Upton School


Before the 1870 Elementary Education Act offered schooling for all it was the churches who led the philanthropic effort to educate the “working classes”. When the Diocese of Oxford was planning a village school at Upton the Government gave a grant but took no other responsibility. From the start Diocesan Inspectors paid regular visits and wrote reports. Later, the HMIs followed suit.

Uneducated England

As far back as 1818 a select committee report on Education of the Lower Orders had described England as “the worst educated country in Europe”. Was this a deliberate policy – in the wake of the French Revolution? Soon, however, the population explosion and humanitarian ideals leading to factory and child labour reforms encouraged the building of numerous church schools in mid-19th century England.

The first Rector

In this context, in 1862 the first Rector of the newly created parish of Upton, the Reverend Richard Hooper – whose diaries are in the Berkshire Record Office – persuaded the Church Diocesan Board in Oxford to vote £25 towards the building of a school here “for the education of children and adults or children only of the labouring manufacturing and other poorer classes” (plus £3 for books).

Land for the site was given in trust by Mr. J. Shaw Phillips, an Oxford brewer, who owned three allotments beside Upton church.

Gothic Style

The building was by Mr James Piers St. Aubyn (1815-95), a Gothic Revival architect who built and restored numerous churches, particularly in Cornwall, and also designed schools. (In Collins Guide to English Parish Churches (1959) John Betjeman complained: “St Aubyn leaves his mark at the church porch in the form of a scraper of his own design, as practical and unattractive as his work”. This footscraper still stands beside the Old School porch.

One classroom

His plan for a 30ft long one-room school – with a high ceiling and tall leaded windows at each end – echoes the rafters and altar window of the church. Three small side windows were placed too high for the children to look through.

Incidentally, at this time the church itself was in a very dilapidated state. It was restored ten years later, when services were transferred to the school.

Foundation Stone

In September 1862 a corner stone was laid and Mr Nathaniel Humfrey, the squire, gave a celebratory dinner. By the following February, Mr. Finch of Cholsey had completed the building to the architect’s satisfaction. Mr. Hooper records £62 as the first payment for the contract.

Rose trees were planted around it and on June 15, 1863 the Bishop of Oxford, accompanied by the Archdeacon, arrived to Open the school.

Triumphal Arches

Triumphal arches were erected at the entrance to the village and near the school, and a procession walked from the Manor House to a church service, where the collection amounted to £31.

“Luncheon was served in the schoolroom which had been handsomely decorated with flowers and flags, and about 75 people sat down to the meal. Afterwards there was a tea for the children, and games and sports.”

Night School

It is not known how many children enrolled during the first year; but Mr. Hooper immediately opened a night school that soon numbered 33 pupils – the maximum the room could hold – with ages ranging from 9 to 36.

Teaching the 3-Rs

Providing schoolteachers seems to have been a problem. At Upton, as in all elementary schools, the aim was to teach “the 3-Rs” (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic). However, “normal” teacher training was in its infancy. Some teachers went through “pupil-teacher” apprenticeships. Many schools used the “monitorial system”, in which the older pupils taught the younger.

Tuneful singing

The Bible was, of course, studied in church schools. However, after the 1870 Act, which aimed unsuccessfully to impose a secular syllabus, the RE quota stipulated: “Bible teaching without denominational intrusion”.

At Upton the children’s tuneful hymn-singing and biblical knowledge always pleased the Diocesan Inspectors. Perhaps inevitably, “The Great School Row” – a hundred years after the school opened – was in part about this.

Diligent Managers

From the beginning, Upton School was monitored by the rectors of Upton and their wives, and administered by diligent School Managers. Also, apart from the hard-working women teachers, many of whom stayed for years, there was a succession of voluntary Visitors, such as Miss Sophie Fry of the Manor, who played the piano for drill and singing from the 1890s until the 1930s, and later Mr. Boyd Alexander of Prospect House who helped with country dancing.

People still talk about all the dressing-up and telling of ghost stories at the recory in Chilton Road (Ridgewood Grange) with the last rector and his wife, Mrs. Mary Chitty. As Correspondent of the School Managers during the 25-year effort to keep it open after the 1944 Education Act, her letter-writing deserves special mention.

Log Book

The first entry in the Upton School Log Book, dated 1873, refers to a boy who has been “re-admitted” by the Upton School Committee after being dismissed by Mr. Hooper for “insubordination”.

Two years later the Diocesan School Inspector made a very good report on the children’s work. But shortly afterwards the schoolmistress, Miss Isabella Broadway, aged 23, died of typhoid fever. Mr. Hooper and his wife had nursed her during this tragic event, and paid for the stone over her grave which can be seen in the churchyard. Incidentally, around this time Mr Hooper received £1000 from the Church Commissioners towards the building of Upton Parsonage.

Theatricals and Lectures

The next schoolmistress, Miss Annie Smith, soon married Joseph Butler, who acted as the first Correspondent for the school. The late Mr Ted Butler, well-remembered by old Uptonians for his “brilliant” stage monologues, was the last Correspondent, who in 1970-71 made energetic appeals in vain to prevent the school’s closure to the then-Secretary of State for Education, Margaret Thatcher.

In 1884, when Miss Emma Langham became schoolmistress, the schoolroom was used frequently for concerts and lectures; in 1886 Mr Buckmaster of the South Kensington Science Department gave a talk on “The Science of Practical Farming” and in 1899 Mr Carl de Louis entertained the children with his “magic”.

Good Exam Results

Early Inspectors reports show that educational standards fluctuated. In 1881, a particularly difficult year for the teacher: “Reading is fluent but unintelligent. Handwriting is badly formed. Spelling poor. Arithmetic a failure.”

On the other hand, in 1889: “The children are orderly and attentive and they have passed a fairly successful examination in the obligatory subjects. Their singing and musical drill are very satisfactory. Mental Arithmetic requires more attention”.

By the mid-20th century – despite the recurring problems over heating, sanitation and space that led towards its demise – the 11-plus exam success rate at Upton School was “above the county average”.

Carol Hall, June 1995

The above was written for an Exhibition at the Old School put together from various archives for an Upton Village Weekend. For the occasion, the Berkshire Record Office, Reading, kindly lent us the Upton School  “Punishment Book”.