English Public Schools: Eton, Harrow, Winchester & More
A British education at one of the great public schools of England has long been sought by the rich and powerful of the world.
Kings, Maharajas, Princes, Heads Of State and more have sent their offspring to the schools of England for what is seen as a solid, traditional, education; a British education is a status symbol amongst the elites of the world.
However, the education system in the UK is actually quite a complex, and often controversial, beast. Most British school children attend state schools run by the Government, but a small percentage (less than 10%) attend private schools (which are confusingly called ‘public’ schools) from which the British elite, and quite a bit of the world’s elite, are drawn.
Whilst some are proud of the ancient public schools as beacons of excellence, others dislike what they see as a self-perpetuating system of a small British establishment.
However, there’s no denying that many of the most prestigious schools are beautiful places to visit. Often a landscaped tangle of chapel, hall and quadrangles, they are the perfect peaceful places for learning.
Therefore we’ve decided to feature a few of the loveliest (and most prestigious) schools in the country. Enjoy…
Table of Contents
Top of the list would be Eton, founded in 1440.
It may no longer be the case that British wars are won on the playing fields of Eton, as the Duke of Wellington once remarked, but this one school does seem to run everything else.
Princes William and Harry, the Archbishop Of Canterbury, and actors Damian Lewis, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne are just some of the current prominent old Etonians.
If you add 19 former Prime Ministers, George Orwell, John Maynard Keynes and Ian Fleming to this list, you can see the influence of Eton has had over the years.
As you’d expect, the school’s grounds, just over the River Thames from Windsor Castle, are both ancient and beautiful, and are a lovely walk after a trip to Windsor.
Eton’s main rival is Harrow, in the northern suburbs of London.
Again its alumni include some of the greats from history including Winston Churchill, Lord Byron, Robert Peel and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.
Current day alumni include actor Benedict Cumberbatch and film maker Richard Curtis.
Guided tours of the gorgeous grounds and buildings are run by the school (see here) – including of the Old School Room, used as Professor Flitwick’s classroom in the Harry Potter Movies.
Winchester in the south of England was once Alfred The Great’s capital (of Wessex, one of the medieval constituents of England).
In 1382 William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester founded Winchester College and alumni are known as Wykehamists as a result.
Wells Cathedral School
Possibly the oldest school on this list – there has been a cathedral school in Wells since the year 909 – this school is also one of the prettiest. The city of Wells, in Somerset, is itself one of the prettiest in England, but its cathedral (and school) is also one of the loveliest too.
If you’re lucky to visit make sure you go when the choristers process from the school and sing in the cathedral, a scene that’s pretty much unchanged for over 1000 years.
Known as the “Catholic Eton” Ampleforth School is managed by the Benedictine monks and lay staff of Ampleforth Abbey.
Ampleforth is young compared to the others on this list – it was founded in 1802 – but incorporates massive 2,200 acre grounds and a 14th century castle.
It’s set on the border of the North Yorkshire Moors, a wild area of windswept heather. A truly magical place to visit (the monks welcome visitors and run tours and retreats all year round) and, of course, study.
As the name implies, Westminster School is in the heart of London, within Westminster Abbey’s precinct.
As with the other schools listed here with links to a religious institution, it has a strong musical tradition with its choristers traditionally first to acclaim a new sovereign on his or coronation in the Abbey.
Again, as with many on this list, it has some strange traditions, none more so than the ‘Greaze’ on Shrove Tuesday. A pancake is tossed over a curtain to be fought over by the members of the school.
The pupil who gathers the largest piece is rewarded with ceremonial gold sovereign (which they are, alas, unable to keep).
Notable alumni include AA Milne (writer of the Winnie ThePooh stories), philosopher John Locke and actress Helena Bonham Carter.
This all girls boarding school is set in Hemsted Park in the beautiful Kent countryside.
The school was founded in 1923 with the aim to create “happy school with personal integrity and service to others always in mind, where everyone would be given the chance to follow her own bent”.
Although seen as a very traditional now, this commitment to girls’ education was pretty innovative at the time.
Notable alumni include the actress Rachel Weisz and Princess Anne, daughter of Her Majesty The Queen.