School’s rich past a lesson for the future

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School days are the best days of your life, it is often said, but school life has changed much over the years and, for one school, centuries.

Few schools in the country have as long and rich a history as Oundle School, which was re-founded in the market town in 1556.

Stephen Forge, who has been archivist for the school for 13 years, said: “Due to the richness of its architecture and tradition, Oundle School’s past is a constant backdrop to the life of its pupils.

“It is always a pleasure to increase their awareness of how like their predecessors they are, and of the heritage they share with those who have gone before.”

The former Oundle Grammar School was re-founded through a legacy from former pupil Sir William Laxton, Master of the Grocers’ Company and Mayor of London and thereafter known as Laxton Grammar School or Sir William Laxton’s Grammar School.

Since that date the Grocers’ Company, from who its governing body is formed, has overseen the administration of the legacy and the well-being of the historic school.

Sir William’s will also allowed for the founding of almshouses on the ground floor of the original school, the school room being above.

The original building was demolished in the 1850s and the current one modelled on it, built on the same footprint.

In 1876 the grammar school was split into classical (boarding) and modern (mainly day) sections with separate headmasters, known respectively as Oundle School and Laxton Grammar School, although the latter retained a boarding section into the mid-20th century.

Frederick Sanderson began his 30-year tenure as headteacher of Oundle School in 1892 and set about making it the foremost school in the country for the study of science and technology.

During the First World War he also set up the famous school workshops, where boys were encouraged to refine their practical skills, principally at that time to produce munitions and related items to support the war effort.

A total of 221 Old Oundelians lost their lives as a consequence of the First World War.

The school chapel, completed and dedicated in 1923, was intended as a memorial.

The Queen Mother visited the School in 1956 on its 400th anniversary for the dedication of the new windows by John Piper in the chapel. She returned to celebrate the centenary of the splitting of the schools in 1976.

Full co-education was introduced in 1990, two years after it was initiated, with the first new girls’ houses, Kirkeby House and Wyatt House.

Laxton School was re-integrated into Oundle School as a day house in 2000.

Well-known alumni include Sir Peter Scott, naturalist and son of the Antarctic explorer, ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author Professor Richard Dawkins and Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, who was expelled.

Year 8 pupils learned about life at the school 100 years ago last month by watching film footage from 1912 and trying on uniforms from the period.

Pupil Ruby Goodall said: “A highlight of the talk was when we watched our fellow pupils dress in the old Laxton and Oundle School uniforms.”

Mr Forge said: “Their obvious enthusiasm and interest when they are shown, for example, film taken 100 years ago of places they recognise, is infectious.

“I believe that such awareness increases not only their sense of belonging to something special and their respect for the institution, but also their determination to make their own mark for the future.”

The school’s history is so wrapped up with that of the town that Mr Forge, who has also taught modern languages at the school for 33 years, shares resources with Oundle Museum.

He said: “I find that rationalising what we already have in our collection, and acquiring new items of interest is a fascinating task.

“And you never know what it going to turn up next.”