Feats of skill: Eton’s trophy cups

On 26th and 27th June 2017, a unique event took place at Eton. For the first time over 400 of Eton’s silver trophy cups were gathered for inspection in one place. The resemblance to Aladdin’s cave was truly remarkable, with every table top in the Charteris Rooms covered in silver. I would like to thank all the house masters who (at a very busy time of year) willingly transported all their silver cups to the Charteris Rooms for inspection. The project has been driven by the fact that many of the cups bear the scars of having been presented to boys over the years, and the older cups (and hence the most prestigious) have become very frail.

Silver cup audit in the Charteris Rooms

Aladdin’s cave: the silver cups being audited in the Charteris Rooms at Eton

We had three aims: the first was to make an accurate record. Simon Dean has created a digital record containing information of location, a photograph of each cup, dimensions, weight, silver marks and a description of the condition. This is an ongoing process as the cups change hands from year to year.

The second aim was to start a rolling programme of restoration. David Cawte, silver expert with a lifetime of experience in mending silver, will take a selection of cups each year for restoration.

The third aim was to begin collecting for the Eton College Archives the records of sporting events held on these trophies. The immense scale of the information contained on both the cups themselves and the inscribed bases will be collected for the archives over the years to come.

The earliest dates recorded on these cups are from the late 1850s and early 1860s. Given that sport at Eton existed well before this it is clear that they represent a change in the way sport at Eton was being run. To have trophy cups being presented for house sport it is necessary to have a house system in place and this developed at Eton in a piecemeal fashion over the course of the 19th century as the school steadily bought out the dames who ran boarding houses and replaced them with assistant masters.

The cups record intensely fought sporting battles between houses. As an example, the senior cricket trophy was first presented in 1860. In 1861 it was won by the Rev. W. B. Marriott’s House captained by R.A.H. Mitchell, who was to become one of the most significant names in the history of Eton cricket. In 1866 he returned to Eton as an assistant master and his coaching resulted in his house winning the senior cricket successively from 1881 to 1887. The 1,500m trophy is a large, elaborate wine cooler originally presented in 1856.  It records both great sporting achievement and great heroism. G.K. Dunning won the cup outright in 1913 by winning the race three times. Also recorded on the base is a note to the effect that H.E. Maudslay, who also won the cup outright in 1940, later took part in the famous 1943 raid on the Eder dam where he was sadly killed.

The base of the Aquatics cup, with decorative details of rushes and waterlily leaves

The base of the Aquatics cup, with decorative details of rushes and waterlily leaves

Trophies were presented for many reasons and by different people. The lower boy cricket cup was donated to the school in 1866 by Oscar Browning, assistant master. In the same year his house, captained by W.H. Hay, is recorded as having won the cup. Therefore perhaps not such a disinterested gift!  After the First World War a number of cups were given as memorials to boys who died. A pair of challenge cups for the Junior 4s has a poignant memorial to ‘George William Taylor, Lieutenant Royal Field Artillery who died of wounds in Flanders on 11th November 1917. From his mother to the oarsmen on the river he loved so well.’

The majority of the cups are not particularly significant artistically. However, a few trophy cups are notable pieces of craftsmanship. The Aquatics cup is a great, urn-shaped vessel with continuous scenes of Eton rowing running round its sides surmounted by a lid with the image of Old Father Thames. Sadly, it has suffered badly by being over-cleaned and much of the sharp decorative detail has worn away. Another discovery was that both The Patagonian League cup (for junior football) and the trophy for the quickest 50 in an XI match have silver marks identifying them as being made by Omar Ramsden (a famous Arts and Crafts silver maker) in 1918 and 1935 respectively.

The Patagonian League trophy, showing its battle scars

The Patagonian League trophy, showing its battle scars

These cups are a significant resource. The information that they hold about the history of sport at Eton, its matches, feats of skill, famous sporting heroes and great achievements are a remarkable record of the development of sport at Eton over 150 years. A programme of restoration has begun and I hope that over the next few years the cups will begin to improve in appearance and therefore be held in the appreciation that they deserve.

By Shauna Gailey, Keeper of Silver

Eton had talent!

Cutting 001

Newspaper cutting from 1964 about The College Boys

It seems that Eton in the mid-1960s was a fertile source of creativity in contemporary music – pop music to be exact, boasting around a dozen home-grown pop groups. One of these has come to light in copies of material recently given to the Archives by the widow of a former group member, Jamie Graham. Jamie’s group had the eponymous name “The College Boys” (formerly the rather more edgy “Nick and the Neolithics”). The group made it into several newspapers, including the national “Daily Sketch”, and even released a song – “I Just Don’t Understand” – on the Columbia Record label. In a letter to the donor, one of the group members (Micky Astor) refers to the group’s ‘one fan’ (pictured below).

Fan 001

A photograph of The College Boys’ “one fan”

Not only do written records of “The College Boys” activities survive, but you can actually listen to “I Just Don’t Understand” here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ts4sS6Wj18A

Catchy, isn’t it?!

the-college-boys-i-just-dont-understand-1964

Label from The College Boys’ 1964 single, ‘I Just Don’t Understand’, written by Jamie Graham.

By Jane Sellek, College Archivist (cover)

Orwell at Eton

In the summer of 1917 Eric Arthur Blair signed the entrance book for Eton College. The volume is just one of the treasures on display in Eton College Library to mark the 101st anniversary since Blair – now better known as George Orwell – crossed School Yard for the first time as a King’s

Eton College entrance book

Eton College entrance book for 1917, with Eric Blair’s signature

The display was assembled to complement the Orwell101 school conference and the unveiling of the bust of George Orwell in School Library. While Orwell probably never laid eyes on the inside of College Library himself, on 3 May this year his son, grandson and great-grandson all came to see the display that covers Orwell’s life from his Eton days to his journalism and writing career.

Starting with a mark-book, where we find Blair coming second to bottom in Classics (a subject you feel he would have happily placed in Room 101), it moves on to records of a Wall Game in his final year where Blair was one of a few in the game’s history to score a goal.

College mark-book for 1917

College mark-book for 1917 showing Eric Blair second from the bottom of the class

Further highlights of the display include items relating to Orwell’s investigative journalism, among them first editions of The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) and examples of his literary journalism which cover a broad range of subjects. There are also personal letters from Orwell and his wife Eileen, written while they were in Marrakesh and touching on Orwell’s ill health that he would suffer from for the rest of his life.

Orwell's early essays displayed in College Library

Orwell’s early essays displayed in College Library

Finally, the better-known role of Orwell the novelist is presented through multiple editions of his familiar works of Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1949), including a number of foreign translations, as well as his lesser-known novels such as Coming Up for Air.

Throughout the display, Orwell’s popularity and impact can also be seen, for example through the editions of Down and Out in Paris and London and The Lion and the Unicorn that Alun Lewis and Sidney Keyes respectively took with them to the First World War.

His academic reputation at Eton was somewhat mixed, but his reputation as a writer is never in doubt. After the publication of Animal Farm his Eton tutor, A.F. Gow, asked Orwell for a copy of the book. Orwell duly obliged, but rather than sign the copy ‘Eric Blair’, as Gow would have known him, he signed it ‘Geo. Orwell’ and left his Eton days behind.

College Library with Orwell101 banners

The Orwell101 display in College Library

By Ceri Sugg, Project Archivist

The display will be on show to visitors to College Library on the Fourth of June. Orwell’s time at Eton is also the subject of an article by our Archives Assistant Georgina Robinson in the Collections Journal.  Please contact us to request a copy of the Journal.

 

How the murder of an Old Etonian fractured Anglo-Greek relations

Abominable Eton

On 25 October 1851, 13 year old Edward Henry Charles Herbert wrote to tell his mother of a fair in Windsor. Visiting the fair would be an excellent opportunity to escape Eton, a place he refers to as an ‘abominable hovel of a hole’.

However, he is hesitant.

Masters and 6th formers are deployed to catch any free roaming Lower Boys in search of festivities. If caught by a Master he would be flogged and turned down a form, simply ‘a great bore’ in Herbert’s books. Worse still, a 6th former would inflict lines of Virgil on him.

Weighing up the odds, it’s a risk he’s willing to take.

From his letters it is easy to imagine Herbert as the epitome of a Victorian teenager. His main grievances: having ‘drunk not beer nor wine’ and having eaten neither ‘apple tart nor clotted cream, nor any second course at dinner’. Consequently he states ‘I detest Eton, I abominate it.’

Despite the difficulties Herbert felt in these early days, he did well at Eton. At one point he worked so hard to impress his Master and Tutor that he tried to ignore a fever. He soon settled in, winning a series of prizes, he progressed well through the school and received a scholarship to Oxford.

Letter addressed by Edward Herbert to his father, c.1851

Letter addressed by Edward Herbert to his father, c.1851. (ED/354)

This series of letters, written by Herbert in the early 1850s, provides an interesting first-hand account of life at Eton during the mid-Victorian era. As a stark contrast, the Eton archive also holds the newspaper reports from his untimely death. His struggles at Eton were nothing compared to what was to come.

Held To Ransom

On Monday 11 April 1870, Herbert joined a group of seven other tourists on a day trip to the site of the Battle of Marathon.

As they travelled through the mountains, they were ambushed by a band of brigands, who demanded one million drachma and amnesty for their safe release.

A Brutal Murder

The captives were not treated poorly. Another Old Etonian, Frederick Grantham Vyner, reportedly ran races and tossed boulders with his captors.

However, the Greek government refused to grant amnesty to the captors. Instead they planned a siege. The group were located and surrounded and in the confusion and panic, one by one Edward Herbert and his companions were shot dead.

Not long afterwards the brigands were themselves captured. The Greek government made an example of them, executing them and putting their heads on public display.

Herbert’s body returned to his ancestral home of Highclere Castle and was laid to rest by the friends and family who were so often mentioned in his letters.

International Tension

The incident was to be known as the Dilessi Massacre. It shook the country and was widely reported across Europe. Emotional speeches were made in Parliament by friends and relatives of the victims, who all spoke out against the Greek government and their ill-planned rescue.

These sentiments were felt across the country and even by Queen Victoria. The episode severely tested the relationship between Britain and the young Greek state, whose independence Britain had helped to attain.

Heads of Greek Bandits

The heads of the seven bandits of the Dilessi Massacre, as publicly displayed. From a scrapbook (ED/354/57-58).

 

By Georgina Robinson, Archives Assistant

A year in the life of an archives assistant

Coming to the end of my time as the Archives Assistant at Eton, I find myself divided between feelings of excitement for the future, gratitude for everything I have been able to see and learn, and sadness at leaving a Collections team that made it such an enjoyable experience, and one in which my consumption of cake has tripled.

The position is a trainee role, allowing me to learn what it takes to be an archivist, gain hands on experience, and (hopefully) help contribute to the work of the College Archives along the way. Over the year I have certainly been kept busy, working upon a range of projects including: cataloguing records of an island owned by the College; running a session as part of a challenge day at a local primary school, allowing 8 and 9 year old pupils to get hands-on with our records and investigate the life of Dr John Keate, a 19th century Eton Head Master; and assisting researchers using our records. The majority of my time has been spent cataloguing around 3300 letters sent to the College bursars between 1775 and 1900, which discuss day to day business – from food orders to the income from the College’s estates and the construction of new buildings to meet the needs of the ever expanding school.

When I started this job I thought that being a successful archivist was all about having a good eye for detail and an ability to order things, I now know that there is so much more to it than just that. You must have the confidence to trust in your knowledge and skills, knowing that a mistake could impact upon a researcher in the future. Be versatile enough to deal with the wide range of material in your collection, from wax seals, parchment rolls and boxes upon boxes of handwritten letters; to magazines, books and even emails. If I had my time again, I would certainly brush up on my non-existent Latin and Greek! Not to forget being willing and determined to spend hours removing rusted pins, paperclips and staples from documents they would otherwise damage.

I remember being unsure before I started of what to expect from the College Archives. What I have found is a place in which I was given the opportunity to ask questions, work within a fantastic archive on amazing records, and learn from excellent people.

By Josh Insley, Archives Assistant

Planes on the playing fields: life at Eton in WW1

Letter by Dickie Harington, with diagrams of the wing section and of the RAF circle wing pattern

Letter by Dickie Harington, 30 May 1915

Four letters written by Dickie Harington [Sir Richard Dundas Harington, at Eton 1913-1919] have been purchased by the archives. Sent to his parents, they describe life at Eton during the First World War.

He describes how in May 1915, a bi-plane landed on Agar’s Plough, and includes a diagram and detailed description of the plane “It was built in 1915 by Vickers…I touched its propeller and it was  very greasy, and I touched its wings and found they were made with a vacuum inside…had rings of red white and blue printed on her bottom wings”. The pilot was an Old Etonian, a member of Pop, who boarded at Brinton’s and had come to have lunch there.

Letter by Dickier Harington, with diagrams of the wing section and of the RAF circle wing pattern

Letter by Dickie Harington

Plan of a bi-plane by Dickie Harington, complete with labels

Plan of a bi-plane by Dickie Harington

Another letter describes some of the war work undertaken by boys. “Three boys in my house are making shells, they go to Slough every day and the hours are from lunch till the evening one day, and from early school to lunch another day, and so on alternately”.

Although there was an attempt to continue life as normally as possible, letters such as these give glimpses into the way the war impacted on those boys still at Eton.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

A piece of finger and spine

ecr_39-45Certificate of delivery of relics, ECR 39/45bridlingtonSeal of the Priory of Bridlington

When Henry VI established Eton College, he wanted it to be a place of importance. To that end, he granted a vast amount of land and a number of privileges and rights, some not held by anywhere else in England, such as the right to grant Indulgences. In addition, he gave Eton a large collection of holy relics, intending College Chapel to become a place of pilgrimage.

Inventories drawn up over the years describe these relics and the amazing mounts created for them. In addition to the ubiquitous Thorn and piece of the True Cross, there were some more unusual items. One of the first items to be gifted by Henry was a piece of the finger and spine of St John of Bridlington.

Born in 1320 in Yorkshire, St John was commended for the integrity of his life, his scholarship, and his quiet generosity. Recognised as a saint by the Pope in 1401, he would be the last English saint to be canonised before the Reformation. After his death, tales of miracles attributed to him spread throughout the country. Henry V attributed his victory at Agincourt to the intercession of St John of Bridlington and made a number of pilgrimages to the priory there. He was therefore a popular saint for the Lancastrians, and an eminently suitable one for Henry VI’s enterprise.

Henry VI took possession of the relics on 26 June 1445 and gifted them to Eton. An elaborate reliquary of sliver and gilt was built to house them.

The cult of St John of Bridlington was short-lived, and as with many local saints his popularity faded over the years and today he is little known. Under Edward VI, Eton was forced to submit to the ecclesiastical changes being introduced – the images surrounding the altar were pulled down, and the altar frontals sold. After 1551, the Feast of the Relics was no longer celebrated, and the ornamental reliquaries were surrendered.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist