*** Eton School

Eton School

Eton schools
Figure 1.--Boys at many exclusive English public schools wore what we now refrer to as Eton suits. The brothers here are Harrow students and the boys wear their school uniform in an outing with their father about 1910. The annual cricket match between Eton and Harrow schools, at Lord's ground, London, is always attended by a large and fashionably dressed gathering.

Eton College is one of the best known schools in the world. Americans think of colleges as small universities. Colleges in most of the rest of the world are secondary schools, as is Eton College, albeit a prestigious one. Eton College was founded in 1440, nearly 58 years after the founding of Winchester school, by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, under the patronage of Henry VI--the Scholar King, and with the title of "the College of the Blessed Mary of Eaton beside Windsor." The buildings were completed between 1491 and 1523. The original buildings consist of two quadrangles containing the chappel, the upper and lower schools, appartments for officials, the library, and offices. The school has produced a long list of distinguished former pupils, including Sir Robert Walpole, Robert Hartley, william Pitt the Elder, Horace Walpole, the Duke of Wellington, Thomas Gray, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Ewart Gladstone.


Eton is a Buckinghamshire town on the Thmes River opposite Windsor, within which parliamentary borough it is situated. Eton is best known for its college, perhaps England's best known public school.


The "King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor" was founded by Plantagenet King Henry VI about 1440-41. Henry was known as the "Scholar King". This was early in the King's reign (1429-71). The school was endowed primarily from the revenues of the "alien priories" suppressed by Henry V. Henry donated a huge collection of holy relics among which were fragments of what were supposed to be the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns. Henry's purpose was to provide free education for 70 poor scholars who would continue their education at King’s College, Cambridge--also founded by King Henry. A connection between Eton and Cambridge still continues today.

Early School

The King in organizing the school used the model established by William of Wykeham at Winchester and New College, Oxford. The original staff at Eton included a provost, priests, 4 clerks, 6 choristers, a schoolmaster, 25 poor and indigent scholars, and the same number of poor men or bedesmen. The King in 1443 made major changes at the College. He increased the number of scholars to 70, and reduced the bedesmen to 13. Early acounts do not paint a educational ideal, rats ran free and the boys had to wash outside using only cold water.

King Henry appointed one of his advisores, William of Waynflete, who had been master of Winchester College, in 1443 to be provost at Eton in 1443. Other chanes at Eton was the the establishment of cominensales or commoners who lived in the town of Eton and paid for their education. They were distinct from the scholars; and these now called "oppidans" which now comprise most of the boys.


Early history

The College managed to survive the unsettled period at the close of Henry’s reign. The King was murdered in the Tower of London while at prayer. Edward IV reduced the College's possessions and tried to join it with St George, Windsor Castle. The College's annual revenue in 1506 amounted to £652. Sonations over time and the rise in the value of the College's property have left it now very well endowed.

King George III

King George III had a special fondness for Eton. The school was located across the Thames from the King's castlle at Windsor. A footbridge across the Thames connects Windsor with Eton. The King was noted for frequently visiting the school and attending official functions. He would talk informally with the masters and boys--many of whom he knew by name. The King would not infrequently entertained at Winsor Castle with the royal family. Eton boys have worn black jackets and ties in mourning for that long-reigning monarch. The major annual celebraton is the 4th of June--King George's birthdy. The King died in 1820. I'm not sure when the tradition of black jackets began. One source says the 1850s.

Late 19th Century

The College commissioners in 1870, under an act of 1868, appointed the governing body of the College, consisting of the provost of Eton, the provost of King’s College, Cambridge, five representatives nominated respectively by the university of Oxford, the university of Cambridge, the Royal Society, the lord chief justice and the masters, and four representatives chosen by the rest of the governing body. The governing body in 1872 determined thr the school (the foundation) should consist of a provost and 10 fellows (not priests, but merely the members of the governing body other than the provost), a headmaster of the school, and a lower master, at least 70 scholars (known as "collegers"), and not more than 2 chaplains or conducts. Originally the scholars had to be born in England, of lawfully married parents, and be between 8-16 years of age. As Britain's Empire expanded and many boys were born in British colonies, this had to be changed.

The statutes of 1872 opened scholarships to all boys who were British subjects, and (with certain limitations as to the exact date of birth) between 12-15years of age. A number of foundation scholarships for King’s College, Cambridge, are avaialble on a competive basis. There are several other valuable scholarships and exhibitions, most of which are tenable only at Cambridge, some at Oxford, and some at either university.


The current Eton curriculum includes a range of classical and modern subjects. Until the first half of the 19th century the normal course of instruction at Eton remained almost wholly classical. There were masters for other subjects, but they were unconnected with the general business of the school. Boys couldattend these subjects in their frree time.


Construction of the school buildings were began in 1441. They were first occupied in 1443, but it took 50 years to complete the original buildings. The original buildings consisted of two quadrangles, built partly of freestone but chiefly of brick. The outer quadrangle, or school-yard, is enclosed by the chapel, upper and lower schools, the original scholars’ dormitory ("long chamber"), now transformed, and masters’ chambers. At the center was a bronze statue of Henry VI, College founder. Tours of the College are a fascinating experience, which includes the Cloisters, the Chapel, the oldest classroom in the College and the Museum of Eton Life.

Figure 2.--Here Eton boys are celebrating the 4th of June anout 2000. Many of the uniforms are not unlike those worn 100 years ago.

Celebrations and Ceremonies

Any school that is as old and ilustrious as Eton College had develops many traditions. There are many such celebrations and ceremonies at Eton, some of very historic orgins. We do not have a lot of informations on the many different celebrations and ceremonies. We haqve begun to develop some information.

4th of June

Eton hold its principal annual celebration on the 4th of June which is the birthday of King George III, who had a special fondness for the school. While the event is called the 4th of June, it is rarely held exactly on that day. This is the speech-day. After the official ceremonies at the school a procession of boats takes place on the Thames. In the sport Eton occupies a unique position among the public schools in the sport of rowing. A large proportion of the oarsmen in the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat-race are traditionally Etonian alumni.

The wall game

Another annual celebration is the occasion of the contest between collegers and oppidans at a peculiar form of football known as the "wall game". It acquired that name because it is played against a wall bordering the college playing-field. This annual game is played on St Andrew’s Day, November 30.

Service of Installation

Here we see a scene from the Service of Installation on July 9, 1936. At 10.45 this morning the Ht. Mon the Lord Hugh Cecil, Provost Designate of Eton College, knocked three times on the great gate of the college. He was received by the Fellows, Masters and the whole school. The Service of Installation followed. The new Provost (on the steps) with the Captain of Eton College (on his left) calling for three cheers in the school yard.


The field game of football played at Eton has peculiar rules. The annual cricket match between Eton and Harrow schools, at Lord’s ground, London, is always attended by a large and fashionably dressed gathering. Eton for years had a desinctive custom called Montem. Its origin is unknown. It was first mentioned in 1561 and was held triennially on WhitTuesday. The last celebration was in 1844. It was abolished just before it was to be held in 1847. Montem consisted of a procession of the boys in a kind of military order, with flags and music, headed by their "captain" to a small mound called Salt Hill, near the Bath road, where they demanded contributions, or salt. The amount collected, after deducting certain expenses, was given to the captain of the school.

Student Body

From the original 70 scholars, Eton had about 1,000 students in 1910. They were no longer poor scholars, but rather the cream of British society. The school now has about 1,280 boys aged from 13 to 18 who are admitted by competitive examination. While the school is much more open han in the past, most boys still come from private preparatory scools.

Eton Suit School Uniforms

The traditional Eton school uniform and collar influenced English school uniforms for more than a century. Given the prestige of Eton college, many English adopted the style of the Eton school uniform with minor modifications. Gradualy English schools adopted more standard single breasted suits, but retained the Eton collar for dress occasions into the 1920s and even the 1939s at conservative schools. The style does continue to be worn at Eton College

Eton School Unifom

While Eton College did not conceive of the idea of school uniform in England, the uniform it introduced in large measure initiated the modern traditions of school uniforms in Britain. Eton College was one of the many British schools which introduced school uniforms in the mid-19th Century. The sober suit influenced the uniform adopted by other schools as well as the clothes of British boys of all classes. The resulting Eton suit, as it is now known, became an emensely popular fashion for school age boys both in Britain and America. It is apparently the only public school uniform that went on to become widely worn by boys--many of whom may never had heard of Eton College. The Eton suit and collar was widely worn by boys in the late 19th and early 20th Century. It is unclear to the author why it was the Eton suit, and not the uniforms at other public schools, that became such a standard of boyhood fashion. Perhaps it was the prestige of Eton College. Even other public schools adopted uniforms incorporating the destinctive Eton collar as well as other features of the Eton suit. Actually Eton School had two different uniforms. The uniform we now think of with the stiff white collar and short jacket was the junior uniform. Senior boys wore long jackets with tails. Boys when they reached 5 ft 4 in were allowed to wear the senior uniform. But this meant that shorter boys might have to wear the junior uniform even at 16 or 17. Finally in 19?? the school abolished the junior uniform and all boys now wear tails.

Individual Eton Boys

The school has produced a long list of distinguished former pupils, including educated 18 former British Prime Ministers. Some illustrious old boys include: the Duke of Wellington, Walpole, Pitt the Elder, MacMillan and Douglas-HolmeSir Robert Walpole, Robert Hartley, William Pitt the Elder, Horace Walpole, Thomas Gray, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Ewart Gladstone. Some information is available on HBC about individual boys at Eton:

W.C. Bryce (about 1905)

G.V. Naylor-Leyland (about 1907)

G.V. Stokes (1900s)


Encyclopedia of 1911.


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Created: November 4, 2002
Last updated: 8:37 PM 8/16/2007