HISTORIC SCHOOLS: ETON COLLEGE

Eton College

Despite being England’s “Mad King Harry”, the tragic Henry VI had his lucid moments. During one of them he founded Eton College. Originally known as “The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor”, the school gave free education to seventy boys from poor families. The following year Henry founded King’s College Cambridge, which these boys could move on to once old enough.
Henry’s successor, Edward IV (who deposed Henry in 1461, was briefly ousted in 1470, and settled the who’s-the-king thing permanently in 1471 by having Henry murdered), did not view poor boys with quite as much favour. He took away a lot of the endowments Henry had bestowed upon Eton College. Forced to operate with limited funds, no further buildings were added until the Provost, Richard Lupton, put some up in 1517.
Eton boys rose at 5 a.m., chanted prayers while they were getting dressed and had their noses to the academic grindstone from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., with only an hour set aside for ‘play’. Discipline was harsh, and holidays were few and far between: a three-week break for Christmas (for which the scholars remained at school), and a three-week summer break (they got to go home for that one).
Somewhere along the line, Eton ceased to be a poor boys’ school, and became better known as THE place for the upper crust to be educated, with boys having their names ‘put down for Eton’ at birth. That practice no longer exists. Eton now accommodates about 1,300 boys, and since 2002, all of them have to have references from their previous schools and go through tests and interviews to gain their places. The school is also getting back to its founder’s original intentions. Over 20% of its pupils do not pay the full fee, and Eton is working towards again having seventy pupils who pay no fees.
The photo above was taken in 1984, when the school was still relatively elitist and attendance at Eton would have been beyond the Duke pocketbook, but even if it hadn’t been, the next generation member sitting outside the place was adamant that he didn’t want to go there. For some reason, getting up at 5 a.m. and having lessons from morn ’til night, and being flogged on a regular basis didn’t seem to appeal to him.

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