Haunted Lord William's School, Thame
9 April 2023
Thame's oldest school is said to be haunted by the ghost of a school Matron who was murdered by another staff member in the 19th century.
It's not recorded why George Plummer killed the school Matron, only that he hid her body in the attic of the schools Main House building and that her unhappy ghost makes her presence known once a year by ringing the otherwise-unused old school assembly bell, presumably on the anniversary of her murder.
Muddled names and dodgy dates
An article on www.thame.net is my only source for this story (though if you have read about this story elsewhere and have more details, please get in touch!), and the details given seems a little muddled in terms of period and location. The article describes George Plummer as 'a housemaster in the early 19th century', but George Plummer is much better known for being the schools first Headmaster (the role previously having been called Master) in 1879 when the school moved from its previous location on Church Road and to the purpose-build new building that it inhabits today on Oxford Road.
It's likely that thame.net may be mistaken about the job title and date of its story, and the alleged murder was actually the headmaster in the late 19th century rather than a housemaster in the early 19th century. The alternative explanation is that a different George Plummer may have had the role of housemaster in the early 19th century, in which case location of the alleged haunting would have been the old school property in Church Road.
About George Plummer
If Lord William's School's first Headmaster was indeed a murderer, he seems to have avoided the legal consequences of his crime, and even got away without taking any reputational damage. His obituary in the Bucks Herald (24 January 1891) is full of praise for his 'undoubted energy and scholarly attainments' but notes his 'somewhat reserved and retiring nature' and says that he 'never courted publicity'. The Oxford Journal for 31 January 1891 describes his funeral as very well attended, with a long procession of mourners lining up to pay their last respects, and his coffin 'almost hidden by the large number of wreaths sent by present and former pupils and numerous other friends'.
One thing noted in his obituary is that his death was very sudden and came as a surprise to all who new him. He was only 45 years old at the time of his death, and had only been 'indisposed' for a day or so before his death.
The case does rather bring to mind 'A School Story', one of M.J. James's famous ghost stories that centres around a youthful master at a Victorian private school who had committed some act of murder in his past and gets his comeuppance in the form of a supernatural visitant!
Aledged Assault on a pupil?
While his obituary and funeral may suggest that George Plummer was universally liked as a kind and benevolent figure at Lord William's School, earlier newspaper records suggest otherwise.
George Plummer was summoned before the Oxford Petty Sessions on 15 July 1882 to answer an allegation of assault against one of his pupils, a boy named George Holloway. It seems that Holloway had said something during a game of cricket on the school field that angered the Headmaster so much that he gave Holloway the option of either receiving a thrashing, or be expelled from the school.
Holloway opted to receive the thrashing, and arrived at the Headmaster's rooms at the appointed time. Here George Plummer 'fastened the windows, pulled the blinds down and locked the doors' before removing his gown and instructing Holloway to remove his jacket. He then struck Holloway 12 times about the shoulders with a cane, blows which the the doctor who treated his wounds described as 'severe for a boy of the complainants age'.
While the case against George Plummer was ultimately dismissed, I find it curious that a disciplinary episode of this nature, which was probably pretty typical at Victorian private schools, had even reached the courts. Was there something about the incident that was left out of the published account that would have provided more reason for a criminal investigation?
Whether there was or not, it does paint a picture of George Plummer as someone whose violent outbursts may have inspired fear amongst his pupils. This would likely make them more inclined to concoct and spread rumours that he was capable of even more violent acts, even the murder of a House Matron perhaps!
- 28/10/11…..Horrible, haunted Thame! (www.thame.net)
- Jackson's Oxford Journal, Saturday 31 January 1891
- Jackson's Oxford Journal, Saturday 22 July 1882