School marks 450 years of modernity
1:00pm Saturday 9th February 2013 in News
Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick, the illegitimate grandson of Charles II, a Cabinet Minister and even rock giants Radiohead – Abingdon School is looking back on 450 years of history
and a list of Old Boys that reads like Who’s Who? Debbie Waite reports
What has the illegitimate grandson of King Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwyn got in common with the current Conservative Minister for the Cabinet Office?
Or all five members of the band Radiohead with the soldier who saved the life of the Duke of Malborough?
They were all once pupils at one of England’s oldest seats of learning – Abingdon School.
This year sees the 450th anniversary of a major endowment by former Abingdon pupil John Roysse, which established Abingdon School as a modern school.
Prior to the Roysse endowment, Abingdon School had only been open to a very select few and was located in Stert Street, next to St Nicholas Church.
But after the dissolution of the Abbey in 1538, the Corporation of Abingdon bought new premises for the school in the old common hall of the Hospital of St John. And on January 31, 1563 – his 63rd birthday – former pupil Roysse gave the corporation £50 to convert the hall into a 63ft-long schoolroom for 63 free scholars.
He also gave the school two freehold properties in London, which were sold in 1866, enabling the school to move to new, more spacious premises in Albert Park on land given by Christ’s Hospital.
Roysse opened up education for a whole host of local boys who would not have had access to it before.
While some wealthy boarders paid full fees, other families paid just a guinea a quarter and others were fully subsidised.
The school was known as Roysse’s Free School for a time, before eventually becoming Abingdon School.
But Roysse’s legacy would enable a host of schoolboys to make their mark on the world, in many different ways.
School archivist Sarah Wearne said: “Until the early years of the 20th century there were never more than 100 boys at Abingdon, yet it produced its fair share of soldiers, clergymen and politicians; poets, artists and writers; explorers, adventurers and hacks – the product of one small school in one small country town – 2013 is a great opportunity to celebrate just some of the characters to have been shaped by Abingdon.”
From 63 pupils to more than 900 today, the school is celebrating the anniversary with an exhibition, From Abingdon to Zanzibar – a history of movers and shakers who have passed through the school.
It is running at Abingdon’s County Hall Museum.
ABINGDON OLD BOYS
- Philip Johnson: Lead architect on the London 2012 Olympic Stadium
- Nigel Bruce (1895-1953): Played Dr Watson opposite Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.
- David Mitchell: Peep Show star and comedian David regularly appears on QI and hosts the radio show The Unbelievable Truth.
- Thom Yorke, Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway of Radiohead: Music megastars, they produced the music for school productions at Abingdon School, but got their big break with their debut single Creep in 1992. Their eighth album The King of Limbs came out in 2011.
- Russell Taylor: Draws The Daily Telegraph Alex cartoon.
- Francis Maude: A Privy Councillor since 1992, Chairman of the Conservative Party 2005-07 and Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General.
- Lord James Beauclerk (1709-87): The ninth child of Charles Beauclerk, the first Duke of St Albans, who was the illegitimate son of Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwyn.
- Colonel James Bringfield (1656-1706): Fought with the Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Blenheim (1704), his death made him a national hero as the cannonball that blew off his head would otherwise have killed the duke. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
- Eric Whelpton (1894-1981): Author of more than 28 travel books, Whelpton is said to have been the model for Dorothy L Sayers’s fictional detective, Lord Peter Wimsey.
- Captain Robin Bourne-Taylor CGC: Olympic oarsman (2004 and 08), and Oxford Blue (2001-05), Bourne-Taylor was serving in Afghanistan with the Life Guards when he won the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for leading a successful night attack against an insurgent cell.