The Oratory Prep School traces its origins to John Henry Newman, a former Anglican Oxford intellectual who became a Catholic and was later made a Cardinal. He was canonised by Pope Francis during an open-air Mass in Rome on 13th October 2019.
The school opened on 2nd May 1859 with nine boys on roll, all of prep school age. In 1922, The Oratory School moved to Caversham Park near Reading. Three years on, and less than a mile away, The Oratory Prep School opened with just four boys at Rose Hill House, a Georgian-style mansion in Emmer Green. The first Headmaster was Father Sebastian Ritchie and by 1930 there were 30 boys.
In 1938, ill health forced Father Ritchie’s retirement and mounting financial difficulties meant that Rose Hill had to be sold and the Oratory Prep School took the top floor of Caversham Park with 15 boys and Ronald Richings as Head. By 1940 there were over 50 boys.
In 1941, Caversham Park was sold and The Oratory Prep School merged with Worth Preparatory School at a temporary wartime home at Downside. After only two terms, The Oratory School re-established itself at Woodcote House and three cottages in Exlade Street forming a school for a small number of younger boys aged 10 to 13, pending the opening of a new Prep School.
In 1946, The Oratory Prep School reopened its doors to 35 boys at the ‘Old Ryde’, a mansion at the Branksome Park end of Poole. The Headmaster was Antony Patton. He was succeeded by Cyril Bull and then in 1958 by Christopher Maude.
Maude’s retirement in 1968 coincided with the move from Branksome to the Prep School’s current site in Crays Pond. This was only two miles from The Oratory School and the former home of the Prep School to St Mary’s, Wantage. The nuns had converted and extended the billiards room of the house into a chapel for their services and it was reconsecrated as a Catholic Chapel in 1968. Ever since, it has been used for Mass as part of the school’s Catholic life. Ninety five boys from Branksome joined with 25 from Elston Hall near Newark, bringing the numbers up to their highest ever.
Patrick Stow was now the Headmaster and in 1970 a Pre-Preparatory Department opened with 21 pupils, including girls for the first time. George Robertson was appointed Headmaster from 1977 to 1981. The headship of Michael Randell from 1981 to 1991 marked the beginning of major projects and building developments, further accelerated under Sexon’s headship between 1991 and 2006. The school became fully co-educational and total numbers grew to over 400 pupils. On David’s retirement, Richard Hillier became Headmaster for the next four years. When, in 2010, Hillier took over the headship at the Yehudi Menuhin International Music School, Joseph Smith became the eleventh Headmaster, followed by Rob Stewart, former teacher and housemaster at Eton, who took over as Headmaster in January 2017.
In September 2022, Andrew De Silva, former Head of the Junior School at St Edmund’s School in Canterbury, will become the thirteenth Headmaster of The Oratory Prep School.