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

Operation Ozymandias

The transportation of a pair of ancient Egyptian feet (ECM.2189-2010) to their new home in the Jafar Gallery.


The object in question was a pair of extremely heavy red granite c3000 year old feet which were once part of a larger statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II (known to the Greeks as Ozymandias). It had been in ‘temporary’ storage in a window alcove for at least 2 years, awaiting a more permanent place in the Jafar Gallery.

In early September 2017, the new wooden plinth had been made, so I got the nod from Rebecca Tessier, Museums Officer, to go ahead and start planning what we would need for the move.


Firstly I needed to get a good idea of the weight of the piece. Using the dimensions, I could work out the volume and therefore have a pretty close estimate using a reliable formula. The estimated weight came out as 283 kgs, so very heavy for an object that is around the size of a large footstool!

I asked our Buildings Department if they had anything suitable to lift this kind of object but unfortunately they did not, but suggested that we might use a car engine crane. This sounded like a perfect solution so I went about sourcing one from a hire company, along with the required lifting slings.

One piece of equipment that Buildings could supply was a pallet truck which would be needed to move the wooden pallet which the feet were currently sitting on.

It was decided that we would transport the feet to the Jafar Gallery with the use of the Buildings’ van, but we still needed a strong trolley to get them from the Cloisters through the Postern Gate and onto the van.

The last piece of the plan would be to enlist some strong manpower from the Buildings team and so we were all ready for the move. The date set was 17th November 2017.


In order to be able to pick the object up it needed to be brought out into the centre of the floor, as the access to the alcove of the window was quite restricted and the base legs of the crane were not wide enough to get in close to it where it was. We did, however, manage to move it to the centre of the room with the use of the pallet truck. The next stage was to get the lifting slings underneath the object, but it was proving impossible to lift manually, even with four men, due to its relatively small size, yet significant weight. The problem was actually getting a good grip on it.

We were able to partially dismantle the wooden pallet in order to slip the first sling underneath one end, then slide it along the pallet far enough to get the second sling under the other end.

The crane could then be moved into place to attach the slings and lift the object high enough to transfer it to the trolley, which would in turn take it to the waiting van. The engine crane which we used had a maximum lifting capacity of 2000 kgs, so it was more than capable of doing the job and proved perfect as it was possible to fold it up in order to transport it easily between each step of the process.

Once we moved the object to the van we used the crane again to lift it on board ready for transport to the Jafar Gallery, where there is a lift between the ground level and the gallery level.

The lifting process was reversed to move from the van back on to the waiting trolley, then into the lift and up to the gallery level. We’re almost there!

For the final time, the trusty crane was set up next to the waiting plinth in the Jafar Gallery. We made sure to protect the polished floor between the lift and the plinth, then carefully wheeled the feet up alongside it. As can be seen in the picture below, we were again faced with the problem of the fairly narrow crane legs and found that we were literally inches away from being able to lower the feet directly down into position.

The solution turned out to be one that many believe the ancient Egyptians came up with when faced with a very similar problem. We lowered the object gently on to three wooden broom handles placed below, then used them to roll it along the plinth until we were happy that it was in the correct alignment. We could then remove the lifting straps and the broom handles and voilà, Ozymandias’s feet were safely in place.


Bryan in the Jafar Gallery, watching the feet being lifted onto its plinth by the crane

This was a perfect example of great teamwork. Everybody involved contributed their own individual knowledge and expertise and showed that if we all pull together, we can achieve great things!

By Bryan Lewis, Foundation and Collections Handyman

Ramesses’ feet, along with a host of other objects from antiquity, can be seen by all at the Jafar Gallery every Sunday between 2.30pm and 5pm. Please drop by! https://www.etoncollege.com/MuseumAntiquities.aspx