October 14th 1921

35 years ago today the founding headmaster Arthur Edward Clarke succumbed to pneumonia, aged only 33. Much has happened in the years since then, but the school owes a lot to the work he did in the first ten years of its life. Today is a good moment to share this appreciation of his life, which was published in the Oxford Magazine on October 20th, 1886.

The Rev. Arthur Clarke

“Resident Oxford has seldom been so sadly shocked as it was on Friday [15th] to hear of the sudden and untimely death of the Rev. AE Clarke, Headmaster of the well-known school in the Crick Road. It is not at all too much to say that his death is a public loss to Oxford, and even to the educational world, to which his school was beginning to be a real model and example.

Mr Clarke was one of the innumerable pupils of Mr Walker, at Manchester Grammar School, who obtained open scholarships. He won a Demyship at Magdalen, and came up to Oxford in 1872. He took a Second Class in Classical Moderations in 1873, and a Second Class in Literae Humaniores in 1876.

As an Undergraduate he was fairly well known, and liked and esteemed by all who knew him; Mr Walker in particular, his Headmaster, had always a particularly high opinion of him; and when the Oxford parents, headed by the Dean of Christ Church, were anxious to find some one to conduct a school for their sons, strongly recommended Mr Clarke as the very man for the task.

That recommendation has now been more than justified in the record of what has been popularly known as the ‘Dragons’ School. Mr Clarke’s tact, judgement, and, above all, untiring diligence and modest quiet devotion to his work, began almost from the first to bear fruit in the success of his pupils, and still more in the tone and character he impressed on them.

The outward success of this school culminated this summer when five of his boys were elected at once upon the Foundation Roll of Winchester College. But Mr Clarke, though he could thus beat the crammers, if indeed that name ought to be used at all, on their own ground,  was certainly no mere crammer, but a man of wide sympathy and high principle, who endeavoured to make his school good first, and successful afterwards. And so it was the fact that there was, when he died the other day, probably no better preparatory school in Oxford.

In 1883 Mr Clarke became ordained, and to the day of his death added to his school duties the work of a curate at St. Peter’s-in-the-East, and he had recently, we believe, assisted in the mission held there.

‘Il n’y a pas d’homme nécessaire’, says the cynical French proverb. Mr Clarke, so modest, so unassuming was he, would have been the very last to think he could be the man to belie this maxim. Yet so it is, and the highest tribute to his work is the fact that seldom has there been such a sense of practical personal loss in Oxford, and that in ever so many homes his boys are lamenting,  with a true grief, the loss of a real and loved friend, while their parents ask with a further-sighted anxiety and despair, whether any one can be found to do such justice to their children, to make so much of the all-important years of their early life.”

1881. The Headmaster, Mr AE Clarke, and the boys of the OPS

In this, the earliest surviving school photograph, are three boys who have appeared on these pages in recent times:

Arthur Percival –   an early casualty of The Great War in November 1914.

Reginald Tyrwhitt – who is now Admiral Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt KCB DSO and famously took the surrender of the German submarine fleet at the end of the War.

Edmund Deane – who came over with the Canadian Army only to be killed on the Western Front in June 1916.

September 21st 1917

Today is the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Oxford Preparatory School, or the Oxford Little Boys’ School as it was first known, in 1877.

As shown in this notification in the University Gazette, there were 30 founders, including four Heads of Colleges and seven Professors.

AE Clarke, Headmaster 1877-86

Two rooms were rented at 26 St Giles, known then as Balliol Hall, and Mr Clarke was appointed as the first headmaster. The first intake consisted of 14 boys, including the son of the Dean of Christ Church, Lionel Liddell.  What a shame his older sister (of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ fame) was too old to be a Dragon!

A number of these founders had sons who have featured on these pages. Rev. Tyrwhitt is the father of Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt and W Esson is the father of Major William Esson (killed when HMS Russell sank). Professor Price’s son, Lieut-Col Bartholomew Price, won the DSO in the South African War as well as being ‘Promoted for Service in the Field’ in the current war.

Mr Clarke took me on as an assistant master in 1882 and a strong personal relationship grew up between us over the following years. He was most forbearing with the many mistakes made by a young and untrained teacher, and let me run the games and out-of-school activities in my own way without interference.

Once he obviously should have given me the sack when, after taking the Cricket XI in a brake to Cothill, on our return we found a police sergeant awaiting us at the Boarding House, and with him a rubicund gentleman with a bandaged eye who complained that we had all shot at him with pea-shooters when crossing Folly Bridge!

I have to admit that, having confiscated said item on the outward journey, the real culprit was not any of the boys…