[In the following passages from the chapter entitled "the playing fields" in the author's Eton in the Forties by an Old Colleger (1898) Coleridge describes schoolboy fights at Eton [GPL].

Sixpenny was a corner of the playing fields devoted in the summer to cricket, and supported by a subscription, the amount of which had originally given its name to the place. It was also the place where from time imme- morial all pitched battles had been regularly fought, and was therefore, of course, to be the scene of the event of today. When we got on to the ground there was already a considerable crowd scattered about, but neither of the combatants had yet made their appearance. They were not long, however, in coming, for their backers, who were eager not to miss the school races, would allow them little delay. Each came with a small band of adherents, and followed at a more respectful distance by the crowd, whom mere curiosity had attracted; and no sooner were thuy on the ground than a species of ring was formed by the spectators, and the two stood with their jackets offf waiting to begin.

All encounters of this sort are very much the same, and the description of one; fight might do for all. It is needless, therefore, to go over what can be so much better told by a professional hand ; and as Trevor remarked to me afterwards, if any one wishes to know the full particulars of what took place, let him read the last account in "Bell's Life" of the glorious set-to between the Putney Pet and the Swansea Smasher, substituting for such high-sounding names the simpler and more intelligible ones of Taylor and Anderson.

What the end of it was may at once be chronicled. There happened to be two Sixth Form [sic] not very far off, one of whom was Seymour, the captain of my dame's. They had seen the commencement of the fight, but so long as neither was doing the other much harm, had appeared to take but little notice of it. However, when the signs of cut lips and broken noses seemed to urge that enough had been done for the honour of both parties, they considered it their duty to interfere, and by virtue of the power which was given them came up to separate the combatants and disperse the crowd. Neither Taylor nor Anderson was very sorry to leave off. — Recollections of Eton. pp. 159-61

I AM told that affairs of honour are no longer transacted in 'Sixpenny Corner,' which lives in Eton history as the classical arena of famous battles. A good stand-up fight, between big boys, was a treat to us little fellows, who, perched on the Playing-fields wall, looked down upon Hector and Achilles and applauded lustily our favourite champion, none of us knowing or caring to understand the rights or wrongs of the quarrel. Though unrecorded in Bell's Life, mighty men have pommelled one another in 'Sixpenny,' and washed their wounds at the college pump. There should have been a sacred poet, an eighteenth-century Pindar,* to record the particulars of each [257/258] round between Arthur Wellesley and Bobus Smith. The story is that Bobus Smith was bathing, and that Wellesley threw a stone at him. Thereupon the outraged Bobus landed, had it out then and there in purls nahtralibus, and got a licking. It is a pity that the Duke left no record of his first fight. To have damaged the historical nose, or tapped the Wellesley 'claret,' would have added lustre to the fame of Bobus, whose Lucretian verses were as good as [the famoud headmaster] Keate's.


Coleridge, Arthur Duke. Eton in the Forties by an Old Colleger. 2nd ed., rev. London: Richard Bentley, 1898.

An Etonian [Charles Frederick, d. 1892]. Recollections of Eton. London: Chapman and Hall, 1870.

Last modified 19 July 2006