In the earliest days of the school, the students and staff lived and worked in "Old" School House.
The classrooms of the early decades of the school’s history can be compared perhaps unfavourably with their 21st century versions. The absence of sophisticated technological devices is obvious – less obvious is the likelihood that heating and lighting were inadequate in the first few years. Morning lessons began at 7.00 am with a 15-minute Scripture repetition and then the first of six 45-minute morning lessons. The classroom in the photo is now the Cadbury Room.
In the early years of the school, science was not taught as individual subjects. The original laboratories were part of the Alfred Waterhouse 1892 extensions. Leighton Park soon established itself as particularly strong in science education, and indeed one of the first four pupils, Leonard Doncaster led a long line of eminent scientists educated at LP. It is interesting to note that at one time teaching facilities were so limited that the gymnasium had to be used for some lessons. Craft was in the curriculum, but is was also practised to a very significant extent in the pupils’ extensive programme of hobbies.
The oldest pupils in the school were given their own studies. Those who were appointed prefects were expected, in return for defined privileges such as choice of study, to undertake a number of duties. In a very early document (c1899) these are summarised as ‘to interfere, in all cases that escape the attention of the masters, in all cases of conduct that is discreditable to the school or injurious to its tone or to well-being of individual boys’ Examples of such misconduct include sitting at meals with hands in one’s pockets, leaving silk hats in the hall on Mondays, and wearing slippers out of doors.
Boys attended Meeting for Worship at Reading Meeting House every Sunday morning and evening. Wearing top hats and best suits, they walked in procession (the crocodile) each way, and often had to endure mocking remarks from bystanders. Their Sundays were very structured. Their morning visit to Reading Meeting House was preceded by a 45-minute Scripture lesson, and one hour in the afternoon was devoted to supervised letter-writing.
The early dormitories would not satisfy modern-day expectations and requirements, but had to be home from home. Boys rarely visited their family homes during the term. Strict rules were in force to ensure tidiness, and boys whose beds were found to be unsatisfactorily made at the breakfast check were fined a penny. All boys were expected to be in bed at 09.30 pm, at which time the gas lamps were turned out.
John B. Ridges (Headmaster 1899 to 1910) is described in S. W. Brown’s book ‘The History of Leighton Park’ as ‘an enthusiastic man of high principles, cultured and gifted too, was more in his element in the classroom than in administration’. His wife, Blanche, played a very active part in the school and spoke up in favour of the role of women in school debates. Together, Mr and Mrs Ridges maintained a happy family atmosphere in the school.