St. Edward’s School was founded in 1863 by the Reverend Thomas Chamberlain, Senior Student and Honorary Canon of Christ Church Oxford and at the time was the Vicar at St. Thomas the Martyr in Oxford.
fter a very slow start, the School quickly outgrew its very dilapidated premises in New Inn Hall Street and in 1873 moved to a new site in Summertown under the guidance of the owner, second Headmaster and later first Warden, the Reverend Algernon Barrington Simeon. Building had commenced in 1870 and was based on a central quadrangle surrounded by Gothic style buildings with the main focus being the Chapel in the North-East corner.
The School had been one of several educational establishments undertaken by Chamberlain and proved his only one that was successful in the long term. Named after Saint Edward, King and Martyr, the great grandson of King Alfred, who was stabbed on the steps of Corfe Castle while drinking from a loving cup, offered by his complicit stepmother in 978. He is today recognised as a Saint in the Anglican Communion, as well as in The Eastern Orthodox Church and The Roman Catholic Church. Edward’s memory is kept alive in the School’s Cup and Dagger emblem, one boarding house being named Corfe and the sporting Alumni referred to as ‘Martyrs’. Just why Chamberlain named the School thus is unknown, but the suggestion is that he linked the name of his own church, named after another martyr, Thomas Becket, with that of St. Edward.
The School’s early intentions were to primarily educate the sons of middle class clergy and to emphasise the teachings of the Anglican faith as its core priority. Over the years the School grew slowly up to the Great War with additions to School facilities as needed and often funded under critical financial parameters.
Sport was always important and from its earliest days formidable teams played the earliest forms of rugby football, as well as cricket and later rowed on the adjacent canal. Today every conceivable form of sporting activity is partaken in within a highly competitive fixture list against peer schools, both in this country and abroad.
The School has acquired a formidable reputation for war heroes going back to the Boer War but it was in the Second World War and the R.A.F. in particular, that the names of Guy Gibson, Douglas Bader, Adrian Warburton, Arthur Banks, Alec Cranswick and others raised the School’s profile to national fame.
After the Second World War, the School grew ever upwards and outwards and in 1982 welcomed the first girl students into the Sixth Form, followed fifteen years later by full co-educational status. Currently there are about 695 pupils at the School. Eighty-five percent of pupils board, and the girl/boy split is 40%/60%; 15% of pupils are from overseas.
Wilfrid Cowell, St. Edward’s longest ever serving master, whose fifty-seven years’ service extended from 1880 to 1937 was a man of many roles, one being as the founder of the School’s archives over one hundred years ago.
Since that time a unique and highly valued collection of the School’s past has gradually accumulated. Today the archives are housed under one roof at the School and have recently been completely overhauled, recatalogued, reboxed and relabelled where necessary. As much of the material as possible has also been copied onto digital formatted databases for easier retrieval and to preserve some of the oldest material.
While today’s archives include many hundreds of irreplaceable pictures dating back to the earliest days, correspondence of all kinds, accounts books, ephemera, artefacts including china, sports cups, clothing and head gear, school play programmes, records of sporting achievement (both at School and House level) and sound recordings of School choirs and Warden’s speeches — there is always a need for new additions from whatever source.
Nothing is unimportant and every new accession is warmly appreciated. Even a short-term loan to the archives for scanning purposes is very welcome.
The aims of retaining such an archival collection are very clear and include:
- Availability of historical records for exhibition or immediate reference
- Education of current School pupils about their School’s heritage
- Provision of accurate information for biographers, family historians, researchers and other bona fide parties
- Provision of detailed accurate information for existing staff, parents, O.S.E. and others with close connections to the School
- One stop source to locate, collect and uncover records of all kinds associated with the School’s 150-year history Preservation of the School’s history both in paper and digital form
- Safe storage and on-going care of irreplaceable memorabilia which might otherwise be lost or irretrievably damaged