Sibford’s ‘Golden’ Age – The Harrods era 1906 until 1930

With the help of Sir Michael Sadler, the outstanding educationalist of the day, and Charles Stansfield of the Friends Education Committee, a new scheme was evolved and in June 1906, James and Mabel Harrod succeeded the Oddies. The School Committee had taken the unprecedented step of closing the School at the half-year break in the summer of 1906 in order to commence the new scheme for the following September. The new scheme aimed at a three year course based on a curriculum concentrating on English, mathematics, geography, science and Bible knowledge, with a wide range of educational handicrafts including sketching and painting, modelling in clay and cardboard, woodwork, metalwork and domestic science for boys as well as girls. The Jeremiahs in the Society of Friends forecast the doom of Sibford, but within a few years there were a hundred pupils and although James and Mabel Harrod were then, and always remained, gravely handicapped by inadequate buildings and equipment, such was their devotion and enthusiasm that Sibford became the pioneer of a new education. A government inspector Henry Holman said in 1912 that England ought to have hundreds of schools like Sibford; the Board of Education sought permission to inspect it; and Sibford earned the supreme accolade of identification in Everyman’s Encyclopaedia.

Many regard the Harrodian period as Sibford’s golden era. Most pupils from that time have recorded their love and affection for the Harrod’s and of their time at Sibford.

In 1986 Geoffrey Wright, who was at Sibford between 1913 and 1917 during the First World War, recalled his time at Sibford by writing in the SOSA Magazine:

 

“Perhaps I should start at the beginning or even before, because I was given an examination paper for which at the age of nine I went to the home of James Harrod’s brother, Ernest, who later told me in the arithmetic paper I managed to get every sum wrong! Despite that I was given my chance and went to Sibford in 1913.

Settling in went easily, strange as the experience was, I well remember the first morning at break time. The elder Stebbings brother was happily chatting with me and introducing me to the usages of the School when he was abruptly interrupted by a tremendous bang on the crown of my head, which I identified a few seconds later as a cricket ball from a game in the playground. I can only suppose that I must have been thick headed as the same thing happened to me on several occasions without knocking me out! I never heard whether it was considered a ‘catch’. In this way I found much the safest ploy was to join in the games so that I enjoyed in turn cricket, hockey of a kind, football and roller skating on that playground. (Pic)

From the playground one door led into the changing room where we each had a non-locking Locker. The boot cleaning was something of a surprise, there was supplied a tin tray with a large slab of ‘blacking’ surrounded with water and one had to dip the brush into the water, rubbing the blacking onto the boot, after spending a lot of time brushing until all the water evaporated and surprisingly one got a polish.

I think I must have been accident prone for later on at half term I became very ill and this turned out to be diphtheria. Henry Tarver and the under gardener came to the dormitory and folded me into the mattress and I was carried thus into the Sanatorium (Ed: Then the Ark) opposite the Manor front door. The doctor arrived at midday and injected my friend Reg Boon and me and before tea time I felt recovered and fine. From then the diphtheria travelled all round the School though it was in a mild form. With six other boys I was kept in the ‘San’ for the rest of the term and Matron moved in and became mother to us. On the whole we enjoyed nine or ten weeks thus but got behind with our learning and felt very backward the next term.

Half term was an opportunity for all to join various all day outings. If long distances were contemplated the younger ones were taken in horse drawn farm drays (wagons), these flat bottomed vehicles were fitted with seating forms and there was also the School’s donkey which drew a miniature cart filled with our lunches. So we would visit places such as Edge Hill, Whichford Woods, Rollright Stones, Compton Wynyates etc.

In the evenings we would gather in the Gym (Ed: At the Manor, now converted into cottages), and there would be organised some entertainment. We must remember that these were pre radio and TV days so spontaneous games, singing, charades etc. were normal and who is to say that this was not as good, if not better than today’s ways. In such a manner the School became a close-knit community.

I have affectionate memories of Mabel Harrod who had concern for the oneness of mankind before the term ‘third world’ was coined. She wanted to befriend all peoples and how she would have rejoiced in the mixture of children in present day Sibford.

I am forever grateful for the deep wisdom of James Harrod – one of the many things he taught me which I always remembered, was to go right back to the basics in any concern or problem. This I have found invaluable, indeed essential, in getting my thoughts clear. Another most lovable Sibfordian was Frank Parkin who I shall never forget. I got to know him so well after I had left school. His influence and inspiration must have been very great in the School. (Pic)

I could mention in turn all members of the Staff as they had so many good points, but I must mention Miss C.Reynolds who helped us appreciate good music, especially her favourite composer Mozart. Also Mr Miller whose genuine artistic feelings and temperament shone through in his contacts with us. Surprisingly, an altogether very happy period of my life during the time of the most horrible war.

I should mention that the way from Banbury train station at the start of term was by large numbers of wagonettes and similar horse-drawn vehicles each seating about six persons. Any hill we encountered had to be walked. The following day a farm dray arrived piled high with our luggage and there followed a busy time stowing clothes and other articles away and underclothing went to Matrons room.

After lunch on Saturday the eldest Form held shop in the Science room cum Library. There were piles of rosy apples and similar pyramids of boiled sweets of all colours (as visits to the local shop were discouraged). The rest of the day was our own to wander to Temple Mill, Traitors Ford and many other places including Hill Bottom where I saw my first Kingfisher – what a thrill!

The memories crowd in upon me and I could go on and on. I finish though with the memory of General Meeting always held around the 20th June, when the garden provided gooseberries so that the whole School and visitors could enjoy the luxury of gooseberry pie – a treasured memory from one June until the next”.

Geoffrey Wright 23/08/1986

By the mid nineteen twenties Sibford was ready for the next great step forward. The School had, under the Harrod’s pioneering and inspirational guidance, evolved into what in modern parlance would be described as a Comprehensive School, but it had followed a relatively non-academic curriculum, and was in danger of falling behind in not equipping its students with some essential and certifiable academic skills which would be necessary for their careers in an economy which had become more competitive since the First World War. JTH didn’t believe that a child needed to pass examinations to succeed in life. There was certainly some strong feelings either way which were debated at an old scholars gathering in 1928 when the case in favour for examinations were put by Harry Randall CBE, (an Oddie old boy) with James Harrod opposing the motion. After strenuous arguments on both sides, the motion was carried in favour of examinations, but without compulsion, and these thoughts were passed on to the School Committee.

The other problem was that the School had really outgrown the Manor and needed new purpose built facilities so a new school was built on a hill named Windmill Field which was already under the ownership of Sibford School. It was sited just above the main street and the Manor. For its time it was quite a feat of engineering as there was no electricity and no water supply. The water supply involved bringing a water pipe from Hill Bottom at Grounds Farm, where a small pumping station was built to extract water from the river Stour. The distance was a good two miles. Electricity finally arrived in 1932. Previously the new school had to be lit by paraffin lamps until the electric supply could be connected. It was opened by Dame Elizabeth Cadbury on 20th June 1930. Initially it was referred to as the ‘New School’ as opposed to the ‘Old School’ at the Manor, but it soon became commonly known as ‘The Hill.’