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Middle Gate, Winchester College, 1392, by the great medieval master-mason, William Wynford. The statues housed in the niches of the flint three-storey structure are of (l. to r.) the Angel of the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary, and William of Wykeham, who founded the college in 1382.

Winchester College, founded in 1382, predates Eton, Harrow and Charterhouse and others, and is one of the oldest of the great public schools — probably the oldest of all to have run continuously without any break or need for refounding. Middle Gate, shown above, is reached through the gatehouse to Winchester College on College Street, Winchester. It leads from Outer Court into Chamber Court, where the scholars had their rooms. To the south of Chamber Court are the Chapel and Hall, where the original schoolroom was located. "The warden originally lived above Middle Gate" (Pevsner and Lloyd 699). William of Wykeham, whose statue is on the right of the façade, also founded New College, Oxford. He was not the first bishop to found a college, and colleges had taught boys before; but "he was the first to have a coherent idea of a system of tuition rising from school to college" (Pevsner and Lloyd 698). The twin foundation in fact provided the model for Eton, which acted as a feeder school for King's College, Cambridge.

Rear of the Chapel, from the far end of College Street. Made of ashlar rather than flint. The old tower had to be demolished, and was rebuilt by William Butterfield (1814-1900) in 1861-2.

The Chapel and Hall were planned as an entity. Wykeham's "view of the human person, and of the world, was holistic. Hall abuts Chapel because you cannot have the one without the other," writes the current headmaster, Dr Ralph Townsend (2). This idealistic notion of the integrated development of mind and spirit was not always carried through into the daily life of the school. The college's pupils are known as Wykehamists. Among the old Wykehamists of the Victorian period were Thomas Arnold and his sons Matthew and Tom, and Anthony Trollope. Thomas Arnold, who entered the school in 1807, managed to adapt to the "harsh, sometimes brutal, school life" (Copley 26) of his era, but witnessed a great deal of bullying. Nevertheless, he sent his own sons Matthew and Tom there in 1836, apparently worried that attending Rugby under his headmastership might "weaken their affection" for him (qtd. from a letter to Matthew's tutor, Murray 34). In the event, the boys were soon withdrawn, "the Winchester experiment having failed" (Murray 28). They were happier with their father at Rugby after all, and Matthew's well-known elegy for his father, "Rugby Chapel" suggest that first-hand experience of his headmastership increased rather than diminished filial affection.

As for Trollope, his father had been a Wykehamist who successfully proceeded from there to New College, and he wished his sons to follow in his footsteps. His hope was never fully realised. Anthony in particular was wretched at Winchester. He was thrashed there even by his own elder brother. When his father's fortunes declined, he was more cruelly treated than ever: "ah! how well I remember all the agonies of my young heart; how I considered whether I should always be alone; whether I could not find my way up to the top of that college tower, and from thence put an end to everything?" (9). Later he was removed and sent to Harrow, where he fared no better. Such conditions were universal in the public schools of the time.

Entrance to the former Headmaster's House, College Street, Winchester, by G. S. Repton, 1839-42. "Knapped and squared flint" like Middle Gate, this house with its stone dressings marks the north-western corner of the College and seems "forbidding in its C 19 Gothic" (Pevsner and Lloyd 699).

When Jane Austen came to stay next door to this house at 8, College Street, shortly before her death, she mentioned that her drawing room overlooked the headmaster's garden. The headmaster then was Henry Dyson Gabell, under whom there would be a rebellion in 1818, when soldiers were brought in and pupils expelled. It was neither the first nor the last of Winchester's pupil-teacher conflicts, but in 1835 Gabell's son-in-law, George Moberly, became headmaster, and he was much influenced by Arnold of Rugby. The "picturesque hardnesses of life" experienced by the Trollopes were banished (Wickham 111), and pupils' rights began to be respected. Progress was hardly smooth: "archaic methods and obsolete traditions" persisted for some time yet (Oman 44); in particular the notorious "Tunding Row" of winter 1872 exposed the widespread and sadistic practise among the prefects of "tunding" or thrashing juniors with a ground-ash. However, especially under the headship of George Ridding (1867-1884), dubbed, though of course not in any formal sense, "the second founder of Winchester" (Kenyon and Curthoys), conditions improved tremendously. Lord Alfred Douglas — Oscar Wilde's "Bosie" — entered the school at just this point, and seems to have established himself happily there, being "generally liked" and co-founding and editing a magazine called The Pentagram, to which he contributed humorous pieces (Hyde 17).

Related Material

Note: For a flavour of Winchester College at the end of the period, see (offsite) G. A. Cevasco's Lord Alfred Douglas and the Winchester College Pentagram (Columbia University Library: Columns, Vol. 39, No. 1 [1989: Nov.], 3-17).


Copley, Terence. Black Tom: Arnold of Rugby, The Myth and the Man. London and New York: Continuum, 2002.

Hyde, Harford Montgomery. Lord Alfred Douglas: A Biography. London: Methuen, 1984.

Kenyon, F. E., rev. M. C. Curthoys. "Ridding, George (1828-1904)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Viewed 16 December 2009.

Murray, Nicholas. A Life of Matthew Arnold. London: Sceptre, 1996.

Oman, Sir Charles William Chadwick. Memories of Victorian Oxford and of Some Early Years. London: Methuen, 1941.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, and David Lloyd. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The Buildings of England series. London: Penguin, 1967.

Townsend, Ralph. "The Headmaster Writes." The Trusty Servant, No. 106, Nov. 2008:1-2. Viewed 19 December 2009.

Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography. London: Penguin, 1993.

Wickham, E. C. "Life in College About 1850" in Winchester College, 1393-1893, by Old Wykehamists. London: Edwin Arnold, 1893: 96-121. Viewed 19 December 2009.

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Last modified 19 December 2009