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Old Marston Parish Council


Our local school was founded in 1851 as a National School to serve the children living in the village. It was funded by the state, the Anglican Church, wealthy locals and the money obtained from the children -Ida week on a Monday per child. But there was never enough money. What is now the Church Hall was originally built to house the school. For 20 years a variety of teachers struggled to teach up to 70 children in cold and cramped conditions. A few managed to have the help of a member of their family, while Mary Gordon, the daughter of the vicar helped when she could, but most had to cope on their own. Inspection teams frequently complained about the poor maintenance of the building and the low standard of teaching. Naturally, the attainment of the children was low too. Most left before they were eleven to find paid work.

In 1871, after a particularly damning report, the school was closed for four years. It opened again in 1875 with Mr and Mrs Rothwell in charge. They were trained teachers, he from Lancashire and she from Yorkshire. On the first day, 75 pupils were registered, assessed and organised into forms by age and ability. The school had begun a new chapter. The Rothwells worked well together as a team, and later were able to employ a past pupil to help. They arrived with two children of their own and had six more in the next twelve years. Most of these became teachers themselves. Mr Rothwell became the wise man of the village. He took the census in 1881, helped parents to understand the effects of new legislation on education as many parents couldn't read themselves, and generally played a central role in the life of the village. Now inspection teams praised the teaching, but usually condemned the state of the buildings.

Sadly Mr Rothwell died young in 1887 and is buried by a yew tree in the churchyard. His wife stayed on working with other heads into the twentieth century. By now the school was functioning well and more able pupils were encouraged to stay on until they were fourteen. A few even went on to teachers' training colleges.

In 1913 a new head arrived with his wife - Mr and Mrs Chapman. There are still some people living locally who remember being taught by this couple. They had only been here a short time when WW1 began. The young men left the village for military service, and those left behind had a difficult time of it. Food was short, the children malnourished and frequently ill. Despite the hardship, the school did what it could for the war effort. The Revd Mortimer was the vicar at the time and he loved singing. He trained the choir which gave concerts to raise money for tobacco for the wounded, or sang to the men recovering in the Town Hall - then used as a military hospital. In season the children picked blackberries for jam and the older children were released from school to get the harvest in as there were no men left to do it. Despite all the privations, the inspectors left every year announcing that the school was Excellent.

The Chapmans finally left in 1932, and were soon replaced by Mr and Mrs Jennings. They too had a war to cope with and this one brought evacuees from London. Those that came in 1939, soon returned home as the 'phoney war' dragged on, but once the blitz started, children from two schools came to the village with their teachers and many stayed for the duration. The school was full to bursting and the Reading Room - now demolished - was used as class-room space and for school dinners.

The passing of the 1944 Education Act, meant that the children eventually moved on at eleven, some to grammar schools, but most to Gosford Hill at Kidlington where they went by bus. Once the war finished, all but three of the men returned, the last evacuees went back to London and for a short time the teachers could take a deep breath. But the bulge was on the way!

By 1951 the school was using rooms in the tie factory at the back of the school, the Reading Room and even the pavilion at the back of the White Hart. Cyril Jennings cycled round the village checking up on his expanding empire. At last money was found to build a new school on the edge of the quickly expanding estate of new houses to the south of the village and St. Nicholas School opened its doors for the first time in September 1954. Marston Village School had come of age. It had a new name and was no longer a church school.

Cyril Jennings remained head until 1967 when he retired. He started the tradition of May Day celebrations, where the children processed to the church for a service, then round to Alan Court to crown their Queen of the May and dance round the maypole on the lawn. Under his leadership this new primary school flourished and it continued to do so after his retirement.

In 1972 the schools in the City of Oxford changed to a three tier system and St Nicholas became a first school, having children only from 5 to 9 years old. The Harlow School, which shared the same site, changed from being a secondary modern to a middle school and the children from St Nicks went on there for another four years before moving on to their upper school. In the late 80s the children began to be tested in the basics at 7 - end of key stage one, and 11 - end of key stage two. This meant that the children changed schools half way through key stage two, and this was not good for them. Finally, at the beginning of the 21st century, the system became two tiers again, and St Nicks now has children from nursery to eleven.

Change is often difficult to manage, but the school has continued to prosper throughout all the upheavals and is now a junior school giving 316 children a sound basis in all the academic skills they need to face secondary education - but they get so much more.


The Rothwells, Chapmans and Jennings each stayed at the school for many years, giving a sense of continuity to the children. They also lived in the village and were an integral part of its life. Times have changed and many teachers and heads have come and gone over the years. Each one has contributed his/hers special talents and skills to the education of the children. Today Julie Holland is the head.

School is no longer just about teaching children the three R's. It must include all aspects of their physical well being, their attitude to those around them and the wider world in general. They must be offered the opportunity to express themselves in music, art and drama; to learn new skills and develop their talents.

We have all heard of Jamie Oliver's efforts to encourage everyone to have a healthy eating life style. In the past most children have brought packed lunches from home with very few taking up the option of a cooked meal mid-day. But things are changing. All the staff now eat a school meal sitting at the tables and talking to the children. The school cook provides lunches for at least 30% (and rising) of the children. There is a choice, all healthy of course, and the children like them. For those who still have packed lunches there are 'Healthy Lunch Box' stickers listing recommended contents and the school nurse has talked to all the children about possible healthy options too. A cooking club has been formed where the children learn how to cook basic, healthy food.

The children in this generation of are often described as couch potatoes, and obesity is an ever growing worry. Outside coaching is provided in school time for squash, cricket, rugby, football and multi skills. Hockey, cricket and football are also included in the extended day activities. All sport on offer is for girls as well as boys of course! The children are encouraged to walk to school as part of the school's travel plan. There is to be a 'Get Fit Kids' day and a 'Healthy School' week. The school is working towards having 'Healthy School Status', a scheme run by the county. Part of this is achieved by fulfilling the aims of the Football Association Charter for Schools.

For eighty years the old school was heated by boilers in the classroom which often produced more smoke than heat. If you were near them, you were too hot, but on the other side of the room, you shivered. Some heads became adept at taking them to pieces and 'mending' them. Some had the knack -others didn't. When piped water arrived in the village in the late twenties, it was possible to have radiators and life looked up. A modern school has gas, electric central heating, which forms a large part of the budget. 'Energy Week' was from 12th - 16th March when a green energy bus visited the school enabling the children to learn about solar and wind power and to discuss the affects of global warming on their future lives. It was a great success with lots of hand-on experience for the children. It has helped every child in every class to become more conscious of the importance of saving energy so that lights are turned off when not necessary, doors shut to conserve heat and they are talking about these matters at home.

A school allotment was started by the head of the time (Hubert William John Pugh) at the end of 1911, in which the older boys could learn to grow fruit and vegetables to feed themselves and their families. This flourished up to WW2. Last year a flower and vegetable garden was started as part of the route to achieving Healthy School status.The Vegetable Plot produced a wide variety of fruit and vegetables - organic of course! - in its first year and these were sold to parents and staff. Our Nature Garden flowered abundantly! Everyone associated with the project was pleased to win the Silver Award in the 'Oxford in Bloom' Best Schools Environmental Project category. Work has started on the plot again as spring advances and it is hoped to have a polytunnel in place soon.

Now a plan is afoot to change the field behind the old middle school into a meadow including a pond - water to come from draining the football pitches, some dry stone walling, a wet woodland area on the marshy part of the field and a copse area. This would provide a versatile teaching environment in which to learn a wide range of topics. If possible, a wind turbine could be put there too.

The Revd Mortimer would be delighted to know that the school has two choirs - KS1 and KS2 - and an orchestra. They practice hard and give concerts. To one of these, held in the school hall, they invited their neighbours from nearby roads. Some visitors, who have lived locally for years, found themselves in the school for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed the concert. Parents and friends attended another given in Mortimer Hall. One young violinist has won the music scholarship to Oxford High for next September. As part of the L.E.A Music Service it is possible for pupils to learn to play the guitar, violin, flute or clarinet.

In the 70's a unit was established at the school for autistic children 5-11 who could benefit from specialist teaching, but who also needed to be able to integrate into the main school, with help, when appropriate. It was called the Chinnor Unit as the original base was founded at St Andrew's School, Chinnor. In later years bases were created at Lord William's School, Thame, and our local Cherwell School so that autistic children have appropriate primary and secondary education. These units are now called Autism Resource Bases. These arrangements have enabled children, who previously were often considered uneducatable to get GCSE's, A levels and go on to university and play their proper role in the community. The system in Oxfordshire has been a model for the rest of the country.

When the Rothwells came down from the north to Old Marston in 1875, they found the local dialect difficult at times. This is shown in the way they wrote the new names down phonetically as they heard them - Rippington became Reppington for instance. I expect the villagers struggled to follow the Yorkshire and Lancashire accents too! They would be amazed to know that some 40 different nationalities are represented at the school now, and 12 languages other than English spoken at home by the pupils. All those to whom English is not their first language are given special tuition three times a week and most become proficient very quickly. All children with special needs receive extra, individual help in class to give them the best chance possible to keep up with the others.

Over the last few years the timing of school has changed to take account of the life-styles of the families. Some parents have to leave home early so some 5-10 children are able to come to school at 8 a.m. for Breakfast Club. Then there is the After School Club from 3.15 - 5.30 p.m. everyday. Some 15-20 children stay most days. During this time the adults with them help them with art, or cooking, improving their computer skills, or they can do jigsaws or play with other toys. There is a charge for these services, but working parents know that their children are well looked after and stimulated.

Other after school clubs take place during the week. In this case the activities include creative writing, football, cooking, multi sports and choir practice.

When I was at school the classes were known as 1A, or 3B denoting the year and the classification by ability. Later they were known by their year and their teacher, but the natural turnover of staff meant there was not continuity. Now, right from when they first enter school, their classes are known by plant or tree names. The first class is 'Beanstalk'. This takes in children in Foundation 1 and 2. 1 is reception and 2 is nursery in old speak. The older children move on to Sunflower for the rest of their reception year. The rooms are connected by a joint outside play area and each room is decorated according to its name. This  provides a very bright and colourful environment for these young children. Once in main school, they can go into Oak or Fir. Fir has some year 2s, the rest being in Palm. Years 3 and 4 are spread between Pine, Ash and Lime; year 5s are in Elm and year 6s in Yew. English is taught in a special room called the Banyan room after an Indian tree.

The school has always fostered good relations between teachers and parents, believing them to be crucial to the education and development of the children. An organisation called FOSNS (Friends of St Nicholas School) was set up many years ago. In the summer term they organise a school fete which is always great fun. Throughout the year they hold other money raising events or provide a forum for discussion and decision about important current matters concerning the school.

Running, entwined throughout the curriculum and extra-curriculum activities, are the constant themes of courtesy, kindness, tolerance, respect for others, and doing your best. The children of Marston are in safe hands. Marston Times April 2007, Reprinted by Kind Permission of Jan Sanders, Editor.

Pennies needed to balance the books

 By John Chipperfield »

Like many other schools, the village school at Old Marston, Oxford, relied heavily on what was known as the ‘School Pence’ to balance its books. Pennies were needed to balance the books. Every pupil had to bring a penny on Monday mornings for the privilege of being taught. The school’s only other income came from the Church, the Government’s capitation grant, and some voluntary contributions.


Accounts books from the mid-19th century, revealed in Marston Village School 1851-1954, a book compiled by former governor Jan Sanders, show how some of the money was spent. A glazier was paid a shilling, coal cost £1, ink a shilling, window blinds 9s 6d, a scrubbing brush 1s 3d and emptying the privies cost £1 5s. A male teacher was paid £50 a year, whereas a woman teacher received £35.

Absenteeism was often a problem. In a farming village like Marston, there was great pressure on children to help in the fields. The book records: “In spring, the potatoes and cereals had to be planted, then hay made. When the crops ripened, they had to be harvested, and finally the potatoes had to be dug.”


Many children also suffered ill-health, as a result of living in homes of poor hygiene. Almost every year, epidemics broke out of measles, chickenpox, whooping cough or scarlet fever, all potential killers. “The school had to be shut sometimes to try to prevent the outbreak spreading, or just because numbers were so low it wasn’t worth opening.”


In the mid-1860s, the school – now known as St Nicholas – appears to have gone through a particularly challenging period, with poor attendance, unruly behaviour and criticism of standards by inspectors. The head, Mr Moulding, lasted just 18 months before heading for pastures new.

Beyond 2017

When the River Learning Trust announced their plans to build a new secondary school along the Marston Road and to expand Meadowbrook College on the Harlow site, it was also made clear that St Nicholas School would loose most of their playing field to accommodate this. This decision has caused great concerns and caused a division between parents in New Marston and the residents in Old Marston and others who will be affected by this decision. The River Learning Trust brought this piece of Green Belt land for £1 from the County Council. Considering they owned the land next to Cherwell School, which was larger and more suitable and had recently been vacated by the Harlequins Rugby Club, and had an underpass under the road, people could not understand why they insisted on persisting on building on this site to the detriment of St Nicholas School. The Parish Council joined with others to persuade the trust to build on the land next to Cherwell School instead, but to no avail. Concerns were raise regarding the expansion of Meadowbrook College so close to a residential area as well. There are concerns at the huge increase of traffic in an already heavily congested area as well as the increase in air pollution, considering the catchment area is the whole of Oxford. Also there are huge concerns regarding building a a busy entrance across the UK’s busiest cycle to school cycle track without building some kind of underpass to allow young cyclists to travel safely to and from school (despite an estimate budget of over £40m of Government money).

Some Links

Marston Primary School 1960sMarston Middle School 1980sThe original school building in Elsfield Road, now the church hallSt Nicholas Primary School, Old Marston - Bike ShedsSt Nicholas Primary School, Old Marston - Front Entrance