Eton (St. Mary and St. Nicholas)

ETON (St. Mary and St. Nicholas), a parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Stoke, county of Buckingham; containing 3609 inhabitants. This place, which is chiefly distinguished for its public school, is pleasantly situated in a valley on the north bank of the river Thames, by which it is separated from Windsor, and over which is a neat iron bridge supported on piers of stone. The village consists principally of one street, well paved and lighted by means of a highway rate, and is supplied with water by a company whose works also supply the town and castle of Windsor; the houses are in general neatly built, and there are several boardinghouses for the accommodation of those students who do not reside in the college. No particular branch of trade is carried on. A little to the north is the Slough station of the Great Western railway; it is 18 miles distant from the Paddington terminus in London. A fair is held on Ash-Wednesday, for horses and cattle.

The site on which the college stands is said to be extra-parochial, but the usual rites and ceremonies of the church were formerly conducted for the benefit of the parishioners, in the collegiate church. The college was originally founded by Henry VI., in 1440, for a provost, ten priests, six clerks, six choristers, twenty-five poor grammar scholars, with a master to instruct them, and twenty-five almsmen; and was directed to be called "The College Roiall of Our Ladie of Eton, beside Windesor." Though deprived of part of its endowment by Edward IV., it was especially exempted in the act of Dissolution, at which time its revenue was estimated at £1101. 13. 7. The present establishment consists of a provost, vice-provost, six fellows, two masters, with assistants, seven clerks, seventy king's scholars, ten choristers, and inferior officers and servants; and the number of independent scholars, the sons of noblemen and gentlemen, is generally from 300 to 400. Scholars on the foundation are entitled to fellowships and scholarships in King's College, Cambridge, for which purpose there is an annual election, but they are not removed until vacancies occur; they then succeed according to seniority, and on three years' residence at Cambridge are entitled to a fellowship. For those who do not succeed in obtaining an election to King's College, there are two scholarships founded in Merton College, Oxford, in 1582, by the Rev. John Chamber, and augmented in 1754 by the Rev. George Vernon, of which one is in the patronage of the provost of Eton, and the other in that of the provost of King's College; also three exhibitions, of £20 each per annum, founded in Pembroke College, Oxford, by the Rev. Francis Rouse, provost of Eton, with preference to his relatives; two scholarships, one of £48, and one of £42, for superannuated "collegers," in the gift of the provost; and one of £42 per annum for an actual scholar of King's College, in the patronage of the head master of Eton, founded by Provost Davies; three exhibitions, founded in Exeter College by the Rev. Dr. John Reynolds, in the patronage of the provost and fellows of Eton; and one layfellowship and one scholarship, of £6 per annum each, in Catherine Hall, Cambridge, for scholars of Eton or Merchant Tailors' school. The Rev. Mr. Chamberlayne, fellow of Eton, bequeathed an estate in Norfolk, producing a rent of £87, for founding scholarships for superannuated collegers; and Mr. Bryant left £30 per annum, for one or more additional scholarships, at the discretion of the provost.

The buildings comprise two spacious quadrangles, communicating by an ancient tower-gateway of great beauty. In the centre of the outer quadrangle is a bronze statue of the royal founder: on the south side are, the chapel, an elegant structure in the later English style, strengthened with enriched buttresses, and ornamented with a pierced parapet and pinnacles; and the school, divided into the upper and lower school (each of which is in three classes); besides lodgings for the masters and scholars on the foundation. The inner quadrangle comprises apartments for the provost and fellows, and the library, a handsome building, containing one of the best collections in Europe, having been augmented with numerous magnificent contributions from various benefactors: some very valuable paintings, drawings, and oriental manuscripts, enrich this depository of rare and curious productions. In the provost's apartments is a portrait, on panel, of Jane Shore, said to be an original. The foundation stone of the new buildings was laid by Prince Albert, June 20th, 1844. These buildings, which are in the Elizabethan style, occupy the site of the wash-houses and stables of the provost and fellows, immediately contiguous to the provost's lodge, and present a front upwards of 120 feet in length. In addition to two extensive apartments for the library of the upper boys, and to be also used as examination-rooms for prizes and scholarships, there are 48 single rooms, appropriated to the upper and elder boys on the foundation, and likewise a large apartment for the use of the sixth form, and another for the use of the first six boys of the fifth form, when not engaged in their private studies. These additions cost upwards of £20,000; and £4000 more have been expended in effecting a complete drainage of the precincts. A new burial-ground was consecrated in April 1846. The grounds for recreation and exercise, on the north-west side of the college, are extensive, and beautifully shaded by a lengthened avenue of stately trees; and the bounds of the college are marked by stones set up in various places. To mention the many eminent characters this noble institution has produced, would be to enumerate a very considerable portion of the most distinguished names which history has recorded in the proud list of British heroes, statesmen, scholars, and divines.

A custom, designated the Montem, was until very lately triennially observed by the scholars, on Whit-Tuesday. Though its origin is involved in obscurity, it certainly existed in the reign of Elizabeth, and, most probably, from the very foundation of the college, as it is included in the list presented to the queen, when on a visit here, "of the ceremonies observed from the foundation." The chief object of the ceremony was to collect "salt-money," and by the procession advancing to a small tumulus, on the south side of the Bath road, the spot acquired the name of Salt Hill. The scholars appointed to collect the money were called "salt-bearers," and were arrayed in silk of various colours, and assisted by "scouts," also dressed in silk, of less striking appearance. Immense numbers of people assembled to witness the procession, and scholars were placed on all the neighbouring roads to levy money, which, as the custom was viewed as an innocent diversion, attended with a positive benefit, nearly the whole neighbourhood made a point of offering. The sum collected frequently exceeded £1000, and, after deducting the necessary expenses of the day, was given to the senior scholar, called the Captain of the school, on his removal to Cambridge.

The parish comprises 771 acres, of which 35 are waste land or common. The living is a rectory, held by the provost of the college, whose tithes have been commuted for £245: the church is collegiate, and was frequented by the parishioners prior to the erection of a neat chapel in the centre of the town, by Mr. Hetherington, late fellow of the college, for the accommodation of the inhabitants. A charity school was founded in 1790, by Mark Anthony Porny, originally French master at the college, and afterwards one of the Poor Knights of Windsor, who endowed it with the residue of his estate, about £7000; from which fund the present school-house was built on ground belonging to the college, at an expense of £1723. The bridge is maintained by the rents of seven houses in High-street, amounting to £196. 18., which property was purchased with money granted by letters-patent of Elizabeth, in 1592, for that purpose. An almshouse for 10 widows was founded by Dr. Henry Godolphin, provost of the college, in 1714: an annual income of about £120 is appropriated to the apprenticing of children, arising from bequests by Dr. Davies, provost, and others; and there are other charitable gifts for the benefit of the poor. The union of Eton consists of 19 parishes or places, which contain 20,247 inhabitants. William Oughtred, an eminent mathematician, is stated to have been born here, in 1573.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.