ETON, a town of Buckinghamshire, England, on the north (left) bank of the river Thames, opposite Windsor, within which parliamentary borough it is situated. Pop. of urban district (1901) 3301. It is famous for its college, the largest of the ancient English public schools. The "King's College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor" was founded by Henry VI. in 1440-1441, and endowed mainly from the revenues of the alien priories suppressed by Henry V. The founder followed the model established by William of Wykeham in his foundations of Winchester and New College, Oxford. The original foundation at Eton consisted of a provost, 10 priests, 4 clerks, 6 choristers, a schoolmaster, 25 poor and indigent scholars, and the same number of poor men or bedesmen. In 1443, however, Henry considerably altered his original plans; the number of scholars was increased to 70, and the number of bedesmen reduced to 13. A connexion was then established, and has been maintained ever since, though in a modified form, between Eton and Henry's foundation of King's College, Cambridge. One of the king's chief advisers was William of Waynflete, who had been master of Winchester College, and was appointed provost of Eton in 1443. Among further alterations to the foundation in this year was the establishment of commensales or commoners, distinct from the scholars; and these under the name of "oppidans" now form the principal body of the boys. The college survived with difficulty the unsettled period at the close of Henry's reign; while Edward IV. curtailed its possessions, and was at first desirous of amalgamating it with the ecclesiastical foundation of St George, Windsor Castle. In 1506 the annual revenue amounted to £652; and through benefactions and the rise in the value of property the college has grown to be very richly endowed. In 1870 commissioners under an act of 1868 appointed the governing body of the college to consist of the provost of Eton, the provost of King's College, Cambridge, five representatives nominated respectively by the university of Oxford, the university of Cambridge, the Royal Society, the lord chief justice and the masters, and four representatives chosen by the rest of the governing body. By this body the foundation was in 1872 made to consist of a provost and ten fellows (not priests, but merely the members of the governing body other than the provost), a headmaster of the school, and a lower master, at least seventy scholars (known as "collegers"), and not more than two chaplains or conducts. Originally it was necessary that the scholars should be born in England, of lawfully married parents, and be between eight and sixteen years of age; but according to the statutes of 1872 the scholarships are open to all boys who are British subjects, and (with certain limitations as to the exact date of birth) between twelve and fifteen years of age. A number of foundation scholarships for King's College, Cambridge, are open for competition amongst the boys; and there are besides several other valuable scholarships and exhibitions, most of which are tenable only at Cambridge, some at Oxford, and some at either university. The teaching embraces the customary range of classical and modern subjects; but until the first half of the 19th century the normal course of instruction remained almost wholly classical; and although there were masters for other subjects, they were unconnected with the general business of the school, and were attended at extra hours.
The school buildings were founded in 1441 and occupied in part by 1443, but the whole original structure was not completed till fifty years later. The older buildings consist of two quadrangles, built partly of freestone but chiefly of brick. The outer quadrangle, or school-yard, is enclosed by the chapel, upper and lower schools, the original scholars' dormitory ("long chamber"), now transformed, and masters' chambers. It has in its centre a bronze statue of the royal founder. The buildings enclosing the inner or lesser quadrangle contain the residence of the fellows, the library, hall and various offices. The chapel, on the south side of the school-yard, represents only the choir of the church which the founder originally intended to build; but as this was not completed Waynflete added an ante-chapel. The chapel was built upon a raised platform of stone, as was the hall, in order to lift it above the flood-level of the Thames. It contains some interesting monuments of provosts of the college and others, and at the west end of the ante-chapel is a fine marble statue of the founder in his royal robes, by John Bacon. A chantry contains the tomb of Roger Lupton (provost 1503-1535), whose most notable monument is the fine tower between the school-yard and the cloisters to the east; though other parts of his building also remain. The space enclosed by two buttresses on the north side of the chapel, at the point where steps ascend to the north door, is the model of the peculiar form of court for the game of fives which takes name from Eton, with its "buttress" (represented by the projecting balustrade), the ledges round the walls, and the step dividing the floor into two levels. From the foundation of the college the chapel was used as the parish church until 1854, and not until 1875, after the alteration of the ancient constitution had secularized the foundation, was the parish of Eton created into a separate vicarage. The chapel does not accommodate the whole school; and a new chapel, from the designs of Sir Arthur Blomfield, is used by the lower school. The library contains many manuscripts (notably an Oriental and Egyptian collection) and rare books; and there is also a library for the use of the boys. The college in modern times has far outgrown its ancient buildings, and new buildings, besides the lower chapel, include the new schools, with an observatory, a chemical laboratory, science schools and boarding-houses. In 1908 King Edward VII. opened a fine range of buildings erected in honour of the Old Etonians who served in the South African War, and in memory of those who fell there. The architect was Mr L.K. Ball, an old Etonian. The buildings include a school hall, a domed octagonal library, and a classical museum.
The principal annual celebration is held on the 4th of June, the birthday of King George III., who had a great kindness for the school. This is the speech-day; and after the ceremonies in the school a procession of boats takes place on the Thames. In the sport of rowing Eton occupies a unique position among the public schools, and a large proportion of the oarsmen in the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat-race are alumni of the school. Another annual celebration is the occasion of the contest between collegers and oppidans at a peculiar form of football known as the wall game, from the fact that it is played against a wall bordering the college playing-field. This game takes place on St Andrew's Day, the 30th of November. The field game of football commonly played at Eton has also peculiar rules. The annual cricket match between Eton and Harrow schools, at Lord's ground, London, is always attended by a large and fashionable gathering. A singular custom termed the Montem, of unknown origin, but first mentioned in 1561, was observed here triennially on Whit-Tuesday. The last celebration took place in 1844, the ceremony being abolished just before it fell due in 1847. It consisted of a procession of the boys in a kind of military order, with flags and music, headed by their "captain," to a small mound called Salt Hill, near the Bath road, where they levied contributions, or "salt," from the passers-by and spectators. The sum collected sometimes exceeded £1000 - the surplus, after deducting certain expenses, becoming the property of the captain of the school. The average number of pupils at Eton exceeds 1000.
See E.S. Creasy, Memoirs of Eminent Etonians, with Notices of the Early History of the College (1850); Sketches of Eton (1873); Sir H.C. Maxwell Lyte, History of Eton College from 1440 to 1875 (1875); J. Heneage Jesse, Memoirs of Celebrated Etonians (1875); The Eton Portrait Gallery, by a Barrister of the Inner Temple (1875); A.C. Benson, Fasti Etonienses (1899); L. Cust, History of Eton College (1899).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)