The Richard and Rebecca Routh era 1842-1880

To draw a brief picture of the School 175 years ago, the School opened on 1st January 1842, the joint property of the Quarterly Meetings of Berks and Oxon, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire and governed by a Committee of 24 Friends living in the same counties. The Master, or Superintendent as the Head was known in those days, at £50 per annum was Richard Routh, a young bachelor of 27, Yorkshire born and bred, who had been in charge of a small endowed school at Countersett near Lake Simmerwater. He had also been farming with his brother in the Lake District. Surprisingly when Richard applied for the position at Sibford he was not a member of the Society of Friends, but became a member soon after his appointment – an early indication of the great pioneering tradition at Sibford. The Mistress, at £30 per annum, was Rebecca Thompson, a Quaker and a widow of 33 from Liverpool who had given up the prospects of comparative wealth to answer what she believed to be her vocation. A woman with a high sense of discipline and duty, she was held very much in awe by teachers and scholars with her …superior air of authority.   Richard Routh and Rebecca Thompson were married in 1845. They were married for twenty-three years when Rebecca died, comparatively young at the age of 59, in 1868. They had two sons, Richard Laycock who became the local GP and his younger brother John.

Routh could be described was a kindly disciplinarian who ran the school for the first 38 years of its life. T.P.Waites who was a teacher under Routh wrote of him from South Africa where he moved to after Sibford and said “ Richard Routh, with his vast bulk, suave manners and fatherly way, was like a warm stove in a large room. When I knew him he did no teaching but he read the Bible in a most impressive style. He spent most of his time in his office – which later became the male teachers’ common room – keeping the school accounts; at least, this is what I suppose he was doing, as it was his sanctum sanctorum, into which we entered in great awe to ‘toe the line’ and be admonished for some misdemeanour or slight move from the direct path! He was never a bully, but tact and charm itself. Other than meal times thought we saw nothing of him, but he could carve a joint in rare style.”

Over 800 children passed through the care of Richard Routh and he knew them all. Routh had managed to keep the school running with totally inadequate facilities for nearly forty years and his low key, meagre budgets were probably the reason why Sibford came to be regarded, for many years, as the ‘Cinderella’ of the Quaker schools. It is certain that the School would not have survived if there hadn’t been changes to incorporate the growing and continuing awareness of the importance of educating the whole person. Routh’s retirement heralded a new dawn that was to bring greater vision and awareness that there was a wider world beyond the dug fields and tranquillity of Sibford’s green and pleasant land.