No. 9. ‘Thank you’ letter, 2011


‘Dear Garry
22 A*s in Maths and 6 + 4 more respectively in Further and Additional – a really impressive performance, set alongside the most important statistic in my eyes – 60/62 grades were A*/A/B in Single Maths, a truly amazing statistic. Very well done to you and to all the team.

As ever,


An apparently simple postcard from the Director of Studies to the Head of an Academic Department, penned in AER’s signature purple ink – instantly recognisable to anyone at Radley from 1993 until 2012. On the face of it, a casual note. Digging deeper, it reveals a complex story about a fundamental debate in education over the last 160 years. Object no 7 covered the school curriculum before the advent of public exams; object no 8 looked at the role of an extra-curricular academic discipline and the impact of the enthusiasm of individual teachers. Object no 9 looks at the day-to-day business of education: the formal curriculum and the place of comparative testing between schools for pupils to achieve measurable qualifications – the public exams for A Levels. But the story of exams, results, league tables, only skims the surface of this postcard. For this is the story of exams from the ‘other’ side – not from the pupil’s point of view, concerned with the results of an individual – but from the teachers’ side. Although the postcard is addressed from one individual to another, it is about teamwork, and about saying ‘Thank you.’ For it acknowledges that, although not all taught the actual A Level classes, all the members of a department have contributed equally over a pupil’s career, and all are to be congratulated and thanked. To Read More Click Here

No. 8. The Transit of Venus. 6th June 2012

The Transit of Venus 2004 credit Charles Barclay

The Transit of Venus 2004 credit Charles Barclay

No 8 in our list of objects is an event rather than a physical object.  An event so elusive, so transient, that you can blink – and miss it.  And yet an event so regular that the challenge to record it, and to measure it accurately, has moved empires.  This is a story of the shrinking world and the expanding universe. A story that links James Cook’s great voyage to Tahiti in the 1760s to measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun, with Removes sitting in a classroom at Radley in the 2000s using the global network to harness a telescope in Hawaii to photograph the births and deaths of stars in other galaxies.
This is the story of a hobby; of long nights spent star-gazing; of the influence of great teachers on keen pupils; of the pursuit of academic excellence outside the formal curriculum; and of an event that no one now living will ever see again. THE FULL STORY

No. 7. Letter Home 1857

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St Peter’s College
Sept. 9 1857

My dear Parents

I hope that you will excuse our not writing to you by the last mail when you hear how it happened. We [were] just going out to spend the day at a gentleman’s house the other side of Oxford, and our ponies were at the door when we remembered that it was the day for writing and so Charley just wrote a line like you told us to say that we were well. To your question about having a watch, I shall answer no because I should never keep it in order. All the names of all the people who are in danger out in India are put up by the Warden on the chapel. I hope that we shall stop here next holiday for then we shall be able to ride. I suppose that the rainy season will begin soon, it seems as if we were going to have a rainy season here for we have had nothing but rain for the last two or three days. We do much harder work in our form now such as Caesar and Ovid which are both rather harder Latin than we used to do. I must now say good-bye with love to you both,

I remain

Your affectionate son

G.H. Talbot

PS. Charley told me to tell you that he has not had time to write.

A standard letter home from the younger of two brothers. It includes everything two loving parents could expect from a thirteen year-old: excuses about not writing, obsession with ponies, answer to a question about what he wants for his birthday (on 25th September), talk about the weather, academic progress, more excuses from his fifteen year-old older brother. But this letter home will travel by overland mail, as will their reply, and although Gerald Talbot writes home every two weeks (whenever he is not too busy) it will take nearly a month to arrive, and another month before he receives a reply. That is, if he ever does receive a reply. For Gerald’s father is stationed in Calcutta as Secretary to Lord Canning, Governor-General of India, and news about the Sepoy Rebellion which started at Meerut on 10th May 1857 has been filtering through to Britain since June 9th. To Read More Click Here

No. 6. Pewter tankard 1913

Object no. 6 represents hundreds of similar tankards awarded for rowing. It is engraved with the names of the five crewmembers, four rowers and the cox, of a four which competed in an event on the Thames in March 1913. As a beer tankard it is unremarkable, and has served its turn for flower arrangements. As an archival record, it is a useful indicator of health and fitness, since it records the weights of the crew, which can be compared with modern crews. As a record of the school’s history, it bears the names of individuals, grouped together relatively randomly for this one event. But as a historic record, it evokes a fleeting, happy moment at the end of the long, golden Edwardian summer: 1913 – a date which resonates in the nation’s history. Click Here for more

No. 5. JRS’s PhD thesis – SAVED 1996

A 3.5 inch floppy diskThe Radleian 1991: We congratulate Dr JR Summerly on being awarded his PhD from the University of Durham. His doctorial thesis ‘Studies in the Legionary Centuriate’ is unusually Thatcherite in that it was begun in the week of the former Prime Minister’s first election victory in 1979 and submitted three days before her resignation in 1990.

The Radleian 1996: Radley 19th-20th June. Awareness of someone banging on the door and then a real thump on the partition and David Coulton speaking loudly, ‘Jim, it’s a fire, in Common Room.’ Dashed out of bed and through the flat. Smoke smell on the corridor. Fire alarm and burglar alarm going off. … The Common Room door showed half an inch of yellow light all round it … Ran down the rest of the stairs and out of the building. … The fire red and strong back from the window in the pigeon-hole room, sheets of flame behind the windows in Common Room. I thought the building was gone. Dashed around to the front and went back up the stairs. Aware of wrong decision. Grabbed writing box with thesis disc, photos and passport…’ Jim Summerly.

Fire in the Mansion – the worst disaster in the history of Radley College. What would YOU save?
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No. 4. Film Reel 1979

Film ReelA canister containing a spool of 35mm film, labelled BBC ‘The school Radley College’ sync rushes 540, footage 1900. This is one of over one hundred similar spools of film which between them contain more than fifty hours of footage filmed across a span of ten months in 1979. This footage was edited to create ten thirty-minute programmes for a BBC2 documentary Public School, which was broadcast between 17th January and 20th March 1980. Object No 3 was an informal Youtube film, created by a parent using a hand-held digital device, edited by members of the soccer team, presented to the world over the internet, without input from the school’s authorities, with the option of added a comment if you want. A comparison of the two objects demonstrates the huge changes in film and recording technology which have taken place over the last thirty years, and the resultant changes in communication and information dissemination. This is about controlling the image; about the public exposure of private life; about definitions of reality; about seeing only what you want to see.

Camera ManThroughout ten months of 1979 a BBC film crew of four people lived and worked in Radley. They made a fly-on-the-wall documentary about life in a boarding school. Ten episodes were broadcast on BBC2 in February and March 1980. Each episode featured an aspect of life at the school, beginning with the arrival of a new boy, James Lovegrove, and the introduction of the Warden Denis Silk. Some episodes became classics of reality TV, introducing larger-than life characters such as flamboyant maths teacher and Sub-Warden, David Goldsmith, in the episode ‘Schoolmastering is just acting.’ Others caused outrage, such as ‘The times have changed’ in which the boys talked openly and frankly about sexuality. The most acclaimed episode featured Hugo Chapman, then experiencing the ‘dark tunnel of adolescence’ – disaffected both with home and school, on a CCF Navy exercise canoeing in Perthshire. The series provoked a huge political debate among the critics, and won a BAFTA.
Click Here For the Full Story

No. 3. Soccer Victory on Youtube 2011

Item no 3 in our list of 100 objects is technically not an object at all. There are several related objects which could tell the story, but none so well as witnessing the real event – the tension, the passion, the heart-break, the nail-biting finish of a penalty shoot-out, and all set to the pounding rhythms of Oasis and The Black Eyed Peas. This is communication in the 21st century – immediate, shared, interactive, jointly constructed by players, coaches and spectators.

But there is more to this story than technology. This is a story over twenty years in the making. This is a story about soccer versus rugger, about amateur versus professional, about the reliability of the official record, about suppression, about class division, about mythology and journalism. Above all, about triumph – a triumph achieved after one hundred years. And about how Radley College Association Football Club won the LB Cup. To read more click here.

LATEST NEWS In March 2016 Radley Soccer XI won the LB Cup for the second time in the Club’s history, beating Habersdashers’ in the final on penalties. Review  and video of the match on the school website.  They successfully defended their title in 2017 against Oakham. So have now won the LB Cup Final two years in a row.

Soames Shield

No. 2. Shield from Hall 1947

An oak shield measuring 32cm made by Rogers, 51 High Street, Oxford in 1947. It is painted with the arms and motto of the Soames family with a carved wooden hanging strap painted with the name and date of the donor. Object no. 1 in this series was a single item – the only survivor from hundreds of its kind. An item which would have been so familiar to all members of the school that the importance of the whole collection of desk lids to future generations was overlooked, and all except one solitary survivor discarded in the 1920s. Object no. 2 is also totally familiar to nearly everybody in the school. Every time prospective parents are shown around or somebody invites a guest to a meal in Hall, it is a talking point. But the single object is very rarely seen on its own. It is an integral part of a Radley institution which comprises nearly 370 individual objects. Should a single shield be separated from its context it becomes a nuisance, lying around in an office or workshop awaiting repair, anonymous, and in danger of being lost. This is about context and familiarity; it is about status and identity; it is about commemoration across generations; about how long it takes for an idea to become a tradition; and about the inquiring mind of a schoolboy. To read more click here.

No. 1. 1890's Desk Lid

No. 1. Desk lid, 1890s

A lid from an oak desk of the kind in use in Big School from the 1860s until the 1920s. For nearly eighty years every boy in the school sat behind a desk like this, and for nearly eighty years the desk lids were the primary (officially the only, and always unofficial) graffitied objects in the school. The desk lids became so iconic that when the desks went out of use in the 1920s, Warden Fox proposed that the lids should be saved and used to panel Covered Passage. In the end, after months of languishing in storage in the Old Gym, only four desk lids survived, three to be made into the back of a garden bench now long decayed and thrown away, and one, chosen at random, to be kept forever as a museum piece. This is about public and private space; it is about the relationship between schoolboy and classroom, and between schoolboy and teacher; it is about the temporary and the permanent; and about anonymity and making your mark. To read more click here.