Radley College was founded in 1847 by William Sewell (1804-79) and Robert Corbet Singleton (1810-81). The Founders were inspired by the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church and aimed to create a school for boys where Christian principles of brotherliness were reinforced by the beauty of the environment and of the furnishings and objects which surrounded them. Daily choral services in a finely decorated chapel were a key aspect of the school, and remain so today. In addition, each boy had his own private space, an enclosed cubicle within a dormitory: this was a pioneering innovation which was rapidly adopted by other leading English public schools.
The original idea was to found a school which mirrored the social and administrative structures of a College. The boys were initially affiliated to individual Fellows for pastoral care, and thus became known as Sociales, from which Radley derives the unique name for its boarding houses: Socials.
The school was originally housed in Radley Hall, now known as the Mansion, built in the 1720s for the Stonehouse family. Later in the eighteenth century the estate passed to the Bowyer family, who commissioned Capability Brown to re-design the grounds. Elements of his design are still visible.
The grounds are extensive, including a lake, a golf course (first laid out in the 1870s), woodland, and the games pitches on the former deer park. The Natural History Society published biodiversity surveys in 1912 and 1949.
Four histories of the school have been published. Most recent is Untold Stories by Clare Sargent, 2022