The last 450 years of Abingdon School’s History revealed through 21st-Century Technology.
12th November 2013

Would you like to know what school was like in 1950? What subjects were on the curriculum in 1860? What maths problems pupils were solving in 1760?  Well, thanks to an imaginative project at Abingdon School, all this is possible and much more too: you can deep zoom into the details of a sixteenth-century document, turn the pages of the 1928 school rulebook, enlarge the photographs of those who fell in the Great War and watch a snippet of cine film showing life at the School in 1953.
Inspired by Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects, the School has marked a major anniversary this year with an online History of Abingdon School in 63 Objects.  Sixty-three because it was on his 63rd birthday in 1563 that John Roysse endowed a school for 63 free scholars in a schoolroom that was 63 feet long. 

The School’s online history is the brainchild of Sarah Wearne, Abingdon School’s Archivist, who prepares all of the articles for publishing online, Sarah says, “I have enjoyed being able to share Abingdon’s rich heritage with the world in a way that just isn’t possible in an ordinary exhibition or printed book.”
The project has been running since the beginning of the year with objects uploaded every Tuesday and Thursday during term time.  On 19 November it will be object number 55, the 1953 film, which shows a boy cycling through an Abingdon that is eerily free from traffic. Still to come is a recording of the Highway Code sung by a group of Abingdon teachers who called themselves The Mastersingers, the first Abingdon band to make it into the hit parade, followed since by the giants of Radiohead and Foals.

Speaking about the online history, Mathew Iredale who was a pupil at Abingdon, leaving in 1985, said, “At times moving, at times amusing, at times horrifying, it is never less than fascinating and offers a series of snapshots of the school which brings the past to life in a way that words alone would not do.”

Former pupil Donald Hunter, who left in 1964 said, “I was delighted that the School has had the vision to walk us through history and highlight those particular and peculiar objects, events and men who have had such a bearing on that history.  I look forward to every Tuesday and Thursday when there is yet another item to be savoured and enjoyed....perhaps a pity that it should be limited to only 63.”

Unlike a printed history it has been possible in the online version to include extra information for those who are interested.  You can hyperlink to a table that gives the exact height and weight of every boy at the School in 1911 – today’s boys are, as expected, both heavier and taller – or to a document listing the topics debated by the boys between 1904 and 1959.  Who would have thought that it was in 1908 that they debated the threat to Europe of the rise of China, or that it was in 1938 that the BBC was accused of not providing the sort of programmes the public wanted.

“I think what strikes me most is the extent and variety of the archive that the school holds. Thanks to the Internet "A History of Abingdon School in 63 Objects" is available at the touch of a button to anyone interested without the need to make appointments or to belong to a select coterie.”
Jackie Smith, Honorary Archivist Christ’s Hospital and Abingdon Town Council

To take a look at the online history visit


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