The origins of the Field Game

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

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

An instructional bandage

bandage-1Formed in 1877, the St. John Ambulance Association is a charity medical First Aid and ambulance service, committed to the teaching of first aid to prevent the needless loss of life. The above instructional triangular cloth bandage is an example of the organisation’s practical and hands-on medical education for groups such as the Eton Scouts, where this is believed to have been used in training. Printed with the St. John Ambulance logo in the ‘point’, and with figures which demonstrate the various ways in which the bandage can be applied, it provides detailed binding techniques on the cloth itself.

This form of triangular bandage with illustrated instructions derives from the ‘Esmarch Bandage’, a triangular cloth bandage created by Johannes Friedrich August von Esmarch (1823-1908), a German surgeon who introduced the self-referential graphics on the cotton or linen to give instant medical knowledge on the battlefield. The original Esmarch bandage could be applied in 32 different ways.


The St John Ambulance instructional bandage shows figures demonstrating 22 different uses of the triangular bandage, with basic sling and splint arrangements, each numbered and illustrated in clear black print. It gives us an insight into the medical and First Aid training that the Eton scouts received in the post-war period.

By Rebecca Tessier, Museums Officer