Eton

Eton College

1440: King Henry VI founded "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor", commonly known as Eton College or just Eton. The purpose was then "to provide free education for 70 poor scholars" ...

1610: Camden -

Tamis ... commeth downe with a rolling streame by Aeton, famous for a College,the nource garden (as it were) or plant pot of good letters, which that most vertuous and godly Prince King Henrie the Sixt, ... first founded.

1792: Eton College, Samuel Ireland -

ETON College, that noble seminary of learning, has every advantage from situation which the luxuriant hand of nature could bestow. The valley in which it stands is healthy and fertile, and happily calculated for the residence of youth.
THE College was founded by that unfortunate Monarch Henry VI. in the year 1440, for the support of a provost and seven fellows, and the education of seventy King's scholars, an appellation given to those on the royal foundation.
THE chapel of this college is a fine Gothic structure, and apparently by the same architect who designed that stately edifice King's College, Cambridge, whose name, Mr. Walpole says, he is informed by his friend Mr. Baker of Cambridge (a well known antiquary), was Cloos, father of Nicholas Cloos, one of the first fellows of that college, and afterwards Bishop of Litchfield; though Godwin says, "the Bishop himself was master of the King's works here, as far as King Henry the Sixth's share reacheth, and contriver and designer of the whole." Whether father or son are entitled to that honour, little doubt remains, from the similarity of taste and disposition of the parts, but that this chapel, with that of King's College, were both the works of the same architect.
The modern introduction of the Doric order in the screen of this chapel is so dissimilar in style to the rest of the building, as in point of taste to be more than questionable, and will, no doubt, 'ere long be made to correspond with the rest of this justly esteemed edifice.

Eton Ireland 1792
Eton College, Samuel Ireland, 1792

1793: Eton College, Boydell -

Eton Boydell 1793
"Eaton". June 1, 1793. J. Farington R.A. delt.
J.C. Stadler sculpt. (Published) by J. & J. Boydell, Shakespeare Gally. Pall Mall & (No. 90) Cheapside London.

1798: The Annual Register -

The following are the correct particulars of a late disturbance at Eton-college :
Many of the boys of the fifth form, together with some juniors, had formed a resolution of rowing up to Maidenhead on Tuesday evening last, an act which, if put into execution, would have rendered it impossible for them to attend six o'clock absence. Dr. Heath, having heard of the above purpose, endeavoured to counteract it, first by remonstrance, and next by threats. The fifth form, with some others, however, in despite of the doctor's counsel and menaces, went upon the expedition, and, on their return, underwent punishment.
Here the matter rested, until the succeeding day (Wednesday) when one of the boys of the fifth form being guilty of another act of aggression it was deemed expedient, in order to support due subordination in the school, to send him away in a private manner. No other expulsion took place on the occasion, and all the boys, fully sensible of their error, returned to obedience.

1801: A General Account of All the Rivers of Note in Great Britain by Henry Skrine -

The noble edifice of Eton College, backed by its venerable groves, and ever-interesting to so many of the first youths in England, create a striking addition to the vast object in front, as it enlarges to our view with the extended display of its numerous bastions and St. George's Chapel, backed by the town of Windsor and the eminences of its great Park and Forest, which now form a grand and striking outline.
Gray's elegant ode [see below] impresses itself forcibly on a stranger's recollection, as he approaches at Eton its consecrated objects. How much more powerfully then must an Etonian feel it, when he reviews "the antique towers, the distant spires, the fields beloved in vain"?
An air of superior grandeur and propriety marks the whole of this pile, far beyond our other similar foundations, for Westminster has nothing in architecture, except its Abbey, to boast of; and Winchester, though princely in its endowment, and venerable in its antiquity, is but an irregular mass, when compared with Eton.
The beauty also of this situation on the Thames in full view of Windsor and its groves, which inspire a pleasing gloom unmixed with melancholy, cannot fail of striking forcibly on the imagination.

A Distant Prospect Of Eton College, by Thomas Gray
Listen to 'A Distant Prospect Of Eton College'

  Ye distant spires, ye antique towers,
That crown the watery glade,
Where grateful Science still adores
Her Henry's holy shade;
And ye, that from the stately brow
Of Windsor's heights th'expanse below
Of grove, of lawn, of mead survey,
Whose turf, whose shade, whose flowers among
Wanders the hoary Thames along
His silver-winding way.
 
Ah happy hills, ah pleasing shade,
Ah fields beloved in vain,
Where once my careless childhood strayed,
A stranger yet to pain!
I feel the gales, that from ye blow,
A momentary bliss bestow,
As waving fresh their gladsome wing
My weary soul they seem to soothe,
And, redolent of joy and youth,
To breathe a second spring.
 
Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
Full many a sprightly race
Disporting on thy margent green
The paths of pleasure trace,
Who foremost now delight to cleave
With pliant arm thy glassy wave?
The captive linnet which enthral?
What idle progeny succeed
To chase the rolling circle's speed,
Or urge the flying ball?
 
While some on earnest business bent
Their murm'ring labours ply
'Gainst graver hours, that bring constraint
To sweeten liberty:
Some bold adventurers disdain
The limits of their little reign,
And unknown regions dare descry:
Still as they run they look behind,
They hear a voice in every wind,
And snatch a fearful joy.
 
Gay hope is theirs by fancy fed,
Less pleasing when possest;
The tear forgot as soon as shed,
The sunshine of the breast:
Theirs buxom health of rosy hue,
Wild wit, invention ever-new,
And lively cheer of vigour born;
The thoughtless day, the easy night,
The spirits pure, the slumbers light,
That fly th'approach of morn.
 
Alas! regardless of their doom
The little victims play!
No sense have they of ills to come,
Nor care beyond today:
Yet see how all around 'em wait
The Ministers of human fate,
And black Misfortune's baleful train!
Ah, show them where in ambush stand,
To seize their prey, the murd'rous band!
Ah, tell them they are men!
 
These shall the fury Passions tear,
The vultures of the mind,
Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear,
And Shame that skulks behind;
Or pining Love shall waste their youth,
Or Jealousy with rankling tooth,
That inly gnaws the secret heart,
And Envy wan, and faded Care,
Grim-visaged comfortless Despair,
And Sorrow's piercing dart.
 
Ambition this shall tempt to rise,
Then whirl the wretch from high,
To bitter Scorn a sacrifice,
And grinning Infamy.
The stings of Falsehood those shall try,
And hard Unkindness' altered eye,
That mocks the tear it forced to flow;
And keen Remorse with blood defiled,
And moody Madness laughing wild
Amid severest woe.
 
Lo, in the vale of years beneath
A grisly troop are seen,
The painful family of Death,
More hideous than their Queen:
This racks the joints, this fires the veins,
That every labouring sinew strains,
Those in the deeper vitals rage:
Lo, Poverty, to fill the band,
That numbs the soul with icy hand,
And slow-consuming Age.
 
To each his suff'rings: all are men,
Condemned alike to groan;
The tender for another's pain,
Th'unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more;-where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise.

Eton College undated
Eton College, undated

1807: An Ode, written on the banks of the Thames near Eton by the Revd J Holden Pott.

1822: The Etonian - Master Henry Rashleigh to Miss Rashleigh -

Eton, June 7.
MY DEAR SISTER,
... the splendid description I mean to give you of the annual Regatta which took place on the 4th, and a very pretty sight it was.
You must positively come here when it happens again, and we will take care to send you timely notice.
All the long boats (to the number of nine or ten) were ranged along the bank of a large meadow, just out of Eton, and, at a settled time, they all set off, in order, to the sound of music, and rowed a long way up the river, to a place called Surly-hall, where there was a large supper laid out in the open field, not only for the crews, but also for all the Fifth and Sixth Form. ...
The river-side was lined with an immense number of people - all collected to see the boats start, or rather to see the dresses of the rowers. They had mostly straw hats, and very gay embroidered blue or white jackets, besides great gilt buckles in their shoes, such as one observes old codgers wearing, only that they were newer, and wreathed. But the steerers were the principal attraction - all dressed out in silks and velvets, and gold, after the Turkish or some other outlandish fashion. I must say, some of them looked more like girls than boys, and I cannot help thinking that those were the wisest who had naval uniforms; for it seems more in character.
I must not forget to mention that every boat had a particular flag, painted with some device or other, and a motto.
Directly after the procession had begun, there was such a scampering and racing about, that you would positively have imagined that half Eton was on horseback. ...
However, all managed to arrive at Windsor Bridge, or somewhere about it, before the fireworks began; and most of the carriages, as you may imagine, brought with them pretty good loads of the boys, who managed to cram themselves in every part. Samuel and I got into a house, which commanded an excellent view of the place where the fireworks are exhibited, viz. a sort of island in the middle of the river, covered with willows, which they call here an eyot, and perhaps elsewhere too, but I never heard of the same. It was quite dangerous to stand on the bridge, from the pressure of the horses and vehicles, not to mention that the fabric itself is very shaky, and not at all unlikely to tumble down with any extraordinary weight.
[ This was the last year of the old bridge. The current bridge was started in 1822]
When the boats came down, they pursued each other round this eyot, and under the bridge with the utmost rapidity; and I understand it is reckoned a great triumph if they can strike the one before them with their bow, and this they call bumping.
By this time it was getting quite dark, and the fireworks, which they tell me were unusually good, showed themselves to the greatest advantage, as well as some variegated lamps, which were ranged about upon trees and poles. The water-rockets pleased me better than any thing. ...
H. BASHLEIGH

1830: An Eton Punting Race, 1830, recorded by Thomas Selwyn in Greek.
(This splendidly schoolmasterish translation from the original Greek was made in 1903 by the headmaster, Dr Warre, and appears in Punting by R T Rivington.)

In the evening there was a new race which was much talked about. Eight fellows got into punts and raced. They were to turn round Lower Hope, starting from Eyot and the Brocas, and to come back again to the bridge.
Now these were they: Ackers and Jenkins and Turner had the middle Eyot station; two were close to each other on the Eton side ‘eager to use their poles’. A little above, along the Brocas, and across a good way above the upper end of the Eyot, Simpson, carrying Roupell, and Grasett (who failed to get the boat that usually carried him by the time that the signal to start was given, and I think would not even then have been willing to start); Needham and Holmes and Cracroft also took part in the race, and I think all except Needham were on the Windsor side. Ackers, as I hear, was by the Eyot and in deep water.
On the signal being given they started, and the spectators roared with laughter. Of these there were a great number, more Eton fellows than I ever knew come down to a race. Simpson broke his pole at first start, and took another which was ready in his punt. Jenkins went ahead very fast, and he and Turner were the first past the Brocas, and three punts once or more fouled, or nearly fouled each other. Those on the Windsor side were behind, and Jenkins and Turner had a good race close alongside of each other. I think Turner got first to the upper end of the Eyot, and Jenkins next to him. There were conflicting cheers.
Jenkins then led, and Turner could not touch him after they had passed a good bit of the Brocas. After this Jenkins gained still more, and Turner crossed a good way up above Brocas Clump, and getting into difficulties, not being able to make sufficient way against the stream, he turne round for some reason, and gave up, and was out of the race. Holmes and Cracroft and Needham and Ackers, after going up the New River came out, first Holmes, then Needham, and afterwards the other two. Ackers and Holmes crossed on coming out, but the others kept the Windsor bank. Ackers and Cracroft on opposite sides of the river were once nearly on a level. But I think Cracroft gave in.
Meanwhile Jenkins (who said he should not trouble himself in the race, but go as he like, and take his own time) was going ahead quite fast and quicker than I expected as compared with walking. After turning the lower point in the river, which I think was a punt somewhat below Lower Hope and opposite Hester’s Shed, he met with Needham going up midstream, and when he told him there as no prize for the third place Needham gave up, and Jenkins won as easily as possible on reaching the upper end of the Eyot, where he was greeted by a Cad with a thundering salute. Holmes came in second. …
There were a great many boats on the river then, and Jenkins and Turner had already been talked of before the race. The whole thing was amusing, and the victory a brilliant one. As he came down Jenkins did not always, perhaps never, keep to the bank. Such is the history of the punting race.

1836: Eton versus Westminster, a rowing match with considerable fouling!
1838: The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information -

On the morning of the 4th of June, if a passenger is going over Windsor Bridge on the way to Eton, he should turn his eyes to the left, on a small island called the aits, he will perceive two poles erected, towards the upper part of which a black scroll is affixed, with the following words conspicuously inscribed on it in white letters, "Floreat Etona", "May Eton flourish."
If it be near the meridian, or inclining towards afternoon, he may behold placed above it on a central pole the Eton arms; these are for transparencies; the arms are surmounted with a royal crown, and at the extremities of the scroll G. R. both in various colored lamps ready for illumination.
When evening approaches, at about six o'clock, several frames with fireworks are erected, and, among the most conspicuous of the preparations is a second transparency, to be lit up by fireworks, of the Eton arms surrounded with the motto "Floreat Etona."
There generally at this time begins no slight bustle on the LEFT bank of the river, called the brocas, which is occasioned by the "boats" being on the point of starting. Previously however to their departure the river begins to assume an animated appearance, and numerous skiffs with company in them, especially if it be a fine afternoon, are seen to move on the water.
The Etonians, also, not belonging to the boats' crews, get into skiffs and row up to Surly Hall, there to await the coming of the pageant flotilla.
There now appear on the river some way up the Buckinghamshire bank, so that they are not distinctly if at all visible from the bridge, the boats which are to play such a conspicuous part; they are generally eight in number, christened by some fine name or other, such as "Britannia I"; "Victory I"; "St. George I"; "Etonian I" &c., and decorated with handsome and appropriate flags. Two of them have ten, and the remainder eight oars.
When it is nearly half past six, or at a little before seven, the crews embark. They are all dressed in different uniforms, all however wearing blue jackets, shoes, and buckles. The great mark of distinction is the hat; a little, round, odd-looking, though sailor-like, affair, made of different colored beavers, and variously stained straws; in the front of which is placed a medal suitable to the name of the boat, as the cross of St. George, the anchor of Hope, &c. Each crew has moreover a shirt of a different check; for they assimilate themselves as much as possible to sailors, and invariably have a checked shirt.
The gayest person in each boat is the steersman, who is habited in a captain's full naval uniform, wearing a cocked hat and sword. The captain of the boat, however, pulls "stroke", and is habited as one of the crew.
An aquatic procession now commences, consisting of all the boats belonging to the Eton boys, in order, the ten-oars taking the lead; the whole preceded by one or two bands of music in two boats, rowed by "cads" [ * low fellows who hang about the college to provide the Etonians with anything necessary to assist their sports ]
The place of destination is Surly Hall, a house situated on the banks of the river, where refreshment, or rather a very substantial feast, in which wine makes a conspicuous figure, is provided. This is merely for the boats, but, as I have mentioned before, numbers of the Eton boys go up in skiffs, and, by standing behind the chair of any of the boats, they have whatever they wish.


Each fifth form boy is moreover presented with a card, on which is inscribed "cider", or else "ale", and which entitles the bearer to a bottle of either. Though the boats do not stay long up at Surly, they generally contrive that above half are halfseas-over; though such a close familiarity with the jolly god adds in no little measure to their personal risk while on the water, and is calculated rather to throw a shade upon the manner of the Etonians than to enhance the pleasure of this juvenile regatta.
While the "boats" are yet carousing at Surly, the company on the river in boats, punts, and barges, greatly increases, and the banks and bridge are well thronged. Several gentlemen and ladies arrive also in carriages, which drive down the brocas, to await the return of their elegant company, who are partaking of the pleasures of the scene upon the water.
Notice is given of the near approach of the "boats" by the number of skiffs which return first, in order to see their arrival; the illuminations and transparencies are then (at about a quarter past 8 o'clock) lighted up, and, when the first boat arrives at the aits, a firework is let off which explodes with a great noise, and is repeated, by way of salute, as each goes by.
The "boats" pass under the bridge, and return in order; by which time the bands of music, having also returned, are moored to a post in the middle of the river and commence playing.
The boats now row by the right side of the aits (I speak as if standing on the bridge), and at the same time another firework, which is generally very splendid, is set alight. As they pass the left side, each crew stands up in order, oar and hat in hand, and gives three cheers for "the king," and then passes on ; this is done as long as any firework remains, so that they row seven or eight times round the island. The pyrotechnic exhibition terminates with a temple of fire, surmounted with a royal crown, and the letters G. R. During the whole time Bengal lights, sky and water rockets are sent forth, which latter particularly enliven the scene, and by their water rambles excite much amusement.
The boys generally return home at a little past 9 o'clock in the evening.
The number of persons who assemble to witness this display varies at times from 2000 to 3000. The bridge is very crowded and looks one mass of people; the shore is densely covered with the company, and a great sum is gained by the "bargees", who moor two or three of their barges to the banks of the river, which are crammed to excess, demanding sixpence entrance; on the river innumerable boats are plying about, and the music sounds sweetly over the water.
I speak on my own authority, as an eye witness, when I say that the fireworks, the music, the beautiful and regular rowing of the Etonians, their gay flags, the novelty of the sight, and the number of people assembled to behold it, cause a delightful sensation to the mind, and a hearty participation in the joys of the scene.
Yet, in all this, there is one circumstance which is very curious and apparently unaccountable. It has been frequently reiterated by the head master of Eton, that "boating is at no times allowed, and though after Easter it is connived at a little, but not by any means permitted, yet previously it is absolutely forbidden."
Here is a jumble, it is "not permitted", "not allowed", but "connived at a little" - a little!
both at this fete and the similar one which occurs at Election Saturday The head master, and, as I believe, the rest of the masters are all there, participators of the scene, If not in the actual infringement of the rule.

1863: Eton Boating Song, William Johnson Cory -

Jolly boating weather,
And a hay harvest-breeze;
Blade on the feather,
Shade off the trees,
Swing, swing, together,
With your bodies between your knees,
Swing, swing, together,
With your bodies between your knees.
 
Skirling past the rushes,
Ruffling o’er the weeds,
Where the lock-stream gushes,
Where the cygnet feeds,
Let us see how the loving cup flushes,
At supper on Boveney meads,
Let us see how the loving cup flushes,
At supper on Boveney meads.
 
Harrow may be more clever,
Rugby may make more row,
But we’ll row on for ever,
Steady from stroke to bow.
And nothing in life shall sever
The chain that is round us now,
And nothing in life shall sever
The chain that is round us now.
 
Twenty years hence this weather,
May tempt us from office stools,
We may be slow on the feather,
And seem to the boys ‘old fools’,
But we’ll still swing together
And swear by ‘the best of schools’,
But we’ll still swing together
And swear by ‘the best of schools’.
 
Others will fill our places,
Dress’d in the old light blue;
We’ll recollect our races,
We’ll to the flag be true,
And youth will still be in our faces
When we cheer for an Eton crew,
And youth will still be in our faces
When we cheer for an Eton crew.

[ Every Englishman has a love hate relationship with this song. It does not take an Etonian to appreciate it - and yet it is also so full of embarassing cliches. And it does take an oarsman to appreciate that swinging with your body between your knees is not some bizarre sexual practice but orthodox rowing advice. ]

Lantern Slide (1883-1908) - Eton College
Pictures by W.C.Hughes. Thanks to Pat Furley, research by Dr Wilson.

1906: Eton College, Mortimer Menpes -

Eton Chapel from the fields, Mortimer Menpes, 1906
Eton Chapel from the fields, Mortimer Menpes, 1906

1906: Eton College, Procession of Boats, 4th June, Francis Frith -

1906:  Eton, Procession of Boats, 4th June, Francis Frith
1906:  Eton, Procession of Boats, 4th June, Francis Frith