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

A spoonful of brimstone and treacle

From a book held in the College Archives [COLL EST HL 1], dated 1693, a recipe for aches and pains:

recipe
Recipe for curing ache, 1693

 

A reicut to Coore the Eche [A receipt to cure Ache]

A hanfull of box

A hanfull of wormwood

A hanfull of Isope [hissop]

A hanfull of Rewe [rue]

A pound of Lard

Boill it woll to gether

Strain it and take a litell brim stone and store it to gether till its cold

take trekell [treacle] and brim stone for five or six days drive it out well, then take the ointment and nint your self

Brimstone, a form of sulphur, and treacle or molasses were commonly used as a cure-all at a time when medicine was not readily available to the masses. Charles Dickens mentions its use in Nicholas Nickleby, showing that even 150 years after this recipe was written its popularity had not decreased. It is the threat of this treatment that makes Michael and Jane Banks write their definition of a good nanny in Mary Poppins, when their father’s choice and former nanny says “Brimstone and Treacle and codliver oil, liberal doses of each. These are the treats from which children recoil, the lessons I’m going to teach”.

The benefits of sulphur as an anti-oxidant and detox agent have been known for thousands of years. Part of the popularity of spas was the sulphurous content of the water, and modern day diets such as the cabbage soup diet are based on these properties. It has been used to cure skin complaints, as a laxative, and as here, to relieve aching joints.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

Mad scientist

science-notebookRecently digitised for the archives are two superbly illustrated notebooks kept by Guy Speir (HEL, 1893) of his science lessons with Dr Thomas Porter. These are a rare example of class work, and it is wonderful to see the imaginative drawings which Speir has added afterwards.

Thomas Porter taught science at Eton from 1885 until 1930. Science was a relatively new addition to the curriculum at the time, and Porter was one of the first specialists to be appointed. He campaigned during his time for improved facilities and to enhance the status of the separate sciences. He was also the founder of the Photographic Society, and his work in this area helped develop 3D film cinematography. He had his own room to carry out experiments in, and it was reported among boys that he had even raised a dead cat to life with a galvanic battery. The college was lucky to have such a dedicated teacher and brilliant scientist, who even has a law named after him – the Ferry-Porter law.

These notebooks give a glimpse into the style of teaching employed in the 1890s, which was very much dictation and note taking. Little notes and comments by Porter show an informal side to the image of a Victorian schoolmaster. They are a fantastic survival, and one we are very pleased to have in the collections.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

Edward IV, protector of Eton?

The end of 1460 had been a bad year for the Yorkists. Richard Duke of York and his younger son Edmond had been killed in battle. The elder son Edward was now Duke of York, and he assumed his father’s claim to the throne. The tide would now begin to turn in favour of the Yorkists.

Edward met the Lancastrian army at Mortimer’s Cross in Hertfordshire on 2 February 1461, and defeated them soundly. During the battle, three suns were seen to be rising, a portent, Edward of York claimed, of his upcoming success and that God was on his side. He took these suns as his emblem. Queen Margaret headed towards London, but was prevented from entering the city by Londoners who feared pillaging. The Yorkist army gave chase and also set off for the capital.

This must have been a very difficult time for Eton, very much Lancastrian in its outlook. Although they had not themselves taken up arms, Eton was Henry VI’s project and they feared reprisals. Some of the Fellows headed out to meet the Duke of York on his way to London.

They came away with a written letter of protection, signed by the new Duke [ECR 39/124]. Dated 27 February 1461, it reads

Be it knowen that We, Edward by the grace of God of Englande, Fraunce, and Irlande vray and just heire, Duc of York, Erl of the March and Ulvestre, have by thees our lettres taken and receyved the Provoste and felaship of the Collage of Eyton into our defense and saveguard.

Just a few weeks later the Battle of Towton took place, and Edward was now King of England. The College must have been very relieved that they had got this show of support from their new King when they did!

This protection was not to last long though, for in 1463 Edward decided to annex Eton to the College of St George, Windsor Castle. All property, money, vestments, support went to St George’s, and Eton was closed down.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist