A History of School House
School House was created as a purpose-built boarding house for the Dragon in 1910. From Christmas 1900, boarders had all been housed under one roof at 30 and 32 Bardwell Road, the present Gunga Din. However, as the school’s reputation and popularity grew, pupil numbers began to climb, and by 1909 more boarding accommodation was required. Charles Lynam, father of two of the Dragon’s most influential headmasters, Skipper and Hum Lynam, was called upon to draw up plans for what was to become known as School House (pictured right). Lynam had already made a lasting impression upon the school as architect; his design for new school buildings at the bottom of Bardwell Road had been realised in 1894, and in 1920 the school’s Memorial Cross was built at the bottom of the playing fields to his design.
As with the Memorial Cross, Charles Lynam’s plans were soon appearing in the pages of the Draconian. The foundations were laid, despite ‘a tendency amongst Dragons to use the preliminary excavations for the construction of forts and similar hide-outs’, and building went smoothly. By the Easter term of 1910, ‘School Notes’ could report ‘The Boarding House is a splendid building and it has been a great interest to watch its rapid growth. It looks very huge and imposing and seems to stretch out its great arms to catch all of the sunshine. The three old elm trees are a great feature, and there will be a nice tennis lawn in front.’ At the end of the summer term of 1910, a Fancy Dress Dance (pictured below) was held to commemorate the opening of School House, with dancing in the Dining Room and somewhat over-use of the Luggage Lift.
The Skipper announced that the new house was designed to accommodate fifty boarders, adding ‘… - and we shall not exceed that number.’ Just over a year later, he was reporting that it had been so well planned that it was able to take sixty boarders quite comfortably. Numbers continued to swell; some twenty years later, according to The Dragon Century, ‘during the first visit by the Ministry of Education, a huddle of H.M. Inspectors were seen in a dormitory plying a tape-measure between the beds in a rather sinister manner.’
School House’s design -an elegant three-storied building built at an angle, with two small wings to catch the sun- was strikingly modern for the period. John Betjeman wrote of Charles Lynam that he was ‘… a long way ahead of his time. While most architects were still building in revived Gothic or French Renaissance for public buildings, Charles Lynam designed the Dragon School buildings in a severely practical manner which yet fits in with the red brick part of North Oxford.’ Its functional success, to which Betjeman, who boarded for four years from 1916, attributed to it having been designed ‘from the inside outwards, that is to say the plan came first and the elevation afterwards’ must have largely been the result of Lynam’s unique insight into the school’s needs.
Features of the new building included a Dark Room, which was a somewhat uncommon amenity for the time and one probably suggested to the architect by his second son, Robert Garner Lynam, the School Doctor for 32 years, as well as the architect’s most striking innovation, the Plunge Bath. This was a 10ft by 10ft, 4ft deep pool, lead-lined and unheatable, into which the boys had to jump before breakfast. A shilling reward was given to any boy who could claim not to have missed a plunge during a winter term. The Plunge, which remained in constant use for the next fifty-two years, was probably built at the behest of the Skipper, many of whose Christmas Holidays included a daily dive from the deck of his boat, the Blue Dragon, into some chilly Scottish waters.
A century after it was built, School House remains a boarding house for senior boys, and is now also home to a number of school offices.