Eton College, usually referred to as Eton, is a British independent boarding school for boys aged 13-18. Following the public school tradition, Eton is a full boarding school, meaning all pupils board at the school. The College is one of four remaining single-sex public schools to continue this practice, and a member of the G20 Schools Group.
Eton today is a larger school than it has been for much of its history. In 1678, there were 207 boys. In the late 18th century, there were about 300, while in the modern era, the total has risen to over 1,300.
The school has a long list of distinguished former pupils. David Cameron is the nineteenth British Prime Minister to have attended Eton. Prince Harry graduated the College in 2003. Almost all the school’s pupils go on to universities, about a third of them to Oxford or Cambridge.
The school is known for its traditions, including a uniform of black tailcoat and waistcoat, false-collar and pinstriped trousers. Most pupils wear a white tie that is effectively a strip of cloth folded over into a starched, detachable collar, but some senior boys are entitled to wear a white bow tie and winged collar.
It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as ‘The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor’, to provide free education to seventy poor boys who would then go on to King’s College, Cambridge, founded by the same King.
When Henry VI founded the school, he granted it a large number of endowments, including much valuable land, a plan for formidable buildings (Henry intended the nave of the College Chapel to be the longest in Europe) and several religious relics, supposedly including a part of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns. The school also came into possession of one of England’s Apocalypse manuscripts.
However, when Henry was deposed by Edward IV in 1461, the new king annulled all grants to the school and removed most of its assets and treasures to St George’s Chapel, Windsor, on the other side of the River Thames.
Construction of the chapel, originally intended to be slightly over twice as long, with about eighteen bays (they are eight today), was stopped when Henry VI was deposed. Only the quire of the intended building was completed.
Eton’s first Headmaster, William Waynflete, founder of Magdalen College, Oxford and previously Head Master of Winchester College, built the ante-chapel that finishes the Chapel today. The important wall paintings in the Chapel and the brick northern range of the present School Yard also date from the 1480s; the lower storeys of the cloister, including College Hall, had been built between 1441 and 1460.
As the school suffered reduced income while still under construction, the completion and further development of the school has since depended to some extent on wealthy benefactors. Building resumed when Roger Lupton was Provost, around 1517. His name is borne by the big gate-house in the western range of the cloisters, fronting School Yard, perhaps the most famous image of the school. This range includes the important interiors of the Parlour, Election Hall, and Election Chamber, where most of the 18th century ‘leaving portraits’ are kept. The last important addition to the central college buildings was the College Library, in the southern range of the cloister, 1725-9, by Thomas Rowland.
In the 19th century, architect John Shaw Jr became surveyor to Eton. He designed New Buildings (1844-46), Provost Francis Hodgson’s addition to provide better accommodation for Collegers, who until then had mostly lived in Long Chamber, a long first floor room where conditions were inhumane.
The very large and ornate School Hall and School Library were erected between 1906 and 1908 across the road from Upper School as the school’s memorial to the Etonians who had died in the Boer War.
A bomb destroyed part of Upper School in World War II and blew out many windows in the Chapel. In 1959, the college constructed a nuclear bunker to house the College’s Provost and Fellows. The facility is now used for storage.
Eton has traditionally been referred to as ‘the chief nurse of England’s statesmen’, and has been described as the most famous public school in the world.
Eton blue is a bluish-green colour used since early 19th century by sportsmen of Eton College.
In 2011, plans to attack Eton were found on the body of a senior al-Qaeda leader shot dead in Somalia.