I’d have just as much chance of getting into Eton College as Hogwarts. In fact, in real life Eton College feels quite magical, with ornate grand buildings that loom magnificently along the high street. It has gained a reputation as being for the elite, a maker of MP’s and teacher of the aristocracy. The Museum of Eton life provides an insight into this world, how it started as well as some of its interesting traditions.
The museum is located just of Eton High Street on the school campus; so long as you follow the A-boards put out when the museum is open (Sundays 2:30-5pm), it’s not too hard to find. It’s based within a vaulted room behind the chapel that was once a wine cellar.
There’s a really nice mixture of objects and interpretation panels, these contain a good balance of text, photographs and illustrations. Moving footage throughout on small screens and music playing within the area which discusses the chapel adds an audio visual dimension to the display. The school itself was formed by Henry VI in 1440 to provide free education for 70 poor boys, with a focus on religious teachings. He donated large amounts of land, as well as a number of saints’ relics including some of Becket’s brains as a method to enhance pilgrimage. It’s fair to say things have changed since it first formed, although the introduction panel to the museum points out that the school’s target of fostering talent and providing scholarships to help those fulfil their potential remains.
There is a corner dedicated to Old Etonians, it’s like a mini hall of fame with a number of recognisable faces smirking out from their frames, this is surrounded by interpretation panels listing further successful names.
Two rooms that branch off from the main vaulted room are set up to give a snapshot representation of Etonian dorm rooms, one from the 1900’s, the other from 2015. The contrast is quite dramatically visible, with the 1900’s appearing almost like my Granny’s sitting room, whereas they are now very much like a room you would get in normal university halls. Although I recognised the 2015 room, the text did make me giggle, “today a boy only has only to bring his own ottoman and armchair” . . . yeah all boys have an ottoman, right?
The highlight for me was the incorporation of interesting stories within the text panels; for example in December 1940 a bomb blew out some of the windows in the chapel, but these were Victorian windows that were unpopular so “the heaviest masters were sent to tread on the pieces” to ensure they were beyond repair. The hand written bath rules, highlighting that no boy should have more than 3 baths per week was charming.
As a visitor you also get a snapshot into some of the strange Eton College traditions, from the colour coded socks and hats, which might possibly be the most confusing system ever, to the ‘Eton Wall Game’, I’m not convinced I know what the rules are, but some of the slang phrases of the game were highlighted and it was pointed out that many come to observe and some, including girls, have had a go at playing (shocking stuff).
If you’re visiting don’t miss Eton College’s Natural History Museum, it has the same opening hours and is just around the corner.