John Clement Purnell

John Clement Purnell in his Royal Artillery uniform.

One of the longest serving members of staff is someone who’s life story we know in some detail. That he worked at the School part time is no matter as it could be said he was responsible for establishing the foundations for LWS to become one of the country’s leading sports schools. John Clement Purnell was appointed as the gymnastics and PE teacher in 1906, and became one of the longest serving members of staff when he finally retired in 1938.

He was born in 1880 into an old Oxford family who had been tailors and robe makers in the city for many decades, with a shop on The High.

Census 1891. The family were living on Bullingdon Road.

He was educated at the Boys Central School in Oxford, which he left aged 14 and, for two years from 1898, had served with the Royal Artillery.

Attestation Form.

In the Boer War he saw action at Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Driefontein, Paardeberg, and the Relief of Kimberley. After being severely wounded in the arm and back, he was invalided out of the Army and returned to Oxford with his records showing he was of ‘Very Good Character.’

Letter informing his father that his son John had been severely wounded at Borkfontein.

In Oxford he worked initially in his father’s shop but then became deeply interested in gymnastics and physical fitness. In 1906 he started teaching at LWGS, taking PE on Tuesday afternoons in three ‘sections’. He was also working at ‘Lynams’, the Oxford Preparatory School, later ‘the Dragon’, moving the following year to St Ursula’s Convent and to The Chilterns Prep School but all the time living in Oxford. In 1908 he started life saving classes for the Royal Life Saving Society; in 1909 he founded the Oxford City Swimming Club.

In 1905 he had married Florence Emily Graham and they had one child Cissie, who was born in 1909.

Florence, Cissie and John Purnell

In July 1918, his wife died. Purnell had temporarily left LWGS in April 1918 when she fell ill but after an 18-month gap he was reengaged in September 1920 to do the same job but on Fridays rather than Tuesdays. He had also met and married Theodora Gardner. They had one son, Clement, and Audrey a daughter but sadly his second wife also died when she was in her thirties of a heart attack.

Purnell continued to play a part in the School after his official retirement in 1938. Fourteen years later the Tamensian was still able to comment that: ‘Mr Purnell has been unable to pay his usual visit for the [Royal Life Savings] Society’s examinations.’ By this time he was aged 72.

Purnell lived until he was aged 81, and died in 1961. The Old Tamensians were represented at the funeral. He was buried alongside both his wives in Rose Hill cemetery.

In an obituary, besides all the activities already noted above, it was noted that he was founder and secretary of the Oxfordshire Society of Rugby Referees. He was also a swimming coach with Radley College and Magdalen College School, rowed for Neptune Rowing Club, and was a volunteer with the St John Ambulance Brigade. After his retirement from school life, he worked as a captain on Salter’s Steamers, the vessels that plied the Thames from Oxford. All in all a busy life.

As captain with Salter’s Steamers.

Virtual Founder’s Day, 2020

Zoom Founder’s Day

The first virtual Founder’s Day (due to Covid-19 of course) was a huge success. Over fifty people on the Zoom call, and over 1000 people viewed the video stream of the service. Seeing that this was the first time any virtual event had been held, the results were heartening. Subsequent feedback was excellent too.

1934 School Photo

The headmaster was Arthur Dyer (1888 – 1954). A Cambridge graduate, who had fought in the 1st World War with the King’s Own Shropshire Light Infantry and had been mentioned in despatches. He was headmaster from 1929 until 1948, and was known as being a strict disciplinarian, introduced petty rules and even treated his junior staff poorly. Unsurprisingly he was not well-liked by the pupils. (Source: Lord Williams’s School. A New History 1559-2020.)

The photo is interesting as first no school uniform is being worn. Instead a rather motley collection of suits. (Though up until 1971, wearing suits for the photo was the norm.) Second, the grass could do with a cut. Third, none of the boarding house staff have been included – although this again was something that was not done until the 1960s.

A Virtual Founder’s Day 2020

Saturday 7th November. 2020. Starts on-line at 10.00am

Virtual Founder’s Day Service: celebrate 460 years of teaching at LWS

* Welcome from the OTA President Bridget Trueman with Headteacher Jon Ryder
* Reading and address by the Rev. Derek Witchell
* Musical interludes from the Willie Howe scholars.
* Roisin Robertson will read her poem ‘in memoriam to the soldiers of the 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 wars’, against a backdrop of the beautiful stained-glass window donated to St Mary’s Church Thame by John Sharpley for the 450th commemoration of the founding of LWS.
* The Act of Commemoration (President and Senior students) During this we will show a presentation of the fallen OTs in World Wars 1 and 2 during the reading of the lists. This will be followed by laying of the wreaths at Lord Williams’s tomb.
* Prayers, with the Lord Williams’s School Foundation Prayer – Rev Witchell
* The School Hymn, Carmen Scholar Thamensis – sung in Latin – with world premiere of a new arrangement of school hymn by Howard Goodall
* Blessing by Rev Witchell
Please register on-line, and also connect with your year group virtually

You are now able to register via your decade year group for an online chat on Founder’s Day at 11:00 GMT and have the chance to connect with your year group virtually if you left LWS from 1961 to 2011.

Please register here if you left LWS from 1961 to 2011:

Latest OTA Accounts for 2020

Please find a copy of our latest accounts in the image below:

The OTA was formed in 1909 so that makes it 111 years old. The first AGM was held at the end of that year, on 8th December, when the treasurer’s account showed a balance of £2 9s and 2d, with 55 members on the Association’s roll.

John Howard Brown

John Howard Brown was one of those long-serving teachers who joined in 1913 and did not leave until 1946. He was well-admired by colleagues and pupils alike. Below, we have summarised his life, with more to be added when we publish Volume 2 of the school’s new history.

1886: Born in Dover, 22 April. Father Walter Howard Brown (1852-1933). JHB’s father was a photographer. Mother Edith Hayward. Walter and Edith married in 1885 and she was twelve years younger than her husband. Siblings: Margery Howard Brown (1888–1966) Norah Howard Brown (1893–1926). His grandfather had been a chemist, and photographer too.

1905: Studying for a science degree awarded by the University of London.

1911: Teaching science in Drayton Hales, Shropshire. (Seems natural if g-f was a chemist and father a photographer.)

1913: Joined LWGS1927: Published the short history of LWGS.

1927(?): Published a Short Guide to Thame Church. (May have been published later.)

1933: Published Elizabethan Schooldays: An Account of the English Grammar Schools in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century.

1935: Published A History of Thame as co-author with another schoolmaster, William Guest.

1935: Donated flint amulet to the Pitts Rivers Museum.

1939: Assistant Schoolmaster, Thame.

1946: At the age of sixty, JHB retired from school but then took a course in Theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

1947: Ordained by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Cathedral.1947: His first parish was as curate at St Michael, Hawkinge and St Martin, Acrise near Folkestone.

1957: JHB, latterly Rector of Whitfield Kent, retired from the Ministry. He then lived at 17 Lennard Road, Folkestone.

1966: Death. Buried in Folkestone Cemetery 16 August. (His parents and siblings are buried in the same plot: Plot 14, grave 2310.) Probate £6310.

A New History of the School has been published.

We are pleased to announce that a book has been published that covers the history of the school from 1559 through until 2020. It is available from Amazon worldwide both as a paperback and as a Kindle edition.

If you think you know the early history of the school you’ll be surprised by the new facts that have been uncovered. And looking at the 460 years plus it is fascinating how the school’s story unfolds. The paperback is close to 400 pages long and is filled with stories from teachers and pupils.

This link takes you directly to the Amazon page.

What’s in a name? LWS’s named buildings

Research by Derek Turner.

Those who bought today’s Upper School site in the 1870s did the school an enormous long-term favour in acquiring such an extensive amount of reasonably level land, allowing space for the school’s later expansion a century later.   Inevitably the present collection of separate buildings are a bit of a hotch-potch, reflecting the school’s needs at various times, the availability, more often unavailability, of sufficient funding, or the local education authority’s reluctance to provide what was needed.  The resulting ‘modular’ assortment of buildings is mixed blessing.  The need to walk to another building between lessons provides a little exercise and a useful clearing of the mind – but creates problems in bad weather.  The complexity of the site also presents a challenge for visitors, and for students when they first arrive from the Lower School site.  The school has done well to minimise the problem of reaching the right place by means of clear and attractive direction signage, helpful maps and named buildings for the various subject departments and other units of the school.  It is the last of these that is the subject of this short piece, a critique not of its general practicality, which is evident, but of the details of how the labelling policy has been implemented.

There are good features, not so good features, and some strange decisions about the pairings of building names with the activities that occur in them.

The good features of the plaques on the buildings include, as already acknowledged, their very existence, the clear and modern design and the decision to name the buildings after distinguished headteachers, assistant staff, governors, former pupils – and one politician.  Writing from the perspective of the school archivist, the acknowledgement for the benefit, however fleeting, of those who have made a major contribution to the school as it is today, is greatly welcomed.  It would be good if the teachers in the various buildings were occasionally to take a moment to describe the contribution to the school’s history of the person whose name adorns the building.  Were they willing to do so, however, some would experience difficulty even if they were knowledgeable about the school’s 450 year history, as the criteria that were used to name the buildings and pair them with their purpose are sometimes puzzling.

The not-so-good features include some lack of a match between the buildings that sport a plaque and those that are featured on the maps placed strategically in various places around the school.  For an archivist and historian, but probably few others, the least good feature is the continued use of an inaccurate portrayal of the school’s – strictly speaking Lord Williams’s – crest: the wrong bird!

The attractively designed map designed for visitors lists the names and pairs in its key, as set out below.  However, there are some anomalies on what is shown on the map and what is omitted. The various names and purposes will, however, be considered in the order in which they are listed in the map. Words in round brackets appear in the list, those in square brackets are added when the use of the building is not stated.

  1. Foundation building [no purpose given but predominantly management, administration and visitor reception].  This is the original 1879 building before its many later extensions. The name is reasonably apt though it would have been more historically correct to name it the ‘New Foundation’ building as it dates from 320 years after Lord Williams founded the school.
  2. Plummer (Sixth Form Centre).  Oddly, the name and the function signs are not together on of several instances.  Plummer, as the first headmaster of the new foundation, certainly deserves a mention for restoring the school’s fortunes and reputation. But to pair him with the sixth-form centre is ironic as he was singularly unsuccessful in persuading more than a handful of boys to stay on into the sixth form, as were many of his successors. Credit for building up the sixth form in the grammar school era should probably go to the long-serving but unpopular headmaster Dyer or the much shorter but enlightened headship of his successor Mullens.
  3. Hayter (Humanities).  Sir William Hayter was without question the school’s outstanding chairman of governors during the period of dramatic change from small single-sex grammar school to large comprehensive.  The building named after him dates from the time of his chairmanship so it is entirely appropriate that it carries his name.  As a former ambassador Russia and Warden of New College it is also fitting that ‘his’ building is concerned with the study of the humanities.
  4. Howard Brown Building (Dining Hall).  The plaque on the building actually reads ‘Main Hall and Gym’.  Howard Brown was the outstanding assistant teacher of the grammar school era in almost every way: one of the longest serving, appointed to teach science he undertook a wide range of boarding and day activity duties, eventually becoming second master and the school’s historian. A good man, highly respected by the boys and popular with them as someone who really cared for their welfare as well their education.  Given that the hall is a multi-purpose space it matches well Brown’s multi-tasking contribution to the school.
  5. Goodall Arts and Music Centre.  Another entirely appropriate pairing. During the headship of headmaster, later Principal Goodall,  school music progressed from near nothing to a centre of excellence.  The other Arts less so but he was – and remains – a strong supporter of all kinds of artistic and cultural activities.
  6. Chiltern (Art and Technology) The buildings face the Chiltern Hills and border the Chiltern Housing Estate so the name has some kind of relevance but, given that there are a host of eligible people’s names that are not used, the decision to choose place names is difficult to understand. Headmaster Shaw was one of the first to recognise the importance of technical subjects, though he promoted them outside the grammar school curriculum.
  7. Skills centre [no name].  The skills centre came into existence partly at least as a result of the closure of Rycotewood College that specialised in agricultural machinery and furniture making.  The college’s closure meant that there was no institution in or even near Thame that provided a suitable education for whose gifts were manual rather than academic.  The Skills Centre filled the gap and Rycotewood would have been the obvious place-name, but that is used, inexplicably, as the name of the English department building.
  8. Syson (Science)  Syson was a distinguished Old Tamensian and a great supporter of the school after he left.  He donated a prize for Speaking back in the 1950s, and the new biology block in the 1970s was named after him. It is appropriate, therefore that the latest science centre should also bear his name.
  9. Clark (Mathematics)  Anne Clark likewise has been and still is a leading supporter of the school since being elected as a Parent Governor (of two girls) in the 1980s.  Chair various committees, and of the whole governing body for eight years; combining all this service with an impressive record as a university research scientist. Unsurprisingly as the school has only been co-educational for the last 50 of its 450 years, all but two of the other names on the buildings are of males.  It is good that the school has begun to redress this imbalance.
  10. Lally Freedland (Modern Languages).   Another very popular and dedicated teacher, the first one specifically appointed to teach slow learners.  Sadly she died young after the death of her firstborn.   Why she is now linked with Modern Language teaching is unclear.
  11. Elliots.  [no function given but probably a store]  This was the name of one of the types of temporary classroom that littered the site for many years. It may be so named as one of the few survivors of that architecturally unhappy period.  
  12. Vocational Courses [no name]  No obviously relevant name but various possible long-serving teachers or instructors in the grammar school era would be appropriate.
  13. Squash Courts.  Goodall was the driving force behind the building of the court, funded largely by OTs and parents, and built mostly by teachers and students, but assistant master Mike Le  Mesurier, father of the outstanding sports OT Rachel in the 1980s  played a major part in promoting its use.  I’m guessing Rachel was his daughter.  Another possible candidate is Dick Mainwaring, a marvelous sporting coach in many games, including squash.
  14. Old Pavilion. [current use unspecified but seemingly a store] The school’s first cricket pavilion dates from 1909. Like the Squash Court it was the result of a massive fund-raising effort. It was opened by the then MP for Oxford Valentine Fleming (father of the James Bond author) in a big ceremony. His name could appropriately be given to the building. If it is that one. I’m not sure.  However, in its present-day rather sad and shabby state it doesn’t merit a name, nor does it carry a plaque.  As with Elliots, however, it deserves its place on the map as a reminder of an earlier era when the cricket field was in an entirely different part of the school grounds.
  15. Heads of Year, Careers & Connexions (Library and School Support) [no name]   Only Student Support Services are actually mentioned on the plaque. The inclusion of the library in the building’s use would suggest naming it after an academic OT from the early years, perhaps Pocock, Professor of Arabic at Oxford in the 1630s.  (Whether distinguished OTs from the era of the school’s original foundation should be included is considered in relation to Etherege – see below 17.)
  16. Lestor (Learning Support) This is Joan Lestor, former Under Secretary of State for Education, who opened the Lower School West buildings in 1975.  Since LSW closed 20 years later the buildings have been used for a variety of different purposes. Historically therefore this pairing makes sense.  Whilst the idea naming any school building after a government minister might be judged inappropriate, Joan Lestor is a worthy exception.  A conviction rather than a careerist Socialist MP, a minister in several government departments, she spent much of her working life, both inside and outside parliament, working on behalf of disadvantaged children and at one point resigned her ministerial post because of government cuts to education. A politician therefore to admire and a most appropriate person for the building’s current purpose, though as described above Lally Friedland perhaps has an even stronger claim.
  17. Etherege (PE & Sports College).  This is the most bizarre of all the pairings although the name plaque and the function plaque are on opposite sides of the building.  Sir George Etherege followed a dual career in the later 17thcentury, alternating as a court dramatist and foreign ambassador, probably the only OT ever to combine both professions. He has no known connection with PE or sport and, as already mentioned, although there are other possibilities, he would have been a good candidate to have given his name to the English department.  Good that is if it is considerate appropriate to use the names of former pupils who have no connection with the school’s present buildings.  Etherege is the only one, despite a galaxy of other 17th century distinguished OTs. Why Etherege and not John Hampden, judges Croke and Holt, bishops Fell and King, and Anthony Wood, the antiquary and the first to write about the school?  No building either to commemorate Harris, the school’s first headmaster, the most influential and one of the best and most long-serving.
  18. Quatremains [current use unspecified].   This too, is an odd choice as the Quartremaine family’s connection with the school is very limited. An important family in Thame in the later middle ages, it had died out by the time the school was founded.  The almshouses provide the only link with the school. Founded by the family, the almshouses were re-founded by Lord Williams in the same year as he founded the school.  For centuries afterwards the responsibility for managing both institutions lay with the headmasters and New College.
  19. Day Nursery/Communication and Interaction Resource Base [no name]. Joan Lestor’s name would have been appropriate for this building, as one of her ministerial posts was for nursery education.
  20. Rycotewood (English & Café Talk).  The inappropriateness of this pairing has already been mentioned
  21. Thame Leisure Centre (Swimming Pool Facilities) [no name] Although now a single building, the Leisure Centre (originally Sports and Arts) and the swimming pool are effectively two separate buildings erected at different times.  It is strange that neither, which serve both the school and community, is named.  The headmaster most closely associated with swimming was Walter Bye in the 1920s, a much smaller, open air pool, but at the time a great improvement on Jemmett’s Hole, a muddy stretch of Thame river.  Historically, the longest serving PE instructor was Mr Purnell.

Omissions from the list in the map but with plaques

A walk around the outside of the school reveals a few buildings and/or names that do not appear on the map.  In no particular order:

  • KS4 Pastoral Support
  • Main Kitchen.  Particularly for boarders, food was an important, if rarely praised, part of their lives. Perhaps one of the long-serving and hard-working school cooks, Nancy Castle deserves to be commemorated.
  • Land and Environment

Names strangely omitted

As with any list such as ‘the best ten films, plays, TV comedies’, the selection below, in addition to those already suggested, is partly a matter of personal preference but the following would seem to deserve ‘a place in the sun’.  It is possible that some of these already have rooms within the school, but at the time of writing the school is closed so this cannot be checked.

In addition to Harris, already mentioned:

  • Headmaster Alfred Shaw, belatedly commemorated on a small meeting room in the new Clark mathematics building. Better than nothing but an ironic location as maths was one of the few subjects that Shaw, primarily a linguist, did not teach.  A better candidate for that room would be the school’s only mathematician headmaster Bye.
  • Norreys (family).  Lord Williams’s successors for 100 years, the family that ultimately chose new headmasters from a shortlist of two proposed by New College.
  • Bertie, later Earls of Abingdon, the family that succeeded the Norreys family for another 100 years and were still associated with the school into the twentieth century.
  • Philip Wykeham, not the original William of Wykeham, but a direct descendant of Lord Williams and a governor for 42 years, 26 of those as chairman, probably a record.
  • Peter More, 1949-82, Geography teacher, leader of many school trips abroad, later deputy head, and for a term acting head before Goodall’s arrival.  The kind of efficient, loyal deputy that every school needs if it is to function properly.
  • Betty Sadler, the first Senior Mistress, a key role in integrating girls into a school that had been male single-sex for 400 years that she performed most successfully
  • John Fulkes, long-serving assistant teacher, head of sixth form, passionate and skilful cricketer who fostered close relations between the school and the town and served twice as Mayor of Thame.
  • Jackie Kiers, who did for dance what Goodall did for music, introducing it successfully into the curriculum while the school was still a boys’ grammar and making brilliant use of the wider opportunities provided by comprehensive reorganisation, continuing to make the school a centre of excellence even after being severely injured in a horrendous car accident.

There are many distinguished OTs, both present-day and in the recent past and it would be invidious to select one set of names at the expense of others.  OTs past and present will no doubt have their own strong candidates.  Other long-serving and highly successful staff from all eras since 1879 would also be worthy of the perpetuation of their names.


As stated at the start, the school’s policy of naming its buildings – and interior  rooms – is much to be welcomed for a variety of reasons already discussed, but it could be argued that it is unfinished business and that there are plenty of candidates for so far un-named buildings and teaching spaces that would potentially serve as a further reminder for current pupils of their school’s long and successful history.  Perhaps, when the present plaques grow shabby and need to be replaced, some of the more bizarre pairings might be amended – and a correct version of the school crest used!

Derek Turner

Honorary School Archivist, May 2020

A History of Founder’s Day

A short history, we should add.

Today Founder’s Day has two purposes: the first is to commemorate those who fell in the Wars, and those connected with school (students, staff, OTs) who have died over the preceding twelve months; second to celebrate the founding of the school.

The Act of Commemoration first took place in 1925 and was held at the school in the hall. This was led by the headmaster. The signing of the armistice was first celebrated in 1919; slowly during the 1920s more individual acts of commemoration took place and war memorials erected and so the school was following an emerging pattern.

In 1927, the first Founder’s Day was held and added to the Act Of Commemoration. It should be underlined that this was a school event to which the OTs were invited, and it still took place in the school itself.

Come 1929, the Act of Commemoration/Founder’s Day moved to the Parish Church, and was now led by the vicar. By 1936 it was reported that the congregation – besides the boys and staff – numbered 80 parents and OTs. In 1937 the events that took place on the Day were extended, and the first OTs versus School 1st XV was played on Founder’s Day after a lunch. This remained the format until 1960s when the holding the OTA’s AGM after the Service, and a Dinner Dance in the evening was introduced. However this was still a school event. With the improvement in the school’s music provision, the school orchestra and choir performed in the church.

In 1971, when the school went comprehensive, because of capacity in the church only the Sixth Form now attended the service. (There were almost 2000 pupils in the school). Ensuring a reasonable turn-out was challenging as with the change to comprehensive, Saturday morning school had been abolished.

It was reported in 1982 that, ‘Founder’s Day had a full programme including rugby, hockey and netball, tours of the school, a tea and AGM. The buffet lunch cost £1.75p and there was a bar selling wines and beer. The rugby side was to be captained by Martin Fairn who also played for Coventry but on the day he had to play for Coventry and his replacement was Jon Cooke. Rebecca McConnell led the OT hockey side and they scored their first victory over the school.’ In the morning, a rugby tournament was organised for Years 8 and 9 before the service. Worth noting that FD itself was held earlier generally around 20 October than the early November timing that had been the norm.

Times were still changing and in 1986, a joint committee of staff, OTs, the vicar and pupils was formed to review the Founder’s Day format. The outcome was that in future, Founder’s Day would be a joint effort – and not just the school’s – with the organising group headed by a member of staff. In the 1990s, the school decided to make Founder’s Day, a Founder’s Week with a variety of sports and music events as well as the Service itself. The format continued into the mid 1990s with music still being an important part of the service.

In the mid late 1990s, the school decided that because of changing lifestyles it would no longer support Founder’s Day in the established way and that older pupils would no longer need to attend. Nor did it have the boarding house that still sent pupils. The basic format remained the same though: the service, AGM, lunch, tours and matches.

In the 2000s because of rule changes in terms of who could play whom at what age in rugby, the OTA game became under increasing pressure. In the end it had to be played between two OT teams. The last match was 2014. Netball and hockey continued intermittently.

Beyond the organ, music was reintroduced in the 2010s by performances by the Willie Howe scholars. On one occasion the Lord Williams’s Festival Chorus took part.

How long Founder’s Day will continue is sadly debatable. Nowadays in the late 2010s it is usually only the older OTs who attend. Often no more than thirty.

Copies of the School Statutes: Schola Thamensis (1575)

  1. The first specific reference to the whereabouts of the Statutes is quoted by Lee  – see 2 below. He stated that the 18th Century antiquary Richard Rawlinson added a note dated 21 December 1743 to a copy in the Bodleian that the Statutes were ‘as scarce and valuable as any MS’.
  2. References are made to the Statutes and the Prayers (Preces) in Lee’s History of St Mary’s Church (1883) and Lupton’s Lord Williams (1873).  In 1883 Lee refers to five copies of the Preces – by implication attached to Statutes: respectively in the King’s Library and the Grenville library (part of the then British Museum Library), one copy in the Bodleian, one copy in New College, one copy at Thame ‘in charge of the `Headmaster. The fifth copy formerly in the library of Dr Philip Bliss of Oxford’, was sold after his death in 1857. Wikipedia states that the Bodleian ‘acquired 745 of his books’, but Bliss’s copy of the Statutes was not amongst them.
  3. The next list of copies is contained in an article in the September 1918 issue of The Library World by James P R Lyell, owner of one copy, probably the copy previously owned by Bliss.  Lyell lists 10 copies in the possession of:
    1. Earl of Abingdon
    1. Bodleian
    1. British Museum 
    1. British Museum 
    1. Earl of Crawford
    1. James P R Lyell
    1. New College 
    1. New College
    1. New College
    1. LWS

Lyell describes all of these in detail other than the LWS copy which he describes as ‘imperfect, but no particulars available’. A copy of The Library World is located on the inside of the cover of the school’s copy. It is unsurprising that the Earl of Abingdon owned a copy as the Bertie family had succeeded the Norreys family as Lord Williams’s heirs, with the right to appoint the Headmasters. The Earls of Abingdon no longer lived near Thame. However, the brother of the then earl, Francis Bertie 1st Viscount of Thame, a distinguished diplomat and French Ambassador during WW1, lived at Thame Park but died in 1919, succeeded by his son Vere. David Alexander Edward Lindsey, 27th Earl of Crawford was a descendant of one of the oldest English noble families.  A man with a remarkable career that included both enlisting as an ‘other rank’ medical orderly in WW1 and serving as a member of post-war cabinets, I have found no connection with Thame.  Brown – see the next section – explains the route by which he acquired his copy.  That New College was now credited with three copies is partly explained in the next section.

  • J Howard Brown in the Short history of Thame School (1927) devotes a whole chapter of his book to the statutes. He draws heavily on Lyell’s article but he lists 11 copies. He traces the subsequent history of the Bliss copy through two sales until it was acquired by the Earl of Crawford. Crawford seemingly had no connection with Thame but was a cultured and wealthy man, who was perhaps attracted by the book’s rarity or saw it as an investment.  Brown also explains that the 11th copy, belonging to the Charity Commissioners, was discovered in March 1926. (It is this copy that has the annotation that the school opened on the eve of St Andrews Day 1570.)  Brown lists the owners of the other 10 copies in a different order to Lyell:
    • British Museum
    • British Museum
    • Bodleian
    • New College 
    • New College
    • New College
    • LWS, presented by New College Warden Canon Spooner
    • Earl of Abingdon
    • Earl of Crawford
    • Alfred C Chaplin, Williamstown USA (sold by Lyell 1922)
    • Charity Commissioners

He describes two of the copies in New College, the first on vellum as ‘apparently’ the Master’s copy. He gives no source for this statement but the fact that it is secured to the Master’s desk largely confirms his supposition.  The second copy belonged to the Usher as indicated on the fly leaf in early 17th century handwriting.  He clarifies that the LWS copy was one of two more copies found in New College by the then College librarian and Governor of LWS, Dr Ernest Barker in 1916.  It seems certain, therefore, that the copy that LWS still possesses is one of those found by Dr Barker and presented to the school. Brown also mentions a possible 12th copy.  He adds that “A copy is referred to in 1873 [probably by either The Rev. James Young, mentioned earlier in Brown’s chapter as the translator of the Statutes published in that year, or by Lupton, then Churchwarden of St Mary’s Thame who commissioned Young], as ‘now lying in the muniment room of the Parish Church’ (St Mary’s).  The translation of the Statutes and its Appendices that appears in Lupton is almost certainly based on this copy for reasons explained below as it is one of only two complete copies and would have been easily accessible to Lupton as churchwarden.  Brown’s account of the copies in New College is somewhat confusing and possibly misleading as, in addition to the three copies retained in the college, he seemingly describes another copy as ‘the original fair copy in the chest of Thame School in the muniment room at New College … engrossed on four large sheets of vellum and fastened to the Indenture by the lower edges .  This description is quite different from all the other known copies and Brown does not include it in his summary table or count it as one of the 11 known copies.   

  • A 1947 issue of The Tamensian, no author given so probably the editor, relates that Mr E J Lightfoot, a Thame solicitor, discovered ‘old deeds and documents’ in his office.  These were ‘sent to the Bodleian’ where some of them were identified as linked to LWS and were accordingly ‘handed over to the school authorities and are now in the Headmaster’s keeping’. The writer conjectures that this copy was the one previously in the parish church muniment room. This seems highly likely: the muniment room was taken over by Mr Parker, Clerk to the LWGS governors, probably in the mid 1870 during the period when the school was closed and being reorganised under a new scheme of government.  Once the Oxford Road school building was available, the Clerk may have no longer needed the former muniment room as his office.  Whether or not that was the reason, the property passed in 1881 into the possession of the solicitors Messrs Lightfoot where the documents lay forgotten for over sixty years.  The reason why a copy should have been in the possession the parish church is easily explained: the Evidences section of the Statutes expressly require it. Though Thame was never a ‘church school’ and the vicar of St Mary’s had no responsibility for it, Williams’s executors probably believed that the church muniment room would be the safest place for it. Significantly the writer states that the Lightfoot copy has the full 55 pages with separate appendices and conjectures that it is ‘logical to assume that this copy is earlier in date that the eleven known copies … and may possibly the original copy’.
  • For the next 80 years there was no consolidated list of the Statute copies and their locations.  In 2019 the Oxfordshire History Centre featured a copy of the Statutes as the earliest of its kind in its local history collection.  It confirmed that its copy was acquired from the Charity Commissioners in 2014, and it is this copy that has the annotated note regarding the real date of the school’s opening. 
  • The New College library catalogue contains no less than five documents related to the Statutes.  These include the ‘Masters’ and ‘Ushers’ copies – the latter including Lyell’s article of 1918; also the copy found by Dr Barker that was not presented to the school. Most significantly, however, it includes two more catalogue entries with adjacent but much higher numbers, suggesting more recent acquisition. The first is described as ‘the original Statutes’; the second the appendix to the Statutes.
  • In fact on a detailed search of the school’s archives we now know that two copies are held. One is the printed bound copy that used to be kept in a wooden case in the school’s refectory. For reference, this case was ordered by the headmaster Dr Shaw in 1917, from James Rogers & Sons, who had a business on the High Street, Oxford. They used wood from the 16 century Lincoln College chapel, which was being renovated at the time.
  • The second copy held by the school is one of the original vellum copies. This includes the seal of New College. It is possible that in future, this copy will be given to New College, Oxford for safe-keeping.
  • The on-line catalogue of the British Library confirms that it holds two copies of the Statutes. This matches all the earlier listings from the early 20th century.  One page of the catalogue refers to two other copies now in the USA.  More likely, the second US copy was acquired from a later Earl Crawford.

Derek Turner, Honorary Archivist, Lord Williams’s SchoolDecember 2019