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

A ‘lost’ Christmas carol

carol
Christmas carol in COLL EST HL 01

Written within a book of accounts kept by Richard Rowden, receiver of the rents for the college at Hanging Langford, Wiltshire, is this carol. Known now as “A Virgin most Pure”, it is thought to have originated in Gloucestershire during the 16th century, and the earliest written version of this carol appeared in 1661 in a book called New Carolls for this Merry Time of Christmas, printed in London. The carol then disappeared from publications until the late 18th century when the words were published by a ballad printed in Tewkesbury. This time it had a new first verse – the now more familiar:

A virgin most pure [unspotted], as the prophets do tell
Hath brought forth a baby, as it hath befell

The form which appears in this book is the original version, with the first verse being:

In Bethlehem in Jewry a city there was
Where Joseph and Mary together did pass

This carol was particularly common in the west of England, especially in Gloucestershire. The book in the archives was begun 1692, and entries continue until 1756, suggesting that even if there were no printed versions of the carol in circulation at the time, it was still being performed and enjoyed in the West Country during these “lost” years.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

The origins of the Field Game

eton_rules
The first written rules for the game, from the Keepers’ Book, 1847

At Eton, boys were largely left to their own devices when it came to sport, deciding for themselves what games they would play and the rules of those games. These are the first written rules for the Field Game, one of two versions of football developed here. They are from the book kept by the Keeper of the Field, beginning in 1847.

These rules include the size of the goal “the goal sticks are to be seven feet out of the ground…the space between each goal stick is to be eleven feet.” They describe a rouge, the bully, how points can be scored, and other rules of play such as “No crawling on the hands and knees with the ball between the legs is allowed.”

The game was incredibly popular, being preferred to association football because, as one boy wrote, “our Eton game is one of our most cherished institutions…also there is the very important question of slackness and loafing, for anybody who did not want to run about energetically could simply give the ball an enormous kick and call it a pass.” Indeed, there was no separate Association team at Eton until 1930, almost 70 years after the game was founded.

Apart from Eton blue, the Field Game was the first sport or society to get official colours, with the red and blue design dating from 1860. More information on school colours can be found in the current display in the Museum of Eton Life.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

Taking a cold shower

psychrolutes
Image from the Book of the Society of Psychrolutes

In 1828, a new society was founded in Cambridge, dedicated to swimming. Called the Society of Psychrolutes, the qualification for membership was the practice of bathing outdoors between November and March. In 1832, the Eton Royal Philolutic Society was established, for the lovers of bathing in general, with William Evans (of Evans’ house fame) as a leading light. In 1833, they merged to form the Eton Philopsychrolutic Society.

Winter bathing was a recommended treatment for strengthening the body, and the supposed improvements it would bring can be seen in this illustration from the book of the Psychrolutes in which the rivers, lochs and glacial lakes that they had bathed in that year were listed. In addition, it would keep impure thoughts away – the Victorian equivalent of “take a cold shower”.

The Philolutes were supported by Dr Hawtrey, Head Master, who authorised them to do anything that would promote ‘the safe and efficient practice of Philolutism’. Evans worked to regularise the teaching of swimming at Eton and to ensure that no boy went on the river until he could swim. It was therefore this Society, and especially Evans, who placed swimming and boating on an organised footing at Eton, saving many lives in the process.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist