Headington history: Schools

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Old Headington & Barton Infants’ School

3 North Place


No. 3 North Place, a private house with a gallery (righ), was Old Headington Infant School from 1840 to 1895.

It was built on land owned by Joseph Lock and his wife, who in 1805 had been awarded a considerable amount of land under the Headington Enclosure Award, including Plot 54, lying to the east of their country villa at Bury Knowle House: this plot is described as being bounded “on the West by certain old Inclosures belonging to the said Joseph Lock”. These “old Inclosures” are situated to the north of North Place and east of Old High Street, and include the site of the infant school.

1840 stone from school


The stone attached to the outside wall of 3 North Place (left), suggests that the school was opened in 1840, early in the reign of Queen Victoria

This is puzzling: did the tyrannous Joseph Lock — famous for not giving a fig for the common people of Headington and for blocking off the funeral path from Quarry — have a change of heart at the age of 80, just four years before he died in 1844? The school was later known as Mrs Ballachey’s School: but his daughter, Miss Maria Lock, did not marry George Baker Ballachey until 1843, when she was 46, and did not inherit Bury Knowle House until 1844; in 1840 it was occupied by her brother Edward and his family. Was Miss Lock responsible for persuading her father to found the school? It was certainly needed, as in 1840, hardly any of the ordinary children of Headington enjoyed an education. The only school for the poor — the Free School at the Chequers in Quarry, founded by Catherine Mather in 1805 — had room for only twelv children (six boys and six girls).

The school is not listed in the 1841 census. It is possible that Old Headington Infant School was for the first eight years of its life a dame school catering for a range of ages, becoming a feeder infant school for children aged 2–6 in 1848, when the National School on the London Road (just behind the present St Andrew’s School) opened for juniors aged 7–10.

By 29 June 1848 it was already described as an infants’ school and with 125 pupils was a considerable size: John Hill records in his diary for that day the marriage of Edward Hill and Sophia Ballachey at St Andrew’s Church, and adds, “After the beloved couple were gone, about 40 of the poor of the parish above 70 years of age had a dinner in the infant school room – and about 5 o’clock the infant school children (about 125) had cake and tea.”

The 1851 census gives the occupation of Miss Emma Cantwell as “Mistress of the Infant School”; and two years later Lascelle’s Directory for 1853 states: “There is also an infant school in the Village. Average number of scholars 60. Miss Ann Bird, Mistress.”

In 1854, the Vicar of Headington, answering the questionnaire he was obliged to fill in prior to the Bishop’s Visitation, stated that there was in the Parish “an Infant School supported by a private individual — average number 60”. This clarifies that Old Headington Infant School was being paid for by Mrs Maria Ballachey. She (or her father) had presumably already paid for the school building back in 1840, and she continued to give £20 a year towards the running of the school, which was always known as “Mrs Ballachey’s School”.

In 1873, however, the school came under similar church management to that of the National School on the London Road. Henceforth it was obliged to keep a log-book, which is now in the possession of St Andrew’s School. The official name of the school, inscribed in this log-book (which was in itself a gift from Mrs Ballachey in 1873), was “The Headington & Barton Infant School”. The Headington Parish Magazine for July 1873 states:

The Infant School (Old Headington) will be re-opened on Wednesday, July 2, under the management of Miss Walter, a certificated mistress. The hours of School will be as follows,- Morning, 9–12, Afternoons, 2-4. The payment for Scholars will be the same as it has always been, namely, one penny weekly for the first child, and one half-penny weekly for every other child of the same family. This School is intended for the Infants of Old Headington and Barton alone. The New Headington Infants may attend the larger School until after the summer holidays, when it is hoped the New School will be ready to receive them.

The school could accommodate 90 infants, aged from 2 to 6, and measured 40 × 18 feet.

Plan of Hermitage land in 1880

Above: This plan from the auction catalogue of the Hermitage at 69 Old High Street, dating from 1880, has north on the left. The infants’ school is clearly marked in the middle, and the playground of the school ran along thethe north side of North Place as far as Old High Street.

Until 1884 the fees were a penny a week for the first child in each family, and a halfpenny for each subsequent child: this is half the price of New Headington Infant School, because despite the takeover, Mrs Ballachey continued to subsidize the children’s fees.

The log-book records numerous visits to the school by Mrs Ballachey and her stepdaughters, always with gifts. Many of the infants were extremely young, so the gifts included bricks and rag-dolls for the “babies”. Not surprisingly the Inspector did not approve of the presence of these “babies” being at school, and his report for 1874 states: “The presence of children under three years of age in the same room as the rest of the infants interferes with the efficiency of the school.” On 24 September 1875 the Committee decided that “in future no child under three years of age should be admitted into this school”. (This decision was not implemented until 1902, however, and the Inspectors’ Reports of 1878 and 1900 again mention the problem.)

The infant log-book (kept at St Andrew’s School) makes fascinating reading. Clothing is frequently distributed by Mrs Ballachey, and children are sometimes sent home “to be washed & made fit for school”. On 26 January 1874 it is recorded that one child had been removed by his parents from this infant school “because (it was said) he was taught to say bad language”.

On 6 November 1877 there is an entry which clearly indicates the dual control that Mrs Ballachey and St Andrew’s Church had over the school: “Ada Morris left school on Friday because she could not be allowed to wear her necklace as Mrs Ballachey & the Rd A. W. Pearson have a great objection to such ornaments being worn at school.”

Needlework started when the girls were very young: the entry for 3 February 1879 reads: “Taught some of the very little girls (3 years old) to thread their needles.” The Misses Ballachey and other ladies of the village (such as Miss Wootten Wootten) came in frequently to help with the knitting and sewing lessons and to hear children reading. it appears that the boys as well as the girls did needlework, as the Inspector’s Report for 1889 reads: “The Needlework is only just passable, the boys being somewhat worse than the girls”, and for 1891: “the needlework … of the boys does not deserve any Grant”.

The connection with the Ballachey family ended in February 1884, when Mrs Ballachey died at the age of 86, leaving all her Headington property to her brother’s family and apparently making no provision for her school. The entry in the log book for 3 March 1884 reads: “Owing to the lamented death of Mrs Ballachey, the sum of £20, which had been so liberally given by her annually to the Old Headington Infant School, having ceased, the Managers feel it necessary forthwith to raise the fees at that school to be equal to those now paid at the New Headington Infant School.”

The parents would indeed have lamented her death: school fees doubled overnight to 2d a week for the first child in a family and 1d for each subsequent child. That paying these fees was a real hardship to the parents of Old Headington is shown by the log-book entry on 5 January 1891: “The adverse weather still continues, & many of the children are out of employment, & cannot pay the school fees, consequently the children are kept at home.”

Even though the children were under 7, some of them were kept at home to work: on 27 August 1894 it is recorded, “Several absentees owing to harvest work being still in operation.”

In 1892 the Inspector’s report says: “The building will I hope be replaced some day by one more worthy of the village”; and that of 1893 lists numerous defects. In 1894 the Inspector recorded: “The Managers propose as a temporary measure to remove the children [of Old Headington Infant School] to one of the rooms now used by the older children [at the old 1848 National School on the London Road] as soon as the new buildings for the boys & girls are ready for occupation.”

These New National Schools were ready at the end of that year, and on 7 January 1895 the older boys and girls moved into their respective sections, vacating the 1848 building behind. The former girls’ schoolroom was demolished, and the boys’ schoolroom to the east together with the adjoining teacher’s house were made ready for the infants of Old Headington. They moved in, with their same old log-book, on 29 April 1895.

Despite the fact that the move was intended to be a “temporary measure”, there is no evidence that the infants ever moved back to 3 North Place. The school retained its old name on the new site, however, and there are photographs dated March 1904 labelled “Old Headington Infant School” that confusingly show part of the 1847 building on the London Road. The infant school is listed under the London Road school from 1894 to 1928, when the new senior school to the east (for children up to the age of 14) opened. Then for the second time the Old Headington Infants moved into a building vacated by the older children (this time the 1894 school), and they are still there.

By the time of the 1911 census the former school house in North Place was occupied by Gilbert Edward Taylor, a tailor’s assistant, and his wife and children.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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