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)

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

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 distant prospect of Eton: or, on leaving presents

The poet Thomas Gray, most celebrated for his Elegy written in a country churchyard (1751), attended Eton College from 1725 until 1735, during which time he formed the self-styled ‘quadruple alliance’ with Thomas Ashton (1716–1775), Horace Walpole (1717–1797), and Richard West (1716–1742). Gray went on from Eton to become a scholar at Cambridge, but it was his acquaintance with Walpole (with whom he went on a Grand Tour of Europe in 1738) that helped to popularise his work. The Elegy was published with Walpole’s help in 1751, and Odes by Mr. Gray was printed at Walpole’s own Strawberry Hill Press, near Twickenham, six years later.

Gray was to leave a more personal legacy at Eton. During the nineteenth century, ‘leaving books’ were given by masters to boys upon their departure from Eton. Lavishly decorated volumes of Gray’s Poems were presented as leaving books, a practice which continues to this day. College Library has many examples of these gifts, including the leaving books of former Provost M. R. James (1862-1936) and former Assistant Master Hugh Macnaghten (1862-1929). Some leaving books were richly adorned with gilt edges and vellum bindings, and had bindings gold-stamped with the Eton coat of arms. The binding of a leaving book presented to the 6th Earl of Dartmouth, William Heneage Legge (1851-1936), is not only grandly embellished with gold decoration but also has a fore-edge painting which, when viewed from the right angle, beautifully depicts Eton College and Windsor Castle.

College Library holds many fine examples of Gray’s works of verse, and books from his own library. Gray’s personal copy of Juvenal dates from his schooldays at Eton, and contains an inscription reading: “E. libris Thomas Gray Schol: Eton: alum: 1733”.

Ownership inscription by Thomas Gray

Inscription by Thomas Gray, as an alumnus of Eton College, in his copy of Juvenal’s poetry (ECL Iaa2.5.6).

The first of Gray’s works to appear in print was his Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College. It is generally considered to be the reflections of a disillusioned adult returning to his schooldays, and it captures the magnificent scenery that surrounds Eton College. One of the more unusual items in this Gray collection is an album of cross-stitch of the Ode, vibrantly sewn in purple and green thread. The title-page depicts Eton’s motto and coat of arms.

Gray’s time at Eton is strongly reflected within his ode, and, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was immortalised for subsequent students within leaving books, irrevocably linking Thomas Gray to Eton.

By Eleanor Wale, Project Cataloguer

 

The origins of the Field Game

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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