decorated initial 'S'even elite boarding schools, Eton, Harrow, Westminster, Rugby, Winchester, Charterhouse, and Shrewsbury, and two London day schools, St. Pauls and Merchant Taylors's, were defined as "Public Schools" in the 1860s by the educational Clarendon commission. They were maintained by private endowment and not carried on for profit. The Taunton commission, which found that only 8% of male children (after the 1870's there were growing numbers of girl's public schools) were getting any sort of secondary education, later took all endowed secondary schools into consideration, and attempted both to redistribute endowments and to create uniform statutes in order to maintain standards of teaching, discipline, and organization.

Eton College Rugby School.

Left: Rugby School. Right: Eton College. Click on thumbnails for larger pictures and additional information.

Thomas Arnold's Rugby, with its emphasis on modernizing endowments, making scholarships competitive, providing a non-classical course of study as an alternative to the traditional one that emphasized Greek and Latin, establishing house systems, stressing school spirit, emphasizing muscular Christianity and games like football and cricket as means of improving character, became a model for other Victorian public schools. The whole educational process was designed to mold the student into a young Christian Gentleman. Students from these elite institutions provided Oxford and Cambridge with nearly all of their own students, and graduates of those Universities, as a matter of course, dominated the British political and administrative elite at least as late as the 1960s, as to a considerable extent they do today.

The Cost of a Public School Education

In a contribution to the online discussion group Victoria, Dr Stephen Basdeo of the American International University in Leeds cites Trevor May’s The Victorian Public School (Oxford: Shire Publications, 2011) that “The cost of keeping a boy at Eton and Harrow as calculated in July 1830 was £280 and £320 per year respectively. May contains an image of an itemized bill from c. 1840 in this book for Winchester school detailing where all of such fees went — for instance, £1 13s 6d went towards the maintenance of a school apothecary and £7 18s 9d went to booksellers.”

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Content created 1987; last modified 16 February 2019