Eton was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "Kynge's College of Our Ladye of Eton besyde Windesore” to provide free education to 70 poor boys who would then go on to King's College, Cambridge, which he founded 1441. When Henry founded the school, he granted it a large number of endowments, but when he was deposed by Edward IV in 1461, the new king removed most of its assets and treasures to St George's Chapel, Windsor, on the other side of the River Thames. Construction of the chapel, originally intended to be slightly over twice its current length was stopped hurriedly, but by this time the chapel in its current form and the lower storeys of the current cloisters, including College Hall, had been completed. With reduced funds, little further building took place until around 1517 when Provost Richard Lupton built the tower which now bears his name together with the range of buildings which now includes Election Hall and Election Chamber.
The earliest records of school life date from the 16th century and paint a picture of a regimented and Spartan life. Scholars were awakened at 5 am, chanted prayers whilst they dressed, and were at work in Lower School by 6am. All teaching was in Latin and lessons were supervised by “praepostors”, senior boys appointed by the headmaster. There was a single hour of play, though even at that time football appears to have been popular, for a sentence set for Latin translation in 1519 was “We will play with a bag full of wynde”. Lessons finished at 8pm and there were only two holidays, each of three weeks duration at Christmas (when the scholars remained at Eton) and in the Summer. These holidays divided the school year into two “halves” a word which has survived despite the change to a three-term year in the 18th century.
From the earliest days of the school, the education received by the scholars was shared by others who did not lodge in College, but who lived in the town with a landlady. By the early 18th century the number of such “Oppidans” (from the Latin “oppidum” meaning “town”) had grown to the extent that more formal arrangements were needed, and the first of the “Dame’s Houses”, Jourdelay’s, was built in 1722. By 1766 there were thirteen houses, and increasingly the responsibility for running them fell to masters as much as to the dame.
The school continued to grow and flourished particularly under the long reign of George III (1760-1820). George spent much of his time at Windsor, frequently visiting the school and entertaining boys at Windsor Castle. The school in turn made George’s birthday, the Fourth of June, into a holiday. Though these celebrations now never fall on that day, Eton’s “Fourth of June”, marked by “speeches”, cricket, a procession of boats, and picnics on “Agar’s Plough” remains an important occasion in the school year.
By the middle of the 19th century reform was long overdue; the Clarendon Commission of 1861 investigated conditions in the major boarding schools of the day and led to significant changes including improved accommodation, a wider curriculum and better-qualified staff. Numbers continued to grow, and by 1891 there were over 1000 boys in the school, a figure which grew pretty steadily until the 1970s, by which time the school had reached its present size of around 1300 boys. The new millennium saw the introduction of a more meritocratic entry system, with boys no longer being entered on house lists at birth – from 2002, all boys had to win their places through the current procedure of an interview, reasoning test and reference from their previous school.
The Eton College Collections are a collection of items of significant cultural or scientific value kept by Eton College in Berkshire. They include College Library, College Archives, Eton College Natural History Museum, Casa Guidi, Eton College Antiquities Collection and the Museum of Eton Life. The Collection also has hundreds of photographs, paintings, drawings and prints. Many items in the Collection are lent to exhibitions around the world. College Library is located at the heart of Eton College and is separate from School Library. College Library is open to members of the Eton Community and outside researchers (the latter by appointment only). It houses rare books and manuscripts of immense cultural value, including a Gutenberg Bible and pages from the manuscript of Darwin's Origin of Species. Facilities include: a readers' room for researchers, on-site and remote reference services, teaching support for the College, specialist group & school visits, regularly changing exhibitions and imaging services. Opening hours (by appointment only) are: Monday-Friday 9.30am-1pm and 2-5pm. The College Archives contain many of Eton College's important documents made about the it since the it was founded. They also include a list of the boys who have attended Eton (although until the late nineteenth century, only the King's Scholars are listed).
Casa Guidi is a writer's house museum in the 15th-century patrician house in Piazza San Felice, 8, near the south end of the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy. The piano nobile apartment was inhabited by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning between 1847 and Mrs Browning's death in 1861. Their only child, Robert Barrett Browning (known as Pen) was born there in 1849. Casa Guidi was the subject for her 1851 collection of poems "Casa Guidi Windows". The Browning household was a centre of British society in Florence although it was said that Theodosia Trollope's house was more carefree. There was no animosity however and the Trollope's daughter played with the Browning's son Robert, known as Pen. After Pen's death in 1912 the apartment was bought by several Browning enthusiasts. By that time, Casa Guidi was in poor shape, and the apartment retained hardly any furniture or paintings. The Browning Society in New York restored it, before giving it to Eton College which undertook further work so that the building could be used as a study centre. Today, it is part of The Eton College Collections, but is administered by the Landmark Trust, who also look after the apartment above the one where John Keats died in Rome. When not being used by Eton boys, the property is available for holiday lets booked through the Landmark Trust. Casa Guidi is open to the public for 3:00–6:00 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from April to November. There is no admission fee, but donations are welcome.
The Eton College Natural History Museum is a museum of natural history that is part of Eton College. The museum was opened in 1875 to house the Thackeray Collection of British Birds and other collections and have been located in its present site since 1895. It is Berkshire’s only dedicated natural history museum. Over 16,000 objects donated from the 19th Century onwards are displayed over the two floors of the museum. You can see a replica of Joseph Banks’ cabin and displays of the Endeavour voyage. Also on display is a rare sheet of Darwin’s original manuscript for the Origin of the Species. The latest addition is an ethnographic collection of tribal objects donated by renowned explorer Robin Hanbury-Tenison. Go on expedition with one of the greatest British explorers of the twentieth century. See the collection of objects from previously uncontacted rainforest tribes from both Amazonia and in Borneo. View the famous whistling arrows of the Suya people, marvel at the blowpipe from Borneo which fired poison-tipped darts, listen to nose flutes from the Nambiquara people and admire exquisite jewellery from around the world.
The collection includes: Insects - The museum houses over 10,000 moths and butterflies which includes the collections of Brigadier Cooke and Sir Christopher Lever. Birds - The Thackery bird collection was bequeathed to the College in 1850 and predates the museum. Eggs from the Newall egg collection and several critically endangered birds are on display. Fossils - A large number of fossils, including a recently aquired Giant Nautilus. Skeletons - Asian Elephant foreleg and the skull of an Indian Elephant are the largest on display. Corals - The Moncrieff coral collection is the most recent large collection to be given to the museum. Plants - The Hincks Herbarium contains herbarium sheets of pressed plants and algae. The museum is wheelcchair accessible and assitance dogs are welcome.
The Museum of Eton Life tells the story of the foundation of the College in 1440 and provides a glimpse into the world of the Eton schoolboy past and present. Find out about work, games (including the famous Eton Wall Game), punishment, and some of the colourful customs of the past. Discover well-known Old Etonians, from poets to prime ministers. A visit to the museum is a perfect way to bring to life the College buildings you see around you.
It is not known exactly when the Eton Wall Game was first played, but the first recorded game was in 1766. The first of the big St Andrew’s Day matches — between the Collegers and the Oppidans — was probably in 1844. The rules must obviously have been more or less agreed by then, but they were not actually printed and published until five years later. The rules have been revised from time to time since 1849, but the game has remained essentially the same. The field of play is a fairly narrow strip, about five metres wide, running alongside a not quite straight brick wall, built in 1717 and about 110 metres from end to end. As in all forms of football, each side tries to get the ball down to the far end and then score. Players are not allowed to handle the ball, not allowed to let any part of their bodies except feet and hands touch the ground, not allowed to strike or hold their opponents, and there are also exceedingly strict ‘offside’ rules (no passing back and no playing in front); apart from that, almost anything goes.
Each phase of play starts with a ‘bully’, when about six of the ten players from each side form up against the wall and against each other, the ball is rolled in, and battle is joined. The player in possession of the ball will normally be on all fours, with the ball at his feet or under his knees. Players on his own side will attempt to support him, to establish themselves in a position where he can pass the ball to them, or to disrupt the opposition. Likewise, players on the other side will attempt to obstruct his progress, to force him down, to gain possession of the ball themselves. Occasionally the ball becomes ‘loose’ and a player may be able to kick it out of play: the next bully is then formed opposite where the ball stops or is stopped — quite unlike what happens in soccer or rugby. At each end of the wall is a special area known as ‘calx’. When play reaches this area, the rules alter slightly (passing back becomes legal, for example) and the attacking side can score. The attackers try to raise the ball off the ground and against the wall, and having done so to touch it with the hand. They then shout “Got it!” and if the umpire is satisfied that all is correct he shouts “Shy!” and awards them a ‘shy’, worth one point. The attackers can now attempt to throw a ‘goal’ which would bring them an extra nine points (the goals are a garden door at one end and a tree at the other). Shies are relatively common, perhaps half a dozen a year, but goals are very uncommon — the last on St Andrew’s Day was in 1909..
Location : Eton College, S. Meadow Lane, Windsor, SL4 6DW
Transport : Windsor & Eton Riverside (National Rail) then bus or 12 minutes. Bus Routes : 60, 61, 63 and 68 stop nearby.
Opening Times Natural History: Sundays 14:30 to 17:00
Opening Times Eton Life: Daily (school Holidays) 14:00 to 16:30; Otherwise Wednesday, Friday to Sunday 14:00 to 16:30
Tel. : 01753 370602