Headington history: Schools

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Miss Steff’s School

Tin hut that was Miss Steff’s School

Left: This corrugated iron hut that still stands beside 41 St Andrew’s Road was once the premises of Miss Steff’s School, which operated at this house from c.1889 to 1939. It is uncertain at what point the children ceased to be taught in the house and moved into the hut.

Parents in the late nineteenth century paid for their children aged between three and seven to attend this school rather than Old Headington Infant School or New Headington Infant School.

The school in the iron hut which catered for forty pupils continued to flourish until Miss Steff's death in 1939


Elizabeth Ann Steff was born in Leamington, Warwickshire near the beginning of 1858, the second daughter of William Steff of Suffolk and Sarah Hinton of Ducklington, who were both working as servants in Oxford when they were married at Holy Trinity Church in St Ebbe's on 3 March 1856. Their eldest daughter Sarah Hinton Steff was born in Oxford in 1857.

They must have moved to Warwick soon after Sarah's birth, but by the time of the 1861 census they had moved to Church Lane, Headington. (Elizabeth's aunt Rachel Hinton had married Charles “Puggler” Taylor of the Swan Inn in the Croft in 1854, and this may have encouraged the Steffs to move there.)

Elizabeth's father served as the butler at the Rookery for the Revd John W. A. Taylor and his family, and he spent the census nights of 1861, 1871, and 1881 there.

Elizabeth's parents had four more children in Headington, all baptised at St Andrew’s Church: Harry in 1863, Kate in 1865, Edwin in 1867, and Alice in 1869.

In 1871 Elizabeth (13) was living at Church Lane with her mother Sarah (40) and her younger siblings William (11), Harry (7), Kate (5), Edwin (4), and Alice (1)

In 1873, at the age of 14, Elizabeth was already a monitor at the Headington National School (now St Andrew's Primary).

In 1881 Elizabeth (23) was working as a governess and living with her mother and brothers William and Edwin at 41 St Andrew's Road.

At some point between 1881 and 1891 Elizabeth started up a small school at her parents' house, and at the time of the 1891 census she was described as a schoolmistress, living with her retired parents at 41 St Andrew's Road (then described as Rookery Road).

It is not certain when the tin school was erected to remove the teaching from the house. The class eventually numbered about forty children.

Miss Steff's house and schoolThe Steffs' house with the tin school is on the right of this pair

The two Headington primary schools were constantly being castigated by the School Inspector for admitting children under the age of three, who disrupted the work, but it is unclear whether Miss Steff admitted children who were that young.

School fees were abolished in 1891, but although Old Headington and New Headington Infant School no longer charged, this paying school continued to thrive. The children would have remained at Miss Steff’s School until they were seven, and then have gone straight on to the National School on the London Road, avoiding infant school altogether.

Elizabeth Steff's mother died in 1897, and at the time of the 1901 census she was living at 39 St Andrew's Road with her 82-year-old father. She was again described as a schoolmistress on her own account.

Her father died in 1908, and the 1911 census shows Miss Elizabeth Steff (53) living in the house on her own. The house was now described as being "on the bank" in Old Headington, and Miss Steff as a private teacher.

Miss Steff retired at the age of 72 in 1931, and continued to live in the house while first Mrs E. C. Steenbuck and then Mrs Ward ran the school in the hut.

Following Miss Steff's retirement in 1931, Mrs E. C. Steenbuck and then Mrs Ward ran the school in the hut, while Miss Steff lived in the main house. (Mrs Steenbuck had opened St Anne's School in Headington by 1935.)

Miss Steff was still living at 41 St Andrew's Road when she died at the London Road Hospital (the former workhouse building) at the age of 81 in 1939. Her funeral was at St Andrew's Church on 9 February, and she and was buried in Headington Cemetery.

The school closed on her death.

In 1945 Kelly's Directory lists an Exclusive Brethren Meeting Room between 39 and 41 St Andrew's Road, so presumably they took over the old tin hut. By 1947 it was being used as the works building of the decorator A. Thomas, and he was there until 1958. It is listed as vacant in Kelly's Directory for 1960, and thereafter it was part of the house at No. 41.

Was there a school at this house before the 1890s?

Mrs Connie Coppock of New Zealand believes that there was a school at this house much earlier. She is the great-great-granddaughter of William Taylor and Elizabeth Russell of Begbroke Hill Farm, and their daughters Elizabeth and Hannah Taylor were teachers in Headington. Their mother had inherited a house (thought to be 41 St Andrew’s Road) from her brother, Samuel Russell, in 1807. (They were the aunts of Charles “Puggler” Taylor who married Miss Steff’s aunt, Miss Rachel Hinton.)

© Stephanie Jenkins

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