Eton : Home To Britain's Most Famous School
Eton stands in the shadow of Windsor with its imposing royal castle but it is arguable that the village just across the Thames has had a greater effect than neighbouring Windsor on British history.
Eton is most famous for its school, Eton College and the school's playing fields. There are 1,300 pupils aged from 13-18 at the school. They wear a distinctive uniform of black tail coat, a waistcoat and pin stripe trousers and are a picturesque sight wandering between the school buildings that dominate Eton village.
There are 160 masters and over 600 other staff including Dames (matrons) and domestic staff in the 25 boarding houses. There are 400 school buildings including staff accommodation and a 2000 meter rowing lake owned by the school that will be the venue for London 2012 Olympic rowing events. The school, its immediate grounds and the playing fields extend for 400 acres from the North end of Eton High Street to the M4 near Slough.
Arriving in Eton
Windsor and Eton are an hour from London Waterloo by train. Leaving Windsor and Eton Riverside Station you will see the imposing sight of Windsor Castle. Walk away from the castle and towards the river and you will see Eton Bridge. It is a short walk across the bridge into Eton.
There is a faster rail connection from London Paddington but that involves changing at Slough. A shuttle service from Slough brings you into Windsor's Central Station. Walk down the hill keeping the castle to your right and you will see Eton Bridge ahead of you.
It is a short journey from Windsor to Eton on foot but longer by road. So choose which side of the river you want to be and cross the bridge on foot. There is a great view of Windsor Castle from Eton Bridge. It is a good place to stop for photos.
Eton village can be overshadowed by its famous school but it is a pleasant place to get away from the bustle of Windsor with several quirky distinctive shops, a gallery or two, some nice pubs, restaurants and boutique style hotels.
The Eton college Gift Shop opposite the college entrance is open March to December and sells gifts and clothing bearing the college logo.
Eton is home to Eton College Britain's leading independent school and one of the original Public Schools established by the Public Schools Act of 1868.
Confusingly in English English public schools are elitist fee paying schools. Schools that pupils don't pay to attend are known as state schools. Pupils at Eton College pay £30,981 ($48,860) per year in fees; more than the UK average salary. This doesn't take account of expenses like uniform and sports gear. Scholarships are available to boys from less privileged backgrounds but Eton retains its reputation as a top people's school preparing its pupils to occupy positions of influence.
Nineteen British Prime Ministers were educated at Eton College including the present Prime Minister David Cameron. The Duke of Wellington, himself a former pupil at the school, argued that the British Empire was built on the playing fields of Eton. The school's influence has been immense.
There are twelve Old Etonians in David Cameron's Government four of whom sit in the House of Lords. There are three Old Etonians, including the Prime Minister on the government front bench. Outside Government Old Etonians hold prominent positions in Business, the Civil Service and the Media. 1,225 Old Etonians are listed in Who's Who the guide to who is well known in British society.
History of Eton College
Eton College was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI. It was know as the Kings College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor. It was founded as a charity school that would provide education to 70 poor boys who would go to Kings College; the Cambridge University college also founded by Henry. King Henry bestowed substantial endowments on the school and much valuable land. The school received religious relics including a portion of the true cross and the crown of thorns. The Pope even gave it the right to grant indulgences to penitents on the Feast of the Assumption.
Many of the school's privileges and assets were withdrawn when Henry was deposed and succeeded by a new King, Edward VI who removed its treasures to St. George's Chapel, Windsor but the school has continued to benefit from wealthy benefactors and retains considerable land and assets as a walk through Eton will clearly demonstrate.
Eton College Chapel
The College Chapel is built in Gothic or Perpendicular style. The College's most imposing building was originally intended to be twice the length it is now but was never completed owing to the Wars of the Roses. The Chapel features a remarkable set of wall paintings by Flemish masters. Painted over in the 1560s they remained obscured for 300 years before being restored in the 1820s. The Chapel remains in frequent use with at least one service a day.
Eton College Tours
Tours of the college can be arranged some Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays or during school holidays. Tickets can be bought from Royal Windsor Information Centre in Windsor Royal Station or from the Eton College Gift Shop in the village. All tours must be pre-arranged.
Playing Fields of Eton
Continuing down the High Street you will see Eton's playing fields to your right. They extend as far as the eye can see and are a pleasant place to take a walk. Look out for:
- The wall where the Eton Wall game (an early version of football unique to Eton) is played.
- Fields with names like Agars Plough, Dutchman's, lower Club, Sixpennys/ The Field
- The Benefactors wall complete with a classical statue that is a copy from Florence
- Thames Valley Athletic Centre - controversially built with national lottery money
- What look like 5 a side goals but are used for the Field Game, another form of football unique to Eton
- The Jubilee river, Windsor's flood relief scheme and a terrific walk in itself taking in wild fowl conservation areas.
- Further afield, Eton Dorney Lake, the impressive 2000 meter London Olympics 2012 rowing facility.
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