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).
On 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.