A brief history of schools in Abingdon by Jackie Smith, honorary town archivist

LAST year there were events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Albert Park in Abingdon.

However the same anniversary of a small Victorian school, one of the first buildings in the area, passed by unnoticed.

This small brick building, on the corner of Conduit Road and Bostock Road, was the new infants’ school, opened in December 1865 to accommodate 200 children.

Initially it was known as the new Church Infants’ School, partly in recognition of the role played in its establishment by the Rev Nathaniel Dodson, Vicar of St Helen’s Church, but mainly due to funding by the National Society and the Oxford Diocesan Board for Education.

The site was acquired from the Governors of Christ’s Hospital who were at that time developing the Albert Park estate. The new school was designed by architects Dolby and Spencer, who gave their services for free, and erected by a local builder, Mr Thomas, at a cost of approximately £500.

In 1870 official figures reveal the number on the Infants’ School roll was 132 pupils, 63 boys and 69 girls, drawn in the main from courts in Ock Street. The potential school population was enhanced by a major housing programme in the area to provide accommodation suitable for artisans and labourers. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the school was known as Conduit Road Infants’ School. Today the original school houses the Early Years’ Unit of Carswell Community Primary School. It is the oldest school building still in educational use in Abingdon.

The variety of buildings which have occupied the school site reflects the different stages in the extension of educational provision. The 1870 Education Act introduced state management into education by providing for the election of school boards with powers to build and manage schools. The Abingdon School Board was formed on the 29th July 1899, with a membership of seven headed by the Mayor, Mr E J Harris, and Thomas Layng, Headmaster of Abingdon School.

Plans for the Abingdon Board Schools, on an adjacent site in what was then Bostock Avenue, were prepared by architects Redfern and Stevenson. Two blocks housed the three separate schools for boys, girls and infants. Messrs T H Kingerlee & Sons of Oxford won the construction contract with a bid of £8,049. The schools opened in September 1902 with 128 boys, 107 girls, and 75 infants on the roll. Many of the children had transferred from the nearby British School which closed around this time.

The official opening of the Abingdon Manual School in Conduit Road on January 25, 1909, added another tier to the educational provision on the site. The two storey block was constructed by Berkshire County Council to provide manual instruction for those leaving school. In the 1950s the Manual School became known as the Institute of Higher Education. It was from these humble beginnings that the North Berks College of Further Education was created in 1964 on a new site in Northcourt Road.

The pressure for more school accommodation led to the construction of several buildings - considered temporary at the time - through the “Hutting Operation for the Raising of School-leaving Age” (HORSA) programme. Some of this pressure was relieved by the construction of new schools on Northcourt Road in 1952 and the opening of Larkmead Secondary Modern School in 1954 to which the senior pupils, ie those aged 11+, were transferred. The premises vacated by the senior pupils were then occupied by the Institute of Further Education. In 1958 Carswell County Primary School became separate infant and junior schools, with the junior pupils occupying the former board school premises.