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A History of Eton College

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.

Schools Yard, Eton College

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.

Keats House, Eton College

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.

An old Eton College classroom

A tick box exercise?!

I’ve been thinking about what tourists really want. What do I want when I go abroad? A lovely culinary experience, a bit of culture, and most of all some sunshine and sea. I turn my gaze to the typical group I take around the country. They are a bit like me – limited time at their disposal, long list of famous sites to visit and a few items to knock off their cultural list at the end of the day too, plus a spot of shopping to fit in before jumping back on that plane. The visiting list is thus instantly predictable: you haven’t seen London if you haven’t been to Buckingham Palace, seen St Paul’s, been to the Tower of London or shopped on Oxford Street; you haven’t been to England if you haven’t seen Stonehenge, or Bath, or Windsor Castle, or indeed Oxford. There is little wonder that your typical tourist elects to see Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge in one day. This most popular touring route, that I happen to be specializing in, helps you knock three of the most impressive sites England has to offer in one go and clocks you a whooping 300 miles (483 kilometers) in just one day. Most tourists try to top this day off with a famous West End show like Mamma Mia or the Lion King, often forgetting to allow for the fact that so many miles in one day plus the unpredictable motorway traffic at rush hour will exhaust them (and cause them to miss that show).

 

Far from wanting to paint you a bleak picture, I encourage you to visit all these sites and enjoy them. They are truly beautiful and have much more to offer than the typical tourist has time to experience. In fact, if anything, I urge you to pace yourself and give each site more of your time so they can really unravel their wonders. Spend time in Windsor and get to know the town too, wander into Eton, walk along the Thames, have a coffee in one of the quirky local cafes. When in Bath, wander into the Assembly rooms, stop by Sally Lunn’s, walk along the Crescent and Queen’s Walk, pop into the Fashion Museum and into the Jane Austen Centre. If you allow yourself a little more time, then why not make a day of it and go up the hill to visit Prior Park too? I’ll tell you a secret: the locals fail to properly appreciate these sites for the sheer reason that they are so accessible. If something is on your doorstep then why bother with it now?! It will still be there tomorrow. However, all these sites are there for our enjoyment and deserve your time and attention. Pace yourself and you will enjoy yourself so much more!

 

And, because I truly and passionately mean my words, I leave you with some photos of these lovely places. I grew up in and used to live in Windsor and miss it – enjoy my view of it. I also took my family to Bath for a long weekend that remains etched in our minds as one of the best outings we’ve had together – aren’t you tempted a little bit by these sights? If you give me the chance I’d love to accompany you and your group on your extended visit to these places and help you discover other famous sites England has to offer. Just get in touch to discuss your visit!