Oxford History: Schools


Central Boys’ School, Gloucester Green

Gloucester Green School in 1902

The above picture is dated 1901 by the artist and was published in The Builder of 25 January 1902. The accompanying text reads:


This school is situated in Gloucester Green, and as some old cottages of a picturesque nature had to be destroyed in order to make room for the new building, the School Board wished the new school to be kept as far as possible of a picturesque character.

As the Market-place is often very noisy, it was thought desirable not to place any classrooms facing that direction; the cloakrooms and other offices were, therefore, brought to the front, and bay windows introduced in them to obtain the character desired by the Board. This part of the building is of Doulting stone, the rest being of red and grey brick, and the whole being covered with Yorkshire stone slates.

The site being exceedingly irregular, a triangular hall, top-lighted, has been introduced, the classrooms being grouped round it, with a manual classroom approached by a separate staircase in the rear.

Mr. John Wooldridge, of Oxford, was the builder, his contract being about 5,700l., and Mr. Leonard Stokes, of Westminster, the architect. The drawing was exhibited in last year’s Royal Academy exhibition.

Images above doorAbove: The carvings above the door show St Anne on the left reading to the girls
(which is odd, as this was a school for boys only) and King Alfred on the right facing the boys

In 1871 the Congregationalists opened the first and earlier Central Boys’ School in a building to the east of Gloucester Green behind their church in George Street. It was an undenominational school with no compulsory religious education, and attendance by 1889 was 192. The records of this former school from 1867 to 1899 are held at the Oxfordshire History Centre (NC6/4).

On 30 September 1898 both this school and the girls' equivalent in the former Wesleyan Chapel in New Inn Hall Street were taken over by the Oxford School Board, which immediately condemned both buildings and decided to replace them on new sites in central Oxford. Jackson's Oxford Journal of 7 January 1899 published the report of the School Accommodation Committee of that board at a meeting held the previous Monday:

This committee reported that they have given very careful consideration to the question of sites on which to erect new buildings to replace the present condemned buildings of the Central Boys' and Central Girls' Schools. Various sites have been considered, and it having been found impracticable to obtain one site sufficiently large for both schools, they have come to the conclusion that it will be better to erect the two schools on separate sites.

At this meeting, the Revd H. E. Clayton was reported as saying that:

he should like the ratepayers to know that he considered both these schools unnecessary, and therefore that the consideration of these sites was premature. He might be considered to be wrong, but he must protest, and his own idea was that to re-build the school in Gloucester Green to take the place of the boys' school was unnecessary, and it was unnecessary for this reason. The numbers in this school had been diminishing for some little while, and no new children had come in, or scarcely any, since the Board had taken over the school. The new school was not wanted for the district, as there was ample accommodation for the children, supposing it was an elementary school. Of course, for something not an elementary school, that might lay claim to a different kind of support, but so far as elementary schools were concerned, there was plenty of accommodation for that part of Oxford, and to re-build the school seemed to him to be a waste of money.

The proposals none the less went ahead, and on 11 March 1899 the newspaper reported that at the meeting of the School Board held the previous Monday a letter from the Education Department at Whitehall had been read out approving the Gloucester Green site as satisfactory for a boys' school not exceeding 300 places. The site was purchased from Alderman Robert Buckell on 24 June 1899.

On 11 November 1899 the newspaper reported that tenders for the erection of the boys' school in Gloucester Green had been received from four builders (Wyatt & Son, Kingerlee & Sons, J. W. Wooldridge, and S. Hutchins), and that the lowest tender (£5,860 from Wooldridge) had been accepted.

The Oxford School Board built the new boys' school shown above on the north side of Gloucester Green between 1899 and 1900, at the same time as they built the new girls' central school in New Inn Hall Street.

JOJ 14 July 1900

The above drawing appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 14 July 1900. The accompanying text read:

The above is a sketch by our artist of what may be called Oxford's first Board school, now being erected on a site formerly occupied by a row of ancient tenements on the north side of Gloucester Green. The new edifice, which was designed by Mr. Leonard Stokes, of 3, Prince's-street, Westminster, Mr. Wooldridge of New-Inn-Hall-street, being the builder, has rather a depressed appearance as seen from the “Green,” but is a commodious and convenient erection considering the extraordinary conformation of the site. The cost of the new school will be between £,5000 and £6,000, and it consists of a central circular lower hall, on to which converge the various class rooms, lavatories, cloak rooms, master's private room, Board room, with open and covered-in asphalted playgrounds. The ventilation is first-class. At the back of the school is a separate building, the upper floor of which comprises a large class room for manual training in technical education. It is reached by means of a spiral staircase. The flooring throughout is wood block[,] the tiling of York stone, and the main entrance and lower portion of the front are of Doulton stone. The roof is ornamented with a bell turret, and the ceilings of the class rooms are uniformly fifteen feet in height.

Both the Central Boys' and the Central Girls' Schools were formally opened by Sir William Anson in January 1901.

This was an elementary school, and boys would normally have remained here until the school leaving age (which was ten in 1880, eleven in 1893, twelve in 1899, and fourteen in 1918). Not all of them went straight into work: a number of boys continued their education at the Oxford Boys' High School on the other side of George Street, and from there some were admitted to the University of Oxford.

In the First World War 54 boys from the school died, and its war memorial was moved to what is now the Oxford Spires Academy:

In 1921 the school was reorganized to take boys aged from ten to sixteen inclusive, with entrance by examination.

Closure in 1934 and subsequent merges
  • The Central Boys' School here at Gloucester Green closed in 1934, when it merged with the Municipal Secondary School (formerly the City of Oxford Technical Day School, which had opened in 1894) to form Southfield Grammar School in Glanville Road near Barracks Lane, east Oxford.
  • In 1966 the City of Oxford High School for Boys also merged with Southfield Grammar School to form Oxford School
  • In the late 1990s Oxford School became Oxford Community School.
  • In 2011 this became Oxford Spires Academy

The school building was subsequently used for many years as bus offices/waiting room. It was awarded Grade II listed status (List Entry No. 1047305) on 28 June 1972.

Old School pub sign

In December 1993 a planning application was approved for change of use from a bus company enquiry office to mixed use as a Tourist Information Office with a bar/brasserie, and from 1994 to 2003 the building housed Oxford City’s Information Centre on the western side and the Old School pub on the eastern side. The pub survived to c.2006: its sign is show left

In 2006 planning permission was approved for change of use of part of the Old School from Tourist Information to restaurant (06/02103/FUL), and In January 2007 the whole building became the Spice Valley Bangladeshi and Indian Restaurant.

Old School in 2008

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 16 May, 2022

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