Abingdon School

For the Japanese rock band, see Abingdon Boys School.
Abingdon School
Motto Misericordias domini in aeternum cantabo
("I will sing of the Lord's mercy forever")
Established 1100 (possible foundation)
1256 (earliest reference and endowment)
1563 (re-endowment)
Type Independent day and boarding school
Religion Church of England
Headmaster Michael Windsor
Founders Benedictine monks
Location Park Road
OX14 1DE
Coordinates: 51°40′23″N 1°17′17″W / 51.6730°N 1.2880°W / 51.6730; -1.2880
DfE number 931/6095
DfE URN 123312 Tables
Gender Boys
Ages 11–18
Houses 10

Cerise and White

Publication The Martlet, Words and That, The Axiom, Griffenomics, Timeline, The Abingdonian
Former pupils Old Abingdonians
Boat Club Abingdon School Boat Club
Website www.abingdon.org.uk

Abingdon School is a day and boarding independent school for boys in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England. In 1998, it merged with Josca's, a preparatory school four miles to the west at Frilford which since 2007 has been known as Abingdon Preparatory School, with both schools becoming part of the Abingdon Foundation. There are strong connections with the nearby School of St Helen and St Katharine in Abingdon. The twentieth oldest independent British school, it celebrated its 750th anniversary in 2006. Abingdon is ranked as one of the best boys boarding schools in the UK, and considered on par with Eton, Harrow, Tonbridge, Dulwich, and Winchester.


The precise date of Abingdon's foundation is unclear. Some believe the school to have been founded prior to the 12th century by the Benedictine monks of Abingdon Abbey, with a legal document of 1100 listing Richard the Pedagogue as the first headmaster. From its early years, the school used a room in St Nicholas' Church,[1] which itself was built between 1121 and 1184.[2]

The school now takes its anniversary from the earliest surviving reference to the school – 1256 – a charter of Abingdon Abbey recording an endowment by Abbot John de Blosneville for the support of thirteen poor scholars.[3] In the past though, the school considered itself as having been founded by John Roysse in 1563. This led to the unusual circumstance whereby the school celebrated its 400th anniversary in 1963 (at which HRH Princess Margaret was guest of honour), and then its 750th in 2006. The focus on 1256 facilitated extensive anniversarial fundraising in 2006.

By the time of de Blosneville's endowment in 1256, the school had moved to a couple of rooms in Stert Street with a house for boarders at 3 Stert Street under the charge of a Dionysia Mundy. With John Roysse's re-endowment of 1563, the school moved to a site south of the Abbey gateway. Roysse was a prosperous mercer in the City of London, and through this association the school has received substantial benefactions from the Worshipful Company of Mercers. The name Roysse's School was used until the 1960s and many older Abingdon residents still use the term.

After the dissolution of Abingdon Abbey in 1538, the school passed through a difficult phase: the sixteenth century endowments by Old Abingdonians attempted to overcome the loss of monastic support. Thomas Tesdale, who had been a pupil in 1563,[4] made provision for an Usher to teach six poor scholars from the Borough of Abingdon and offered support for thirteen Abingdon students to study at Oxford. This benefaction eventually developed into Pembroke College in 1624 by the re-foundation of Broadgates Hall.

The six poor scholars, known as Bennett Boys, or colloquially as the Gown Boys due to their dress, were financed by another Old Abingdonian, William Bennett. Between 1609 and 1870 the school maintained a dual management: the Headmaster, appointed by the Mayor and Corporation, and the Tesdale Usher and Bennett Scholars appointed by the Master and Governors of Christ's Hospital, Abingdon. Despite being penalised during and after the English Civil War for its royalist and Anglican tendencies the school survived and achieved somewhat of a revival under headmaster Robert Jennings (1657–1683). 1671 saw the expulsion of ten boys after they refused to attend Anglican services at St Helen's church.

The original school building on the current site, which houses the chapel, library, and School House, along with several dayboy houses and classrooms. The bell tower is still in use, and the fields in the foreground are used for playing rugby union and cricket.

The school experienced a period of success during the 18th century under headmaster Thomas Woods (1716–1753), known as "Flogging Tom". The school became popular among the local aristocracy and many OAs went on to successful careers in various areas. In 1743 The Old Abingdonian Club was inaugurated, it is consequently one of the oldest such organisations in the country.

At the turn of the century the school went into decline under the leadership of the "incompetent"[2] headmaster Dr. John Lempriere. As a consequence Pembroke College, Oxford, used the University Reform Act of 1854 as an excuse to cut its links with the school.

The current school site in the Victorian quarter of Abingdon, adjacent to Albert Park, was designed by Edwin Dolby and was developed from 1870. Its architecture was described in The Builder that year as externally "of a simple character, the local material of red brick and tile being the chief material employed, relieved by bands of Bath stone".[5] Extensions to the 1870 buildings were added in 1880. In 1901, a chapel and gymnasium were built. The adjacent Waste Court property was acquired in 1928. The Science School came in 1952. In 1963, to mark the Quartercentenary of the school's re-foundation, the big schoolroom was re-ordered as the Grundy Library (opened by HRH Princess Margaret), together with erection of further buildings east of the Science Wing, the whole becoming known as Big School. In 1980, the Amey Theatre and Arts' Centre was opened and the Sports Centre opened in 1984. Mercers Court was opened in 1994 by the Chancellor of Oxford University and Visitor of Pembroke College, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead. In 2003, the new Arts Department was opened (adjacent to the Amey Theatre).

On 4 October 2008, the newly completed Sports Centre[6] was opened by MP Kate Hoey, with assistance from footballer Martin Keown, swimmer Robin Brew and pentathlete Kate Allenby. This multimillion-pound project took 5 years to complete and has increased the floorspace of the school by 40%[7] Plans for the complex were formally launched by HRH Princess Anne in 2006. The most recent addition to the School's facilities is a Science Centre, housing 21 laboratories, study areas and prep rooms. This was opened in October 2015.

In September 2010 Felicity Lusk, formerly headmistress of Oxford High School for Girls, a GDST school, replaced Mark Turner as Head of Abingdon. She has become the first female Head, not only of Abingdon, but of any boys' boarding public school.[8] David Lillycrop, then Abingdon's chair of governors, said the move would "help the boys to think in new ways but without losing the things that have given the school such an attractive character in the past", while Lusk herself remarked that "There aren’t many women doing what I’m going to be doing, I think they [Abingdon] have been quite brave ... [a] last bastion of education has been broken through".[9] One of Lusk's first actions as Head was to abolish Saturday morning school and restructure Abingdon's school day around 55, instead of 35, minute lessons.[10] In February 2015, Lusk announced her retirement in August 2016[11] and in July 2015 Michael Windsor (current Head of Reading Blue Coat) was announced as her successor from September 2016.[12]

The Good Schools Guide called it "an impressive school which does what it sets out to do well", also noting that it was "likely to increase in popularity because of its location and increasingly sparkly achievements",[13] while The Times described it as "an elite boys' boarding school".[9]

Students and houses

The school currently has c.970 pupils aged 11–18, of whom 134 are boarders. The school is split into 10 houses, 1 of which is for boys in years 7 & 8 (Lower School, c.120 boys[14]), 3 of which are for boarders and dayboys in year 9 and above, and 6 for day boys in year 9 and above. With the exception of Lower School, School House, Austin House (newly renamed from "Waste Court")[15] and Crescent House, the houses are named after their current Housemasters and are thus prone to change. Boys in Lower School have a pastoral tutor within the house for two years before being redistributed to the 9 "senior" houses when they move into year 9 and are joined by c.100 boys from other schools. In years 9 to 13 (3rd year to Upper 6th) they have the same housemaster, but usually 3 different pastoral tutors, specialising in 3rd year, the GCSE years and then the Sixth Form years.

Extracurricular activities

Sports Centre collage of a changing room, sports hall, swimming pool, gym and exterior

Abingdon is notable in the region for its extracurricular activities, dubbed the "Other Half" (of the syllabus).[16] The Other Half takes place at various times during the week, during some lunch times and especially after lessons end (so between 4 and 5.15pm on most week days but with an extended period from 2.30pm on Wednesdays). Lessons on Saturdays were dropped from the timetable in 2011, but Saturdays are still key times for boys to participate in school activities, most notably in sports fixtures but also in specific events, such as the Oxbridge preparation weekend and the "Big Sculpt" held by the Art Department.[17]


Abingdon has a sporting tradition, especially in rowing, rugby union and cricket. In recent years the school has reached the later stages of the Daily Mail U18 rugby cup whilst also gaining places in the last four of the HMC national 20/20 cricket competition. Sport is compulsory at Abingdon School and each student must do at least two sessions per week.[18]

The boat club has a long history with documentary evidence indicating rowing was a school activity in 1830.[19] Roysse's School Rowing Club (1840) became the Abingdon School Boat Club.

Non-sporting activities

The Debating Society is the school's oldest non-sporting society, founded in 1904. It debates a variety of motions in its weekly meetings, from the humorous to the serious, with many being political in nature. Abingdon takes part in a variety of national debating, public speaking and model United Nations competitions, often achieving notable success, as in 2009 when a group of Abingdon boys were national champions of the 2009 European Youth Parliament competition. The society also holds black-tie dinner debates with girls' schools, including the School of St Helen and St Katharine, Wycombe Abbey and Westonbirt School. David Mitchell and Colin Greenwood were chairmen of the society while at Abingdon.[20]

In 2014, an Economics and Business publication, Griffenomics, was founded by student William Tong, under the supervision of the Economics department. The biannual publication has received various honorable mentions from faculty and students, and inspired the later creation of several more subject-based publications in various other departments. [21]

The School's Edmund and Roysse Societies hold talks for boys several times a term, inviting eminent speakers to lecture on a wide variety of subjects. Notable speakers include former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd.[22]

Abingdon has a Combined Cadet Force, which consists of RAF and Army sections. Although membership of the CCF is voluntary at Abingdon, it remains a large and popular activity. The CCF has achieved several successes with cadets in the contingent's Royal Air Force section winning the 2002 Ground Training Competition (South East) at RAF Uxbridge, Middlesex. The shooting team went on to become the top team at the National final that same year.[23]

The Abingdon Film Unit (AFU) exists as part of the "Other Half" and has created nearly 100 films since its creation in 2004. Notable successes include the screening of two films at the BFI Southbank. These were Gravel and Stones, an emotional insight into the lives of various Cambodian landmine victims, and One Foot On The Ground, a documentary following the life of an aspiring Moldovan, basketball player. Festival screenings for various other films include Raindance, the London International Documentary Festival, the Bradford Animation Festival, and the British Film Festival in Dinard, France. Awards include Best Documentary, Best Fiction and Best Animation at the Future Film Festival in London and the National Young Filmmaker’s Award at the Leeds Student Film Festival.


Abingdon is academically a strong school: the students regularly achieve excellent results and a significant number progress to the most prestigious universities, including around 20 to Cambridge and Oxford. At A Level, the yearly A* percentage over the past 5 years has been as high as 33% (lowest = 24%) and the A*-A percentage averages around 68%[24] At GCSE, the yearly A* percentage over the same period has been as high as 60% (lowest = 43%) and the A*-A percentage around 81%.[25]

At GCSE, most of the courses followed are at the iGCSE level (international GCSE) and all examinations are taken in year 11 (5th year), i.e. there is no "early" take of qualifications even for top sets.[26] The top two Maths sets at GCSE follow the iGCSE and Additional Maths qualifications. In sixth form, A Levels are followed to AS and then A2 level, but following the reforms put in place under Michael Gove, the school has decided that, from September 2015, it will follow a linear system (i.e. courses will be completed over two years) and will not be offering the new stand-alone AS qualification. As a consequence of this freedom, some departments will be offering the Cambridge pre-U course instead of the traditional A Level.[27]


The school holds a number of events, dinners and balls throughout the year.

The "Foundation Dinner", to honour the school's founders and benefactors, is held once a year towards the end of Lent term. It is normally attended by Abingdon Town Councillors, supporters of the school, governors, famous OAs, school prefects and upper sixth scholars.

The school also take part in an annual lacrosse match on St. Katherine's Day, between Abingdon 1st rugby team, and St. Helen's and St. Katherine's School.

A notable school event is the "Griffin Ball" held at the end of the school year. It is often attended by members of the upper sixth who are leaving the school as well as other students and many parents and teachers.

[28] The ball itself is often preceded earlier in the day by the school's annual prize-giving ceremony.

Notable headteachers

Notable alumni (12th - 21st century)

Further reading

See also


  1. David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History. Retrieved 10 September 2013
  2. 1 2 Abingdon School, A Brief History. Retrieved 10 September 2013
  3. "Abbey Arms - Abingdon - Leading Oxfordshire independent school". abingdon.org.uk.
  4. "RBH Biography: Thomas Tesdale (1547-1610)". berkshirehistory.com.
  5. "School Building News". The Builder. 28: 471. 1870.
  6. Herald Series (06 October 2008).Olympians open £9m sports centre. The Abingdon Herald. Retrieved 10 September 2013
  7. 40% increase stated by headmaster Turner in speech 2008-10-03.
  8. Ellery, Ben (2009-11-26). "The first woman head". Oxford Times.
  9. 1 2 Grey, Sadie. Elite boys' boarding school. The Times
  10. "New Structure". abingdon.org.uk.
  11. "Felicity Lusk 23 February 2015 – Abingdon – Leading Oxfordshire independent school". abingdon.org.uk.
  12. "Abingdon School". abingdon.org.uk.
  13. The Good Schools Guide Archived November 3, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. The House System - pastoral care. Abingdon School. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  15. "Waste Court to be renamed Austin House - Abingdon - Leading Oxfordshire independent school". abingdon.org.uk.
  16. Stuart Evans. Introduction to "The Other Half". Abingdon School. Retrieved 19 September 2013
  17. "Big Sculpt - Abingdon - Leading Oxfordshire independent school". abingdon.org.uk.
  18. Abingdon School: Sport. abingdon.org.uk. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  19. Abingdon School: Boat Club. abingdon.org.uk. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  20. Abingdon School: Debating society. Abingdon School. Retrieved 21 September 2013
  21. Abingdon School: Griffenomics. Abingdon School. Retrieved 8 November 2016
  22. Abingdon School: Lord Hurd at joint Edmund and Roysse Society. Abingdon School. Retrieved 21 September 2013
  23. Abingdon School: Combined Cadet Force. Abingdon School. Retrieved 21 September 2013
  24. "A Level Statistics 2014 - Abingdon - Leading Oxfordshire independent school". abingdon.org.uk.
  25. "GCSE Statistics 2014 - Abingdon - Leading Oxfordshire independent school". abingdon.org.uk.
  26. "The Curriculum - Abingdon - Leading Oxfordshire independent school". abingdon.org.uk.
  27. "Abingdon School". abingdon.org.uk.
  28. "dead link". abingdon.org.uk.
  29. Abingdon Archaeological Society Archived November 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.

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