Banburyshire Family History

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go back to the last page you were on A Jewel in the City's Crown

Smokey

Had I been a grammar school pupil in 1650 it is the building that I would have attended. Even then it was 500 years old. It is so familiar to current citizens that it is obviously invisible, despite standing on a corner of a busy road junction in the heart of the City.

It could have been a jewel in the City's crown, but stands, boarded up and neglected, as a shameful insight into the state of the municipal soul.

Built mainly from the local soft sandstone, the walls reflect a history of changing function and style. In the 1100s it was a chapel for the Hospital of St John, under the jurisdiction of the Priory of St. Mary, now being rediscovered alongside the new cathedral.

Two huge Norman arches either side of the rectangular building reveal the previous existence of side aisles, but these have long since been blocked up. Large windows of reticulated tracery clearly date from the 1300s but several pieces of glass are missing and large areas have been boarded with wood or wire mesh.

In 1545 the hospital was closed and shortly afterward the building housed a grammar school, with pupils using its choir stalls as benches. Much later in 1885 the school transferred to where I, "with satchel and shining morning face, crept like snail unwillingly".

A peeling signboard alongside the Norman doorway records its use in Victorian times as a meeting house for the Boys Brigade, but by the 1950s this was apparently limited to occasional jumble sales on Saturday mornings.

I have to believe that the current grammar school has no legal or moral obligation for this historic building. It was never mentioned during my tenancy, and clearly the school has no interest in its maintenance or existence.

The impression given is that when its condition has deteriorated to the point of danger then it will be happily torn down to release a prime commercial site. In any other midland town it would be considered as a valuable inheritance. In a city which voluntarily destroyed more mediaeval buildings than the German air force, it is obviously an embarrassment.

Not 300 yards away, millions of pounds have been invested in a new museum of transport. The municipal view of history is much shorter than mine ....

Written by Smokey