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1st April 2021

Oakham School Museum

The Oakham School museum collection stems from the desires of one of the school’s most notable headmasters: W. L. Sargant. At the beginning of his headmastership, he began a largescale refurbishment of the Old School, spending £350 removing the plaster ceiling, unblocking the north facing windows, and inserting a small internal porch. One of the most notable changes that Sargant made was commissioning his sister, Mrs Sargant-Florence, to complete eight large frescoes on the walls of Old School focusing on the story of Gareth and Lynette.[1]

It was during this refurbishment in 1904 that we get the first mention of plans to install a museum at the school: “Old School is being restored and fitted as a Reading Room and Museum”.[2] It has been argued that the prime motive for creating a museum was education: to enable the boys to study archaeological and natural history specimens.[3] As such, the museum began by building a collection of “human artifacts, Roman and Anglo-Saxon in particular”.[4]

Between 1906 and 1908 there are two references within the Oakhamian magazine relating to donations. One is a confirmation of an acquisition of fossils from E. H. V. Hodge. The other is a request for natural history specimens such as birds eggs, butterflies and insects.[5] So the school was actively collecting material as well as being a passive accepter of donations.

With the First World War raging, there is a silence within the records of about thirteen years regarding the school museum. In 1921, Sargant wrote a letter to the Oakhamian magazine. His letter reveals that museum business halted in 1913 – 1914 and Sargant’s desires for the growth of the museum and its collection over the next couple of years including focusing on English and English school life artefacts. What is particularly interesting is that Sargant appeals to current pupils and Old Oakhamians to donate items to the collection – in a sense making the museum made by and for Oakhamians.[6]

Sargan’ts 1921 Oakhamian letter. 

What follows in the 1920s is a flurry of donations to the museum including flints, Kingfisher’s eggs, coins, pottery, butterflies, curios and pavements to name but a few. Items came from members both within and external to the school’s community.

In Summer 1925, a master called Mr Johnson made some attempt to redisplay items and a major collection of Saxon objects from a gravesite was donated.

The 1930s saw a relative quietness for the museum with the only mention of donations coming in 1939 when we see more Anglo-Saxon objects, copper dishes and butterflies given to the collection.[7]

A photograph of the interior of Old School and the museum cases in situ.

The late 1940s and 1950s is when we find the greatest documented evidence for museum activity in the school. John Barber set about the monumental task of overhauling the collection, “removing and cleaning exhibits, cleaning and painting cases, and re-labeling”.[8] He was helped in his endeavours by several pupils. From then on, we find a regular section within our magazines regarding not only donations to the collection but also the School’s museum being used to assist in archaeological digs.

The dig at Great Casterton dominated the 1950s. It began in 1949 when Mr. E. G. Bolton approached the School’s museum curator for advice on a Roman mosaic found.[9] This led to Oakham students, along with some of Bolton’s students from his own school, excavating the site in 1949 – 1950. From then on, the University of Nottingham took over the running of the site and dig, but still allowed Oakham pupils to assist each summer.[10] The school magazine proudly updated school pupils and staff on the progress of the dig and its finds. These artefacts would eventually find their way into the Oakham School collection in the Winter of 1957.[11]

Students being taught in Old School surrounded by the museum cases. 

The School Museum has, throughout the years attracted notable archaeologists and experts in their fields to visit and give speeches to students. In the Summer of 1955, members of the Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain, including experts like Dr. Kathleen Kenyon who led the British excavations in Jericho, visited the museum.[12] Some of the items within the Oakham School collection have also be studied in academic articles such as 2 bronze brooches which was featured in an article by Professor E. T. Leeds in the  Antiquaries Journal, ed. XXVIII.[13]

For a long while, Oakham School Museum was the only museum for the county of Rutland. It has been argued by some such as Barber that Oakham School’s collection, along with that of E. G. Bolton’s, were the foundation stone of a county museum. Indeed, in 1968 the whole of the Oakham School collection was transferred on permanent loan to the new Rutland County Museum. It seems that despite its beginnings as an education tool for Oakham School pupils, the museum and its collection evolved and became a place for “stewardship in keeping these Rutland exhibits safe and sounds within the country, until such time as it had a worthy Museum of its own”.

The collection remains under the safe keeping of the Rutland County Museum today where everyone can view the treasures that have been collected for over a century.

A graph to show the percentage of items (based upon period) in the Oakham School museum collection. 


[1] John Barber, The Story of Oakham School, pp. 106 – 107.

[2] Old Oakhamian Calendar, 1904, volume 3, p. 44.

[3] Barber, The Story of Oakham School, p. 107.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Oakhamian Magazine, Spring 1906, volume 22, no. 1, p. 2; Oakhamian Magazine, Summer 1908, volume 24, no. 2, p. 28.

[6] Oakhamian Magazine, Spring 1921, volume 37, no. 1, p. 16.

[7] Oakhamian Magazine, Winter 1939, volume 54, p. 5.

[8] Oakhamian Magazine, Spring 1948, volume 63, p. 2.

[9] Oakhamian Magazine, Spring 1949, volume 64, p. 14.

[10] Oakhamian Magazine, Summer 1950, volume 65, pp. 8 – 9.

[11] Oakhamian Magazine, Winter 1957, volume 72, p. 37.

[12] Oakhamian Magazine, Summer 1955, volume 70, p. 2.

[13] Oakhamian Magazine, Summer 1948, volume 63, p. 14.

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