On the other side of the Pond, our American friends also celebrate the 4th of July, also known as Independence Day. This is a bank holiday commemorating the Declaration of Independence, adopted on the 4th of July 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain.

The American revolution acted the legal separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain on the 2nd of July 1776 when the congress approved a resolution of independence put forward by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, declaring the United States independent from Great Britain.

This is a day marked by patriotic displays, parades, barbecue and fireworks amongst other celebrations. All non essential federal institutions are closed on that day and festivities are held in celebration of national heritage, law, history, society and people.


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As British Public schools are very often historical schools, they have a host of strange and wonderful traditions. Here are a few

The Eton Wall Game – Eton College

First recorded in 1766, Eton College’s ‘Wall Game’ is played on the Furrow, a five metre wide by 110 metre long strip of land, next to a brick wall, on college grounds. The wall, built in 1717, gave its name to the game.

The teams participating are chosen from Collegers (King’s scholars) and Oppidans (the rest of the students).

The object of the game is to get the ball down to the far end of the wall to score, without either handling the ball or touching the ground with any part of their bodies except their hands and feet.

The traditional and most important match of the year is played on St Andrew’s Day, as the Collegers (King’s Scholars) take on the Oppidans (the rest of the school).

eton-students-reuters-300x225On that day, the Oppidans throw their caps over the wall and climb over the wall 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 rest of the school’s students watches on, perched on the wall.

The Wall Game is also played on Ascension Day, immediately after the early morning service on the roof of College Chapel.

Illumina – Winchester College

The tradition started in 1862 when the wall separating scholars and commoners was destroyed. On the last day of the Autumn term, old candle stubs kept during the year were used to light the wall enclosing the school playing fields, a tradition known as ‘Illumina’. Nowadays, the festival includes a bonfire, carol singing and food and drinks, giving staff, parents and students the chance to celebrate Christmas and the end of term.

Singing at Harrow

The school has had a long tradition of singing songs, at least for the past 150 years. Songs are sung regularly at school events throughout the year but also at reunions of old Harrovians. The most famous Harrow song, called Forty Years On is only famous by name as it is not actually authorized to perform this song in public, a public other than Harrovian, that is.

 The Greaze – Westminster School

On Shrove Tuesday, the “Greaze”, a tradition started in 1753, is celebrated in Westminster school. The cook tosses a pancake (reinforced with horse hair) over a high bar and students must try to catch the biggest part of the pancake during a one minute fight, overseen by the Dean and the Headmaster. The student who manages to catch the biggest bit of the pancake is awarded a gold sovereign (which is given back for the following year) and the dean gives the school a half-day holiday.

Rugby Football – Rugby College

Rugby college is famous for having invented the game of Rugby in 1823 when a boy named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it during a game of football. The sport quickly became popular as former Rugby students taught it to their respective classmates at the universities they attended.

Morning Hills – Winchester College

Since 1884, Winchester College has taken part in the twice yearly ceremony of Morning Hills. Everyone in the school gets up early and walks in their uniform to the top of St Catherine’s hill, a hill owned by the college. They say prayers at the top, as a way of reinforcing the school’s historic right to the land. Although the event is said to take place during summer and autumn terms, the weather can cause the event to be cancelled.


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Save a few exceptions, school uniforms are the norm for all British school children. They were first introduced during the reign of Henry VIII in the form of long trench-coat style jackets in dark blue. This was supposed to teach humility amongst children.

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 offered elementary education for all children in England and wales and the school uniforms became very popular.

Uniforms reflected the fashion of the time with girls wearing blouses, tunic dresses and pinafores and boys short trousers and blazers until the age of 14 when they wore long trousers.

The Butler reform in 1950 made school free and compulsory until 15. Schools were encourage to harmonize school uniforms codes with other schools.

Nowadays, school uniforms are required to be fair for both gender, not be too costly and accommodate religious freedom. Nowadays, this consists in a shirt, skirt or trousers and a coloured jumper. Some schools also add a tie and a blazer for a smarter look.


School uniforms have sparked a controversy. On the one hand, it is believed to     create pride in belonging to a school, remove distraction from the classroom as there is no social pressure to dress in any particular way and erase social discrepancies.

But proponents of abolishing school uniforms say that while this is true on paper, uniforms come at a cost and cheaper alternatives can mean the child is punished for not wearing the right uniform, or mocked by his/her peers for wearing a cheaper version.



Some private, or independent schools take pride in their radically different uniforms.

Harrow’s public school for example requires students to wear a white shirt, black silk tie, grey trousers and dark blue jacket.  In addition to this smart outfit, students must wear a Harrow hat, a varnished straw with a dark blue ribbon. The had must be worn between all lessons and when meeting a teacher, a forefinger must be raised to the brim of the hat as a sign of respect.

Photo by Robertvan1 at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

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Despite its misleading name, a “public” school in England is a exclusive prestigious private school, often with a rather distinguished historical background. Sometimes a boarding school, it is financed by bodies other than the state, in general private charitable trusts and charges fees for attendance.

They are called “public” schools because historically, they were open to any member of the public willing to pay the fees as opposed to home education with a tutor or religious schools in which membership to the church was compulsory.

Public schools today are strongly associated with the elite since they are highly selective on academic grounds as well as social and financial means. Historically, they educated the sons of the elite of Victorian politics, officers and senior administrators of the British Empire. This reputation of educating the elite remains today. In 2010 for example, a study showed that over half of Cabinet Ministers had been educated at public schools.

Some public schools for boys in England are


Winchester College,

Charterhouse School,

Rugby School,


Marlborough College,

Dulwich College,

Harrow School,

St Paul’s Boys’ School,

Wellington College.



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And since you are probably wondering what the Procession of boats, described in the previous article, is like, here is a wonderful film of the event, shot in the 1960s.

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The Fourth of July, which, like the Queen’s official birthday, is not actually celebrated on the 4th of July but rather on the Wednesday before the first week-end of June, is a celebration of King George III’s birthday. George III (1760-1820) spent a lof ot time in Windsor and frequently visited the school. He often entertained the students’ at Windsor castle and the school marked the King’s birthday by turning the day into an official holiday. The festival includes various events, such as the very famous Procession of Boats.

Eton-Procession-of-Boats-10During this event, the best crews from the past four years, wearing naval uniforms from the 19th century, row vintage boats past the banks of the River Thames between the school and Windsor and salute spectators including her majesty the Queen by performing a rather perilous move.  

The entire cox and crew stand up in the boat, raise their oars vertically, facing Windsor Castle and tip their hats, decorated with flowers to cheer the memory of George III.Eton-Boating-3 The crew then sits down again and continues rowing. The day also sees a host  of speeches and other sporting events such as a cricket match and a picnic with parents and families on the school grounds.

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