Banbury: Education

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 10, Banbury Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1972.

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Christina Colvin. Janet Cooper. N H Cooper. P D A Harvey. Marjory Hollings. Judith Hook. Mary Jessup. Mary D Lobel. J F A Mason. B S Trinder. Hilary Turner, 'Banbury: Education', A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 10, Banbury Hundred, (London, 1972), pp. 120-124. British History Online [accessed 17 June 2024].

Christina Colvin. Janet Cooper. N H Cooper. P D A Harvey. Marjory Hollings. Judith Hook. Mary Jessup. Mary D Lobel. J F A Mason. B S Trinder. Hilary Turner. "Banbury: Education", in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 10, Banbury Hundred, (London, 1972) 120-124. British History Online, accessed June 17, 2024,

Colvin, Christina. Cooper, Janet. Cooper, N H. Harvey, P D A. Hollings, Marjory. Hook, Judith. Jessup, Mary. Lobel, Mary D. Mason, J F A. Trinder, B S. Turner, Hilary. "Banbury: Education", A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 10, Banbury Hundred, (London, 1972). 120-124. British History Online. Web. 17 June 2024,


Schoolmasters were mentioned in 1345, 1400, and 1430–2. (fn. 1) It has been possible, almost continuously since at latest the end of the 15th century, for children living in the town to attend school, either as charity scholars, or privately, or under the patronage of a religious body. The earliest known school in Banbury was St. John's Hospital school, founded at the end of the 15th century and closed in the late 17th or early 18th century, which is described in an earlier volume. (fn. 2)

In 1603 a school was held in the church house, in the churchyard; it may have been the site of a school much earlier, since a schoolmaster lived in a house on the north of the churchyard in 1430–2. (fn. 3) It was still in existence in 1723 when Mary Abraham alias Metcalfe left £5 a year to the schoolmaster of the church school, (fn. 4) but had been closed by 1804 when church house was leased out by the corporation. (fn. 5) In 1819 it was said that the school had been a grammar school, (fn. 6) but nothing else is known of it. It may have been in connexion with the school that the mayor went in 1635 to Oxford and Gloucester, 'about the schoolmaster'. (fn. 7) In the 18th century the borough was receiving rent from at least two schools, probably the church school and the Blue Coat school. (fn. 8)

Churchwardens' presentations for unlicensed teaching throughout the 17th century show that other schools also existed. In 1662 the mayor defended Alexander Weeks, B.A., as pious and sober and an able teacher, ten years later Mrs. Hanna, a Presbyterian, was censured for leading her scholars late to church 'like a train of papists'. Other masters and mistresses were presented for not teaching the catechism. (fn. 9)

In 1705 a board of trustees was formed to administer the various legacies and subscriptions given for the establishment of a new school, to be known as the Blue Coat school. The master and mistress were to be communicant members of the Church of England, and details were given of the clothes to be issued to the 30 boys and 20 girls who were to be educated free. The master's salary was to be £25 a year, the mistress's £12 10s., and their positions would be immediately forfeit should they accept money from the pupils or their friends. (fn. 10)

One of the first sources of income for the Blue Coat school was the taking over of the endowment of Thorpe's charity school, which had been founded with a legacy of £100 left by Richard White in 1698 for the teaching of poor children. This had been used to purchase land in Neithrop, in the tenure of William Thorpe (hence the school's name), yielding an income of £21 a year. Between 1714 and 1725 five legacies totalling £370 were received: £100 from the Hon. Charles North in 1714, £10 from Mrs. Jane Hussey, and £20 from Martha Lane in 1721, £200 from Anne North in 1722, and £40 from the Revd. Mr. Fletcher in 1725. The £370 was placed in the hands of Lord Guilford. Arrears in the interest on this sum amounted in 1748 to £567 2s. 8d. and Francis, Lord Guilford, in discharge of the debt, granted a rent-charge of £23 out of an estate at Neithrop, which was thereafter regularly received.

Eleven other legacies were given during the 18th century, mainly in the form of annuities. By 1825 two capital sums of £20 left by Millicent Welchman c. 1730 and by the Revd. William Harrison by will dated 1786 had been lost. Another sum of £20, bequeathed by Joseph Wyatt c. 1732, had been spent on current expenses. The annuity of £1 left in 1708 by Mr. Kepning ceased to be paid after 1803. In 1825 the annuities of £2 each bequeathed by Thomas Abraham alias Metcalfe by will dated 1712 and by his relict Mary Metcalfe by will dated 1723 had not been paid since 1818, when the properties on which they were charged were sold. Similarly the interest of £1 10s. a year on £50 left to the school by Henry Abraham alias Metcalfe in 1746 had not been paid since 1814; it had been recovered by 1843. The £100 left by Elizabeth Metcalfe in 1774 was used to buy a church bond; in 1825 the income from this and a £50 bond was £7 10s. Three legacies, those of Mrs. Thompson who gave £100 in 1734, Jane Lane who gave £20 in 1730, and Daniel Danvers who gave £20 (no date), were used in 1752 to buy £150 of East India annuities, the 3½ per cent. interest on which was still being regularly received in 1825. A stock of £32 11s. 5d. produced by investment of the £20 left by William Hebcraft was reinvested in 1797 in £100 old South Sea annuities, part of the total of £716 13s. 4d. invested by the trustees. Dividends of £21 10s. were regularly received in 1825. The school had also held 5 leys in Neithrop fields, the original endowment of Thorpe's school. The allotment awarded at inclosure in place of these was in 1825 rented in two pieces, one (to the National school) for £5, the other for £8. The school's total revenue in 1825 was thus £75. (fn. 11)

Until 1817 the children of the Blue Coat school were taught in the two rooms over the town gaol, but with the formation of a National school in that year it was decided that, on payment of £30 a year to the school by the trustees, as many Blue Coat children should be educated there as the trustees could afford to clothe. The new school and yard was built on part of the land at Neithrop which had provided the original endowment of Thorpe's school. The subscribers to the National school rented the site from the Blue Coat trustees. (fn. 12)

In 1825 18 boys and 16 girls were attending the National school as Blue Coat children. Their clothing and shoes cost the trustees £47 13s. 7d. The deficiency of c. £8 on the year's income was met by an annual donation of £5 5s. from Lord Guilford and a legacy of £100 which had been given by Mrs. Lucas c. 1823 for such emergencies. (fn. 13) After 1857 the whole income of the charity was applied to education, and the practice of clothing the children discontinued. (fn. 14)

Apart from the Blue Coat children, the National school contained 212 boys and 161 girls in 1818. The master received £75 a year and the mistress £50. (fn. 15) Numbers had fallen by 1833 to 129 boys and 88 girls including the Blue Coat children, but there were then three other day schools and three day and boarding schools and a small infant school, as well as the National school. (fn. 16) In 1835 an infant school was opened in Church Passage supported by voluntary contributions and school pence. Its numbers had risen to 262 by 1840 but it was closed in 1868. (fn. 17) A National infant school was started in 1850 (fn. 18) and had 137 pupils in 1857. (fn. 19) The National school and infant school together had in 1867 180 boys and 140 girls excluding 25 Blue Coat children of each sex. (fn. 20) In 1898 the standard of teaching was satisfactory but the premises were not. Four classes of girls were being taught in one room and the inspector threatened to reduce the grant unless the infants department was markedly improved. (fn. 21) The school was rebuilt in 1900 for 730 children. (fn. 22)

Under a Scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 1901, £1,099 stock of the Blue Coat endowment was sold to pay for additional buildings for the National school, whose managers were to pay £30 a year rent to the trustees. The stock was to be repaid out of rents. Part of the income was to be spent on prizes not exceeding 10s. for good behaviour, exhibitions of not more than £10 for secondary education or teachers' training, or for outfits for those going into trade or service. A further Scheme of 1913 placed the whole of the endowment of the Blue Coat charity and Banbury National school into one Blue Coat foundation to be a public elementary school giving Church of England instruction and providing tuition fees and maintenance allowances for secondary education. (fn. 23) Between 1952 and 1957 the senior children were absorbed into the Easington Secondary Modern School and the old school was reorganized as Banbury St. Mary's C.C. primary school which had 354 children on the roll in 1970. (fn. 24)

Crouch Street British schools for boys and girls were built in 1839–40 for c. 300 children; the architect was Derrick of Oxford. (fn. 25) In 1843 the managing committee decided that every 10s. subscribed should entitle the donor to nominate a child to the schools at a halved fee of 1d. a week. (fn. 26) In 1893 the average attendance was 398 (fn. 27) but the schools were condemned by the Board of Education in 1899 and ordered to close in 1900. (fn. 28)

The Cherwell British schools were opened in 1861. Mr. Bernhard Samuelson provided accommodation at his own expense for the 530 pupils, (fn. 29) some of whom had formerly attended an infant school which had opened in Cherwell Street in 1851 to meet the needs created by the expansion of the Britannia Works. (fn. 30) In 1893 there was an average attendance of 430. (fn. 31) The infants' department was enlarged in 1892 (fn. 32) and in 1904 the whole school was reorganized as an infant school for 188 children. (fn. 33) It absorbed the infants' department of the Dashwood Road school and was first renamed the Dashwood Road Infant school, but later became the Britannia County Infants school and in 1970 had 91 children on the roll. (fn. 34)

A Quaker school was being held in the meetinghouse in 1708, for John and Francis Bumphrey were appointed schoolmasters in that year. (fn. 35) In 1723 the Friends were asked to make up the schoolmaster's salary. (fn. 36) A Presbyterian (later Unitarian) day school, started in 1797 by Peter Usher at the meeting-house and later known as the Banbury Academy, lasted until 1908. (fn. 37) In 1841 it was said to have an extensive library and a collection of 'philosophical instruments'. (fn. 38) Additional rooms were built in 1856. (fn. 39) Other Unitarian schools were not so long lived. In 1818 a Mr. Ward ran a school in two cottages in Foundry Square and a night school at the meetinghouse. George Claridge kept a school in Scalding Lane and Mr. Webster in Lower Foundry Square, Neithrop, in 1832. (fn. 40)

The first Roman Catholic school was started in Crouch Street by John Howell in 1841. (fn. 41) Five years later Dr. Tandy opened St. John's Roman Catholic mixed and infants' Church school, reputedly designed by Pugin, (fn. 42) which still formed part of the buildings in 1968. In 1849 there were over 100 children in the two classes for the poor and 12–15 paying pupils. The school was taken over in 1852 by sisters from the newly formed Charity of St. Paul. (fn. 43) New classrooms were built in 1900 (fn. 44) and by 1904 an average of 119 children and 103 infants were being taught. (fn. 45) In 1910 the senior department was reorganized for advanced secondary education. (fn. 46) In 1970 there were 276 children on the roll. St. Joseph's Roman Catholic primary school, opened in Fiennes Road in 1968, had 231 pupils in 1970. (fn. 47)

Sunday schools provided the only education for many children in the early 19th century. The visitation return of 1808 stated that the dissenters educated all their poor children at their Sunday schools, (fn. 48) three of which were again mentioned in 1819. (fn. 49) Church of England children attending the National school received there sufficient religious instruction, and the legacy of £200 left by Sir John Knightly in 1802 to finance a Sunday school in Banbury was paid to the National school from its formation in 1817. (fn. 50) It was not thought necessary to provide a Sunday school for those children until c. 1857 (fn. 51) and in 1866 it was reported that Sunday school was being held in all the rooms of the school at different hours of the day by c. 60 voluntary workers. (fn. 52) They were teaching 130 boys and 240 girls in 1872. (fn. 53) A Sunday school for 200 children, attached to Christ Church, was opened in 1860 in a temporary cramped room. (fn. 54) Attendance had fallen to 180 by 1866 (fn. 55) and in 1869 the vicar described this Sunday school as very small but added that nearly all the children attended the parish day school. He also gave the ample accommodation at Mr. Samuelson's school as the reason for the poor success of evening classes. (fn. 56)

Of the dissenting Sunday schools mentioned in 1808 the two most successful were those run by the Wesleyans and the Presbyterians. The Presbyterians held a Sunday school in the meeting-house school run by Peter Usher. In 1811, when the school was made over to the Independents, the girls' Sunday school used a room in the minister's house while the boys used Mr. Ward's school in Foundry Square. (fn. 57) In 1833 100 boys and 108 girls were attending the Independent Sunday schools. (fn. 58) which were then attached to the Banbury Academy. The Sunday schools shared the varying fortunes of that school until its closure in 1908. (fn. 59)

Banbury: Proposed Mechanics' Institute, 1836
Elevation in Banbury Public Library

The first Wesleyan Sunday school was opened in 1808 at Calthorpe Lane chapel, (fn. 60) 115 boys and 137 girls were attending in 1833, (fn. 61) and over 300 children in 1841 when schoolrooms were built behind the newly erected chapel in Church Lane. Sixty-five of these children learnt writing in the evenings for 1d. a week in 1840. (fn. 62) A branch school opened at Windsor Terrace in 1851 with 103 pupils but numbers dwindled rapidly and it was closed in 1854. (fn. 63).

A Sunday school was also held in the classrooms behind the Marlborough Road chapel. The accommodation was inadequate and in 1867 a basement had to be used for the infants. In 1882 new classrooms were erected at the High Street end of the premises. (fn. 64)

A Sunday school at Neithrop in 1833 was supported by a congregation calling themselves Protestant Dissenters. It taught 52 boys and 54 girls, about half of whom learnt writing and arithmetic in the evenings. (fn. 65)

The Primitive Methodists held a Sunday school at their Church Lane chapel to which they added schoolrooms in 1898. (fn. 66) Both the Baptists and Particular Baptists had Sunday schools, the latter building schoolrooms on their graveyard in 1858. (fn. 67)

Twelve private schools for day and boarding pupils were listed in 1832 and also in 1842 though in several cases the proprietors were different. (fn. 68) Most of the schools appear to have been well conducted but a Mr. Beane who ran a ladies' and gentlemen's school in 1832 had to leave town after 'committing himself' with one of the young ladies. (fn. 69)

Adult education was provided for in 1835 with the foundation of the Mechanics' Institute in Parson's Street. The Institute held lectures, discussion classes, and exhibitions as well as providing a library for members and their families. (fn. 70) By 1884 it had out-grown the building in Church Passage, to which it had moved soon after its foundation, and Sir Bernhard Samuelson provided a new building for it in Marlborough Road. (fn. 71) The Church Passage building, opened in 1836, was built to the Institute's specifications, (fn. 72) and leased to it for 21 years, by the site's owner, Joseph Garrett. Garrett's own plans were rejected by the Building Committee of the Institute, and fresh drawings prepared by George Cottam and James Danby, committee members. Danby's plans survive. They call for two rooms of 20 ft. by 13 ft. on the ground floor, and one of 40 ft. by 20 ft. above, with accommodation for a caretaker and 'a uniform and handsome elevation with finishings of freestone'. The surviving facade is close enough to Danby's drawing to suggest that his design was followed in the main. The dressings take the form of plain pilasters set in from each end of the facade, rusticated voussoirs to the windows and a Tuscan doorcase. In scale and detail the building is in fact entirely domestic; only in planning is it not. The Institute of 1884 was designed by W. E. Mills of Banbury with Kimberley of Banbury as contractor. (fn. 73) It was built in brick with stone dressings, in a simplified Tudor manner. Accommodation was provided for lecture and class rooms and library. The Institute was enlarged in 1893 by the addition of Municipal Technical schools to the north, repeating Mills's facade for the Mechanics' Institute. Mills himself served on the staff of the Institute as 'visiting master for architecture and building construction'. (fn. 74)

The formation of the Oxford Diocesan Board of Education in 1839 resulted in the establishment in 1840 of a Middle or Commercial school for the sons of farmers and traders: J. T. Cooke was the head master. The school, which was known as St. John's Classical and Commercial school in 1848 seems to have come to an end in 1856 when Cooke moved to Aynho Grammar school. (fn. 75) J. H. Beale, who first came to Banbury in 1854 as the head master of the Crouch Street schools, launched a scheme for science and art education for older children and adults in 1863 with the strong support of Bernhard Samuelson. Science and art classes were held at the Crouch and Cherwell British schools and at Ark House school, the last founded by the Beale family. After 1884 the new building for the Mechanics' Institute provided accommodation for all the art and science classes, and the Banbury School of Science and Art was founded with Seymour Beale, J. H. Beale's son, as head master. From that beginning grew the idea of a secondary and technical school, and largely through Samuelson's efforts the first public secondary school in Banbury, known as the Municipal School, was opened in Marlborough Road for 46 boys in 1893. It became a mixed school in 1900. When the County Council undertook its maintenance in 1923 it became known as the Banbury County School (later the Banbury Grammar School) and had 120 boys and 95 girls on the roll. In 1930 a new school was built in Ruskin Road to take 360 children. (fn. 76) The building was severely damaged by fire in 1940 and was not reopened until 1942. A new science block and gymnasium were added in 1961 and a new hall in 1963. The roll in 1962 numbered 583 pupils. (fn. 77) The old Marlborough Road premises continued to be used after 1923 by the Banbury Technical Institute for art and evening classes conducted by the Further Education Committee of the County Council. (fn. 78)

The general reorganization of the Banbury schools which took place at the beginning of the 20th century was principally the result of the Board of Education decision to close the Crouch Street British schools in 1900, and also of the urgent need to improve and enlarge the Cherwell schools. New places for 550 of the 2,333 Banbury schoolchildren were needed. Various plans to enlarge existing schools were insufficient: the Wesleyans provided a solution by building a new undenominational school to hold 500 children, and in 1902 the Dashwood Road schools were opened. (fn. 79) Three years later they came under the control of the borough council which had become the Local Education Authority for elementary education under the Education Act of 1902. Having lost the infants' department in 1904 and the senior pupils in the 1950s the school roll numbered only 201 in 1970. (fn. 80)

Harriers Ground Primary school was opened in 1949. In 1970 there were 315 children on the school roll. The Neithrop infants' and junior schools were opened in 1951, and in 1970 had 454 and 466 children respectively. Hill View County Primary opened in September 1968 and had 460 pupils in 1970.

A Secondary Modern school for boys in Ruskin Road, Easington, was opened in 1952 to which boys from Dashwood Road and St. Mary's National schools were transferred. In 1962 there were 466 boys at the school. The girls' school was opened in 1957 and in 1962 had 405 pupils. In 1962 the Roman Catholic Secondary school of Blessed George Napier was opened with 171 pupils. The North Oxfordshire Technical College and School of Art was opened in Bath Road in 1961 incorporating the North Oxfordshire Secondary Technical school at Broughton and the School of Art at the Green. Comprehensive secondary education was introduced into the town in 1968. Banbury School had 2,009 pupils in 1970, divided into four halls in Ruskin Road, one in Grimsbury, and Woodgreen department in Broughton Road.

A school for mentally handicapped children was opened in 1961. (fn. 81)


  • 1. Hants R.O. 43 M. 48/35; B.M. Lansd. Ch. 349; O.R.O., Dil. VII/a/1, 2.
  • 2. V.C.H. Oxon. i. 461–2.
  • 3. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 167; Beesley, Hist. Banbury, 249; O.R.O., Dil. IV/a/1, 2.
  • 4. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 173.
  • 5. Ibid. 167.
  • 6. Educ. of Poor Digest, 718.
  • 7. Cal. Corpn. Accts. ii, p. 68.
  • 8. Banbury Borough Recs.: chamberlain's accts. 1747–1816.
  • 9. Oxon. Peculiars, 202, 218–19, 220, 224.
  • 10. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 161–5.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Char. Com. files.
  • 15. Educ. of Poor Digest, 718.
  • 16. Educ. Enquiry Abstract, 740.
  • 17. Beesley, Hist. Banbury, 559; Potts, Banbury Through One Hundred Years, 79; Hist. Banbury, 229.
  • 18. Billing, Dir. Oxon.
  • 19. MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 179.
  • 20. Schools Enq. [3966–XI], p. 306, H.C. (1867–8), xxviii.
  • 21. 82nd Annual Rep. Banbury National Schools (Banbury, 1898): copy in Bodl. G.A. Oxon. c 100 (53).
  • 22. Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1915).
  • 23. Char. Com. files.
  • 24. Ex inf. Oxon. C.C. Educ. Cttee.
  • 25. Beesley, Hist. Banbury, 559; Billing, Dir. Oxon.; Oxf. City & County Chron., 14 Sept. 1839.
  • 26. 3rd Annual Rep. Banbury British Sch. Soc. (Banbury, 1843), 9: copy in Bodl. G.A. Oxon 8° 638.
  • 27. Public Elem. Schs. [C. 7529], p. 490, H.C. (1894), lxv.
  • 28. Potts, Hist. Banbury, 229.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Billing, Dir. Oxon.
  • 31. Public Elem. Schs. (1894), 490.
  • 32. Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1924).
  • 33. Public Elem. Schs. 1906 [Cd. 3182], p. 531, H.C. (1906), lxxxvi.
  • 34. Potts, Hist. Banbury, 230; ex inf. Oxon. C.C. Educ. Cttee.
  • 35. O.R.O., Banbury Prep. M. Min. Bk., 27 Aug. 1708.
  • 36. Ibid. 4 Sept. 1723.
  • 37. Trans. Unitarian Hist. Soc. i. 287.
  • 38. Banbury Guardian, July 1841.
  • 39. Trans. Unitarian Hist. Soc. i. 295.
  • 40. Herbert, Shoemaker's Window, 39, 41–42.
  • 41. Rusher's Banbury Dir. (1841).
  • 42. See p. 107.
  • 43. A. G. Wall, St. John's Church, Banbury, 22, 26. See also above, pp. 107–8.
  • 44. Potts, Hist. Banbury, 228.
  • 45. Public Elem. Schs. 1906, 531.
  • 46. Potts, Banbury Through One Hundred Years, 82.
  • 47. Ex inf. Oxon. C.C. Educ. Cttee.
  • 48. MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 570.
  • 49. Educ. of Poor Digest, 718.
  • 50. 12th Rep. Com. Char. 165.
  • 51. MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 179.
  • 52. Ibid. c 332.
  • 53. Ibid. c 338.
  • 54. Ibid. d 180.
  • 55. Ibid. c. 332.
  • 56. Ibid. c 335.
  • 57. Trans. Unitarian Hist. Soc. i. 287, 288.
  • 58. Educ. Enquiry Abstract, 740.
  • 59. Trans. Unitarian Hist. Soc. i. 288.
  • 60. Knight, A Century and a Quarter of Sunday School Work, 8.
  • 61. Educ. Enquiry Abstract, 740.
  • 62. Knight, op. cit. 10.
  • 63. Ibid. 10–11.
  • 64. B. S. Trinder, Methodist Church Centenary Celebrations, 1965, 19.
  • 65. Educ. Enquiry Abstract, 740.
  • 66. B. S. Trinder, History of Methodism in Banbury, 26.
  • 67. Banbury Public Libr., Rusher colln., 150; Billing, Dir. Oxon. (1854).
  • 68. Rusher's Banbury Dir. (1832, 1842).
  • 69. Herbert, Shoemaker's Window, 57.
  • 70. See p. 14.
  • 71. Potts, Banbury Through One Hundred Years, 83.
  • 72. Banbury Public Libr., Potts colln. xi, pp. 52 ff; ibid., Mechanics' Inst. min. bks. The following descriptions were written by Nicholas Cooper.
  • 73. Banbury Public Libr., Potts colln. xi, p. 66. For Kimberley see p. 26 n. and for Mills see Builder, xcviii (1910), 469; Rusher's Banbury Dir. (1872–96).
  • 74. Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1903).
  • 75. Potts, Banbury Through One Hundred Years, 82–83.
  • 76. Banbury Guide, 1958, 26; 1964, 20.
  • 77. Ex inf. Oxon. C.C. Educ. Cttee.
  • 78. Potts, Banbury Through One Hundred Years, 87.
  • 79. Bodl. G.A. Oxon. c 100: copy of letter from Educ. Dept. 26 Apr. 1899; Local Election Manifes to 1899; Potts, Banbury Through One Hundred Years, 80–81.
  • 80. Ex inf. Oxon. C.C. Educ. Cttee.
  • 81. Ibid.