The school was originally the Hospital of St. James and St. John, founded around 1150 by Robert le Bossu, Earl of Leicester. In 1484 it was given to Magdalen College, Oxford, by 1548 there was a school at the site. The school's initial purpose was to allow pupils of the college in Oxford to escape the plague affecting Oxford at the time. In September 1973 Magdalen College School merged with the Girls Grammar School (Brackley High) and Brackley Secondary Modern School to form a new comprehensive school on two sites, while the girls' school was converted into the new Southfield Primary school.
Many of the school buildings are listed, including the school chapel the earliest datable parts of which are late12th century. The chapel underwent a major restoration 1869–1870 by Buckeridge. It is constructed of stone rubble and is the oldest school chapel still in use in England. It remains in regular use by the school, Church of England and local community.
In January 2013 we became an Academy and look forward to building on our successes and developing the opportunities further for our students. Our link with Magdalen College Oxford continues today with 4 foundation governors from The College supporting our work alongside parent, staff and community governors to provide us with a broad governing body committed to supporting our work to provide an excellent education for our students now and into the future.
Information supplied and collected by Tiffany Brownell
The Town of Brackley
It is believed that Brackley can trace its history back to at least the Iron Age, attested by the recovery of remains during the re-development of Mill Lane and later during the construction of the Tesco store on the site of Brackley Castle near Hinton Road. Remains of a Roman villa have also been recovered. The first settlement was built here by Bracca, a chieftain from the then larger settlement of Halse, during the 6th or 7th century AD. Bracca acquired a 'ley' or clearing and built a small village there which was named after him - at first Braccaley, subsequently in the medieval period Bracchele and later Brackley.
Around the 11th and 12th centuries, Brackley was in the Hundred of Odboldistow and in the Manor of Halse; Brackley's manor house remained in Halse for some 200 years, despite the continuing growth of the town due largely to its success in the wool trade. At this time, Brackley was the second most important town in terms of wealth and population, next to Northampton. Brackley was also designated by Richard I as one of five official sites for tournaments, in order to prevent the events from being contested as local battles.
Brackley's growth and its location on the main road from Northampton to Oxford contributed further to its prosperity. By the 13th century it was an established town and sent representatives to meetings at Westminster. In addition, a castle was built for its protection (see above). The town was the site of an important meeting between the barons and representatives of the King in 1215, the year of Magna Carta, and it is believed that parts of the document were drafted in the town.
- 1484 Wainflete acquires the Hospital of St. John from Frances Lord Lovell. The Hospital becomes part of the Magdalen College, Oxford (MCO) endowment for the sum of 400marks.
- 1485 The first recorded migration from MCO professors and students in order to escape the plague. Two further migrations are recorded in this century: 1488 and 1493.The first lessons are provided to students of MCO at Brackley.
- 1487 Thos. Fixley is Chaplain
- 1494 The hospital (mansion) is leased to John Swylyngton for 12 years at £12 per annum rent.
15th Century Origins
Magdalen College School is located on the early medieval site of the Hospital (alms house) of St John and St James which was founded in 1150, on the site currently occupied by the chapel. The widely accepted foundation date for the school is 1548 but evidence held at the archive of Magdalen College, Oxford, suggests that lessons were actually delivered here as early as 1485. During the 15th century, plague was rife in England and particularly in the cities where high populations and poor sanitation meant an increase in ‘evil vapours’.
In 1484, William Wainflete acquired the hospital from Frances, Lord Lovell, an associate of King Richard III. The purchase formed part of a Magdalen College, Oxford endowment valued at 400 marks. This is the first recorded association between the College and Brackley.
In 1485, the first migration from Oxford to Brackley by students and professors led to the first teaching at this location, although it was not designated as either ‘schole’ (School) or ‘college’ at that time.
In 1494, the hospital/mansion buildings and grounds were leased to John Swylyngton for twelve years at an annual rent of £12. It is not clear whether John used the site as an alms house during this time but there are accounts of a further nine migrations of students from Oxford to avoid plague epidemics, up until about 1537.
In 1487, Thos. Fixley was appointed Chaplain to say Mass for the soul of Sir Frances de Lovell and his wife. Fixley was paid an annual pension of £8 and provided with a chamber adjoining the chapel on the south side and a garden. During recent archaeological excavations, conducted by students of the school, evidence of medieval plaster work and a few glass and pottery sherds of the period were recovered from test pits located in this area. Brackley was described as “… a thriving woollen town, though much in ruine and decaye” in the 15th century.
- 1528 Robert Barnard appointed as Chantry Priest for an annual stipend of £8 6s, 8d. 1530 Henry VIII dissolves the monasteries. The Chapel is recorded by Leland as “college and almeshouse/hospital”.
- 1548 Magdalen College School’s Foundation. Thomas Godwin, Master, brings students from Magdalen College Oxford to Brackley to avoid the plague. The Hospital is converted from “Chantry” status to “School”.
- 1549 Robert Barnard dies and Thomas Godwin succeeds him. Godwin is the first to be recorded as Master.
- 1552-c.58 Robert Bede succeeds Godwin as Master.
- 1571-76 John Bede, Master
- 1576-88 Roger Webster, Master
- 1588 - ? Laurence Humphreys, Master
16th Century Foundation
In 1528, Robert Barnard was appointed Chantry Priest and paid an annual stipend of £8 6s, 8d.
During the 1530s, Henry VIII sent his chaplain, Leland, to draw up an itinerary of ecclesiastic holdings. Brackley's fortunes dwindled during the Tudor period and John Leland called it 'this por towne' when he visited. Nonetheless, the town retained its right to elect a mayor and by 1547 it was electing two Members of Parliament. Leland described the chapel of St.John as a “college and almes house” which meant that the chapel avoided confiscation and destruction under the dissolution. Subsequently, as part of Edward VI’s Chantry Act I, in 1548 the hospital of St.John and St. James was converted from “Chantry” status to “School” to avoid confiscation.
1548 as a result is the accepted foundation date for the School of Magdalen College at Brackley. It is reasonable to assume that as Thomas Godwin (later Bishop of Bath and Wells) had been appointed Master rather than Priest in 1549 upon the death of Barnard, lessons were continuing and this perhaps lent convenient legitimacy to the claim for revised status, thus avoiding the loss of lands and income for the College. In 1552, Robert Bede succeeded Godwin as Master and was subsequently succeeded by his son John Bede in 1571. John Bede was buried in the chapel and for some time a grave marker was visible at the bottom of the bell tower according to Forrester (1956).
Between 1576 and 1588, Robert Webster was Master at the school. Documents reveal that his home consisted of a 'haule' (hall), ‘Wyne Seller’ (wine cellar), buttery, kitchen and ‘Majister’s Studie’ (Master’s study). The study housed a bedstead, six ashen planks, and a short walnut board for sealing (“sealing” refers to the wax authentication seals applied to letters and missives of the period). Upon his death in 1588, Webster bequeathed his ‘legacie ad schole’ (legacy to the school) which included volumes of text in Latin by Virgil, Horace and Calepyn. These would have been set texts for the lessons taught in the school at the time and represented a valuable donation, when we consider that all copies of books were produced by hand at the time, and were extremely expensive.
Webster was succeeded in 1588 by Laurence Humphries who was appointed as President of the College. Humphries found his position to be “… more payneful than gayneful” and “more worshipful than profitable”! This suggests that the Masters of the time perhaps perceived the role as a source of wealth and a bit of an easy ride; in the case of Humphreys, it was then something of a disappointment! Something of a renegade, Humphries was often berated by the College for refusing to wear proper academic dress and ecclesiastical vestments. During his tenure, the school buildings fell into disrepair and Humphries was ordered by the Bishop of Winchester to make necessary repairs before it should “fall into ruine”. Humphries, perhaps true to form, omitted to keep accurate and up to date records and accounts so little else is known of the school throughout the remainder of the century.
- Civil War Turmoil 1647 The school buildings are repaired. Master unknown for this period.
- 1650 Robert Higgins Trust.
- 1653 Perkins, Master. Records repairs to the school in 1654.
- 1656-7 Mr Gibbs, Master.
- 1669 The chapel roof is stripped, the lead sold and the chapel “falls into ruine”.
- 1689-90 The chapel is renovated.
During the Civil War, Brackley was on the side of the Roundheads. Written records show that Royalist troops, travelling from Northampton to Oxford, were frequently attacked and routed by the townsfolk of Brackley in spite of them having only very basic weapons. However, the spoils of the battle were worth some £6,000 to £7,000 and many local people suddenly acquired horses. Because of Brackley's central location, it was often a stopping place for troops during the Civil War. Conversely, Magdalen College Oxford was a staunchly Royalist centre during the civil war.
Despite this conflict of interest, in 1647 the College’s bursary accounts record that a sum of 20 Li 7s, 11d was paid to the School at Brackley for necessary repairs. This would also have served to remind the residents of the College’s continued patronage and propriety. In 1650, a feoffment (financial account) records that a Robert Higgins donated a cottage and its rents to the school in order that books may be purchased “…for the benefit of the poor scholars”. A subsequent feoffment dated 1651 states that the books were mostly decayed and should be repaired by the Higgins annuity. A sum of £1 per year was agreed upon for this purpose and according to Forrester, writing in 1956, the annuity still stands. In 1653, Perkins is recorded as Master. Perkins instigates repairs to the school in 1654 and 1659, the costs of which are recorded in the College’s bursarial accounts for the period (Forrester, 1956). Perkins is replaced in c.1656/7 by Mr Gibbs who is paid £1 from the Higgins annuity to purchase books for the poor scholars there. In 1669, the lead roof of the chapel was stripped off and sold leading to the chapel falling into a state of disrepair and “riune”. The roof was not repaired until some twenty or so years later when in 1689/90 is was re-leaded for the sum of £73 paid by the College. It is not clear who was Master of the School at this time.
- 1700-1715 Rev.Thos. Yeomans B.A., Master
- 1765-1777 Rev.John Young, Master
- 1712 The New Bell
- 1713 Political Scandal
- 1719 Bridges records the “ruineous state” of the hospital, leased to Mr John Welchman; and the poor conditions of the chapel. Removal of the chapel bell
- 1744 Alderman Welchman restores the chapel and settles an endowment to pay for a vicar.
- 1745 Magdalen College, Oxford contribute 2 guineas for chapel seating.
- 1760 Map of Brackley (Town Hall) records Bannister as “School Master”.
- 1784 Thos. Bannister (1754-1821), Master.
- 1787 The Old College School is pulled down and replaced.
As coaches became widely used as a form of public transport, Brackley again prospered. It was an important staging point and several coaching inns, established at this time, are still in existence in the town, albeit not in their original format. This prosperity was not necessarily enjoyed by the Masters of the school at the time though.
In 1765, Rev. John Young was appointed on a salary of £15 6s, 8d per annum; this was 33% lower than his predecessor, Rev. Thomas Yeomans B.A. who was Master from 1700 to 1715 and in fact much lower than the Masters’ stipendiary of the 16th century! During Yeoman’s tenure, the College allowed that a bell could be hung in the Tower at Brackely for the first time. During the Brackley Borough elections of 1713, a fellow was accused of Eatanswill Tactics. At the time, the Borough returned two MPs and the corporation Borough listed 33 voters (electors) all of whom were “held under the Bridgewater family since 1695” (Oldfield, 1792). The nub of the issue was that on the 3rd March that year, a case of bribery and corruption was brought by John Burgh, against the return of MPs Egerton (Bridgewater) and Methuen (Magdalen) who were accused of gaining their seats “by means of bribery….. at the instigation of a peer of the realm”. Each elector held two votes. Thos. Frewin was asked by Madgalen College to vote for them but Bridgewater would not release him from one of his votes in order for him to do so. He was apparently plied with wine in a tavern and locked away until the voting was over!
In 1719, Bridges wrote that “…the hospital leased to Mr. John Welchman has been in a sad state of ruination for some fifty years”. The chapel was also apparently in a sorry condition with all decorations gone, window glass removed, seating gone and tombstones removed from their intended location. The Chapel’s dimensions he recorded as 120’ long by 20’ wide, having a single aisle with a low tower on the north-west side, coped at the top where there used to be a bell. By now, the bell had been removed at taken to the College. The legend on the bell used to read…”sum petri signum, procus omne repello malignum”, which translates “I am a sign of Peter, I call everyone to repel evil/wickedness”. (I wonder whether this bell originated in St.Peter’s church Brackley, or whether this was a common bell motto of this period). Bridges continued with a description of the hospital which was “composed of two quadrangles, with several offices belonging to it”. A resistivity survey carried out by students of the school this year shows a number of features consistent with walls and pathways at this location which could attest to this building – further excavations are planned in 2012 which we hope will verify this.
Subsequent to Bridge’s account, by 1724 the hospital had fallen into disrepair once again, was leased out and became a source of building materials or spolia for use in new constructions around Brackley. In 1744 Alderman Welchman received a licence from the College to restore the chapel “at his humble request”, in order to serve the inhabitants of Brackley and the School. Welchman agreed to settle a salary or endowment on the Vicar. The agreement decreed that the inhabitants or parishioners of Brackley were to keep the chapel in good repair. Welchman donated £10 per annum from rents received from Old Town Farm. This sum was held in trust for the Vicar in order that he should “perform divine service in the College Chapel”. As part of the refurbishment, Magdalen College, Oxford contributed 2 guineas towards new seating in the chapel. A map of 1760 shows the college school to the south of the chapel which incorporated a College School House and School House. All buildings are annotated as belonging to Wm. Bannister, School Master. .
William Bannister is listed as Master of the Free Grammar School at Brackley, belonging to Magdalen College Oxford, in 1784; this according to a tablet recalled by Forrester (1956) as located at the bottom of the chapel tower. The old college school house was pulled down in 1787 when Bannister was granted permission to use the materials to construct a new school house with a room over it. This was constructed to the south of the old school house (old Chantry Priest’s house) that abutted the south side of the chapel and is likely another of the areas revealed in the survey this summer.
- 1812 The schoolroom is enlarged and maintained by the County Committee of the National Schools.
- 1826-1827 Thos. Hawkins, Master of the “Free Grammar School”.
- 1836 Police force established in Brackley.
- 1853 MCO assigns a committee to report on the school and chapel.
- 1854 MCO contributes to repairs.
- 1858 The school closes for refurbishment.
- 1860-64 Falkner, Master and Custodian of the Chapel. School Inquiry Commission report (a curious coincidence in the 21st century!). Examinations introduced. MCO provides new furniture and equipment for the new school room. An Assistant Master is appointed.
- January 1860 Isaac Wodhams admitted as a student.
- 3 Jan 1861 First annual prize-giving.
- 1862 Playground Constructed
- 1863 Schools Commission’s annual report.
- 1864 £1 per year Higgins library trust reinstated plus £3 per annum from the Sheppard Fund.
- 1864-1870 Rev. Thos. Russell, Master. MCO fund the restoration of the Chapel.
- 1869 Gas supply at the school.
- 1870 Rev. Frank Stanley Taylor, temporary Master; appointed Master in 1871. Assistant Master, former student Isaac Wodhams.
- 1873 Schools Commission’s annual report. Magdalen College Oxford offers “paid exhibitions” for two boys to attend the Oxford School.
- 1876 -1878 MCO purchases two tenements as part of the chapel restoration.
- 1879 Taylor resigns. Rev. John William Boyd M.A. Master.
- 1882-1899 Rev. Isaac Wodhams, Master and “second founder and father of the school”.
Brackley was dominated by the Egerton family (family name of the Earl of Ellesmere and the Duke of Bridgewater) from the early 17th century until the Reform Act of 1832. Brackley then lost its two MPs and its earlier importance and became a rather quiet market town. The advent of the LNWR railway from Banbury to Bletchley led to the construction of Brackley's first railway station. This was replaced some fifty years later when the Great Central Railway opened its extension from Leicester to London (Marylebone) and Brackley Central railway station was opened. This was the last of the main lines to London (sadly, the Beeching cuts of the 1960s saw the closure of Brackley railway stations and both lines). A number of changes occurred in schools provision and education in the nineteenth century.
In 1812, the College agreed that the proposal of Mr. Cartwright, Squire of Aynho and Tory Knight of the Shire, that they should enlarge the school room. This was on condition that is was maintained in good repair by the County Committee of the National Schools and that Bannister’s stipend as Master should be increased to £20 per annum. Later that year however the stipend was reduced to £18. This, according to Forrester (1956) may have been a reflection of the fact that by this time, the school had lost its Grammar School status. However, in 1826-27, Thos. Hawkins is recorded as Master of the Free Grammar School so either the status was never lost or it had been reinstated by this later date some 8-10 years hence.
In 1836, the College donated £5 towards the establishment of a police force in Brackley. In 1853, once again the chapel and school were in a run-down state. The College appointed a committee to report on the condition and cost of repairs. In 1854, the College entered into an undertaking to cover 20% of the cost of repairs so long as divine service was held weekly and that plans met with their approval. In 1858, the school was closed for refurbishment. In the 1860s, the school underwent further reorganisation as reported by T.H.Green in 1864. Green was an inspector representing the School’s Enqiury Commission (an early version of OFSTED perhaps) and he reported that “the school at Brackley has been well looked after of late years by Magdalen College, which provides regularly for its examination. It was fortunate also in the master [The Rev. R.B. Falkner] under whom it made its first start as a Latin school (who has since taken charge of the School at Appleby, in Leicestershire), as well as in its present Master [Rev. Thomas Russell]. So far as it goes, it is in very sound condition”.
In his report, Green (1864) also observed that there was a need to endow the school with funds to secure a Greek Master and to further the teaching in Classics and English in order that “it might take a high place… and open an avenue to the universities to a considerable district, at present without it”. Under Falkner’s governance, 30 day boys were in attendance and 9 boarders. Falkner’s salary was £100 per annum paid by Magdalen College with a further 7s, 6d to 10s allocated per boy attending, depending upon their age. Falkner was allowed to secure an assistant Master to be paid from his own pocket. All boys attending were to be of the “middle class” including boarders. The College agreed to provide and fund all furnishings and equipment for the school room and there would be half-yearly examinations. Falkner was granted permission by the College to build a second school room in early 1860 which had cost no more than £200. This he had to pay back to the College in annual instalments of £10 at 3.5% interest. Following this period of reorganisation, however, the school dwindled in reputation once again, and the brighter boys were given exhibitions (scholarships) to attend the College School in Oxford instead. The first annual prize-giving report of progress recorded that “Divinity and Mathematics” were favourable as were “idiomatic translations from Virgil, Euripides etc” but that knowledge of English Grammar and spelling was “not quite so good as it ought to be!” Falkner successfully negotiated a sum from the College for gravel used to construct the first playground area at the school, separated from the Master’s garden by a high wall 20 yards long by 7 yards high, in 1862. In 1864, prior to his leaving, 12 boys had secured exhibitions to attend the College School and he had reinstated the Higgins £1 per year library stipendiary, along with an additional £3 per year from the Sheppard Fund. Falkner was replaced as Master in 1864 by Rev. Thos. Russell. Wodhams, writing in 1895, recalled that the reputation of the school was further diminished locally during this period, largely due to the boys playing in the streets and reduced numbers of students. During Russell’s tenure though, the chapel was restored by means of a subscription from Magdalen College, Oxford who maintained ownership and proprietorship. The Chapel was formally re-opened by the Bishop of Peterborough on the 1st of March 1870. Furthermore, in 1869 Russell arranged for the school to supplied with a £5 per year supply of gas, charged to the Sheppard Fund. Russell was replaced in 1870 by Rev. Frank Stanley Taylor, previous Curate of Brackley who was officially made Master in 1871. Taylor’s assistant was Isaac Wodhams and subjects offered included Divinity, English, Arithmetic, Mathematics, History, Geography, French, Latin and Greek. The school was now split into two divisions: Classical and Commercial. Exhibitions were awarded annually in order to exempt the top boys from paying fees of up to £10 per year for two years to attend the Classical school. All boys had to wear a college cap on “all proper occasions”. The school day ran from 9am to 1pm and 2.30pm to 4pm except for Weds and Saturday which were half day holidays.
The 1875 Annual Report states that the Headmaster has adopted the modern approach of elementary schooling and now offers tuition in Natural Science and English Language in place of Greek. “Latin and Divinity are, however the foundation of all true education” (Worsley, 1873). Worsley (1873) also concluded that “Brackley school is destined to become a very important centre of education”. Taylor resigned as Master in 1879 (after his death in 1902, a new stained glass window was commissioned for chapel’s east window, in his honour). He was replaced in May that year by Rev. John William Boyd M.A. whose tenure lasted only until 1882 when he was replaced by Old Boy, the Rev. Isaac Wodhams. Wodhams recorded that his predecessor had the misfortune to lose his only son to Typhoid fever contracted as a result of damp unsanitary conditions at the Master’s house. At this time, numbers in school had reduced to just 16 day boys and one boarder. Boyd died in 1891 as a result of rheumatic gout at the age of 50 years. During his post as Master between 1882 and 1899, Wodhams became known as the second founder and father of the school (Warren in: Forrester, 1956). The school journal or newspaper, the Brackleian began its circulation in this period. It aimed to provide information about the school, College and education and to inform about the “inner workings”. The Brackleian published annual reports, examination results, sports fixture results, the school roll and an “account of the terms doings, &c.”. In 1882, Wodhams reported in the Brackleian that the College had provided funds to pay for increased accommodation to house the growing number of day boys and boarders. Numbers continued to increase and by 1899 when Wodhams resigned, there were 80 boys in attendance and examination results were good. However Wodhams publicly decried the abandonment of Latin and Greek in favour of practical and vocational subjects in the Brackleian as the main reason many were leaving school “uneducated, unrefined and sorded… and lacking the mental faculties and training of the intellect” required for continued learning after school. Wodhams also believed that there was a place for manual training offered by the County Council Education Committee and that the two should go hand-in-hand to ensure they produced well rounded members of society. Wodhams retired from his post on the grounds of ill health after many accomplishments successes at the school. In recognition and appreciation of his service, the College gifted him £100 and requested that he purchase “some permanent memorial of his connections with the School and College”. The Brackleian of 1900 wrote that “… Mr Wodhams has been the real founder of the school”.