Horley, with a current population of around 300, is one of Oxfordshire’s most northerly villages, with its parish boundary at one point doubling as the county boundary with Warwickshire, and the Norman tower of the parish church, St. Etheldreda’s sitting atop the highest point of the village. The village has several unique features among them an active and functioning charitable trust maintained for the benefit of the physical and academic and social education of the children of the village, an active cricket club  and many other interest groups.

The Trust dates back to 1627 when a local yeoman, Michael Hardinge died leaving in his will money and land for the education of the children of Horley and the successors of a man named John French from Broughton, who presumably was a good friend. Michael Hardinge lived in what we now know as The Old School Cottage. The spelling of his surname varies from HARDING on his grave to HARDINGE in his will and the Deed of Trust.

His will, which is six pages long gives an fascinating glimpse into his life and time in which he lived, reads “I give to the inhabitants of the town of Horley and their successors for ever, one house lately built in a close called Berry Yard, to be employed as a schoolhouse for the town for ever. My will and intent is that John French of Broughton and his heirs after him shall have three sons free in the said school forever.  I have appointed certain lands to be conveyed for the maintenance of a schoolmaster to keep the free school…”

Michael Hardinge must have to have been a very wealthy, generous and philanthropic man, there are many people who benefited from his will including Lord Viscount Saye and Sele to whom he left forty pounds for him to buy two Coach Geldings.  Amusingly he gave to Solomon Andrewes of North Newington, six beasts, a house and some land provided that he ‘behaved himself honestly’ and further, for his services to Michael Harding’s executors he would be paid ten pounds a years and would receive all Michael Hardinge’s clothes except a suit which he gave to his shepherd.

Although he refers to his wife Elizabeth he appears not have had any children of his own.  He probably longed for children as many of the items referred to in his will are for the children of friends and relatives.  The apple of his eye may have the daughter of his cousin Thomas Hardinge, a young lady  named Lucretia to whom he left a large amount of money, far more than to anyone else, and most of his land in Banbury which today forms a large part of what we know as the Bretch Hill Estate.  There is no trace of Elizabeth’s grave in Horley churchyard and it may be that she moved from the village when he died.

He also gave to the Aldermen and Burgesses of Banbury forty pounds to be lent free of interest in equal portions to six poor tradesmen in the town ‘two of whom must be butchers’.  In return they must give to the Alderman and Burgesses a gallon of wine when the money is repaid.

Interestingly, it was found that nine years after his death the house, which he had bequeathed as a school, had in fact fallen down, but £13.6s.8d from the rent of the land in Banbury paid for it to be rebuilt.

The grave of Michael Hardinge lies a few yards from the south door of St. Etheldreda’s Church, Horley, Oxfordshire on one end of the grave is engraved the words.,

‘Here lyeth ye body of Michaell Harding who gave Horley his birth place a free school & quarterne of land in Nethrop (correct spelling) with a close to maintain a school MR (master?) which was then called twenty mark a year and 20 pound in money for ye use of ye poor for ever & died June 23 1627’.

On the other end of the grave are engraved the words.,

mht-grave-page-001‘At ye feet of Michael Harding lyeth the body of Mr William Jones schoolmaster here 31 years & died February 12th 1706’.  It is said that successive schoolmasters requested their remains to be buried at the feet of Michael Harding.  The first schoolmaster was also a curate at St. Etheldreda’s church, that lies adjacent to today’s school and schoolhouse.  There is also a plaque in the church in memory of one of the teachers.

Originally there was only the cottage which was in an area was known as ‘Berry’s Yard’ and it is believed that at this time when there was no state education, Michael Hardinge and his wife took the children into their house and taught them basic reading, writing and arithmetic.  This thought is supported by the fact that in the mid 1990’s we undertook a major restoration of the property which was all undertaken by local labour.  Part of the work was to put a new damp membrane under the flagstone floor of the cottage, and when we removed the flags we found slate pencils and small pieces of slate which the children had been using with their studies, and which had fallen down the cracks between the flags.

The use of the cottage as a school appears to have been in place until the mid eighteenth century when the church took over much of the education in the country, and built what we now call the small classroom.  The state later added the big classroom, outside toilets which are now store sheds and then an inside toilet block which was refurbished about ten years ago.

The will of Michael Hardinge was maintained until 1820 when the school closed for the lack of funds, but after nine months it reopened with funding from the church which added a small classroom and remained a full time school until 1969 when it closed again, this time because of the lack of pupils and a withdrawal of funding from the LEA. In February the following year it was re-opened as a field studies centre funded by The Trust and supported by the local education authority.  Today, the children of the junior schools in Banbury are still bussed to the village where they enjoy rural studies.

mht-room-page-001The Trust was formally registered as a charitable trust in 1894 after various Acts of Parliament were passed requiring it and others trusts to be so registered.

Today it is managed by six locally appointed trustees and currently two ex-officio trustees.  See list. There is a small income derived from the letting of the school and the schoolhouse, which is used to maintain and insure the buildings and to give educational grants to the children and young persons through the years of their education  This amount is reviewed by The Trustees each year and the current policy where this is concerned can be seen in Grants. Basically the children need to be aged 11 years or 16 years old be in full time education, have parents who are on the electoral role, be resident in the village at the time they qualify for the grant, and apply within or very close to the term in which they become eligible in their own handwriting to The Trustees.  Other extraordinary grants are also available for further education. For specific details see Grants.

The Trust also assists local children’s sporting and social activities and encourages them to understand and enjoy the rural surroundings in which they live.  The Trust sponsors the local junior cricket teams with funding and competition shields. A ‘Toddler Group’ meets every Monday during term time, Children’s sports and games day/evening, participation by children in the local amateur dramatic society. The school building has effectively become the village hall as there is not one in the village and is where many local events take place.   It frequently becomes a small theatre with inbuilt lighting, sound and a stage for local productions.  Thanks to a Lottery grant we have set up a village cinema ( see Cinema Club) which, each month on a Friday except during the summer, shows an up to the minute film and on the following Saturday a free children’s cinema club.  The hall can also be hired for semi formal dinners and events.

The people of Horley give us great support and the trustees are determined that The Trust will go forward and  flourish for as many more years as in the past in the spirit that Michael Hardinge intended, and are keen to continue to develop the school into a community facility for the use and benefit of all but particularly children.

The Current Chairman is Mike Patching who can be contacted on 01295 730039 for any further information required regarding history, bookings or events.