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6th March 2020

Reminiscences of Robert Wade-Gery

Throughout the years, pupils have been writing about their time at Oakham School, whether in diaries, in letters or in articles published in the school magazines. This month post is written by our Volunteer, Mr. Webb, who looked at Robert Wade-Gery’s memories of his time at school in the 19th century.   

Robert Wade–Gery was born on 15th December 1802. He joined the School in the summer of 1812 at the age of nine and left in 1820. He was one of five brothers who came to Oakham and all went on to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Robert entered the Church and was Rector of Colmworth in Huntingdonshire for 38 years.

Robert wrote down some of his schoolboy memories for the Oakham Magazine of Easter 1889 and included the following:

“I have visited Oakham two or three times in later years […] but the railway and enclosures have made alterations which quite puzzled me. I noticed that the School is not reached by a pathway through the Church-yard as in my time; and this is a great improvement; as high-spirited thoughtless boys can hardly be expected to behave with the reverence due to consecrated ground on their frequent run to and from School. Dr Doncaster’s house, the hall, and our studies, have also disappeared and new buildings taken their place […].”

The railway came to Oakham in 1848. The ‘new buildings’ were, of course, School House, completed in 1858; the north side of the quadrangle being the Headmaster’s house. These buildings replaced those previously occupied by the buildings of the Hospital of Christ, part of Archdeacon Johnson’s original foundation which, by the late eighteenth century, were partly occupied by the School and its Headmaster.

Above: The Hospital of Christ, the frontispiece of Sargant’s The Book of Oakham School, 1928, from a watercolour by the mother of the Reverend W. Spicer Wood, Headmaster 1846-75.

A photograph of School House prior to 1913.

Here is one of Robert’s most vivid memories:

“I think one of my earliest recollections is the execution of two poor fellows for housebreaking. Dr Doncaster, thinking that the little boys, of whom I was one, might get into mischief […] sent us all to the jail […] that we might see the shocking sight without danger. Perhaps the good Doctor was right in letting us go, for it certainly made a serious impression upon some of us.”

According to the Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, two men were executed in Oakham on 9th April 1813.

Robert remembers the Oakham-Melton Canal, for which the Barraclough Hall, since converted into the Q.E.T., was then the Oakham terminus. Parts of the canal are still visible on the east side of Doncaster Close as well as further north towards Melton Mowbray:

“The Canal from Oakham to Melton […] was a source of great enjoyment to us boys both in summer and winter. In summer, not only did we bathe and learn to swim, but fishing also was a very favourite amusement. It was also capital exercise, as we used to go over Brook hill to the little stream […] as often as three times a day, – first to take up our night lines, for we caught plenty of small pike and eels, and then to get bait for our canal fishing, and again to set our night lines. […] Skating also had its attractions, though only two or three of the boys could make the outside edge. How well I remember the ducking one of the boys got by being too rash! […] In spite of our warnings, one of the boys went boldly on, and reached the opposite bank in safety; but in coming back, as he was jumping and stamping to let us see how safe it was, the ice suddenly gave way, and he was immersed. […] We were terribly frightened […] Fortunately most of us possessed a pocket-handkerchief: these we quickly tied together, and, taking hold of hands, walked slowly toward him, till the foremost was near enough to throw him the handkerchief-rope, which he managed to secure, and thus was saved from a watery grave.”

Ice-skating on the Canal seems to have been very popular amongst the pupils throughout the years. In this card from 23rd December 1901, a pupil wrote that he went to Canal with his friend Bernard to go ice-skating in the morning, but that, unfortunately, in the afternoon “the ice boat had spoilt it.”

A post card with a photograph of School House.


If you have any queries on the history of Oakham School or if you would like to share your memories of school, please do get in touch and we will be happy to help!


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