boys wore blazers.

Oxfordshire County Council was no doubt encouraged to see that its investment in secondary education in the Chipping Norton area had been so successful. By 1945, the pattern of secondary education throughout the county was well established, and Oxfordshire was ready to adapt itself to the tripartite system implicit in the Butler Act of 1944; Chipping Norton Grammar School by that time was ready to take its place in the county system for providing free secondary education for all.