History of the Old Etonians

History of the Old Etonians


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In the 18th century football was played by most of Britain's leading public schools. There is documentary evidence that football was played at Eton as early as 1747.

In 1848 a meeting took place at Cambridge University to lay down the rules of football. Teachers representing Eton, Shrewsbury, Harrow, Rugby, Marlborough and Westminster, produced what became known as the Cambridge Rules. One participant explained what happened: "I cleared the tables and provided pens and paper... Every man brought a copy of his school rules, or knew them by heart, and our progress in framing new rules was slow."

Former public school boys also played football at university. Many continued to play after finishing their education. This included Arthur Kinnaird, who decided to form a football club made up of former students of Eton.

In 1862 a new set of football rules were established at Cambridge University. These specified 11-a-side, an umpire from each side plus a neutral referee, goals 12ft across and up to 20ft high. An offside rule was added. A man could play a ball passed to him from behind, so long as there were three opponents between him and the goal. It was also decided that each game should only last one hour and a quarter. The first game under these rules took place between the Old Etonians and Old Harrovians in November, 1862.

In 1871, Charles W. Alcock, the Secretary of the Football Association, announced the introduction of the Football Association Challenge Cup. It was the first knockout competition of its type in the world. Only 15 clubs took part in the first staging of the tournament. It included two clubs based in Scotland, Donington School and Queen's Park. In the 1872 final, the Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers 1-0 at the Kennington Oval.

Old Etonions reached the final six times in nine years between 1875 and 1883. They won the trophy on two occasions, 1879 and 1882. Famous players included Arthur Kinnaird, Francis Marindin, W. H. Gladstone, the son of the British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, and Quinton Hogg.

In 1885 it was decided by the Football Association that clubs could play professionals in the FA Cup competition. After this date the competition was dominated by Football League clubs.

Old Etonians are currently members of the Amateur Football Alliance and play in the Arthurian League.


Etonians feel born to rule – and we all pay the price for it

What Boris Johnson has successfully disproved is the claim that the traditional British elites, through upbringing, heritage etc, are uniquely qualified to govern the country (Britain’s overgrown Eton schoolboys have turned the country into their playground, 2 May).

What Eton seems to have taught its students is the desire to govern, but not the knowledge of how to. A sense of entitlement is not a sufficient qualification for leadership. Take the example of the Eton alumnus Anthony Eden, who was responsible for the Suez crisis, one of Britain’s greatest diplomatic disasters.

The problem for Britain is how to purge this most destructive of groups from the body politic. While the political system is structured to favour this group, such radical change can’t come from within parliament, it must come from without. Possibly the secession of Scotland, troubles in Northern Ireland and the economic disasters resulting from the diplomatic cold war with Europe will have a similar cathartic effect. When the contempt and disgust that the minority feel for this ruling elite becomes the mainstream view, only then will the political traction be found to remove them from power.
Derrick Joad
Leeds

The sad thing about John Harris’s excellent article is that this is not news. This country has a long history of suffering at the hands of public schoolboys. In the 1930s, the journalist Cyril Connolly, reflecting on his time at Eton, suggested that the effect of public schools on their students was to arrest their development. He called this “the theory of permanent adolescence”, which seems to me perfectly to describe the irresponsible behaviour of Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg et al.

The real problem is why we, the 93%, still put up with it and why so many vote for them.
Michael Williams
Uplyme, Devon

John Harris talks of “an ancient system that trains a narrow caste of people to run our affairs”. I’m not sure these people can be described as a caste, but one clear defining characteristic is that they are all men. If, as Harris says, we have to confront “a great tower of failings that, to use a very topical word, are truly institutional”, we have to recognise the privilege that these institutions give to men over women. How crazy is it in the 21st century that Eton is one of only four remaining boys’ boarding-only independent senior schools in the UK (the others being Harrow, Radley and Winchester)?
Michael Brown
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Your journalists have comprehensively and admirably analysed the dire influence the old Etonian duo of David Cameron and Boris Johnson have had on the fortunes of this country. But let us not forget the contribution made by George Osborne, the third member of the infamous Oxford Bullingdon Club triumvirate, who, more than anyone, was responsible for the savage consequences of the austerity years: the Teflon man who now hides under the radar, busily feathering his own nest in as many well-paid jobs as he can get hold of.
Richard Griffiths
Syderstone, Norfolk

Please can we know the name of the school’s careers adviser during the Johnson, Cameron and Osborne years?
Bill Cronshaw
Bishops Cleeve, Gloucestershire

Have an opinion on anything you’ve read in the Guardian today? Pleaseemail us your letter and it will be considered for publication.


Why Is England So Messed Up? Blame The Old Etonians.

I'm suffering from a severe case of the Brexit blues. Who to blame for the state of England, Albanian pimps, Polish builders, Russian Oligarchs or Romanian welfare scroungers? No, silly. Blame the Old Etonians. From Suez to Brexit, when those posh boys do politics, they almost always leave an Eton Mess.

When it comes to the subject of Eton College, I am never impartial, fair or accurate. I've hated Eton, England's most famous fee-paying boarding school, ever since they turned up in Victorian-era top hats and tails and beat our soccer team 3-1. And, not long after, it was branded when a posh girl called Georgina blew me out, aged 16, with the immortal Foxtrot Oscar, "Sorry, I only date Etonians."

Yeah, I geddit Georgina. But what makes this rinky-dink English prep school so god damned special? Founded in 1440, with 1,300 pupils and fees of $50,000 a year, no other school in England has a greater sense of its own identity, its own privilege. 19 British Prime Ministers have attended Eton, among them William Gladstone, AJ Balfour, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and David Cameron.

Etonians themselves are strange, eccentric creatures. Cyril Connolly, an Old Etonian (OE) himself, once identified the characteristics of an ex-pupil. Adolescent (the risk-taking antics of Bear Grylls) school minded (MI6 spy Guy Burgess always wore his old school tie in Moscow exile) self-conscious (David Cameron didn't like to be seen in the Royal Box at Wimbledon) cowardly (bully boy Boris Johnson knocking down kids on the rugby pitch) sentimental (the novels of Anthony Powell, Evelyn Waugh, Ian Fleming wallow in the past) and homosexual (Boris Johnson and David Cameron once got into a homoerotic wrestling match after a policy meeting).

I'd go much further. Aryan, arrogant, bullying beyond belief, there is something repulsive in Old Etonians in a way that no other vastly over privileged school inspires. They live in a bubble of wall games and wanking. They don't know ordinary people, nor less understand them, which is why they are not fit to be leaders. Nevertheless, throughout political history, we English have always been suckers for their black-and-turquoise old school ties. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn't trust an Old Etonian.

Never put an Old Etonian in charge. They will muck things up and run off. Case in point, outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron. Rather than negotiate a phased exit from the EU until a successor is appointed, he says "Brexit? Not my problem," and jumps ship. Ditto Boris Johnson. He sparks the biggest constitutional crisis in British political memory, and sheepishly bogs off. No moral fiber, no bloody good, typical Old Etonian behavior.

Never take an Old Etonian at his word. They can be Teflon coated fibbers. Take Boris Johnson, perhaps the best all-round example of a latter-day OE. Fired from the Times of London for fabricating quotes in 1988, it didn't stop Johnson from getting a gig at the Daily Telegraph in 1989 (a well known rack of OE ties) and writing mendacious poppycock about the European Parliament. He also lied about an extramarital affair in 2004 and got fired from the Conservative Party as arts spokesman because of it. But he's not the only one. Remember Jonathan Aitken? He's the former Conservative MP and ex-Cabinet minister who went to prison for perjury and perverting the course of justice in 1999.

Old Etonians are a social liability with a tendency to be politically incorrect. David Cameron and Zak Goldsmith were roundly condemned as "essentially racist" for suggesting that London Mayor Sadiq Khan was a friend of Muslim extremists. Boris Johnson once wrote about "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles" in his weekly column for the Daily Telegraph in 2002. And, when editor of the Spectator, Johnson published an article that claimed black people have a lower IQ. Then he was elected Mayor of London, one of the most cosmopolitan and racially diverse cities in the world, in 2008. Go figure.

Never ask an Old Etonian for a job. They only give those silly little things to themselves. Michael Gove once attacked the "preposterous" and " ridiculous" number of OE school ties in David Cameron's inner cabinet (Oliver Letwin, minister for government policy Jo Johnson, head of his policy unit Ed Llewellyn, chief of staff and Rupert Harrison, George Osborne's chief economic adviser). And when BoJo quit as Mayor of London, fellow Old Etonian Zak Goldsmith stepped in from the wings. What was shocking was that no one made a fuss about one OE taking over from another. Fortunately, Goldsmith lost to Sadiq Khan.

"We trust an Old Etonian in this country," said the English TV presenter Dermot O'Leary. "We just do -- even if we don't know we're doing it. It's bred into us that they can run the country." The poor deluded fool. Never trust a hippy. Never trust a punk. And never trust an Old Etonian. They fuck you up, your Old Etonians. They may not mean to, but they do.


Historical Football Kits

Darwen can trace their history back as far as 1870 as a football and cricket club formed on the initiative of Mr JC Ashton and the three sons of cotton-mill owner, Nathaniel Walsh. The Walsh boys had been sent to Harrow where they had no doubt played football under that public shool's unique rules. In 1875 the club adopted the newly drawn up Association rules and played their first match against Turton FC, a fixture that had to be abandoned due to fighting between supporters.

In these formative years, when the game was dominated by the teams of gentlemen-players from the Home Counties, Darwen's committee consisted of prominent businessmen while the players were working men drawn mainly from local cotton mills who played the passing game pioneered by Queen's Park in Scotland. This approach to club management and team play would transform the game. In 1878 Darwen engaged the first of what would become known as the "Scotch Professors," in Fergie Suter and James Love. Suter, a stonemason and talented player with Partick Thistle, was induced to move south after the two clubs met in a fixture on New Year's Day, 1878, with promises of a job. The club secretary consistently denied that either player was paid to play for Darwen but when Suter gave up his craft (the local stone being apparently too hard to work) he was still able to support himself. It is now generally accepted that Suter was the world's first professional player.

In October 1878, Darwen helped form the Lancashire FA and later that month they played an exhibition match in front of 3,000 spectators against a team from Blackburn under arc-lights driven by two steam-driven electicity generating engines borrowed from the Orchard Mill. After beating Remnants FC (a side made up of former public school boys) at the Oval in January, Darwen returned to Kennington the following month to play Old Etonians in the FA Cup quarter-final - the first time that a working class side had appeared at this stage. Darwen turned out wearing trousers cut off at the knee, shirts of all sorts and several players wore braces, much to the amusement of the crowd. Trailing by 1-5 with 15 minutes left, Darwen's superior fitness came into play and James Love scored the equaliser with practically the last kick of the game. The exhausted Old Etonians declined extra time, forcing a replay, which, under the rules of the competition, would be again in London. £175 was raised by public subscription (£5 of which came from the Old Etonians themselves) to cover the cost of sending the Darwen team back to the capital for the replay, which finished 2-2 after extra-time. Demands for the second replay to be played in Darwen were ignored and another public subscription was raised to send the Darreners (local dialect for Darwen-er) south yet again. This time the Old Etonians triumphed 6-2 (the Darwen players all had to work full shifts in the cotton mills between games so must have been exhausted) but Darwen's exploits had captured national attention and were a foretaste of the revolution that was about to take place in the game.

The rivalry between Darwen and Blackburn Rovers grew increasingly bitter and matches were often marred by fighting among supporters. In 1881 Darwen postponed their Lancashire cup-tie with Rovers to fulfill an FA Cup fixture. In retaliation, Rovers cancelled the rescheduled match at the eleventh hour to play a friendly against Nottingham Forest instead, leaving Darwen (who had cancelled a lucrative friendly with Partick Thistle to play the rearranged Lancashire Cup tie) severely out of pocket. As a result both teams were thrown out of the competition.

Over time Darwen were eclipsed by Blackburn Rovers (who poached Suter from the Darreners and embarked on their own domination of the FA Cup) and then by the other Lancashire sides such as Bolton Wanderers, Burnley and Preston North End. When the Football League was formed in 1888, Darwen lost out by a single vote to another local rival, Accrington. Instead, they joined the rival Football Alliance, which was formed in 1889 where they spent three mediocre seasons. In 1891 it was agreed that the Football League would be expanded and Darwen were elected to one of the two vacant positions largely due to the support of the League’s General Secretary, JJ Bentley, a life-long friend of the club. At the time Football League regulations required clubs to register different colours and as Notts County were wearing black and white vertical stripes, Darwen adopted salmon pink jerseys in place of their traditional tops, becoming known as "The Salmoners."

Darwen finished bottom of the League in their first season and were not re-elected. It was then decided to create a Second Division, incorporating the Football Alliance and Darwen joined the new division. The following season, The Salmoners finished third and were promoted after winning their test match against Notts County. In 1894 the club finished in 15th place (out of 16) and their fate was again decided by a test match. This time they lost to Small Heath and returned to Division Two. In 1898 finished in 15th place but were re-elected. The following year, in an expanded Second Division, the club won only two games, scored 2 goals and conceded 144 in 34 matches. The committee decided to call it a day and did not apply for re-election and wound up the club.

A new club was formed almost immediately that survived in non-League competition until 2009 when the club was wound up. A phoenix club, AFC Darwen, was formed shortly afterwards.


When Old Harrovians And Old Etonians Ruled The FA Cup

Replica of the original FA Cup. Photo: Football Association website
The early history of the FA Cup was also the end of an era. A look at the first decade of cup final fixtures tells a story of how clubs formed mostly in the Greater London area gave way to increasingly professionalised teams well to the north of Watford. Teams that are still around today such as Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and West Bromwich Albion.

By contrast to these stalwart clubs, few will be familiar with the exclusive set of six teams that competed in the first 10 finals: Wanderers, Royal Engineers, Oxford University, Old Etonians, Clapham Rovers and Old Carthusians. They were exclusive in another sense too: all were born out of public school networks and emerged as part of a blossoming football culture in London throughout the 1860s.

The sport may have been growing, but relationships were fractious. Teams clung on to their own public school rules, traditions and idiosyncrasies. The newly-formed Football Association's attempts create a unifying common framework at meetings in The Freemason's Tavern in Holborn were routinely ignored.

Old boys' clubs

The man eventually responsible for the cup competition also clung to his old school's traditions. Indeed, Charles Alcock founded Wanderers out of a desire to keep old boys in contact. Alcock was an Old Harrovian and the FA Cup was even based on a knockout tournament from his school days in Harrow. Furthermore, on 16 March 1872, it was Alcock who captained Wanderers in the first final, and Alcock who organised for the match to be played at The Oval where, handily, he was secretary of Surrey County Cricket Club. In the event, Wanderers beat Royal Engineers by a single goal: there are no surprises for guessing who was presented with the trophy at the classy Pall Mall restaurant.

The first FA minute book, completed following meetings at Holborn's Freemason's Arms. Photo by the FA.
However, none of this seems due to any conflict of interest. There were simply a small sample of players, teams and roles at the time. Besides, Alcock's love of football far outstripped any lingering attachment to Harrow and he was anything but insular in his outlook. No sooner then had Alcock replaced his own brother on the FA committee in 1866, he'd set about attracting support the young organisation had so badly lacked. Rather than imposing new common rules nobody wanted, he brought the FA rules into line with alternative codes teams were actually following.

Despite his own triumph in the first final, the cup competition was an opportunity to reach much further afield than London. It is no accident that Queen's Park of Scotland became FA Cup regulars after Alcock's public invitation to teams north of the border.

Another old boy instrumental to the modern game's early development was the sport's first superstar. Arthur Kinnaird wouldn't be one to call it the beautiful game. He was known as a tough tackler and also for the full magnificence of his auburn beard (when in his prime). Kinnaird played in a total of nine FA Cup finals, winning the coveted trophy on five occasions: three times with Alcock's Wanderers and twice with the team of his old school and the one he himself founded: Old Etonians.

Arthur Kinnaird as depicted by Vanity Fair in its Men of the Day series
For Old Etonians it was third time lucky. In 1879 they beat Clapham Rovers by a solitary goal after two defeats in previous cup finals. However, their following three appearances in the final are all symbolic of the public school pioneers' decline into obscurity.

First, Old Etonians were hit by a shock defeat by Old Carthusians in 1881. But the match is not remembered for the surprise scoreline: it's remembered for being the last final in which two upper-class teams competed. Then, the next year, Old Etonians beat Blackburn Rovers. It was the first time a northern team had made the final and the start of the era to come.

The next year was the final appearance of Old Etonians, or any other public school team, in an FA Cup final. The now defunct Blackburn Olympic took the trophy north for the first time and it was a lengthy period before it returned south.

The reason the northern teams came to dominate their London counterparts was at least partly due to a deeply entrenched resistence within the FA for football to become professional. This was based on a deeply-held ideal of sport as an amateur pursuit and a recreation of social good.

Luxury of leisure time

Clubs north of London would claim they couldn't afford the luxury of thinking in these terms. This does rather cast the old boys as a little naive. It's certainly true that players at clubs from middle- and working-class origins would not have viewed leisure in the same way as the upper-classes. Unfortunately, it is highly debatable that all of these clubs had their players' best interests at heart. On the other hand, Kinnaird's efforts to popularise the sport, for better or worse, do at least seem rooted in his philanthropy.

Nonetheless, the old public school teams could no longer compete and the cup did not return south for 18 years. It was finally won by a London club that had formed in the year Old Etonians last won the trophy. But by the time Tottenham Hotspur team lifted the cup in 1901 the final had long attracted crowds too large for The Oval — the ranks of spectators swollen with people down for the day from the north.

The next era of cup finals would be played in a new London home: Crystal Palace park.

For further reading two books are highly recommended: Richard Sanders' Beastly Fury and The Football Grounds Of England And Wales by Simon Inglis. The latter is sadly out-of-print. (Grateful thanks to Jonathan Burton for digging out his copy).


Eton: why the old boys' network still flourishes

I n the Porter's Lodge at Eton, a surprisingly small, panelled room that guards the main entrance to probably the world's most famous and self-conscious school, a recent issue of the Week magazine lies on a table between two chairs for visitors. On the cover is a cartoon of David Cameron, the 19th Old Etonian to be British prime minister, and a photo of the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who may become the 20th. The magazine is well-thumbed: outsiders remain as fascinated by Eton's influence as the school is.

On the official Eton website, an elegant sales brochure with pictures of sunlit old school walls and pupils in their ancient, photogenic uniforms, there is an extensive section on "famous Old Etonians". The list of most recent "OEs" is startling, even to anyone well aware that elite Britain can be narrow. There are smooth media grandees (Geordie Greig, Nicholas Coleridge) and prickly dissenters (the New Left Review veteran Perry Anderson) lifestyle-sellers both macho (Bear Grylls) and gentle (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) environmentalists (Jonathon Porritt) and climate change sceptics (Matt Ridley) actors (Hugh Laurie, Dominic West, Damian Lewis) and princes (Harry and William) rising Tory MPs (Rory Stewart, Kwasi Kwarteng) and people who are likely to interview them (BBC deputy political editor James Landale). Reading the long, hypnotic index of Eton eminences, back to the college's foundation in the 15th century, British public life begins to seem little more than Eton – a school of 1,300 13- to 18-year-old boys – talking to itself. And the list is not even comprehensive: at the time of writing, no one has thought to include Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

But the power of an institution can be more than its people. Under the coalition, the patchy egalitarianism of postwar state schooling is giving way to a more traditional philosophy: stricter uniforms and rules, pupils organised into private school-style "houses", more powerful headteachers, more competition and difference between schools. It is a philosophy increasingly friendly to Eton. The current headmaster, Tony Little, remembers his first headship at another private school in the late 80s: "The local comprehensive wouldn't invite me over the threshold. That has changed massively. The number of phone calls I get from heads of academies has greatly risen in the last two, three years. They want to visit, they want to collaborate." Eton now has state "partner schools" in nearby Slough, and this year joined with seven other private schools to open a free school in Stratford in east London.

Justin Welby, the new archbishop of Canterbury, joins a long list of Old Etonian establishment figures, including David Cameron, Boris Johnson and princes William and Harry. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

Other trends are working in Eton's favour. With annual fees of £32,067 – more than the average after-tax British household income – Eton is, more than ever, "a luxury brand", as Greig puts it in fellow Old Etonian Nick Fraser's 2006 book The Importance of Being Eton. As the super-rich and the wish to imitate them have strengthened, Greig continues, "luxury brands have come back". Like Britain's many other luxury businesses, Eton has improved its product. "When I was there in 1958 to 1963, the bottom 40% of boys did absolutely no work," says Simon Head, fellow of the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University. "That's gone. Eton has hunkered down. It's mobilised itself for the global economy."

Even the uniform seems more in keeping with the times. In an era of Downton Abbey and dandyish, aristocratic menswear fashions, Eton's waistcoats, tailcoats and stripes look less anachronistic. In the windows of the elderly school outfitters along Eton High Street, the long, theatrical approach to the college through the pretty, prosperous Berkshire town of the same name, there are items you could imagine selling well to east London hipsters.

Last month, a mildly droll Etonian reworking of the international pop hit Gangnam Style by PSY, called Eton Style, was posted by pupils on YouTube. Filmed around the school, it has had more than 2.6m views. Eton is adept at mocking and advertising itself simultaneously.

And yet, aspects of the school's success and longevity remain mysterious. What exactly is the source of its pupils' legendary charm and confidence, their almost as legendary slipperiness? In his book, Fraser interviews the late Anthony Sampson, the famous investigator of Britain's elites. "I'd meet Etonians everywhere I went," says Sampson, not one himself. "I've never understood why they were so good at networking and politics." Fraser speculates: "The Etonian mystique often seems a matter of mirrors, a collusion between those [non-Etonians] hungry for [Eton] notoriety and Etonians who are only too happy to supply it." One afternoon last week, I emailed the school to ask if I could visit. Within less than two hours, Little emailed back and offered to meet the next day.

Eton pupils on their way to lessons – known as 'divs' or 'schools' in the college's arcane slang. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Like many British centres of power, Eton owes some of its influence to geography. It was founded in 1440 on the orders of Henry VI, frequently in residence with his court nearby at Windsor Castle. Nowadays, the school emphasises its closeness to London, the great global money hub, a dozen miles to the east. "About a third of our boys have London addresses," says Little, leaving open the possibility that they also have others. For the tenth who live abroad – the proportion "has grown a little" since he became head in 2002 – Heathrow airport is even closer. Jets intermittently moan loud and low over the school's spikes and towers.

But otherwise, for much of the long school day, there is an uncanny hush. As you approach the college, there is no grand announcement of Eton's existence, just small, hand-painted signs, white lettering on black, indicating that an increasing number of the courtyards, alleyways and driveways branching off the High Street are private property. From the open windows of neat classrooms, some late medieval, some Victorian, some Edwardian, some with expensive glass-and-steel modern additions, little of the usual hubbub of secondary school life emerges. Pupils and teachers alike sit upright in the black-and-white uniform, which is somehow both uptight and flamboyant – some might say like Etonians themselves. The uniform was standardised in the 19th century and must be worn for all lessons, AKA "divs" or "schools" in Eton's elaborate private language.

When the lesson ends, the spotless pavements are suddenly flooded with pupils. Some are tall and languid, some are chubby and scurrying, some are black or Asian, most are white. Everyone carries old-fashioned ring-binder files, and no one texts or makes a phone call. But some of the boys greet each other with hugs, or bursts of transatlantic up-talking, or say "like" with a long "i", London-style – for a minute or two, many seem reasonably modern and normal. Then everyone rushes off to the next lesson. "It is possible to be bored at Eton," says the school website, "but it takes a bit of effort!"

"In many ways it is a conservative institution, with lots of tiny rules," says someone who was a pupil from 2002 to 2007. The ambiguous outside status of Eton often makes old boys reluctant to declare themselves. "But Eton is probably more liberal, more permissive than its reputation. There are amazing cultural facilities, to do art and theatre for example. There were so many opportunities, it seemed churlish to focus on how annoying it was to have to wear a gown in the heat of summer." Last month, the History of Art Society, one of dozens of such pupil-run bodies, held a typical extracurricular event, a talk on 20th-century modernism. It was given by the BBC's arts editor, Will Gompertz.

Some boys are so well-connected when they first arrive at the school, they already have a certain swagger. In focusing on a single institution, Eton's critics are sometimes avoiding the more uncomfortable truth that the roots of Britain's elites go wider and deeper. But for less overwhelmingly privileged boys, says theex-pupil, Eton can be life-changing: "It's just expected that you will drink from the cup of opportunity. So you become used to being able to do whatever you put your hand to. Or at the least, you learn not to seem fazed by opportunities in the wider world."

Tony Little, himself an Old Etonian, has been headmaster since 2002. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Little himself was a pupil from 1967 to 1972, "the first male in my family to be educated past the age of 14". His study is baronial and high-ceilinged, with a window austerely open to the cold evening, but he is less forbidding than you might expect, with a quiet, calm, middle-class voice, like a senior doctor. "Dad worked at Heathrow, security for British Airways," he says. One of the school's main aims, he continues, is to admit a broader mix. But how can it, given the fees, which have raced ahead of earnings and inflation in recent decades? "It's a huge amount of money," he admits – the appearance of candour is one of Little's tactics when he talks to the outside world. "Sometimes I think, short of robbing a bank, what d'you do?"

Currently, by giving out scholarships on academic and musical merit, and bursaries according to "financial need", Eton subsidises the fees of about 20% of its pupils. "Forty-five boys pay nothing at all," says Little. "Our stated aim is 25% on reduced fees, of whom 70 pay nothing." What is the timescale? "Quite deliberately non-specific. But I'll be disappointed if we have not achieved it in 10 years." Not exactly a social revolution. "A long-term goal" is for Eton to become "needs-blind": to admit any boy, regardless of ability to pay, who makes it through the school's selection procedure of an interview, a "reasoning test", and the standard private-school Common Entrance exam. Whether Eton would then become a genuinely inclusive place is open to doubt: one of its selection criteria is an applicant's suitability for boarding, and many people connected with Eton would surely resist its metamorphosis into a meritocracy. Hierarchy is in Eton's bones.

Either way, Little says, the school does not have nearly enough money to become "needs-blind" yet. According to its latest accounts, Eton has an investment portfolio worth £200m. The school looks enviously on the wealth of private American universities: Harvard, the richest, has an endowment of more than £20bn. Eton seems unlikely to return soon to its core purpose as decreed by Henry VI: the education of poor scholars.

In fact, the school's history has been more erratic than many of its admirers and detractors imagine. Henry VI was deposed when Eton was only 21 years old and its funding was cut off: the college was left with a stunted-looking chapel, built to less than half the intended length. Eton is hardly the oldest British private school – one of its main rivals, Westminster, was founded in 1179. According to Fraser, "Etonmania", like so many supposedly eternal British traditions, only started in the reign of Queen Victoria. From the 1860s to the early 1960s, the school enjoyed a golden age of power and prestige. Then its influence plummeted. The Etonian-packed, slightly drifting Tory administrations of Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home were blamed for Britain's apparent decline. Within the school itself, as Harold Wilson's 60s Labour government – there has never been an Etonian Labour prime minister – seemed poised to create a fairer Britain, a friend of Fraser's "wasn't alone in his belief that Eton was doomed, and should be forthwith incorporated within the state system … The Provost and Fellows [the school's governing body] did consider relocating to Ireland or France, but this was never a very serious notion."

A perceived lack of seriousness hampered Eton for decades afterwards. Reforming headmasters struggled against the school establishment, nostalgic Old Etonians, and sometimes the pupils themselves to make Eton more academic and less obsessed by rules and rituals. Margaret Thatcher still had OEs in her 80s cabinets, but she marginalised and often fired them: they seemed too passive and paternalistic for modern Britain.

How different Etonians seem now. Little says the school teaches pupils "how to juggle time, how to work hard", and how to present themselves in public: "One thing I say to them when they leave is, if you choose to behave the way a tabloid would expect … you deserve everything you get." He downplays Eton slang as "a quirk and an oddity. A lot of words have fallen out of use."

I wonder if he would say quite the same to a Daily Telegraph journalist. The classic Etonian skills – Cameron has them – have long included adjusting your message to your audience, defusing the issue of privilege with self-deprecation, and bending to the prevailing social and political winds, but only so far. "Do institutions in England change totally while seeming not to, or do they do the opposite?" asks Fraser. "I think the latter. And Eton has changed far less than Oxbridge."

Rushing between lessons with their old-fashioned files, some boys talk earnestly about their essays and marks. But Eton has not quite become an elite academic school: it is usually high, but rarely top, of the exam league tables. "Eton's view of education encompasses much more than just intellectual achievement," says the school's annual report. Nor does Eton participate unreservedly in the global education marketplace: it restricts its number of foreign pupils. "We are a British school that is cosmopolitan," says Little. "We're not an international school."

Actor Damian Lewis is an Old Etonian, as are fellow acting alumni Dominic West and Hugh Laurie. Photograph: Matt Baron/BEI/Rex Features

Does he think a school can ever be too powerful? For once, his affability gives way to something fiercer: "I'm unashamed that we're aiming for excellence. We want … people who get on with things. The fact that people who come from here will stand in public life – for me, that is a cause for celebration." If Eton is too influential, he suggests, other schools should try harder. Fraser has another explanation for the success of Old Etonians: "At moments in their lives," he writes, "they are mysteriously available for each other." Subtle networking, a sense of mission, an elite that does not think too hard about its material advantages – Eton's is a very British formula for dominance.

It can be a high-pressure place. For all the Old Etonians who have considered the rest of life an anti-climax, there have been others damaged by the school: by its relentless timetable, by its crueller rituals, such as the "rips" torn by teachers in bad schoolwork, and by Eton's strange combination of worldliness and otherworldliness. Compared to most other boarding schools, Eton seems more eccentric and intense, its mental legacy more lingering. "Eton never left me," writes Fraser. Little says: "I've come across a fair number of casualties who were here [with me] in the 60s." Another more recent ex-pupil describes Eton as "a millstone round my neck every day".

After my interview with Little, I had a parting look inside the grand, domed School Hall. The building was empty except for a single boy, onstage in his stiff uniform at a grand piano, and a watching teacher with a clipboard. Dusk had fallen, and his playing rippled gorgeously through the overheated building. When he finished, the teacher immediately came and stood over him. I couldn't catch what she said, but he touched his face nervously and nodded.

For some people, that is what education should be about. And Eton nowadays works restlessly to satisfy them. Beside its seemingly endless playing fields, the school is building a new quadrangle for 40 more classrooms. Next to the development is a small, bucolic, council-owned park, with litter and rusty goalposts. As Eton flourishes for the next few years at least, the rest of Britain may have to make do.


Several Old Etonians players were capped for England, either while with the club or subsequently.

The following eight scholars played for England whilst with the club (with the number of caps received whilst registered with Old Etonians F.C.):

Anderson, Bury and Whitfeld made their only appearances together, on 18 January 1879 against Wales. Whitfeld scored in a 2–1 victory.

Other Old Etonians who later played for England include:

Club founder Lord Kinnaird made one appearance for Scotland in 1873, the second ever international match.


Eton: why the old boys' network still flourishes

I n the Porter's Lodge at Eton, a surprisingly small, panelled room that guards the main entrance to probably the world's most famous and self-conscious school, a recent issue of the Week magazine lies on a table between two chairs for visitors. On the cover is a cartoon of David Cameron, the 19th Old Etonian to be British prime minister, and a photo of the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who may become the 20th. The magazine is well-thumbed: outsiders remain as fascinated by Eton's influence as the school is.

On the official Eton website, an elegant sales brochure with pictures of sunlit old school walls and pupils in their ancient, photogenic uniforms, there is an extensive section on "famous Old Etonians". The list of most recent "OEs" is startling, even to anyone well aware that elite Britain can be narrow. There are smooth media grandees (Geordie Greig, Nicholas Coleridge) and prickly dissenters (the New Left Review veteran Perry Anderson) lifestyle-sellers both macho (Bear Grylls) and gentle (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) environmentalists (Jonathon Porritt) and climate change sceptics (Matt Ridley) actors (Hugh Laurie, Dominic West, Damian Lewis) and princes (Harry and William) rising Tory MPs (Rory Stewart, Kwasi Kwarteng) and people who are likely to interview them (BBC deputy political editor James Landale). Reading the long, hypnotic index of Eton eminences, back to the college's foundation in the 15th century, British public life begins to seem little more than Eton – a school of 1,300 13- to 18-year-old boys – talking to itself. And the list is not even comprehensive: at the time of writing, no one has thought to include Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

But the power of an institution can be more than its people. Under the coalition, the patchy egalitarianism of postwar state schooling is giving way to a more traditional philosophy: stricter uniforms and rules, pupils organised into private school-style "houses", more powerful headteachers, more competition and difference between schools. It is a philosophy increasingly friendly to Eton. The current headmaster, Tony Little, remembers his first headship at another private school in the late 80s: "The local comprehensive wouldn't invite me over the threshold. That has changed massively. The number of phone calls I get from heads of academies has greatly risen in the last two, three years. They want to visit, they want to collaborate." Eton now has state "partner schools" in nearby Slough, and this year joined with seven other private schools to open a free school in Stratford in east London.

Justin Welby, the new archbishop of Canterbury, joins a long list of Old Etonian establishment figures, including David Cameron, Boris Johnson and princes William and Harry. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

Other trends are working in Eton's favour. With annual fees of £32,067 – more than the average after-tax British household income – Eton is, more than ever, "a luxury brand", as Greig puts it in fellow Old Etonian Nick Fraser's 2006 book The Importance of Being Eton. As the super-rich and the wish to imitate them have strengthened, Greig continues, "luxury brands have come back". Like Britain's many other luxury businesses, Eton has improved its product. "When I was there in 1958 to 1963, the bottom 40% of boys did absolutely no work," says Simon Head, fellow of the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University. "That's gone. Eton has hunkered down. It's mobilised itself for the global economy."

Even the uniform seems more in keeping with the times. In an era of Downton Abbey and dandyish, aristocratic menswear fashions, Eton's waistcoats, tailcoats and stripes look less anachronistic. In the windows of the elderly school outfitters along Eton High Street, the long, theatrical approach to the college through the pretty, prosperous Berkshire town of the same name, there are items you could imagine selling well to east London hipsters.

Last month, a mildly droll Etonian reworking of the international pop hit Gangnam Style by PSY, called Eton Style, was posted by pupils on YouTube. Filmed around the school, it has had more than 2.6m views. Eton is adept at mocking and advertising itself simultaneously.

And yet, aspects of the school's success and longevity remain mysterious. What exactly is the source of its pupils' legendary charm and confidence, their almost as legendary slipperiness? In his book, Fraser interviews the late Anthony Sampson, the famous investigator of Britain's elites. "I'd meet Etonians everywhere I went," says Sampson, not one himself. "I've never understood why they were so good at networking and politics." Fraser speculates: "The Etonian mystique often seems a matter of mirrors, a collusion between those [non-Etonians] hungry for [Eton] notoriety and Etonians who are only too happy to supply it." One afternoon last week, I emailed the school to ask if I could visit. Within less than two hours, Little emailed back and offered to meet the next day.

Eton pupils on their way to lessons – known as 'divs' or 'schools' in the college's arcane slang. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Like many British centres of power, Eton owes some of its influence to geography. It was founded in 1440 on the orders of Henry VI, frequently in residence with his court nearby at Windsor Castle. Nowadays, the school emphasises its closeness to London, the great global money hub, a dozen miles to the east. "About a third of our boys have London addresses," says Little, leaving open the possibility that they also have others. For the tenth who live abroad – the proportion "has grown a little" since he became head in 2002 – Heathrow airport is even closer. Jets intermittently moan loud and low over the school's spikes and towers.

But otherwise, for much of the long school day, there is an uncanny hush. As you approach the college, there is no grand announcement of Eton's existence, just small, hand-painted signs, white lettering on black, indicating that an increasing number of the courtyards, alleyways and driveways branching off the High Street are private property. From the open windows of neat classrooms, some late medieval, some Victorian, some Edwardian, some with expensive glass-and-steel modern additions, little of the usual hubbub of secondary school life emerges. Pupils and teachers alike sit upright in the black-and-white uniform, which is somehow both uptight and flamboyant – some might say like Etonians themselves. The uniform was standardised in the 19th century and must be worn for all lessons, AKA "divs" or "schools" in Eton's elaborate private language.

When the lesson ends, the spotless pavements are suddenly flooded with pupils. Some are tall and languid, some are chubby and scurrying, some are black or Asian, most are white. Everyone carries old-fashioned ring-binder files, and no one texts or makes a phone call. But some of the boys greet each other with hugs, or bursts of transatlantic up-talking, or say "like" with a long "i", London-style – for a minute or two, many seem reasonably modern and normal. Then everyone rushes off to the next lesson. "It is possible to be bored at Eton," says the school website, "but it takes a bit of effort!"

"In many ways it is a conservative institution, with lots of tiny rules," says someone who was a pupil from 2002 to 2007. The ambiguous outside status of Eton often makes old boys reluctant to declare themselves. "But Eton is probably more liberal, more permissive than its reputation. There are amazing cultural facilities, to do art and theatre for example. There were so many opportunities, it seemed churlish to focus on how annoying it was to have to wear a gown in the heat of summer." Last month, the History of Art Society, one of dozens of such pupil-run bodies, held a typical extracurricular event, a talk on 20th-century modernism. It was given by the BBC's arts editor, Will Gompertz.

Some boys are so well-connected when they first arrive at the school, they already have a certain swagger. In focusing on a single institution, Eton's critics are sometimes avoiding the more uncomfortable truth that the roots of Britain's elites go wider and deeper. But for less overwhelmingly privileged boys, says theex-pupil, Eton can be life-changing: "It's just expected that you will drink from the cup of opportunity. So you become used to being able to do whatever you put your hand to. Or at the least, you learn not to seem fazed by opportunities in the wider world."

Tony Little, himself an Old Etonian, has been headmaster since 2002. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Little himself was a pupil from 1967 to 1972, "the first male in my family to be educated past the age of 14". His study is baronial and high-ceilinged, with a window austerely open to the cold evening, but he is less forbidding than you might expect, with a quiet, calm, middle-class voice, like a senior doctor. "Dad worked at Heathrow, security for British Airways," he says. One of the school's main aims, he continues, is to admit a broader mix. But how can it, given the fees, which have raced ahead of earnings and inflation in recent decades? "It's a huge amount of money," he admits – the appearance of candour is one of Little's tactics when he talks to the outside world. "Sometimes I think, short of robbing a bank, what d'you do?"

Currently, by giving out scholarships on academic and musical merit, and bursaries according to "financial need", Eton subsidises the fees of about 20% of its pupils. "Forty-five boys pay nothing at all," says Little. "Our stated aim is 25% on reduced fees, of whom 70 pay nothing." What is the timescale? "Quite deliberately non-specific. But I'll be disappointed if we have not achieved it in 10 years." Not exactly a social revolution. "A long-term goal" is for Eton to become "needs-blind": to admit any boy, regardless of ability to pay, who makes it through the school's selection procedure of an interview, a "reasoning test", and the standard private-school Common Entrance exam. Whether Eton would then become a genuinely inclusive place is open to doubt: one of its selection criteria is an applicant's suitability for boarding, and many people connected with Eton would surely resist its metamorphosis into a meritocracy. Hierarchy is in Eton's bones.

Either way, Little says, the school does not have nearly enough money to become "needs-blind" yet. According to its latest accounts, Eton has an investment portfolio worth £200m. The school looks enviously on the wealth of private American universities: Harvard, the richest, has an endowment of more than £20bn. Eton seems unlikely to return soon to its core purpose as decreed by Henry VI: the education of poor scholars.

In fact, the school's history has been more erratic than many of its admirers and detractors imagine. Henry VI was deposed when Eton was only 21 years old and its funding was cut off: the college was left with a stunted-looking chapel, built to less than half the intended length. Eton is hardly the oldest British private school – one of its main rivals, Westminster, was founded in 1179. According to Fraser, "Etonmania", like so many supposedly eternal British traditions, only started in the reign of Queen Victoria. From the 1860s to the early 1960s, the school enjoyed a golden age of power and prestige. Then its influence plummeted. The Etonian-packed, slightly drifting Tory administrations of Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home were blamed for Britain's apparent decline. Within the school itself, as Harold Wilson's 60s Labour government – there has never been an Etonian Labour prime minister – seemed poised to create a fairer Britain, a friend of Fraser's "wasn't alone in his belief that Eton was doomed, and should be forthwith incorporated within the state system … The Provost and Fellows [the school's governing body] did consider relocating to Ireland or France, but this was never a very serious notion."

A perceived lack of seriousness hampered Eton for decades afterwards. Reforming headmasters struggled against the school establishment, nostalgic Old Etonians, and sometimes the pupils themselves to make Eton more academic and less obsessed by rules and rituals. Margaret Thatcher still had OEs in her 80s cabinets, but she marginalised and often fired them: they seemed too passive and paternalistic for modern Britain.

How different Etonians seem now. Little says the school teaches pupils "how to juggle time, how to work hard", and how to present themselves in public: "One thing I say to them when they leave is, if you choose to behave the way a tabloid would expect … you deserve everything you get." He downplays Eton slang as "a quirk and an oddity. A lot of words have fallen out of use."

I wonder if he would say quite the same to a Daily Telegraph journalist. The classic Etonian skills – Cameron has them – have long included adjusting your message to your audience, defusing the issue of privilege with self-deprecation, and bending to the prevailing social and political winds, but only so far. "Do institutions in England change totally while seeming not to, or do they do the opposite?" asks Fraser. "I think the latter. And Eton has changed far less than Oxbridge."

Rushing between lessons with their old-fashioned files, some boys talk earnestly about their essays and marks. But Eton has not quite become an elite academic school: it is usually high, but rarely top, of the exam league tables. "Eton's view of education encompasses much more than just intellectual achievement," says the school's annual report. Nor does Eton participate unreservedly in the global education marketplace: it restricts its number of foreign pupils. "We are a British school that is cosmopolitan," says Little. "We're not an international school."

Actor Damian Lewis is an Old Etonian, as are fellow acting alumni Dominic West and Hugh Laurie. Photograph: Matt Baron/BEI/Rex Features

Does he think a school can ever be too powerful? For once, his affability gives way to something fiercer: "I'm unashamed that we're aiming for excellence. We want … people who get on with things. The fact that people who come from here will stand in public life – for me, that is a cause for celebration." If Eton is too influential, he suggests, other schools should try harder. Fraser has another explanation for the success of Old Etonians: "At moments in their lives," he writes, "they are mysteriously available for each other." Subtle networking, a sense of mission, an elite that does not think too hard about its material advantages – Eton's is a very British formula for dominance.

It can be a high-pressure place. For all the Old Etonians who have considered the rest of life an anti-climax, there have been others damaged by the school: by its relentless timetable, by its crueller rituals, such as the "rips" torn by teachers in bad schoolwork, and by Eton's strange combination of worldliness and otherworldliness. Compared to most other boarding schools, Eton seems more eccentric and intense, its mental legacy more lingering. "Eton never left me," writes Fraser. Little says: "I've come across a fair number of casualties who were here [with me] in the 60s." Another more recent ex-pupil describes Eton as "a millstone round my neck every day".

After my interview with Little, I had a parting look inside the grand, domed School Hall. The building was empty except for a single boy, onstage in his stiff uniform at a grand piano, and a watching teacher with a clipboard. Dusk had fallen, and his playing rippled gorgeously through the overheated building. When he finished, the teacher immediately came and stood over him. I couldn't catch what she said, but he touched his face nervously and nodded.

For some people, that is what education should be about. And Eton nowadays works restlessly to satisfy them. Beside its seemingly endless playing fields, the school is building a new quadrangle for 40 more classrooms. Next to the development is a small, bucolic, council-owned park, with litter and rusty goalposts. As Eton flourishes for the next few years at least, the rest of Britain may have to make do.


Eton College

Eton is not only the name of the best-known school in the world it is also historical, in that it was founded by a king. Henry VI, the physically weak and sick son of the hero of Agincourt Henry V, founded the college in October, 1440. The school has just passed its 570 th anniversary. Obviously, it is one of the oldest established places of education in Britain, and the world. I believe the oldest is St. Albans, founded for poor boys in the 11 th century: I will probably be corrected.

King Henry endowed the corporate body of the school (including the parish church in the village of Eton) with large estates spread over much of the southern half of England. The school is rich. It always has been. Henry decided the school would be managed by its Provost and Fellows, and the boys led and controlled by a Head Master. The King intended his foundation to be not only a fine school, but a centre of pilgrimage – religious and educational functions being at that time inseparable.

The buildings were and are splendid, but Henry expected the Chapel to be twice the size it is. He copied an even more ancient school at Winchester, founded by William of Wykeham. Teaching would be by means of schoolmasters called ushers. At Eton the masters were almost immediately nicknamed beaks even the beaks at Eton wear a uniform of a kind subfusc dark suit with dress shirt and white tie.

Unfortunately for Henry and his well-intended and high-minded foundation, the English Wars of the Roses (QV.) broke out just after its beginning. The school nearly perished along with three-quarters of the English nobility, but survived (true to the legend), thanks to the intervention of a mistress of the new king, the Yorkist usurper Edward IV (QV.). The school lived on, but religious functions and pilgrimages ceased.

By the early seventeenth century Eton had become the foremost school in England, boasting 70 Scholars (as decreed by the founder), educated and boarded free, living in the College, and more than 100 ‘Oppidans’ living in houses in what had become the town of Eton. Scholars and Oppidans received the same education, and were subject to the same rigid disciplines.

School hours were long, and packed with a classical education with heavy emphasis on Greek and Latin. There were few day boys, if any, and conditions were hard. The Head Master was assisted by the Lower Master, in charge of the younger boys (13 & 14 years old).

In the 18 th century the school’s progress and growth were erratic, as its numbers varied according to economic and political changes. There were also good and bad Provosts and Head Masters, but the latters’ names invariably became famous (or infamous). George III helped with much patronage. Assistant Masters were found and appointed, and each boy had a personal Tutor (to whom he paid a fee) supervising his studies and giving pastoral advice.

The Tutors began running boarding houses adjacent to the College, and thus became House Masters – always known as ‘M’Tutor. If the boarding house was managed and owned by a woman, she was called Dame. There have been many Dames in the history of Eton, mostly proficient, caring and occasionally charming – though not always.

Boys have have their own rooms, or cubicles, though in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was considered normal for brothers to share both room and bed. A good lunch was provided, but apart from this the boys were supposed to look after themselves. This was and is called messing. This is the sharing of a study, boys messing together not necessarily of exactly the same age, or in the same class. These conditions applied only to the Oppidans, whose parents paid fees. The Scholars were rather poorly off, living in sparsely furnished, cold dormitaries, into which they were locked at night.

With no hurry, traditions arrived, some of which survive today. It did not take long, for instance, for the more senior boys to arrange matters so that juniors fagged for them, cleaning shoes, cooking toast, making beds, giving them wake-up calls etc. No small boy could escape the sometimes rigorous burden of fagging. The older boys were called fagmasters and it is inevitable that Americans who do not know might assume that this practice indicates a degree of homosexuality. It is interesting to read school lists and discover how many Americans, north and south, have been sent by willing parents to Eton. The Yanks have a deserved reputation for all sports, but are not celebrated for their learning or academe.

In the earlier centuries school rules were observed by the Ushers, but historians of the school are of the opinion that rules were not necessarily well policed. Discipline was placed in the not always gentle hands of senior boys in the Sixth Form masters, unless they were housemasters, could not physically punish the boys, but the seniors could, and did. By the eighteenth century a system of school aristocracy was established. ‘Captain of the School’, ‘Captain of the Boats’, ‘Captain of Games’, Captain of the Eleven’ etc. These were the dukes, marquesses and earls at Eton College. Quite frequently they actually were the heirs to dukedoms etc. It used to be said that a father wanted his boys to have brains, he sent them to Winchester. If he wanted them to be very fit, ready to rise to Prime Minister or Field Marshal, be tolerant of others, and drawl their words like in no other school – he must send them to Eton. It is lore that any two Englishmen, meeting by chance in the middle of a jungle, could instantly recognise the other as a Wykehamist or Etonian. Both ancient schools maintain their unique accent.

The most famous Headmaster of Eton was probably Dr. Keate (1809 – 1834). His job was to control (frequently he failed) more than five hundred pupils. His harsh disciplinary methods with birch-rod and cane caused rebellions, but it is noted that his management was not all bad. Unbelievable though it may seem, Dr.Keate was personally popular with the boys, and an excellent teacher, but he is beyond doubt most celebrated for the number of floggings he administered during his twenty-five years as Headmaster. Later, in the twentieth century, a Head Master who had been a prisoner of the Japanese during the Second War became notorious for his beatings. The satirical weekly Private Eye immortalised Dr. Chenevix-Trench in a parody of The Eton Boating Song called ‘Jolly Beating Weather’. The good Doctor was finally asked to leave by the Provost and Fellows, and Eton survived the scandal, as it always has.

In 1811 a very famous institution was founded, the Eton Society or Pop as it became known. It was founded for debate, but soon became more responsible for school discipline than self-education. Senior boys in each House had a self-selecting group of five or six boys called the Library, responsible to the House Master for house discipline. Eton is famous for its Games. Football was played from the beginning, though rugby football never caught on. Rowing (wetbobs), cricket (drybobs), and Eton Fives have always been popular, as well as cross-country running and swimming. Boys were regularly drowned in the treacherous waters of the River Thames. The Eton/Harrow cricket match is an important event in the Calendar. Boxing in the eighteenth century form of prize-fighting was not only popular, but a money-making activity for the sportingly inclined. A son of Lord Shaftesbury was killed in a boxing tournament. Sorting each other out with fists was always an acceptable remedy for inter-house hatreds or jealousies.

It is no use trying to avoid the impression that life for an Etonian, in the fifteenth century or in this one, was and is tough. Toughness at Eton has always matched the toughness of the century. Life was extremely hard, especially for weaker boys, in the XVII and XVIII centuries, but became more tolerable in the XIX and succeeding centuries, when manners became more relaxed, and the rules with them.

With Hodgson as Provost in 1840, the Scholars (or Collegers) were at last re-housed, and it was possible to attract more able boys by scholarships. Keate’s successor, Hawtrey, introduced Mathematics as a subject in the syllabus, and greatly improved the teaching staff. By 1860 the College was a thriving mass of boys, nearly nine hundred of them. The school, unlike most of its contemporaries or equals, has never become truly co-educational, though experiments have been made.

Eton has produced more Prime Ministers than any other school, indeed the present PM was an Oppidan, while Mayor of London Boris Johnson was an exceedingly clever Colleger. The princes William and Harry went to Eton. The famous writers George Orwell (Eric Blair), Anthony Powell, Harold Acton, Ian Fleming, Aldous Huxley, Cyril Connolly, A.C. Benson and John le Carré (as a Master) were there. Prime Ministers the Duke of Wellington, W.E. Gladstone, Lord Roseberry, Lord Salisbury, Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home and others were there, as was Field Marshall Lord Chetwode. Leopold King of the Belgians was there. Actors Jeremy Brett and Timothy Dalton were there. The list of Etonians dead in the Great War is longer than those of most of the other great public schools. Contrary to popular thought, Eton is not as expensive as certain other great schools: Malvern College, for example, and the Roman Catholic institution Ampleforth cost more per term.

Eton Renewed by Tim Card: published by John Murray in 1994.

To Keep the Ball Rolling: Memoirs of Anthony Powell

Personal reminiscences recounted by the late Rowland Windsor-Clive and Jeremy Brett.


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