(September 2022) Amateur film making at Sibford School in 1928

The Braithwaite family of Castle House in the Market Place, Banbury took a keen interest in the life and work at Sibford School from its inception in 1842. In 1928 Mrs Braithwaite’s brother, Dr Edgar C Morland, in conjunction with Leslie Baily, wrote and produced a cinematic film to show everyday life at Sibford School from 1842-1928. Scenes in the story are woven round the old elm tree which stood at the cross roads, half a mile from the village of Sibford Ferris. The inspiration behind the film was to introduce to others the Quaker ethos, methods and activities by showing all aspects of life at the school.

Staff, pupils and Old Scholars eagerly supported and took part in the project which received accolades from the Cinematic Society. The film illustrated the early days, when, on the 6th day of the 9th month in 1841, Joseph Gillett of the Banbury Meeting of Quakers purchased ‘the great house and premises of Joseph Harris in Sibford Ferris for £1200, for the purposes of having a school.’ Sibford School opened the following year in 1842 and in those early days the pupils received a simple, practical, domestic and agricultural training. Quaker discipline was strict and music and dancing were considered to be ‘agents of the devil’.

Some of the early scenes ranged from milking cows under the direction of a local farmer to working on the estate. Boys were seen harnessing the Master’s horse, playing marbles and performing the weekly duty of washing their feet in pig-tubs. The girls carried out household duties, sewed the boy’s shirts and, in their spare time, were seen skipping or walking in a prim maidenly fashion across the fields! Special treats included visits to Edge Hill, Whichford Woods and Traitor’s Ford. A fully laden moke (donkey) cart transported all the picnic food to their destination with all the children enthusiastically cheering if their journey passed the Old Elm.

Sibford School was one of the very first co-educational schools in the country and in a series of rapid scenes aspects of co-educational life were captured: – fire drills on the steep outdoor staircase, roller skating, cricket and country dancing on the lawn. Following the rising bell at 6.45am, sleepy children were seen making their way for their morning dip in the swimming bath through to the daily duties of sweeping and dusting. During morning school, the boys and girls were engaged in a range of arts and crafts (girls at woodwork and boys at cookery!) as well as geography, local surveys, mathematics, science and modern languages. There was the rush for lunch at 11, then dinner and afternoon tea and later the evening devotions. The scholars were filmed walking across the fields three times a week to attend ‘Meeting’ at the Quaker Meeting House in the Gower. This gave an opportunity to show the wonderful countryside in which the school was set. A glimpse into the future was also shown where the headmaster’s wife was filmed breaking ground and removing the first sod while pupils were seen gallantly digging foundations for a new school to be started ‘ere long’ on the brow of a hill close to the original Sibford Ferris Manor building. A spring was purchased from Joshua Lamb to provide a new water supply and plans of the new buildings were rumoured to the Old Elm because the old school buildings were seen to be inadequate for up-to-date educational requirements. Two years later the new school buildings were completed and declared free of debt.

Maureen Hicks