Our History

Abingdon is one of the oldest schools in England. There is no surviving date for its foundation but the School grew up alongside Abingdon Abbey, which was first founded in 675 and re-founded in 950. The earliest references to the School come in a legal document of 1100, and from the will of the Abbot of Abingdon, John de Blosneville, who in 1256 left money for the support of thirteen poor scholars. It is thought that at this time classes were held in St Nicolas’ Church but by 1375 a legal document locates the School in two adjacent premises in Stert Street.

The School survived the dissolution of the Abbey, and the then Headmaster, John Clyffe alias Tesdale, remained in office. When Christ's Hospital of Abingdon was founded in 1553, its Royal Charter laid down that one of the duties of the new charity was to support the grammar school. In 1563, John Roysse, an old pupil of Clyffe's, was persuaded to assist in a re-endowment of the School, which moved at about the same time to a site south of the Abbey gateway, which was owned by a William Blacknall. Roysse's motivation was deeply religious - he may have hoped to establish a chantry to offer prayers for his soul - and he instructed that the School should be renamed in honour of the Holy Trinity.

Another very important benefactor in the early modern history of the School was Thomas Tesdale (1547-1610), who had been a senior pupil in 1563. He provided a salary to support an Usher, Second Master, from his lands at Ratley in Warwickshire.  More importantly, he left money in his will for the support of thirteen Abingdon scholars at Oxford; this endowment was eventually to form the bedrock of Pembroke College, founded in 1624 at the initiative of Dr Thomas Godwyn (Headmaster 1601-1625).

The School was penalised during the Civil Wars for its Royalist and Anglican loyalties and the Headmaster, Anthony Huish, was removed from office in response to a petition to Oliver Cromwell from members of the Corporation – many of them Huish’s former pupils. However, it recovered after the Restoration, with the notably successful Headmastership of Robert Jennings (1657-1683).

The eighteenth century was a period of conspicuous success, centred around the Headmastership of Thomas Woods (1716-1753). Woods ran a prosperous boarding school which was popular with local aristocratic and county families. He gave the School the clock which is to be seen in the present Grundy Library. Many eighteenth-century Abingdonians went on to successful careers in Church and State, often with the help of the closed scholarships at Pembroke College, Oxford. The Old Abingdonian Club was founded in 1743.

Dr John Lempriere (Headmaster 1792-1809) was a distinguished scholar but he ignored the stipulation that his school should include Foundation Scholars, free boys from the town, freely admitting that he usually only had two of them and sometimes none at all. The School began to decline, exacerbated by dissatisfaction in the town with its emphasis on a Classical education, by Lempriere’s two disinterested successors, and by the continuing insistence on the observation of the more than two-hundred-year-old ordinances, which still dominated the running of the School. A further blow came with the passing of the University Reform Act of 1854, which led to a lessening of the ties between the School and Pembroke College, further reducing the School’s prestige. These were all factors which William Strange, Headmaster 1840-68, had no power to alter.

A fresh start was made in 1870 when the School moved out to its present site in the new Albert Park. The new buildings comprised a schoolroom - now the Grundy Library - and School House; they were designed to accommodate forty boarders and eighty dayboys. The north wing of School House and the first extension to Big School were constructed in 1879-80; the Lodge was put up in 1897; and the remainder of Big School, including the Chapel, was constructed in 1902. Scholarships were founded by Herbert Young and Edgar Summers (Headmaster 1870-1883), and by Lady Wantage.

In the twentieth century, the boarding side flourished particularly under the Headmastership of W.M. Grundy (1913-1947). Waste Court house and field were acquired in 1928. J.M. Cobban (later Sir James - Headmaster 1947-1970) extended the reach of the Direct Grant System within the School, and was responsible for a decisive leap in numbers from 250 to 630. The four buildings nearest the School round Park Crescent were purchased, War Memorial Field was acquired, parts of the science laboratories and Little School were built, and Lacies Court was incorporated into School usage and its grounds extended.

W.E.K. Anderson (now Sir Eric - Headmaster 1970-1975) was responsible for the building of the dining hall and the biology laboratories, inviting Mrs Thatcher, the Minister of Education, to inaugurate the project by turning the first turf.

Michael St. John Parker (Headmaster 1975-2001) took over at the same time as the Government abolished the Direct Grant System. As a result, the School reverted to full independence and continued to grow, with the help of substantial benefactions from the Mercers' Company of London, with which the School was associated through John Roysse.

The Jubilee Wing was constructed in 1977, the Amey Hall in 1980 and the Sports Hall in 1984; the Warehouse was also acquired in 1984; the Greening Laboratories were opened in 1990, and Mercers' Court in 1994. Scholarships were established in honour of G.F. Duxbury, a former master, and the Mercers' Company. In 1998, the School merged with Josca's Preparatory School, to form a new Foundation. A new pavilion was built there on Cox's Fields in 1999, followed by a science and information technology extension in 2001, and a bridge over the A415 linking the main prep school site to Cox’s Fields. In September 2007 Josca’s changed its name to Abingdon Preparatory School and opened a new Sports Hall.

Mark Turner (Headmaster until 2010) arrived in January 2002. The £3 million Arts Centre, which brought music, drama and art together for the first time and considerably enhanced the opportunities for community use, was opened in Autumn 2003, closely followed by a new boathouse, the result of a parent-led initiative – a magnificent timber-framed structure. A new £9 million Sports Centre at Abingdon was opened in October 2008. This includes an 8 lane, 25m swimming pool, multi-sport activities, climbing wall, squash courts, two fitness suites and a martial arts and fencing studio.

In September 2010 Felicity Lusk became Head of Abingdon. During her time as the first woman to lead the School in over 750 years of the School's history, she worked with the Governors to identify opportunities to enhance the facilities. The management of Tilsley Park sport and leisure centre was taken over in September 2014 and extensive improvements to the facilities were carried out. The Yang Science Centre opened in October 2015, housing 21 teaching laboratories, study areas, project rooms and preparatory rooms. This was followed by the refurbishment of Greening Court into a new home for Classics, Geography and History. Miss Lusk retired from Abingdon in 2016 having put in place plans to open Beech Court - a new Sixth Form Centre and Centre for Independent Learning.

Michael Windsor, previously Headmaster of Reading Blue Coat School, took over the Headship in September 2016 and since then planning permission for Beech Court has been received and the new facility is hoped to open in the autumn of 2018.