History of St Olave's

St Olave's c1905-07

St Olave's, circa 1906

On 6 May 1876, a notice in “The Yorkshire Gazette” announced:

Mr H A Wilson (late one of the principals of St Martin’s School) purposes taking a limited number of pupils, not under 8 years of age, to prepare them for the public schools.

The Reverend Henry Andrew Wilson named his new school after the building in which it was first housed: St Olave’s House in Marygate. Pupils paid 12 guineas per annum in fees, and boarders 60 guineas, but French, German, Drawing, Music and Drilling were all extra.

The School quickly outgrew St Olave’s House, and four years later, in the spring of 1880, moved to what is now No. 50 Bootham. The School shared the building with three doctors, and boarders lived next door with Rev Wilson in No. 52. Miss Emily Annie Wilson managed all the domestic arrangements and also taught general subjects to the younger boys, as well as music throughout. Photographs from the time show the boys wearing Eton collars, knickerbockers and sailor suits.

By 1895, the School had grown to 65 boys, including 20 boarders. The Rev Wilson clearly liked to keep busy – as well as running St Olave’s, he was also Vicar of Rufforth, and there is some evidence to suggest that he was also acting as curate at St Paul’s.

In 1901 Reverend Wilson, by then living at Rufforth and cycling in daily for his teaching duties, decided to sell the school. Many St Olave’s pupils already transferred to St Peter’s, and the Head Master of St Peter’s, the Rev E C Owen, put forward plans for his school to take over St Olave’s as its preparatory school. This was the start of a partnership between the schools that has existed ever since.

St Olave’s continued to flourish; a York Directory of 1916 lists Miss Wilson as Principal. It was reported to the Governors that extension of boarding accommodation and a new form room was essential. Purchase of a house next door to the Burton Stone Inn, for £1600, was agreed.

On 3 February 1920, after around forty years of service, Miss Wilson announced her retirement. Mr & Mrs R O Goolden were appointed to take charge of St Olave’s, and on 30 July 1922 a new era began for St Olave’s with the appointment of Mr Andrew Wentworth Ping, who was to exert a lasting influence over the school.

St Olaves 1926

St Olave's, 1926

There was a proud moment for St Olave’s in July 1932 when the school entered for the American Intelligence Test, and in one section, “Knowledge”, St Olave’s was top of all competing schools in both America and England.

The boys must have been well fed in 1933 and 1934, because Mr Ping reported he was almost £300 out of pocket. At around this time, it became clear that St Olave’s had once again outgrown the buildings it was housed in, and plans were drawn up for what became the originally-named New Building (now Queen's), and which opened in 1936.

Wartime conditions caused problems. Four boys who had travelled abroad for the summer holidays of 1939 could not get back, and the school was so oversubscribed – with a record of 125 pupils in September 1941 – that the day boys had to eat in the sanatorium. The arctic weather and thoughts of possible invasion that year must have been disturbing, but the boys were kept busy, and built igloos in the snow. At that time the School was divided into four houses: Trojans, Spartans, Thebans and Etruscans.

Three days before term began in April 1942 an air raid on York brought the war very close to the School. Much of the school suffered damage from incendiary and high explosive bombs, and Olavites must have been very busy clearing up the rubble and hunting for shrapnel.

In 1946 the former Albany House was altered to become a new junior boarding house, and, in honour of Mr Ping’s long service, was re-named Wentworth with Mr Blunt as its first House Master.

In 1948 there were 188 boys. “The Olavite” appeared as a separate magazine for the first time, and December brought the very first separate Carol Service. An Air Raid Shelter on the Rise lawn was converted into a form room.

The Ping era ended in 1955, after 33 years of service, with the retirement of Mr and Mrs Ping. In September of that year, Mr J. Scott Cooper, who had been on the staff since 1935 (apart from his war service) was elected to take over the reins as Master of St Olave’s. The Houses were reorganised in 1956 - Ainsty, Elmet, Alcuin, Wentworth, and St Olave’s.

A change of Master took place in 1964 when Mr Cooper left after nine years, and was succeeded by Mr A.Tudor Howat, formerly House Master of School House. In 1967 there were 246 boys in the school, and Alcuin Lodge was converted into a separate boarding house known as Beverley, with John Mitchell as first House Master. Mr Howat continued as Master until Easter 1969, after a period of consolidation and growth.

In 1971 the 1900th Anniversary of the founding of the city was held. Part of the celebrations included the Lord Mayor’s Show of decorated floats of the history of York. Our float showed incidents from the long history of St Peter’s, and won the Lord Mayor’s Trophy for the best over-all entry in the parade.

1976 was an important year - our Centenary. A special service was held on our actual birthday, 2 May, with an ex-Olavite preacher, the Rev J N T Howat. A special hymn was written, and later a wreath of blue and white flowers was laid on the grave of our founder at Rufforth. The Current Affairs group visited Buckingham Palace to present the Queen with a silver sweet dish engraved “St Olave’s School, York, 1876-1976” to mark our centenary and our loyalty.

In 1987 St Olave's became co-educational, following St Peter's which started teaching girls in the late 1970s.

We moved onto the current Queen Anne's site in 2001, a hundred years exactly after St Peter's first acquired the school. The school has never been healthier as we write the next chapter of our story.