The Oratory School

The Oratory School

The Oratory School is an all-boys, Catholic, boarding public school in Great Britain. It has approximately 400 pupils and is located in Woodcote, Oxfordshire near Reading, United Kingdom.


The Oratory School was founded under the supervision of John Henry, later Cardinal Newman, in 1859, and the first boys arrived before work began on the first day of May in that year, "Sunday 1 May New School began." ["Newman’s Letters and Diaries", Volume XIX, p.120.] The purpose was to provide a Catholic alternative to Eton particularly for the sons of converts from Anglicanism who considered existing Catholic schools culturally and socially inferior. [Paul Shrimpton, "A Catholic Eton? Newman's Oratory School". Leominster: Gracewing, 2005. pp. 26, 29, 41-43. ISBN 0852446616.] The idea of founding a school had been in Newman's mind for some time before that and education of the young was an abiding interest. In the early 1850s he had been invited by the Irish Catholic bishops to establish a Catholic university in Dublin, but it did not prove a success, though he was able to formulate the principles published as "The Idea of a University". When the Irish project came to an end, he was approached by a group of Catholic laymen, principally converts to Roman Catholicism from the Oxford Movement, to set up a Catholic boarding school for boys run on English public school lines, rather than the monastically based Catholic schools that already existed. The original school was opened next to the house of the Oratory Fathers in Edgbaston, Birmingham.

The Oratory School moved from Edgbaston to Caversham Park, Caversham and, in 1942 (when Caversham Park was requisitioned to become a BBC listening station -now BBC Monitoring), after a short sojourn in exile at Downside, finally removed to its present location at Woodcote Estate, Oxfordshire. The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory handed over control of the school to a Governing Body in 1931, but links with the Birmingham, London and Oxford Oratories remain strong.

The school today

The current headmaster is Clive Dytor (like Newman a convert and former Church of England clergyman), a veteran of The Falklands War who was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the conflict, and an MA of both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

The school roll of around 400 pupils includes both boarders and day-boys. The school has four senior (13-18) houses and one junior (11-13) house. The senior houses are: Faber, (house colour is yellow), FitzAlan (black), Norris (green) and St John (red). The junior house is known as St Philip (sky and navy blue). A major programme of rebuilding and upgrading the boarding accommodation to modern standards, together with development of up-to-date teaching facilities is currently in progress.

The school day runs from morning roll call and prayers at 08:25 to the end of prep classes at 19:00.

The CCF parades on Thursday afternoons. (In recent years several pupils have distinguished themselves as members of the CCF and gone on to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.)

Sporting fixtures are played in a wide range of sports against schools and colleges such as Radley College, Eton College, Harrow School, Millfield and City of London Freemen's School. The school has its own nine-hole golf course and swimming pool. The Oratory School won the 'Independent School of the Year Sports Award' at the Daily Telegraph & Norwich Union 2008 School Sport Matters Awards.

Rugby football

Over the last decade the school has established itself as one of the better rugby playing schools in the country, and is now a match for anybody on its day. Master in Charge of Rugby Football is Tom Hennessy (former Munster and London Irish prop). Gary Halpin (former Ireland prop) also coaches and is a school housemaster.

Perhaps the two most famous pupils of the school to emerge onto the rugby scene in the past 5 years are Ayoola Erinle (Leicester Tigers and England) and Andy Vilk (Sale Sharks and England 7's). A worthy mention must also go to Mark Bruce who plays for Buccaneers in Ireland and has represented the Irish 7's team. Daniel Cipriani attended the school from aged 11-13 before continuing his secondary education at Whitgift School.

Real tennis

The Oratory is one of only three schools in the United Kingdom to possess a real tennis court (the other being Canford and Radley, and enjoys considerable success in this minor sport, hosting numerous championships and international tournaments. The court is home to the Oratory Tennis Club, a club primarily made up of paying members of the public, but also of boys from the school.

It was the first location in the United Kingdom to construct a Real Tennis court for 80 years, finishing the building in 1990. Over recent years the UK Professional Singles Tournament has been held at the court, and in April 2006 the World Championships were held there in which world no. 1 Rob Fahey (Australia) beat USA player Tim Chisholm. [ [ Website of the International Real Tennis Professionals Association] ] .

Jonathan Howell, the President of the International Real Tennis Professionals Association, is the Sports Executive of the school and the club, and Mark Eadle is the Senior Professional. The court itself is modern, fast, and possesses a 'bouncy' feel to it. The school has one of the most successful school real tennis teams ever, with regular appearances in the finals of national competitions, and in recent years has produced such players as Richard Greenland and Paul Knox.


The Oratory School Shooting Team stands first in the current UK rankings and has recently produced representatives for the GB U25 team.


The School has a boathouse on the Thames near Hardwick House and has had some recent success on the rowing front; winning the Child-Beale cup for 1st VIIIs at the National Schools regatta in Nottingham in 2006. The crew were presented with the cup by Sir Matthew Pinsent.

The club has also participated in the annual Henley Royal Regatta, rarely progressing beyond the qualification stages for the Princess Elizabeth Cup. It faced King's College School in the first round of the regatta in 2008.

Art studies

The school's art department is, according to the "Good Schools Guide 2005", the best art department in the UK for A-Level students and the best overall art department. This was due to the art department attaining 25 A's at A2 level out of 25 candidates and results since have been equally impressive. As a result of the academic success gained over the last 20 years, combined with recent awards from the 'Good Schools Guide', the Art Department has been awarded Foundation Course Status. At the end of the course students can be awarded a Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art & Design) or in fine art – Edexcel in parallel with their A2 courses. This award is usually only granted by universities and recognised art colleges.

Celebrated former pupils and masters

Former masters

* Tom Arnold, literary scholar, was a master 1862-65.
* Gerard Manley Hopkins, poet and Jesuit, was a master 1867-68.
* Michael Tolkien J. R. R. Tolkien's second son, was a housemaster, and his father occasionally covered lessons when in residence. [Personal recollections of old boys reported on talkpage.] J.R.R. Tolkien wrote parts of "The Lord of the Rings" in the school's Black Room, then the school library, and at Chapel Cottage, his son's residence.
* Andrew McBirnie Composer and Chief Examiner in Music of London College of Music Examinations was Director of Music between 1999 and 2002.

Former pupils (Old Oratorians)

* Niccolo d'Ardia Caracciolo Prince of Cursi
* Richard Melville Ballerand Strategic Policy Adviser
* Hilaire Belloc Poet and Writer
* Michael Berkeley Composer
* Henry Roger Tempest squire of Broughton hall
* Michael Fitzherbert-Brockholes of Claughton Hall Captain Scots Guards WWII
* Robert Berkeley of Spetchley Park, Deputy Master Berkeley Hunt 1923-28
* Sir Richard Crichton Mitchell Cotts 4th Baronet
* Sir Edmund George Felix Paston-Bedingfeld, 9th Baronet of Oxburgh Hall
* Francis Bird O.B.E, Aide-De-Camp to H.M. the Queen
* Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart 2nd World War General awarded Victoria Cross VC
* Daniel Cipriani Rugby Footballer, England, England U.21 & Wasps
* Ayoola Erinle Rugby Footballer, Wasps
* Bernard Fitzalan-Howard, 16th Duke of Norfolk Premier Duke and Earl Marshal of England
* Edmund Fitzalan-Howard, 1st Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent British Conservative politician and the last Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
* Sir Igor Judge Present Deputy Lord Chief Justice, and first President Queen’s Bench Division of High Court
* Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian British Politician and Diplomat
* Edward Leigh Conservative MP, Gainsborough 1997-present
* Sir Michael Levey Director of the National Gallery 1974-86
* Tim Male Rower, Great Britain - Athens 2004
* Jack Miller Republican United States Senator from 1961 to 1973
* Lieutenant-Colonel George Henry Morris First commanding officer to lead an Irish Guards battalion into battle.
* Thomas Stafford Northcote, Viscount St Cyres heir to the Earl of Iddesleigh
* George Pereira Explorer of Asia, General
* Andy Vilk (Rugby Footballer, Sale, England 7s)
* Simon Wickham-Smith (composer and Mongolist)

Terminology and slang

*"Beating": Boys weren't "caned" but "beaten". Often a whole class might be beaten or a whole dormitory as punishment for launching one of the occasional raids on another dormitory.

*"Blossom’s": A small tuck shop cum general store run by Mrs Cox in the late 1950s and 1960s. On the lane from the OS to the village of Checkendon. Pupils used to get their sweets there and older pupils used to retire to the back room to play pontoon, smoke, drink Coca-Cola and eat crisps. The building is now a private residence.

*"Brat": A second-year student at the main school.

*"Bratting": The term 'fagging' wasn't used at The Oratory; 'bratting' was used instead. All second-year boys were considered brats, and each prefect had his brat who would undertake menial tasks. Bratting was abandoned at the Oratory in 1991 more or less at the same time that the Children's Act passed into law. Since 1991 the term 'brat' to describe lower school boys has diminished in use. In may be worth noting, that being a particular person's brat was considered equivalent to being given an orderly. As it may take up far more of the brat's time than an orderly (making tea at any hour or running errands), it was not uncommon for the prefect or master in question to pay the brat at the end of term, for services rendered.

*"Exlade Street": A disused road that runs through the woods by the entrance to the school. The road became redundant when the new main road was built. Exlade Street also refers to the remaining part of the old road, which runs past the Highwayman Pub, in parallel to the new main road. Originally, the pillars marking the entrance to the school drive were located further down the hill on Exlade Street. With the construction of the new main road, the drive was reduced in length by 250 yards and new pillars were erected at the new entrance. In 2000 the original pillars (crumbling away in the woods by Exlade Street) were moved to their new position at the very top of the school drive as a memorial to the first pupils when the school re-opened at Woodcote.

*"Gating": Getting six quarter-of-an-hours in a week would result in "gating". A gated boy could not leave the school grounds for a week and in his free time in that week had to report to the duty master/prefect every quarter of an hour.

*"Head Masters": A detention held in the Head Masters office on a Saturday evening

*"Orderly": The name given to chores, normally done first thing in the morning, before 8.30 roll call. Examples of one's orderly might be to clear rubbish from the 'prefects' path', or 'the back drive', or to be a brat for a particular master or prefect. Most Orderlies would take up about fifteen minutes of your time.

*"Prep": This is what is more commonly known as "homework". The school day lasted from 9am until lunch at 1pm and then (on Monday and Thursdays) from 3.15pm until 4pm tea and then until 7pm, (on Tuesdays and Fridays) from after 4pm tea until 7pm, and on Wednesdays from 5.40pm until 7pm. Classes were also held until 7pm (when it was time for supper), but in those periods when there were no classes, especially on Wednesday afternoons, boys did prep. (NB There were also classes on Saturday mornings). In addition, there was a prep period before breakfast from 7.20am until 8am, although boys could also attend early-morning Mass at this time.

*"Quarter of an hour": This was the standard punishment for a variety of what were regarded as offences. Examples of such offences include being incorrectly dressed, wearing one's jacket undone if one did not have the privilege of wearing it undone, using a passageway or corridor which one was not privileged to use, being late, running in a corridor, "being lippy" i.e. being cheeky to a prefect. Some offences might seem extremely trivial, but they did contribute to establishing the ethos of the school that privileges had to be earned. A quarter-of-an-hour was the most usual punishment, but more serious offences could earn a "half-an-hour". Both punishments referred to periods of time which were worked off, usually on a Saturday afternoon doing jobs which had to be done e.g. shifting chairs in the gym, clearing a field of the ubiquitous flint stones. Getting six quarter-of-an-hours meant you were gated (see above).

*"Refectory/ref": School's dining hall. The word 'refectory' is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable and the "c" is not pronounced at all i.e it is pronouced "RE-ferr-tree".)

*"Seventh Game": In the summer term, those boys who didn't like cricket and/or who were useless at cricket were allocated to the Seventh Game. When every afternoon the rest of the school was practising elsewhere, boys in the Seventh Games would be obliged to meet on the Top Field (used for rugby on the winter) and, under the eye of a master who was equally uninterested in cricket, spend what was often just a few minutes playing cricket. Boys in the Seventh Game never changed into cricket whites and, depending upon which master was in charge and how seriously he took his duty, games might even merely consist of the boys of each side "getting out", so that the obligation of playing a game of cricket had nominally been fulfilled and everyone could wander off and do their own thing.

*"Shags": The term given to a group of people that were performing their task without any enthusiasm for whatever it was they had been tasked with. This term was often given to the 'Royal Signals', 'Royal Engineers' and 'REME' CCF sections, often populated with 4th years that would rather not be doing CCF. This term was also given the bottom team of any of the various sports.

*"Shake": A term for the wake-up duty performed by a prefect at 7.30am Monday to Saturday. On Sundays boys are allowed a soak before breakfast at 8.30am, which is followed by Mass.

*"Soak": A lie-in. During the 1950s thanks were given to St Soak at the termination of a boy's lie-in. This practice of thanks has now become extinct but the term 'soak' is still in use.

*"The Volcano": Bottom end of St Philip House Field, where a large groundstaff dumping mound takes on the form of a volcano when bonfires are lit inside. St Philip House boys are banned from going near.

*"The Wavy": Short for 'The Wavy Line', the name formerly given to the local shop in Woodcote, now called 'Londis'.

*"Wavy/Rally Field": A large field accessible via a gate at the top of the back drive, that a boy must cross in order to reach 'The Wavy'. Originally the site of the Woodcote Car Rally.


ee also

* List of independent schools in the United Kingdom
* Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference
* Oratory School

External links

* [ The Oratory School website]
* [ Old Oratorians]
* [ The Oratory Tennis Club (Real Tennis)]
* [ The Oratory Cardinals Rowing Club (Old Boys)]

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