Originally part of Henry VI’s foundation, The College of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Eton. The word college in this case means a community of priests. Henry had grand plans for this his pet project. He even managed to obtain indulgences for all who visited on the Feast of the Assumption. Provision for 70 boys was added almost as an afterthought.
Henry began building the new church in 1442 but after 5 years he decided there was a problem. It wasn’t big enough. He began again but only managed to build the chancel before being overtaken by events, ending in his murder at the Tower of London. The 15th century buildings are arranged around a courtyard, very much like an Oxford or Cambridge College. The side closest to the road had only a low wall until it was replaced with Upper School in 1665.
Pretty soon sons of the well off began to arrive. Not actually having a place at the school, they brought their own tutors with them and found lodgings in the town. Being of the town, they were known as Oppidans meaning ‘of the town’. Their landladies were called Dames, a corruption of the Latin for mistress. Once the number of boys reached more than 200, by the end of the 1600s, the College decided to build their own Dames’ houses. By 1766 there were 552 boys in 13 houses.
Today Eton is the most famous school in the world. It is highly selective based on academic ability and the potential housemaster’s opinion. Aged 10 you apply to your chosen house. It is also very expensive at £40,668. That’s £113,870.40 with tax and without extras, if you have 2 boys. There are however many bursaries. The school is 5x oversubscribed but numbers have stayed at 1300 boys and 0 girls since the 1970’s.