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Abingdon School

For the Japanese rock band, see Abingdon Boys School.
Abingdon School
File:Abingdon School crest.png
Motto Misericordias domini in aeternum cantabo
("I will sing of the Lord's mercy forever")
Established 1100 (possible foundation)
1256 (earliest reference and endowment)
1563 (re-endowment)
Type Independent day and boarding school
Religion Church of England
#REDIRECT Template:If empty
  • This is a redirect from a page that has been moved (renamed). This page was kept as a redirect to avoid breaking links, both internal and external, that may have been made to the old page name. For more information follow the category link.
Miss Felicity Lusk
Founders Benedictine monks

Park Road
OX14 1DE
England Coordinates: 51°40′23″N 1°17′17″W / 51.6730°N 1.2880°W / 51.6730; -1.2880{{#coordinates:51.6730|-1.2880|region:GB_type:edu_dim:100|||||| |primary |name=

DfE number 931/6095
DfE URN 123312 Tables
Gender Boys
Ages 11–18
Houses 9

Cerise and White

Publication The Martlet, Words and That, The Abingdonian
Former pupils Old Abingdonians
Boat Club Abingdon School Boat Club 50px

Abingdon School is a British day and boarding independent school for boys situated on Park Road, Abingdon, Oxfordshire next to Albert Park (formerly in Berkshire), previously known as Roysse's School. In 1998 a formal merger took place between Abingdon School and Josca's, a preparatory school four miles to the west at Frilford. Since September 2007 Josca's has been known as Abingdon Preparatory School with both schools becoming part of the Abingdon Foundation. There are strong connections with the nearby School of St Helen and St Katharine in Abingdon. It is at most the twentieth oldest independent British school (possibly the sixth) and celebrated its 750th anniversary in 2006.


The precise date of Abingdon's foundation is unclear. Some believe the school to have been founded prior to the 12th century by the Benedictine monks of Abingdon Abbey, with a legal document of 1100 listing Richard the Pedagogue as the first headmaster. From its early years, the school used a room in St Nicholas' Church,[1] which itself was built between 1121 and 1184.[2]

The school now takes its anniversary from the earliest surviving reference to the school - 1256 - a charter of Abingdon Abbey recording an endowment by Abbot John de Blosneville for the support of thirteen poor scholars.[3] In the past though, the school considered itself as having been founded by John Roysse in 1563. This led to the unusual circumstance whereby the school celebrated its 400th anniversary in 1963 (at which HRH Princess Margaret was guest of honour), and then its 750th in 2006. The focus on 1256 facilitated extensive anniversarial fundraising in 2006.

By the time of de Blosneville's endowment in 1256, the school had moved to a couple of rooms in Stert Street with a house for boarders at 3 Stert Street under the charge of a Dionysia Mundy. With John Roysse's re-endowment of 1563, the school moved to a site south of the Abbey gateway. Roysse was a prosperous mercer in the City of London, and through this association the school has received substantial benefactions from the Worshipful Company of Mercers. The name Roysse's School was used until the 1960s and many older Abingdon residents still use the term.

After the dissolution of Abingdon Abbey in 1538, the school passed through a difficult phase: the sixteenth century endowments by Old Abingdonians attempted to overcome the loss of monastic support. Thomas Tesdale, who had been a pupil in 1563,[4] made provision for an Usher to teach six poor scholars from the Borough of Abingdon and offered support for thirteen Abingdon students to study at Oxford. This benefaction eventually developed into Pembroke College in 1624 by the re-foundation of Broadgates Hall.

The six poor scholars, known as Bennett Boys, or colloquially as the Gown Boys due to their dress, were financed by another Old Abingdonian, William Bennett. Between 1609 and 1870 the school maintained a dual management: the Headmaster, appointed by the Mayor and Corporation, and the Tesdale Usher and Bennett Scholars appointed by the Master and Governors of Christ's Hospital, Abingdon. Despite being penalised during and after the English Civil War for its royalist and Anglican tendencies the school survived and achieved somewhat of a revival under headmaster Robert Jennings (1657–1683). 1671 saw the expulsion of ten boys after they refused to attend Anglican services at St Helen's church.

File:Abingdon School, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England-23April2011.jpg
The original school building on the current site, which houses the chapel, library, and School House, along with several dayboy houses and classrooms. The bell tower is still in use, and the fields in the foreground are used for playing rugby union and cricket.

The school experienced a period of success during the 18th century under headmaster Thomas Woods (1716–1753), known as 'Flogging Tom'. The school became popular amongst the local aristocracy and many OAs went onto to successful careers in various areas. In 1743 The Old Abingdonian Club was inaugurated, it is consequently one of the oldest such organisations in the country.

At the turn of the century the school went into decline under the leadership of the 'incompetent'[2] headmaster Dr. John Lempriere. As a consequence Pembroke College, Oxford used the University Reform Act of 1854 as an excuse to cut its links with the school.

The current school site in the Victorian quarter of Abingdon, adjacent to Albert Park, was designed by Edwin Dolby and was developed from 1870. Its architecture was described in The Builder that year as externally "of a simple character, the local material of red brick and tile being the chief material employed, relieved by bands of Bath stone".[5] Extensions to the 1870 buildings were added in 1880. In 1901, a chapel and gymnasium were built. The adjacent Waste Court property was acquired in 1928. The Science School came in 1952. In 1963, to mark the Quartercentenary of the school's re-foundation, the big schoolroom was re-ordered as the Grundy Library (opened by HRH Princess Margaret), together with erection of further buildings east of the Science Wing, the whole becoming known as Big School. In 1980, the Amey Theatre and Arts' Centre was opened and the Sports Centre opened in 1984. Mercers Court was opened in 1994 by the Chancellor of Oxford University and Visitor of Pembroke College, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead. In 2003, the new Arts Department was opened (adjacent to the Amey Theatre).

On 4 October 2008, the newly completed Sports Centre[6] was opened by MP Kate Hoey, with assistance from footballer Martin Keown, swimmer Robin Brew and pentathlete Kate Allenby. This multi-million pound project took 5 years to complete and has increased the floorspace of the school by 40%[7] Plans for the complex were formally launched by HRH Princess Anne in 2006.

In September 2010 Felicity Lusk, formerly headmistress of Oxford High School for Girls, a GDST school, replaced Mark Turner as Head of Abingdon. She has become the first female Head, not only of Abingdon, but of any boys' boarding public school.[8] David Lillycrop, then Abingdon's chair of governors, said the move would 'help the boys to think in new ways but without losing the things that have given the school such an attractive character in the past', while Felicity Lusk herself remarked that 'There aren’t many women doing what I’m going to be doing, I think they [Abingdon] have been quite brave ... [a] last bastion of education has been broken through'.[9] One of Felicity Lusk's first actions as Head was to abolish Saturday morning school and restructure Abingdon's school day around 55, instead of 35, minute lessons.[10]

In early 2013 plans were announced for the construction of a new science centre to replace the old science block and temporary science labs.[11] The project will cost about £15 million of which £1.3 million was raised as part of an appeal to OAs, parents and pupils.[12][13] Construction began in March 2014 with a special event attended by pupils, the Head, staff, governors and donors, and the building is expected to be completed by September 2015.[14][15]

The Good Schools Guide called it 'an impressive school which does what it sets out to do well,' also noting that it was 'likely to increase in popularity because of its location and increasingly sparkly achievements',[16] while The Times described it as 'an elite boys’ boarding school'.[9]

Students and houses

The school currently has 860 pupils aged 11–18, of whom 111 are boarders. The school is split into 9 houses, 3 of which are for boarders and dayboys, 6 for day boys only. With the exception of Lower School, School House, and Crescent House the houses are named after their current Housemasters and are thus prone to change.

Day boys from 11–13 belong to the Lower School which has 119 boys.[17]

Extracurricular activities

File:Absch sports.jpg
Sports Centre collage of a changing room, sports hall, swimming pool, gym and exterior

Abingdon is notable in the region for its extracurricular activities, dubbed the "Other Half" (of the syllabus).[18] As is the tradition at English public schools,[who?] Wednesday afternoon is given over to extracurricular activities.


Abingdon has a sporting tradition, especially in rowing, rugby union and cricket. In recent years the school has reached the later stages of the Daily Mail U18 rugby cup whilst also gaining places in the last four of the HMC national 20/20 cricket competition. Sport is compulsory at Abingdon School and each student must do at least two sessions per week.[19]

Rowing at Abingdon is currently very strong. The boat club has a long history with documentary evidence indicating rowing was a school activity in 1830.[20] Roysse's School Rowing Club (1840) became Abingdon School Boat Club. The 1st VIII won the "triple" in 2002 and again in 2012: the Schools' Head of the River Race, the Queen Mother's Cup at the National School's Regatta and the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta. 2006's J14's A and B squads both became National School Champions, whilst the 2007 J16's won the junior Inter-Regionals, and a J16 4+ crew went to the GB 8 in the GB-France race. In 2009 the 1st VIII reached the final of the Henley Royal Regatta before losing to a "triple" winning Eton College crew. In 2011 the 1st VIII achieved victory again at the Schools Head of the River.[21] They backed this up by winning the Princess Elizabeth Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, on the way setting a new record of 6.19 for the course in the semi final against Radley College, beating the long-standing record set by Pangbourne College in 1992 of 6.22. The 1st VIII won the Princess Elizabeth Cup in 2012 and 2013 too, setting a new course record in the 2013 final of 6.17. The last time a school won the cup for three consecutive years was Bedford School in 1948. With four Henley Royal Regatta wins to its name, the school has become one of the most successful rowing schools in the UK. Since a schools rowing event was introduced at the regatta in 1946, only Eton, Shrewsbury, St Edward's, Radley College, St Paul's School and Bedford School have won more events at the Regatta.[22]

Non-sporting activities

The Debating Society is the school's oldest non-sporting society, founded in 1904. It debates a variety of motions in its weekly meetings, from the humorous to the serious, with many being political in nature. Abingdon takes part in a variety of national debating, public speaking and model United Nations competitions, often achieving notable success, as in 2009 when a group of Abingdon boys were national champions of the 2009 European Youth Parliament competition. The society also holds black-tie dinner debates with girls' schools, including the School of St Helen and St Katharine, Wycombe Abbey and Westonbirt School. David Mitchell and Colin Greenwood were chairmen of the society while at Abingdon.[23]

The School's Edmund and Roysse Societies hold talks for boys several times a term, inviting eminent speakers to lecture on a wide variety of subjects. Notable speakers include former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd.[24]

Abingdon has a Combined Cadet Force, which consists of RAF and Army sections. Although membership of the CCF is voluntary at Abingdon, it remains a large and popular activity. The CCF has achieved several successes with cadets in the contingent's Royal Air Force section winning the 2002 Ground Training Competition (South East) at RAF Uxbridge, Middlesex. The shooting team went on to become the top team at the National final that same year.[25]

The Abingdon Film Unit (AFU) exists as part of the 'Other Half' and has created nearly 100 films since its creation in 2004. Notable successes include the screening of two films at the BFI Southbank. These were 'Gravel and Stones', an emotional insight into the lives of various Cambodian landmine victims, and 'One Foot On The Ground', a documentary following the life of an aspiring Moldovan, basketball player. Festival screenings for various other films include Raindance, the London International Documentary Festival, the Bradford Animation Festival, and the British Film Festival in Dinard, France. Awards include Best Documentary, Best Fiction and Best Animation at the Future Film Festival in London and the National Young Filmmaker’s Award at the Leeds Student Film Festival.


Abingdon is academically a strong school: the students regularly achieve good results and a significant number progress to the most prestigious universities, including a yearly average of more than 25 to Cambridge and Oxford. In 2012 Abingdon achieved a 99.7% pass rate at GCSE level and 99.8% pass rate at A level, with 73.2% gaining A or A* grades.[citation needed]


The school holds a number of events, dinners and balls throughout the year. The 'Foundation Dinner', to honour the school's founders and benefactors, is held once a year towards the end of Lent term. It is normally attended by Abingdon Town Councillors, supporters of the school, governors, famous OAs, School prefects and upper sixth scholars. Perhaps the most notable school event is the 'Griffin Ball' held at the end of the school year. It is often attended by members of the upper sixth who are leaving the school as well as other students and many parents and teachers.[26] The ball itself is often preceded earlier in the day by the school's annual prize-giving ceremony.

Notable headteachers

Notable alumni

Members of the band Radiohead
  • Major General Sir Henry Tombs, a recipient of the Victoria Cross
  • Francis Maude, United Kingdom Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General
  • Matthew Harding, English businessman, former Chelsea FC shareholder and Labour donor
  • Mark Bretscher, British biological scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society
  • The members of Radiohead attended Abingdon in the 1980s:

Further reading

  • Former Second Master and Housemaster Donald Willis published several books of autobiography. His first 'Eggshells and Tea Leaves' (Robert Dugdale, 1981) recounted the story of his early life in Oxford in the 1920s and 30's before going on to recall his wartime experiences as an officer in the Royal Artillery serving in many theatres of the war, including the Italian campaign, in which he was mentioned in dispatches. This together with his other books, 'Early Days in Oxford' outlining in more detail life in Oxford from 1916 to 1940, 'A Song On A Bugle Blown' describing life at Abingdon School after the second world war, and an historical novel 'Storm Clouds Over Ireland' were all written following a series of severe strokes which forced his early retirement from Abingdon School.
  • Waste Court House and Lacies Court Abingdon School Misc. Finds 1997–1998 and Waste Court House Abingdon School Final Report (Evans, R.T.J and Excell, P.P.), concerning archaeological investigations at the school.[27]
  • St Nicholas Abingdon and Other Papers, Arthur E Preston (1929 and 1971)
  • Abingdon School 1870–1970 (1970)
  • A History of Rowing at Abingdon School 1840–1990, R G Mortimer (1990)
  • The Martlet and the Griffen, Thomas Hinde and Michael St John Parker (1997)
  • A Record of Tesdale Ushers & Bennett Scholars 1609–1870, Nigel Hammond (2004)

See also


  1. ^ David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History. Retrieved 10 September 2013
  2. ^ a b Abingdon School, A Brief History. Retrieved 10 September 2013
  3. ^ School history - the abbey arms
  4. ^ Thomas Tesdales's biography
  5. ^ "School Building News". The Builder 28: 471. 1870. 
  6. ^ Herald Series (06 October 2008).Olympians open £9m sports centre. The Abingdon Herald. Retrieved 10 September 2013
  7. ^ 40% increase stated by headmaster Turner in speech 2008-10-03.[according to whom?]
  8. ^ Ellery, Ben (2009-11-26). "The first woman head". Oxford Times. 
  9. ^ a b Grey, Sadie. Elite boys' boarding school. The Times
  10. ^ New Structure
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ The Good Schools Guide
  17. ^ The House System - pastoral care. Abingdon School. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  18. ^ Stuart Evans. Introduction to ‘The Other Half’. Abingdon School. Retrieved 19 September 2013
  19. ^ Abingdon School: Sport. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  20. ^ Abingdon School: Boat Club. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  21. ^ Rowing: It's a thriller as Abingdon win Schools Head. The Oxford Times. 24 March 2011. Retrieved 21 September 2013
  22. ^ "Results of Final Races - 1946-2003". 
  23. ^ Abingdon School: Debating society. Abingdon School. Retrieved 21 September 2013
  24. ^ Abingdon School: Lord Hurd at joint Edmund and Roysse Society. Abingdon School. Retrieved 21 September 2013
  25. ^ Abingdon School: Combined Cadet Force. Abingdon School. Retrieved 21 September 2013
  26. ^ dead link
  27. ^ Abingdon Archaeological Society

External links