Magdalen College School
Magdalen College School, Oxford, began life in the 15th century, educating the choristers of Magdalen College who were members of the College’s foundation. The School is now an entirely independent separate institution located just across the river, although it still educates the College’s choristers, and its more recent history is documented in the School’s own archive. The School’s earlier history remains entwined with that of its predecessor institution, Magdalen College, so you may need to direct your enquiry to both School and College.
Magdalen College School (Oxford) has both a part-time Archivist and a part-time Art Archivist. The School’s heritage collections include:
- School copies of core administrative records from the 1960s
- Student admission registers, form lists and school diaries
- Photographs from 1860 – formal and candid
- Programmes from school events, school and student publications
- Ephemera: letters, reminiscences, oral histories
- Old Waynfletes’ (alumni) personal papers and effects
- Antiquarian books
- Objects: sporting trophies, uniform, school equipment
- Works of art
For more information or to make an appointment to consult the collections held at MCS, please contact:
- Mrs Lindsay McCormack, Archivist: firstname.lastname@example.org (usual days of work: Mondays and Tuesdays in term time)
- Mrs Meg Finnis, Art Archivist: email@example.com (usual day of work: Fridays in term time)
Magdalen College Archive also holds various records relating to the three Magdalen College Schools, but particularly Magdalen College School in Oxford which was based for several centuries on the College’s own site (see below).
Magdalen College School – a brief history
College Founder William Waynflete, who had been Provost of Eton, had the foresight to endow two grammar schools, which were intended to supply a succession of educated students who would then continue their studies at Magdalen College. The original statutes referred to ‘the Grammar School which is built and situate hard by our College’ [i.e. Magdalen College School, Oxford], and added that ‘We have built and founded, out of the Goods by God bestowed upon Us, another Grammar School in the Town of Waynflete… in the Diocese of Lincoln, which is to last (with God’s blessing) throughout all future times…’. A third school, at Brackley in Northamptonshire, was founded in c. 1548.
The College School at Oxford differed from most medieval grammar schools in that it was, until at least 1703, a department of the College with no separate legal existence or endowment. The statutes provided for the perpetual maintenance of the school, under the guardianship of the College Visitor, the Bishop of Winchester. The College Register states that building began outside the College gates in August 1480, but from c. 1478 students were being taught grammar by a Master and Usher, and from Easter 1480 this took place ‘in a certain low hall to the south of the Chapel in the old building’. All that survives of the first purpose-built Grammar Hall, located in St John’s Quad, consists of the bell turret and northern end of the Schoolroom, and some additions of 1614. A hall of residence known as Magdalen Hall later grew up around and above the School. At first, Demies and Commoners of the College attended the School as well as the sons of townsmen and noblemen. Magdalen College School produced some of the best grammar masters of the 16th century, who were pioneers of Latin textbook teaching.
The 16 Choristers on the foundation of the College received their elementary education in the Song School, from the Informator Choristarum. The Song School was built in 1487. Pupils would progress to the grammar school when they were sufficiently advanced. Under Edward VI there was an attempt to suppress the school but the Mayor and Council, as well as the President and Fellows, successfully petitioned against the closure.
Part of the Grammar Hall survived the fire that largely destroyed Magdalen Hall in 1820 but in 1843 the College decided to build a new school on the land east of Longwall and in 1849 a large house, 58 High St, was bought for a boarding house to replace the boarders’ lodgings in Longwall and Holywell. A competition was held for designs for a new grammar school and master’s house in 1844, and J. C. Buckler’s design (now Longwall Library) was completed in 1851 following a long law suit between School and College. In the 1850s another boarding house was added on the corner of High St and Longwall, as well as a chapel, dining-hall and kitchen on the school site. The laboratory was built in 1863. Numbers grew from 18 to 91 by 1865, of which 63 were boarders. A new boarding house beyond Magdalen Bridge was completed by 1894 and in 1928 the School moved off the College site to new class rooms in Cowley Place and Iffley Road, when the College reclaimed the Longwall schoolroom as a library space. This was converted to plans by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and it opened as the New Library in 1930 (now the Longwall Library).
The School received a Board of Education grant from 1920 and became a direct grant school after World War II. The school became independent in the 1980s after the direct grant scheme was phased out. Magdalen College is still represented on the School’s governing body.
Archive sources about MCS held at Magdalen College
The College archives hold a collection of papers (ref. MC: MCS) relating to the three college schools and the parish schools, which was probably assembled partly from documents found in the Bursary and in the Lodgings, and partly from papers deposited by governors and clerks to governors. These have been divided into five sections, relating to Brackley, Oxford, Wainfleet, mixed records of the three grammar schools and parish or charity schools associated with the College. A word catalogue is available from the College Archivist on request.
Papers relating to the building of the new choristers’ school (now Longwall Library) are available (MC:FA16 and MC:FA17) (word list available on request).
The annual series of College accounts includes the names of Choristers, Masters and Ushers from 1863–1883, although an index is not currently available.
Other papers relating to the College are scattered throughout the College’s archive – these include the minutes for the School(s) Committee, 1876-c 1946 (MC:SCCM) and the School Buildings’ Committee, 1891-1893 (MC:CP/9). Please check with the College Archivist about your specific enquiry.
The standard history of the School is R. S. Stanier’s Magdalen School: A History of Magdalen College School, Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press for the Oxford Historical Society, New Series 3, 1940), but for the early history of the School see now Nicholas Orme, Education in Early Tudor England: Magdalen College Oxford and Its School 1480–1540 (Magdalen Occasional Papers 4 ).
The relationships between Magdalen College and the three Magdalen College Schools in Oxford, Waynflete and Brackley are discussed in L. W. B. Brockliss (ed.), Magdalen College Oxford: A History (Oxford, 2008).
Two volumes of Bloxam’s Register are devoted to the College School, i.e. vol. 1, …The Choristers (1853), and vol. 3, The Instructors in Grammar (1863). The latter volume has the names of Choristers, 1853–63 (p. 307) and of pupils, exclusive of Choristers, for 1846–63, pp. 294–306.
Two articles in the College’s annual Record explore the history of the School’s buildings in Oxford. See Robin Darwall-Smith, ‘Thomas Allom and the Building of Magdalen College School’, Magdalen College Record 2002, pp. 85–97, and Robin Darwall-Smith, ‘Before the New Library: The Archivist’s Story’, Magdalen College Record 2013, pp. 75–86.