After 112 years, the school building that was once on the very southern edge of Wolverton, still stands and is still in daily use. Over its lifetime it has changed its name and function several times and this has caused some confusion. What follows here is a review of its history.
The Victorian Age brought a new attitude to education and Wolverton was in many respects in the forefront of educational change. The new town very quickly acquired new school for boys and girls and infants, and the buildings were opened in 1840, barely two years after the designation of Wolverton as a railway town. Gradual improvements were made in the 19th century and an Act of Parliament in 1870 made education compulsory up to the age of 13. After 1900, school provision was further enhanced. A new school for boys was opened on Church Street in 1896 and was followed a decade later by a school for girls and infants on Aylesbury Street. Both buildings are still in use today.
Even so, there was a growing recognition that this basic education was insufficient to cope with the needs of an increasingly complex society. Boys and girls left school at 13 to take jobs as servants or other entry level jobs. Boys in Wolverton had the additional advantage of being able to enter an apprenticeship in the works.
The answer was a County School. This was an entirely new institution, intended to offer better educational opportunities for brighter pupils from across North Bucks and it was not uncommon for these young people to travel from 10 miles away and to stay in accommodation in Wolverton. It was a very modern concept at the time. Most schooling since 1870 was content to provide a foundation level of literacy and numeracy amongst the general public and for the most part it was sufficient.
Of some significance was the passing of the 1902 Education Act which created Local education Authorities, which in the case of Bucks meant the County Council. School Boards were abolished and the new LEA’s had some control over the school curriculum. The larger authorities also had the money to make grants. Thus the two new schools built in Wolverton in the 20th century, the Aylesbury Street School and the Moon Street School were constructed under the auspices of the County. On the announcement it was remarked by Rev G P Soames, Chairman of the County Council Technical Education Committee, “surely in a great centre like Wolverton, with its intelligent artisans, a school of this nature must eventually prove successful.”
State aid to schools was now a possibility. Established Grammar Schools, the endowed schools, could now apply for state aid, and at the same time Counties were building their own secondary schools, which were Grammar schools in all but name. Scholarships were available but otherwise they were fee paying. An advertisement from 1907 sets the fee per pupil at 35s per term, “inclusive of books and stationery .” By the time my mother arrived at Moon Street in 1930 the fee had risen to £3 6s 8d. Per term, or £10 a year. The figure seems modest today but it did mean that it was not always affordable for many. My grandfather, for example had three children at the Moon Street school and was earning approximately £250 a year in the 1920s. Thus he had to find up to 10% of his annual income for education. Fortunately my aunt won a scholarship, so that was some relief.
The new school brought science into the curriculum, partly as a government response to the recognition that schools on the continent and in the United States were moving ahead of England in this regard. To that end the new school building, built a few years later on Moon Street, incorporate a laboratory. Some years later two more laboratories were added.
The other revolutionary aspect of the school was that it was coeducational, that is that it subscribed to the then modern belief that girls could be educated alongside boys, and, more significantly, be given equal treatment. It was the beginning of a long march to gender equality.
The new school opened on 14 January 1902 with 32 pupils, 16 boys and 16 girls. The number quickly rose to 46, but of that number only 14 were girls. Mr Leadley explained in a report to the board that “the preponderance of boys is largely accounted for by the fact that many people still regard education, solely as a process which enables a person to earn a larger income, and consequently it is not considered necessary that girls should receive so thorough education as boys.” It took many years for that attitude to change, although the end of the 1914-1918 war proved to be a turning point.
The first headmaster was LH Leadley, BA, Bsc., selected from no fewer than 140 applicants. Evidently he was a strong candidate to have prevailed over such a large number of applicants. However, he was soon in poor health and in November 1905, resigned. He was only 41 and he left the country in January 1906 for Sydney Australia, where he hoped for a more healthy climate. Presumably this helped, as he was back teaching in his native Yorkshire in 1911. He died in 1943 after what turned out to be very long life. His assistant mistress Gwendoline E Kelly, engaged as an English and French teacher had a less fortunate outcome. She taught at the new school until 1907, when she left for the new Aylesbury Grammar School but sadly died a year later at the early age of 30. She apparently caught influenza, and once pneumonia set in, medical knowledge at the time could not save her.
On the resignation of Mr Leadley, Edwin James Boyce was appointed, and for the next 30 years shaped the character of the new school. Boyce was born in Finsbury, London in 1869. His father was a meat salesman. He trained as a teacher and began his career in hackney in 1896. In 1901 he completed his B Sc at London University . The official opening of the new building at Moon Street was held on 30 January 1907, opened by Mr Tonmon Mosley, Chairman of the Bucks County Council, The new building was described as “a handsome and attractive-looking structure”, and the reporter took care to mention the provision of a hall, cloakrooms, separate entrances for girls and boys, a laboratory. Hot water heating through pipes was the most up to date system. The architects were the firm of Harrington, Ley and Kirkham of London and the builder was from Northampton, Mr E Green., The first building could accommodate 180 pupils, but in the next year two more classrooms were required. The cost was a little over £6,000.
When he arrived in Wolverton in his early 30s Mr Boyce was an experienced teacher ready to make his mark on this new school. For the time being classes were held in the Science and Art Institute on Church Street but when the new premises on Moon Street were ready in 1907 the new school found full expression. Only 34 pupils had enrolled in the first year, but that number soon rose to over 100 and continued to expand during Boyce’s tenure. By the time of his retirement in 1936 the ranks had swelled to over 250. On January 4th 1936, almost exactly 30 years after Mr Boyce joined the school, various presentations were made to honour his service and commitment.
His successor was Donald Morgan, who was equally long serving. Boyce and Morgan between them steered the school for 60 years.
The 1944 Education Act created Grammar Schools and the old County School assumed that status. Admission was through the 11+ examination and there were no fees to pay. Otherwise, little had changed. Many of the staff had been there for a generation and when I arrived in 1953 I encountered some had taught my parents. Eligible pupils came from across the whole of North Bucks, by train from Bletchley and Newport and by buses from Olney, Stony Stratford, New Bradwell and the outlying villages.
In 1958 the County decided to merge the Tech and the Grammar School and the name they chose was the Radcliffe School. Donald Morgan continued as headmaster and I assume that the head of the Tech retired. It was known as a ‘bi-lateral’ school. Integration was minimal in those first years. Two years prior to this, by the way, a new Grammar School had opened at Bletchley and most of the Bletchley area pupils opted to go there rather than travel. This created some space at Moon st. and there was a 13+ intake to fill the school. The school was therefore a “Grammar School” for a mere 14 years. I don’t know if this is some sort of record!
Two years later the new Radcliffe School was completed at the end of Aylesbury Street. The Moon Street School was vacated and subsequently occupied by the Wolverton County Secondary Modern school, hitherto on Aylesbury Street. The old 1896 and 1906 schools in that complex became a primary school.
In 1968 the County decided to make the Radcliffe School a fully comprehensive secondary school, with entry at the age of 11. There was a transition period. 11 and 12 year olds stayed at Moon streert for the first two years and transefered to the Radcliffe at 13. In 1972 the Moon Street school became a ‘middle school’, taking children from 8 to 12 years old. . At the time this was a new concept based on the theory that 11 was too young an age to expose children to the rough and tumble of life with older children. The concept was clearly the right one as the school, named Bushfield, has lasted for 50 years. After 1972, pupils moved to the Radcliffe at the age of 13.
In summary, the school on Moon Street has had these identities:
1907 – 1944 Wolverton County School
1944 – 1958 Wolverton Grammar School
1958 – 1961 The Radcliffe School
1961 – 1968 Wolverton Secondary Modern School
1968 – date Bushfield Middle School.