Charles Lynam was an undergraduate at Hertford College in Oxford, before joining the staff of the Oxford Preparatory School (OPS) in 1882. Four years later the Headmaster, Rev AE Clarke, died suddenly and Charles took over the school.
Charles had a great liking for the sea and invited friends (including some staff), to sail with him. Not only was he the skipper of his boat, ‘Blue Dragon’, but he also became the Skipper of the OPS. “I confess to not attaching much importance to outward politeness,” he said. “I hate to be called ‘Sir’ every half-minute; I prefer to be called ‘Skipper’.” And so he was.
He became one of the leading headmasters of his generation and revered by all the staff who served under him and the boys (and later, girls) who attended the school.
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The Skipper’s contribution to the education of generations of ‘Dragons’ was immense. That his ‘Old Boys’ should have such fond memories and display such loyalty both to him and the school, was very unusual, to say the least. As one Old Boy, Hugh Sidgwick, observed, “unlike almost any other private school one has ever heard of, the OPS has its distinctive spirit and ethos, such that it makes an appeal and evokes a loyalty similar in kind to those of the best public schools.”
A contemporary, Walter Moberly, recalled a speech made by Hugh Sidgwick at an Old Boys’ Dinner on the nature of the school and the people it produced:
“He went on to ask what the distinctive character of the School and its training is. He found it in the Skipper’s refusal to force his boys into one or other of two or three conventional moulds, in his positive encouragement of originality, in the opportunity given to boys to discover their own peculiar interests and gifts; so that, if you were to collect a number of Old Boys in after-life and to ask what was the common stamp that the School had set on them, you would be able to point to no single machine-made quality, but you might observe that every one was very much himself.”
What stands out is the greater independence Skipper allowed – much envied by the boys of nearby Summer Fields School. They could not ride about on their bikes, as OPS boys did, or roam the River Cherwell unsupervised, “ragging about in four-oared boats or canoes.”
All very reminiscent of ‘Swallows and Amazons,’ it was a more adventurous approach to life, summarized in Ransome’s famous words, “Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers, won’t drown.”
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Skipper maintained close friendships with many of the boys who came to the school – and their families – such that when it came to the war years they continued to visit and correspond.