Subscribe to the newsletter and get Edwardian-themed news delivered straight to your inbox!

public school

Getting into Public School, or Scary Entrance Examinations from the 1880s!


Eton school boys


Eton There are seventy scholars always on the Foundation; and the average number of yearly vacancies is about twelve. Election to these takes place annually on the last Monday in July. Candidates must be between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and for permission to compete application must be made to “The Clerk of the Governing Body, Eton College, Windsor.” The subjects of examination are Latin Composition (Prose and Verse); Translation from Latin and Greek; Mathematics (including Arithmetic, Algebra, and Euclid); and ” General Papers ” (whatever these may mean), not limited to Latin and Greek Grammar and Parsing. The examination varies according to the age of the candidate, who is permitted the use of Dictionary, Gradus, Greek Lexicon, and Grammars on the Composition and Translation papers. Once elected to the Foundation, or “into College,” as it is termed, a boy’s expenses are purely personal, as he will receive free board and education within the College walls. But even this would probably mean, at an aristocratic school like Eton, an expenditure of hardly less than £60 a year on the parent’s part.

Winchester College has also seventy Foundation Scholarships, with eleven yearly vacancies, open to competition of boys of twelve to fourteen years of age, whether already in the school or not. Every candidate must give notice of his desire to compete on or before the last day of June in each year, by letter addressed to ” The Rev. G. Richardson, M.A., The College, Winchester;” and the examination is held in July. The subjects of examination are Elementary Religious Knowledge; Dictation; Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry; Latin Composition (Prose and Verse); Construing and Parsing in Greek and Latin; French Grammar (Parsing and Easy Translation); Outlines of Geography and English History. Each scholar pays yearly £21 in advance: i.e., £7 at beginning of each term. This done, he is maintained during his whole stay at “Winchester out of the College revenues.

Rugby the Scholarships are two Classical of £80 a year each; two Classical, one Mathematical of £50 a year each; and one Classical, one Mathematical, one French, one Natural Science of £20 a year each. Candidates must be under fifteen on July 1st. Allowance for age is made in election to all Scholarships; no special books are suggested; “the papers are set (so say the authorities) with a view to well-taught boys between thirteen and fourteen.” We may estimate the exact value of these Scholarships as follows:—The annual expenses of a boy’s board and education at Rugby School amount to £119 7s. Deduct from this sum the value of a Scholarship as above, and the result shows the annual cost with such help allowed. It will thus be seen that, under the most favourable circumstances, a Rugby “Scholar’s” education costs not less than from £40 to £50 a year, exclusive of travelling and pocket-money.

Harrow of the six Scholarships annually offered, some are of not less than £60 a year, the rest of not less than £30 a year. Candidates must be under fourteen on January 1st previous to election. The subjects of examination on the Classical side are Translation from Latin and Greek, and Latin Composition (Prose and Verse), with permission to use Dictionary, Gradus, Lexicon (but not Grammar) in the preparation of the exercises. On the Modern side the subjects are Mathematics (including Arithmetic and easy Algebra, and Euclid), French, and any one subject either of History or Science. The ordinary annual expenses of a boy’s board and education at Harrow School never fall short of £113. So that here again, under the most favourable circumstances—that is to say, with a Scholarship of £60 a year to help him- along, the cost to his parents will never fall below £53 a year, exclusive of personal expenses.

The Examinations


I. Find the G.C.M. of 5325 and 8307; the L.C.M. of 34, 68, 17, 2.

II. Find the value of–
1. 3.4 and 4/3 of 3
2. 1/2+3/4+5/8+7/9
3. 5-25/7
4. 16 2/3 divided by 12 1/2
5. 9 7/9 divided by 2 1/27

III. Find the value of–
1. .0003 x .01 x 500000
2. 9.065 divided by .049
3. .001953125 of £40

IV. Work out by Practice the rent of 2A. 3R. 25P. a £5 7s. 5 1/2d. per acre

V. A man owes £360 16s. 3d., and can only pay £240 15s. 6d.; how much is this in the pound?

VI. A rectangular piece of ground of 780 square feet area was sold for £25,050; the cost was said to be £1,565 10s. for each foot facing the street: how many feet frontage were there? At the same rate how much would the land cost per acre?

Show that a square plot one acre in extent measures nearly 69 1/2 yards each way.

VII. A man has an income of £558 2s. 6d. after paying 5d. in the £ for tax: what was the original income? If the income arises from 3 per cents, at £95, what is the value of his estate?

VIII. Find the difference between simple and compound interest on £2,784 15s. for three years at 4 per cent.

IX. A mixture contains 1 pound of A, 24 1/2 pounds of B, 2 pounds of C, 12 1/2 pounds of D: find how much per cent, there is of each.

X. A man in discounting a bill due three years hence, at the rate of 5 per cent., found the true discount on one year, and multiplied it by 3: by what fraction of the whole bill was he wrong?


I. Find the G.C.M. and L.C.M. of 6x3-11x2+5x-3, and 9x3-9x2+5x-2; leave the latter in factors

Multiply x2/3+3x1/3-1 by x2/3-3x1/3+1

II. Solve the equations:–

1. x2+ 1/x2+x+1/x=4

2. square root of 1+x/ 1+ square rood of 1+x = square root of 1-x/ 1- square root of 1-x

3. xyz=231

III. Show how to sum a geometrical series to n terms

Prove that .637=631/990

IV. If a:b::c:d, show a3+b3: a3-b3::c3+d3: c3-d3

Write down the 11th term of (a-b/2)17

V. The pth term of an arithmetic series is u, the qth term of the same is v; find the 7th term.

VI. If two angles of a triangle are equal to one another, the sides also which subtend, or are opposite to, the equal angles, shall be equal to one another.

VII. If two sides of a quadrilateral figure in a circle are parallel, prove that the other two must be equal.

VIII. Inscribe a circle in a given triangle, and a circle in a quadrant of a circle.

IX. Show how to divide a given line into seven equal parts.

X. Find the area of a triangle which is equilateral and has the three sides together equal to the four sides of a square whose area is a2.


They talk with one another in manifold conversation.
But of himself the old dog. Argus, knew his lord (herum)
Then, for neither the form of his master escapes him, nor his words,
He pricks his ear, and stretches out his grey head. He, once swift to pass the fleeting stags,
Now lies covered with dust on the foul ground.
With ears, and eyes, and tail lie salutes the king;
As he desires to rise his feet had no power.
“What dog, thus nohle to the view, lies here?” began the hero;
And though he willed it not, his cheeks grew moist.
But, when he had seen his lord after twenty years,
Did the fates of black death lay hold on Argus.

So great was the consternation of the inhabitants of Londinium, when the news came that Jumbonius must leave the shores of England, that not even the judges and senators could refrain from openly expressing their grief. Added to these the voices of women and children were heard, exclaiming that now they were being shamefully deprived of their chief pleasure. “How long,” said they, “must we endure such wrongs? Do not imagine, O Prefect of the gardens, that thy deceit is unknown. Thou hast sold for money to foreigners the joy of our children, the pride of our native land, the consumer of sweetmeats. What can be more disgraceful than for a noble animal, whom we all love, to be enticed against his will into a cage, exposed to the waves of the Atlantic, and delivered to the unknown tortures of his enemies?” To these complaints the Prefect replied that the money had been paid, and that the purchaser asked if it was just that so many thousands of the citizens of the great republic should be defrauded of the spectacle, which had now long since been promised to them.

I. What is a glacier, an iceberg, a spring, a springtide, dew?
II. Draw a map of Italy, marking the chief ranges of mountains, rivers, and twelve important towns.
III. In what countries, and on what rivers, are the following towns:—Dresden, Oporto, New Orleans, Alexandria, Nijni Novgorod, Rustchuk, Montreal, Cordova, Rangoon, Liverpool?
IV. A Russian gentleman, averse to railways, wished to go from St. Petersburg to Odessa; name, in order, the seas and straits through which he would have to pass.

I. The chief events of the reign of Edward I. giving the dates as nearly as you can.
II. In what English reigns do we hear the most of Ireland? Give a short account of the leading events connected with it.
III. With what events do you connect the following places:—Worcester, Runnymede, Torbay, Glencoe, Evesham, the Nore?
IV. Who were Jack Cade, Judge Jeffreys, Sir W. Wallace, Clive, Titus Oates, Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Raglan, Anselm?

Where Shall I Educate my Son? (1884) by Charles Eyre Pascoe

Posted in Boys | Comments Off on Getting into Public School, or Scary Entrance Examinations from the 1880s!

The Season: At Boys’ Public Schools

Crowd at Eton and Harrow Cricket Match, 1900
Crowd at Eton and Harrow Cricket Match, 1900

Society in our land has long ago taken the chief public schools into its social calendar as most important items for providing recreation, pleasure, and delightful entertainment during the course of the year from January to December. Almost each month brings its own special school into prominence, or its own particular social event in connection with the various places of education to which boys from the upper classes resort.

Three times annually does Eton help to provide the day off, so to speak, for Society in this way. These occasions comprise the annual cricket match against Harrow, at Lord’s; the annual match against Winchester, played alternately at Eton and Winchester; and the famous Fourth of June celebrations.

The latter must be dealt with first in this article, because on the Fourth of June, the great school under the shadow of Windsor Castle has the entire field to itself in the regard of social England. On that day Eton gives itself up to pleasure and enjoyment pure and simple, from early morning till late at night. Paddington Station in London has its platforms packed soon after breakfast with innumerable “mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins,” in their latest and most fascinating summer costumes, a blaze of beauty, aristocracy, and charm, all waiting for trains to carry them to Windsor, in order to see “dear Roland” lead the procession of boats, or to spend a happy hour or two with “darling Algy,” who has recently been made a prepositor.

Of course, though there are entertainments and pleasures galore to be enjoyed during the afternoon on that day at Eton, the piéce de résistance is the evening procession of boats from Surly to Datchet, with the fireworks afterwards to enliven the final scene of the day.

For some decades now the Eton v. Harrow cricket-match at Lord’s in July has been reckoned one of the principal days in the list of Society’s summer programme in London–or rather, it would be more correct to say “two days,” for this match always begins on a Friday and continues on the Saturday. The attendance never fails to run into many thousands if the weather is at all propitious; and it must be acknowledged that the match has ever been favoured greatly in this respect, for the two teams have seldom had any really wet days to contend with on these occasions.

To many folks, however, the Eton v. Winchester match is a more enjoyable function than the annual contest at Lord’s, despite the latter’s immense social predominance. For when you can see the delightful scenery round Eton better than on those charming summer days that find the Wykehamists in the playing-fields by the river, supported by an admiring crowd of mothers and aunts, to say nothing of sisters and cousins. Should the match be at Winchester, however, Society from London is found in crowds at Waterloo, trying to get early trains down to the historic city of Itchen. Carriages are rapidly filled, and the famous High Street at Winchester sees a galaxy of ladies invade it with more conquering attributes than ever did the Saxon or Dane in bygone days. Winchester Meads, where the great crowd betakes itself to see the cricket and to enjoy the social triumph, are just as lovely as are the banks of the Thames at Eton.

A cricket-match, of course, is almost an ideal event for a fine show of dress and for social entertainment. Perfect summer weather, charming rural scenery, the enthusiasm of the schoolboys, the gallantry of masters and governors, the game itself, the strawherries and cream, the long drive through leafy lanes to reach the school—all these possess wonderful fascination for the average lady, be she mother or daughter. When the match is at Lord’s it somewhat lacks one or two of these things, but it makes up for them by being in town, where still more friends may be expected to turn up, and where the ladies may look forward to meeting even more of their acquaintances of the stronger sex. This is why Rugby v. Marlborough provides a scene only second to Eton v. Harrow in school-matches on that classic ground of Lords each year.

Whilst it is our intention to pass by the average speech-day at the public schools (though such days are truly often social gatherings of some renown in their various spheres), yet we must say a word about the greatest of them, which is undoubtedly that of Harrow. There is perhaps only one special day of the year when London Society betakes itself m waste to the Hill for pleasure and entertainment, and this is the day. To stand in the country road that leads to the fine speech-hall of the celebrated school, and to watch the crowds of welldressed women and men who come to Harrow to hear the speeches, is like standing in the Row some fine summer afternoon between four and half-past five.

The Hill on this occasion shows us of its best in every way. The dark blue of Harrow’s sporting teams is occasionally in evidence, but for once silk hats and frock coats predominate on the Hill in a manner that is not generally common there. The Etonian on ordinary days, even to stroll through the streets of Windsor, must wear that silk hat, but the Harrovian on ordinary days wears a straw hat, or none at all. It is only when his feminine relations come to the Hill in full force of all-pervading beauty and brilliance that the Harrovian feels it incumbent on him to rise fully to the occasion in the way that Eton does.

Let us make a sudden transition from the summer social delights at the great schools to the winter ones. The most striking of these, often patronised by Royalty, and always by a large number of the aristocracy, is the Latin Play each December at Westminster School. Certain high officials, such as the Judges, Cabinet, Speaker of the Commons, and their wives, have a prescriptive claim to be invited. When one recollects that the Play is always performed in the old dormitory of the school one hardly wonders that the place is crowded, that space is much restricted, and that hundreds of ladies of high degree have often to be “turned empty away.”

Mothers and boys have, twice a year, a fine time for enjoyment, if they are connected with Radley College. When Radley holds its annual “ Gaudy,” a term still applied there to the speech-day, as it used to be at all great schools centuries ago, there is usually such a scene as is only second to Harrow‘s on similar occasions. Ladies of fashion and rank travel down from London to the Berkshire school in large numbers to be present, and the many interesting features of the day are much appreciated by the proud mothers and admiring sisters as they stroll around the beautiful grounds attached to the school.

Marlborough gets in its opportunity for joining in the crush of rank and fashion when its “Commemoration ” comes round each summer. Society has always shown itself most favourable to Marlborough of the newer schools during the past two or three decades, and the college in Wiltshire duly rejoices.

The Lady’s Realm

Everyday Life in a Boys’ Public School: Winchester


Among other pithy observations made by the Duke of Wellington, the most famous is the apocryphal boast that “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” Wellington attended the boys’ school during the late 18th century, and indeed, many of Britain’s most famous, most erudite, and most influential gentlemen passed through the halls of Eton, or Harrow, or Winchester, to name a few of the elite institutions. As England was and continues to be a class-conscious society, education was built on social lines, and even the public schools were divided into castes, with certain schools not only determining which set you belonged to, but also which college you would attend at Oxford or Cambridge.

The role of the public school played a large part in the creation of the ruling caste. Though English law regarded education as a right, irrespective of poverty, the access and leisure time required to commit to education has frequently been only in reach of those from the upper classes. The product of these public schools were leaders not only by birth, but by the careful and deliberate grooming of the headmasters. Their status as elite schools for gentlemen solidified after the Industrial Revolution, from which grew the plutocracy, and the emergence of the British Empire, which allowed the sons of younger sons of aristocrats the opportunity to earn a living whilst serving and protecting their nation–which in turn strengthened the ruling elites.

John Corbin, in his 1895 book, Schoolboy life in England, An American View, stresses the role in which public schools played in English society:

To be a public-school boy means as much in the afterlife as to be a college man means here [America]…a man may leave Eton or Rugby to go to the Military College at Sandhurst, to go into business, to travel–or to do nothing, in fact–and his case is easily explained; but if he wants to be sure of passing current among strangers he must at least have been to a public school–even if he has never passed an examination, was flogged every day of his life, and expelled at the end of his first term.

Because of this importance, a boy of eleven or twelve would be shipped off to Eton or Rugby from far-flung places of the Empire by his Colonial administrator father, and millionaire industrialists did all they could to get their sons into these schools. By the 1880s, it was even difficult for the sons of Old Wykehamists or Old Carthusians to obtain acceptance, as for example at Eton, the examination for Election tested candidates on Latin Composition (Prose and Verse); Translation from Latin and Greek; Mathematics (including Arithmetic, Algebra, and Euclid), and “General Papers,” not limited to Latin and Greek Grammar and Parsing. As attendance costs for these schools seldom fell below £100, each school set up a Foundation from which boys chosen for the scholarships could offset the steep fees. So fierce was the competition for the few slots which opened each year (ranging from eleven to fifteen in number), special tutors were paid upwards of 100-120 guineas a year (~$500-600) to drill boys as young as ten in the examination subjects.

Of the public schools, the greatest were Winchester, Eton, Rugby, Harrow, and Charterhouse, with the first being the oldest existing public school.

Winchester College and Chapel
Winchester College and Chapel

Winchester was founded at the city of Winchester in Hampshire, England in 1382 by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor to both Edward III and Richard II. Wykeham’s purpose in found his school, or “college,” as it has always been called at Winchester, was to prepare boys to enter a college he founded at Oxford (New College). So rigorous was the curriculum at Winchester, graduates found themselves too far advanced for the teaching they found at Oxford. Wykeham’s solution was to employ a special body of tutors at New College, a custom which spread to Oxford’s other colleges. This innovation influenced the structure of the English university system, whereupon each college had its own set of instructors. Wykeham intended that all his scholars should be chosen from the poorer people, and left funds to support them. These scholarships were highly coveted, and during the late 19th century, it was common for the sons of university graduates–who were often rich–to obtain these openings; far from the disadvantaged boys Wykeham intended. Within the college itself there was keen competition, particularly as the five or six best students were granted scholarships at New College (which was called “getting off to New”).

However, not all boys were supported by scholarships. Despite the difficult examinations and quest to become “scholar” of Winchester, there were boys who parents paid the full tuition, lodging, and board, which amounted to about £3500 ($700) a year. These boys were known as “commoners,” and though paying students did exist in the early years of the college’s founding they grew too numerous to control. In 1740, Dr. Burton, the Head Master, created the “Old Commoners” to serve the needs of non-scholar boys. However, their undisciplined behavior threatened the tranquility of the college, and Dr. Burton discharged the “commoners” to create the “tutor’s house system.” In each house resided about thirty-five boys, all of whom were under the care of the Master, whose family lived in as well.

Discipline at Winchester was not as strict as other public schools, but the boys–or men, as they were called–were not permitted to enter the town, and needed special “leave out” to go out and about the countryside. The typical school day began at seven in the morning, and bedtime was around nine or ten. Constant attendance at prayers were required, and there were four services on Sunday. For breaches of discipline, a boy would be flogged. However, the main idea of discipline in an English public school was that much of it should be dealt by the boys themselves. At Winchester it was ordained that eighteen of the older boys, called prefects, would “oversee their fellows, and from time to time certify the masters of their behavior and progress in study.” The duty of a prefect was to deliver a “tunding,” that is, beating a disobedient student across the back of his waistcoat with a ground-ash the size of one’s finger. According to an old Prefect of Hall, the art of tunding was to catch the edge of the shoulder blade with the rod, and strike in the same spot every time. In this way it was possible to cut the back of the offending boy’s waistcoat into strips.

All the public schools had their own customs and slang. At Winchester, a “strawberry mess” was a meal of strawberries and ice cream; a “horse-box” was a desk; and “washing stools” were the prefects’ tables, which were placed in commanding positions. A boy would ask of his cohort, “Is Smith a thick, or only a thoking jig?” which would translate as “Is Smith a blockhead or is he a clever boy who likes to loaf?” Each house would record the slang and customs in a book, in which all “notions“, ancient and modern, were recorded. A boy’s first duty, upon entering the school, was to pass an examination before his superiors on the contents of the book, whereupon he would be accepted, quite easily into the fold of the school–save if he were a complete rotter. In a way, the public school served as conditioning for the adult life of these boys, and was definitely the source of their love for pomp and tradition, and their unflagging devotion to “queen and country.”

Further Reading:
Schoolboy life in England, An American View by John Corbin
Everyday Life in Our Public Schools by Charles Eyre Pascoe
Winchester Notions: The English Dialect of Winchester College by Charles Stevens
School Life at Winchester College by Richard Mansfield