Walk 120: Eton Town Centre: Up against the ‘Wall’…Eton & its college

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2.92 miles (4.7 km)

Time to walk: You could easily walk this route in half an hour, but we’re walking through history so why rush?

Difficulty: A mixture of hard paths & short field tracks, which were padlocked closed when we tried to walk the traditional Walkway route in November 2018, but it didn’t detract from the beauty & history of Eton

Parking: Public car park off the High Street – beware it doesn’t take cards

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc

Map of the route:

We were extremely privileged to be invited by some friends to explore the college & watch the famous St Andrew’s Day ‘Eton Wall’ Game. We’d been looking for this for weeks & also saw there was a walk called the ‘Eton Walkway’, so thought maybe we could incorporate that as well

The land that is now Eton once belonged to the manor of Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor & was appropriated by the Normans after 1066. The main road between Windsor & Eton went through the area, & a hamlet sprang up amid pasture meadows to maintain the road & the bridge

In 1440 Henry VI chose Eton as the location for his new college, & workmen were moved into the town to build it. All of the land immediately around the hamlet was granted to the college, which stopped further growth. The new college chapel made the village a pilgrimage point, & inns were set up along the High Street. Henry VI gave the college the right to hold fairs on its grounds

During the English Civil War, after Windsor Castle was captured by Parliamentarian forces, the Royalist army moved into Eton & attempted to retake the town, occupying the college. Efforts to retake Windsor were unsuccessful & the royalists eventually fled. The college sometimes leased small plots of land to the village as an act of charity, leading to the construction of houses near the bridge. Scholars at the college also used to collect “salt” (money) from the inns of Eton High Street. This practice continued until 1845 when a scholar refused to associate with the inns because they were a “temptation” to Eton students

It’s about 30 years since we last visited the town, so it will be interesting to see if it’s changed much

Let’s Walk!

1. Where else to start this walk than on the bridge over the River Thames that connects Windsor to Eton. It’s likely that the first bridge on this site was built in the 12th century &, by 1172, it’s known that tolls were taken from vessels passing beneath it. In 1242, permission was granted for oak trees to be felled in Windsor Forest for the construction of a new bridge, but by 1819 the wooden bridge, presumably rebuilt many times over its life, had deteriorated & it was decided to build a new one in new materials. This opened in 1824

Built as a road bridge, tolls were originally levied on traffic crossing it which were scrapped in 1897. During the 20th century the bridge carried the busy main road between Slough & Windsor. In 1970, cracks were discovered in some of the cast iron segments, & despite local protests, but with almost equal support, it was decided to close the bridge to all motorised traffic

The view behind us is towards the dominating Windsor Castle

2. But we’re not walking in Windsor, we’re heading towards Eton so walk down that side of the river…

On the right’s a plaque outlining the route we were hoping to do (the best laid plans!) & the history of the Eton Walkway. The Walkway, a 2 mile circular walk connects 18 points of interest

It’s easy to follow as there are permanent bronze markers set in the ground to identify the route. They use Eton’s coat of arms, originally given to the town by King Henry VI in 1449

3. Our first stop is about 100 yards further on the right at the corner of King Stable Street. There’s no prizes for a correct answer, but we wonder what gave this road its name???

Eton was part of an important royal route from Windsor to London & stables were built here to accommodate the horses. It’s thought that they may date back to the 13th century

4. The High Street’s rather lovely & doesn’t appear to have changed much over the years, especially the 30 since we last visited…

On the left’s the Crown & Cushion where we had lunch. We can highly recommend both the food & the reasonable prices

Dating back to the 1600’s, The Crown & Cushion has been an Inn since 1753

5. We continue along the High Street & love the inventive way some of the cafes & restaurants are taking advantage of their location

The next stop’s on the right at the old red post box dating back to 1854, which is only 15 years after the first postage stamp was brought in. What’s the difference between this & a normal post box? Look at the slot – it’s vertical

Here, when we visited, under scaffolding & plastic, is the Cockpit which dates back to the 1400s & is the oldest building on the High Street

In 1508 the building was purchased by St George’s College, across the river in Windsor. In the 17th century it was used as a popular inn named the Adam & Eve. An outhouse behind the inn was used as an abattoir, & retains its knuckle-bone floor

In the 20th century this floor was mistakenly presumed to be a medieval cockpit, hence the common name given to the inn

If the building work wasn’t happening, this is how it should look, so we were slightly gutted as it’s fab…

6. Continue another couple of hundred yards to arrive at the Eton Porny School. We looked at their website & are sad that under the ‘About Us’ tab they give Ofsted results etc, but don’t have a ‘What’s our history’ section – it seems to be all about ‘today’

Anyway, from the Walkway we’ve gleaned that it was named after Mark Anthony Porny, who was a French Master at the College, & a wish in his will was for a school for boys & girls to be set up. Their site tells us that initially the girls were taught upstairs & the boys downstairs in subjects such as woodwork & needlework

7. There’s a bridge ahead, but the riverbed’s dry…

This is Baldwin’s Bridge which was warranted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592. The Queen was sensitive about communications because of the continual danger of Catholic revolts which might have led to the seizure of London while she was cut off in Windsor. It’s maintained by the Baldwin Bridge Trust, one of the oldest charities in England

Water normally flows under it, but there was considerable work going on

8. If you want to see a bit of Eton tradition, have a look at Tom Brown Tailors shop which stocks the traditional Eton uniforms

The School is known for its many traditions, including a uniform of black tailcoat, or morning coat, waistcoat, false collar & pinstriped trousers. Most pupils wear a white tie that’s effectively a strip of cloth folded over into a starched, detachable collar, but some senior boys are entitled to wear a white bow tie & winged collar (“Stick-Ups”)

The long-standing claim that the present uniform was first worn as mourning for the death of George III in 1820 is unfounded

We were told that if you’re a ‘Prefect’ you can wear a waistcoat of your choice & this shop sells a variety

9. The College now starts to come into view…

Eton College is an English independent boarding school for boys, educating more than 1,300 pupils, aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by Henry VI as ‘The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor’

Eton is one of the original nine public schools as defined by the Public Schools Act 1868, the others being Harrow, Charterhouse, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster, Merchants Taylor’s & St Paul’s. Following the public school tradition, Eton is a full boarding school, which means all pupils live at the school, & is one of four such remaining single-sex boys’ public schools in the UK (the others being Harrow, Radley & Winchester) to continue this practice

10. So…let’s go where only a few privileged people venture…through the archway above & into the quadrangle of Eton College

To the right’s a space against the wall with a few “jutty out parts & a step” that was the birth place of the famous Eton Fives game. We’ll see the modern equivalent later on this walk, but it looks remarkable similar & the “jutty out parts” are still as dangerous!

We would have loved to have posted a picture of the beautiful Eton College Chapel, but it’s not allowed. so here’s a stock photo

11. So…as we said, we’d be invited to watch the infamous Eton Wall game – don’t ask us the rules as we don’t have a clue, but we all lined up against the narrow pitch. It bears some resemblance to rugby union & is played on a strip of ground 5 metres wide & 110 metres long (“The Furrow”) next to a slightly curved brick wall (“The Wall”) which was erected in 1717

The traditional & most important match of the year is played on St Andrew’s Day, when we visited, as the Collegers (who live within the College) take on the Oppidans (the rest of the College). Although College has only 70 boys to pick from, compared to the 1250, or so Oppidans, the Collegers have one distinct advantage – access to the field on which the Wall Game is played is controlled by a Colleger. Despite this, it is usual for them to allow the Oppidans to use it whenever they wish

At the annual St Andrew’s Day match, the Oppidans climb over the wall, after throwing their caps over in defiance of the Scholars, while the Collegers march down from the far end of College Field, arm-in-arm, towards the near end, where they meet the Oppidans

The aim of the game is to move the ball towards the opponents’ end of the playing area. In those last few yards of the field is an area called the “calx”. In this area a player can earn a “shy” (worth one point) by lifting the ball against the wall with his foot. A teammate then touches the ball with his hand & shouts “Got it!”

These two plays must happen within the “calx”. After this, if the umpire says “Given”, the scoring team can attempt a goal (worth a further nine points) by throwing the ball at a designated target (a garden door at one end of the field & a tree at the other end). A player can also score a kicked goal, worth five points, if he kicks the ball out & it hits a goal during the normal course of play – note…a goal hasn’t been scored for over 100 years!!

12. WOW what an experience & a privilege! Opposite the college’s a traditional meeting place known as the ‘Burning Bush’…

The ‘Burning Bush’ is a listed Victorian lamp post designed by Henry Woodyer. There was once a tradition of Masters gathering in the School Hall & pupils who wished to see them stood beside the ‘Burning Bush’

13. Cross over the road as it’s time to have a look at the other side of the ‘Wall’…

We’re now on the opposite side of the pitch, so how do those boys climb up & sit on the wall? Easy really as there’s some horseshoes positioned in it…how many historical figures have stood on these over the years – amazing

14. Now then… at the highest point turn back for a great view of the college…

…plus you can see the tree that’s one of the ‘goals’ in the Wall game

15. The ‘Walkway’ tells us to cross the bridge & turn left to cross the meadows & arrive at the observatory. In November 2018 the gate was padlocked so we had to find another route by walking back down to the college

Once there, turn right along Common Lane…

Look to the left to see a building with a blue plaque

The plaque celebrates Arthur Benson who was an English essayist, poet, author & academic. He’s noted for writing the words of the song “Land of Hope & Glory”

16. Look for the sign & alley on the right. Down here you’ll find the “modern” Eton Fives courts with all the walls & steps incorporated – health & safety please ignore!! Why is there a small wall on the left & what you can’t see is there’s a step in the middle of the floor!!

17. Back on Common Lane we feel we’re being looked down on…

We’re huge fans of Anthony Gormley‘s statues, especially the ones known as ‘Another Place’ on Crosby Beach near Liverpool. This one was erected on 2002

18. Let’s go & find this observatory so keep straight on along the lane…

…to find it slightly disappointingly on the right (we were expecting so much more). This is the Herschel Observatory, named after Sir William Herschel, George III‘s astronomer. Herschel migrated to Great Britain in 1757 at the age of 19. His works were praised by Mozart, Hadyn & Beethoven

Herschel constructed his first large telescope in 1774, after which he spent nine years carrying out sky surveys to investigate double stars.  He pioneered the use of astronomical spectrophotometry, using prisms & temperature measuring equipment to measure the wavelength distribution of stellar spectra – well we hope you understood that!!

19. Ok, we’re now back on the ‘Walkway’ trail so retrace your steps back down to the college to the magnificent library…

Established soon after the foundation of Eton College, it houses more than 150,000 items, ranging from the 9th to 21st centuries. These include printed & manuscript volumes, literary manuscripts, autograph letters, & prints & drawings

The library’s earliest collections were predominantly theological. Changes in taste & thought are reflected in subsequent additions, which include large numbers of classical books & manuscripts, early scientific works, historical & literary texts in modern languages, & materials valued primarily for their aesthetic or historical interest

In the 1960s the college began collecting rare books & manuscripts from the 19th century onwards. The modern collection includes important holdings of English literature & is rich in travel writing, theatrical history & fine printing. College Library also has responsibility for the MacNaghten Library of First World War materials, presented to Eton as a memorial in 1938.

20. Walk back down the High Street to the traffic lights…

…turning right down beautiful Keate’s Lane…

21. At the junction on the right’s Keate House which was named after Dr John Keate & built at the end of the 1700s. Keate was the Headmaster of Eton from 1809-1834

It’s a lovely building. At the junction turn left along South Meadow Lane…

On the left’s Eton’s Natural History Museum

The museum contains many stuffed animals, plants, fossils & insects. It opened in 1875 to house the Thackeray Collection of British Birds & other collections. It houses over 16,000 specimens that have been donated since the 19th century

22. Further along the Lane’s the rather ornate Jafar Gallery, which was designed by John Simpson who also designed the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace

The core of Eton’s Museum of Antiquities are housed here & include a generous bequest from old boy Major William Joseph Myers who left his remarkable collection of Egyptian artefacts to the Head Master of Eton College at the end of the 19th century. It has, however, been much augmented over the years, including gifts from the Duke of Newcastle & Lord Carnarvon, objects from the excavations of eminent archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley at Al-Mina, two Gandharan statues from the widow of Lord Roberts of Kandahar, & a holiday souvenir brought back from Florence by a King’s Scholar in 1917

23. The ‘Walkway’ now cuts across open fields, but those gates were also locked, so we made our way back to the High Street & continue along it…

…passing the Church of St John the Evangelist which was consecrated in 1854 & built on the site of an earlier church dating from 1769

Across the High Street’s a chemist’s shop with a Royal Warrant…

24.  On the right’s the Christopher Inn, which was once a former 18th century coaching inn. Built in 1511, due to the improper reputation that it had established for itself by the mid 19th century, the then Head Master of Eton College closed it down & moved further away to its current location. When the current building was first built, the balcony rooms were used as a magistrate’s court

In the 1960’s & 1970’s the entire first floor was used as a music venue devoted to the production of live unsigned bands & even hosted Mick Jagger before the formation of The Rolling Stones

25. Turn right at Jubilee Square…

Jubilee Square was a joint venture between the Baldwin Bridge Trust & Eton Town Council in 2012

Turn round the corner to the left & walk towards….a pub!

This is the rather attractive Waterman Arms

Built around 1682, the deceptively large building has had a multitude of uses. It was originally the home of brewer Robert Style, & was formerly the Eton Parish workhouse, before becoming a watering hole for the Watermen & Lightermen

26. At the end of the street look for a narrow passage straight ahead & walk down it…

It leads straight to the Thames &, until recently, you could turn left past the boat house & walk up the steps to the bridge

You now can’t do that so walk back through the passage, turn right back up to the High Street & then right again onto the bridge to end this walk

So that’s our look at Eton & how privileged were we! Like we said, it’s about 30 years since we visited this town & always knew of its traditions. Today though we were gratefully able to experience them first hand

A fascinating place so…

Go Walk !