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A History of Oakham School

John Speed's map of Oakham, 1611 Oakham School was founded in 1584, by Robert Johnson, who also founded nearby Uppingham School at the same time.
Robert Johnson was rector of North Luffenham, a village 6 miles from Oakham, for 51 years from 1574 to his death in 1625. He seems to have enjoyed the patronage of the Cecil family - it was William Cecil who built the great house at Burghley near Stamford.

School Crest Robert Johnson became Archdeacon of Leicester and, as was possible then, was at one time able to collect the income from four further church posts.
He used his wealth to set up a number of charitable institutions, including the two free grammar schools at Oakham and Uppingham.
As someone on the Puritan wing of the Church of England he had a strong belief in the benefits of education.

According to Johnson's statutes for the school, 'the schoolmaster shall teach all those grammar scholars that are brought up in Oakham, freely without pay, if their parents be poor and not able to pay, and keep them constantly to school'. The master of the school was to teach Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Of course, although the schooling was free, permanent attendance meant the loss to a family of an income, so not many very poor would have attended, or wanted the education. The master could supplement his income - of 24 per year, by taking in boarders. Johnson was careful to ensure that his schools were sufficiently endowed.

The School has Queen Elizabeth's charter confirming its endowment.

Original school building, restored 1723The original school building was restored in the eighteenth century, but remained the sole classroom for 300 years. In 1749 a case involving payment of rates recorded that 'the school of Uppingham is not nor hath been of equal repute with that of Oakham.' However, while Uppingham flourished in the second half of the nineteenth century, Oakham did not. In 1875 there were just 2 day boys and 2 boarders in the school. A new headmaster lasted three years before being dismissed.

All classes were still taught in the one room - the original old school. The school did see some development. Science and Modern Languages had recently been added to the curriculum. The subjects examined for a scholarship within the school were: English History (1066-1603), Geography of the British Isles, English Grammar, Arithmetic, English Composition and Dictation. A more successful headmaster, the Rev.E.V.Hodge, Headmaster from 1879 to 1902, saw numbers increase, to 125 in 1896, with slightly more boarders than day boys.

Staff and pupils, outside boarding house, 1878

The school in 1878

This was a temporary peak - by 1905 numbers had fallen back to 66. The response to the obvious financial difficulties which accompanied this decline was to apply for a Direct Grant from the local authority, and to become in effect the grammar school for Rutland at the same time as continuing as a public school. New facilities for Science teaching were created, boarding accommodation was improved with new building and then a new school house was built. Pupil numbers rose again, to 105 in 1910, and to 200 in 1923.

69 old boys of the school were killed in the First World War. As a memorial the Chapel was built in 1925 - the amount of money collected for its building is a measure of the feelings of the time. The school continued to develop, materially in its buildings and modernising and extending the curriculum, but inevitably unspectacularly given its limited finances


School Chapel, built as a World War I memorial, 1925If the 1960s were a revolutionary decade elsewhere, Oakham soon followed. A Headmaster with a vision and new funds from appeals and raising fees brought radical change. The headmaster, John Buchanan, noted that 'while we are not a rich school, at least we are no longer a desperately poor one, having to scrape and save and do with the second-best or second-hand or more probably go without altogether, whilst seeing state schools across the road adopting as necessities what we should regard as luxuries. The acid of stringent economy can cut deep into the ways and thoughts of a school economy'. Anyone who has taught in the state sector might wonder at his comparison of necessity and luxury when they see the facilities and staffing Oakham enjoys today.

Queen visits Oakham School, 1984In 1970 the school became fully independent from the local authority and in 1971 took in girls for the first time, committing itself to becoming fully co-educational. Since then the school has developed remarkably, with growing pupil numbers (over 1000), and new buildings - the latest must be one of the finest school libraries in the country. It has also seen its standing in academic results grow, while also successfully encouraging its pupils to make the most of the range and quality of activities outside the classroom.

The Queen visits the school on its 400th anniversary in 1984 - here accompanied by the Headmaster and greeted by pupils on the left and patriotic nursery children on the right.