City of Oxford High School for Boys, George Street
The former City of Oxford High School for Boys in George Street was founded in 1881. Its main promoter was Thomas Hill Green, White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy and the first university member ever to serve on Oxford City Council. The following inscription describing its origin was added to the front of the building in the late 1960s:
THOMAS HILL GREEN (1832–1882). EDUCATIONALIST,
FELLOW OF BALLIOL, WHITE’S PROFESSOR OF MORAL
PHILOSOPHY. ELECTED (1876) FIRST UNIVERSITY
MEMBER OF OXFORD CITY COUNCIL TO HELP FOUND AND
ESTABLISH THE HIGH SCHOOL FOR BOYS (1881–1966),
THEREBY COMPLETING THE CITY’S ‘LADDER OF LEARNING’
FROM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TO UNIVERSITY –
A PROJECT DEAREST TO HIS HEART.
THUS WERE UNITED TOWN AND GOWN IN COMMON CAUSE.
The date under the clock (below) reads 1880, the year the foundation stone was laid by Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria.
The following notice of an initial public meeting about the school appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 26 January 1878:
A week later on 2 February 1878 Jackson’s Oxford Journal recorded pledges for the funding of the school:
The Oxford Chronicle for 11 October 1879 (p. 8, col. 3) gives the following full description of the proposed school:
THE NEW HIGH SCHOOL FOR BOYS
This building, which is about to be built from the designs of Mr T.G. Jackson, will occupy the vacant plot of ground behind the houses on the south side of George Street, and between that street and Bulwarks Alley, the remains of the old city wall and New-Inn-Hall-Street. There will be a frontage in George Street of about 120 ft., which will be recessed to form a fore-court behind, and this will be the principal block of the building, occupying the whole width of the frontage, containing four class rooms below, a larger hall above (84 ft. by 28 ft.), and a projecting building in front, containing the principal staircase and entrance porch, with a decorated gable and a lantern above. There will be a second staircase at the west end of the hall, with an entrance from the south. For the present the building will not be carried beyond this point, but according to the alternate plan a long wing, containing class rooms and corridors, will extend westwards, behind and below to the houses in George Street. By this arrangement of the building a large extent of ground is left vacant for a playground between the school buildings and the old city wall, with an entrance from New-Inn-Hall Street and another from Bulwarks Alley. The plan, when completed, will include a house for the Head Master, and possible new science and art schools may be built on the part of the site, for the use both of the High School and of the townspeople generally.
Jackson’s Oxford Journal of the same date (11 October 1879) contained the following letter about the cost of the school, which shows that it was built with stone from the old City Gaol. This gaol had stood nearby in the centre of Gloucester Green since 1879, but had been closed in 1878 and then demolished.
The architectural competition to design the school was won by T.G. Jackson, but it is obvious from the following letter, reproduced in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 28 February 1880, that the loser, Frederick Codd, considered that much of his design had in fact been incorporated into the school:
The school eventually cost £10,000, and opened in 1881 with 47 pupils. It was maintained by Oxford City Council for day boys resident in Oxford. Its motto was Nemo repente sapit (“No one suddenly becomes wise”).
In 1895 two additional classrooms were built at the south-west angle: the architect was again Jackson, and the builder Axtell (see Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 12 October 1895, p. 6b).
By 1966 the number of pupils at the the City of Oxford High School had risen to 360, and its George Street premises had become very cramped. In that year it moved to Glanville Road in east Oxford, where it merged with Southfield School (which had opened in Glanville Road in 1934 when the Oxford Municipal Secondary School and the Oxford Selective Central School for Boys were combined) to become Oxford School (now Oxford Spires Academy).
The George Street building was used by the College of Further Education from 1966 to 1968. It was then leased and restored by the University of Oxford, which has used it as follows:
- Social Studies Faculty Centre from 1978 until it moved to purpose-built premises in Manor Road in 2003
- Classics Faculty Centre from 2003 to the beginning of February 2007 (while its offices in St Giles’ Street were extensively refurbished)
- History Faculty from July 2007.
The school is a Grade II listed building (1485/250; Images of England No. 245444). Its brief description reads:
Built 1880 to designs of Sir Thomas Jackson in Bladon stone with Clipsham dressings, There were additions in 1895, 1915 and 1935. The north front is in 2-storeyed Ashlar with a centrepiece, porch steps and a gable, there is a balustraded parapet and a brown tiled roof. The 3-light stone mullioned and transomed windows have elliptical heads. Clock in the gable.
Above: Map of 1900 showing the school
There are two more inscriptions around the back of the building, not visible from the street:
THIS STONE WAS LAID BY
HRH PRINCE LEOPOLD
APRIL 13 1880
IN THE MAYORALTY OF
THE OXFORD PRESERVATION TRUST
AND OXFORD SCHOOL OLD BOYS’ SOCIETY
PLANTED TWO TREES IN 1979
ON THIS THE ONE TIME PLAYGROUND
OF THE CITY OF OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL
TO COMMEMORATE A FORMER SCHOLAR
AND MUCH LOVED HEADMASTER
FREDERICK CHARLES LAY
Left: plaque dedicated to T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) (1888–1935), who was sent to the school at the age of eight in 1896 (the year his family settled in 2 Polstead Road), and remained there until 1907, when he won a Meyricke Scholarship to Jesus College.
The plaque was restored and returned to the old building on 19 May 2010: newspaper report
Other well-known pupils were the poet John Drinkwater, the comedian Ronnie Barker, the immunologist Rupert (“Bill”) Billingham (1921–2002), and Lord Krebs, trincipal of Jesus College, Oxford from 2005 to 2015.