Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Harrow School, commonly known simply as "Harrow", is an English independent school for boys situated in the town of Harrow, in north-west London. [1] Harrow has educated boys since 1243 but was officially founded by John Lyon under a Royal Charter of Elizabeth I in 1572.

The school has an enrollment of approximately 800 boys spread across twelve boarding houses, all of whom board full time.

Harrow has many traditions and rich history, which includes the use of boaters, morning suits, top hats and canes as uniform as well as a very long line of famous alumni including eight former Prime Ministers (including Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru and Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston), numerous foreign statesmen, former and current members of both houses of the UK Parliament, two Kings and several other members of various royal families, 19 Victoria Cross holders, and a great many notable figures in both the arts and the sciences. It is one of the original nine English public schools as defined by the Public Schools Act 1868.[5]

Various schools in the same location have educated boys since 1243, but the school in its current state was founded in February 1572 under the Royal Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I to John Lyon, a local wealthy farmer.[6] In the school's initial charter six original governors were named, including two members of the Gerard family of Flambards, and two members of the Page family of Wembley and Sudbury Court.[7] It was only after the death of Lyon's wife in 1608 that the construction of the first school building began. It was completed in 1615 and remains to this day, however it is now much larger.

The school grew gradually over time but growth became rapid during Imperial times as British prosperity grew.[8] Lyon died in 1592, leaving his assets to two causes, the lesser being the school, and by far the greater beneficiary being the maintenance of a road to London, 10 miles (16 km) away. The school owned and maintained this road for many years following Lyon’s death and the whole school still runs along this 10 mile road in an event called “Long Ducker” every November. At its beginning, the primary subject taught was Latin, and the only sport was archery. Both subjects were compulsory; archery was dropped in 1771.[9] Although most boys were taught for free, their tuition paid for by Lyon's endowment, there were a number of fee-paying "foreigners" (boys from outside the parish). It was their presence that amplified the need for boarding facilities. By 1701 for every local there were two foreign pupils; this was used as a way to generate funds for the school as fees increased. By 1876 the ratio was so high that John Lyon Lower School was brought under the authority of the governors of the Upper School so that the school remained within its charge of providing education for the boys of the parish. It is now known as The John Lyon School and is a prominent independent school in England. It maintains close links with Harrow.[6] The majority of boarding houses were constructed in Victorian times, when the number of boys increased dramatically.

Old SchoolsThe 20th century saw the innovation of a central dining hall, the demolition of small houses and further modernisation of the curriculum. Presently there are approximately 800 boys boarding at Harrow.

In 2005 the school was one of fifty of the country's leading independent schools which were found guilty of running an illegal price-fixing cartel, exposed by The Times, which had allowed them to drive up fees for thousands of parents, although the schools made clear that they had not realised that the change to the law (which had happened only a few months earlier) about the sharing of information had subsequently made it an offence.[11] Each school was required to pay a nominal penalty of £10,000 and all agreed to make ex-gratia payments totalling £3,000,000 into a trust designed to benefit pupils who attended the schools during the period in respect of which fee information was shared.

The School Governors recently introduced Harrow to the international community by opening two new schools, one in Beijing, China, and Harrow International School in Bangkok, Thailand.[13] Also, in 2012 a new Harrow International School will open in Hong Kong.

Notable alumni
Main article: List of Old Harrovians

The original Old Schools, as they were in 1615Harrow has many notable alumni, who are known as Old Harrovians, including seven former British Prime Ministers including Winston Churchill and Robert Peel (the creator of the modern Police Force and founder of the Conservative Party), and the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. In addition, nineteen Old Harrovians have been awarded the Victoria Cross.

The school has educated three monarchs: Mukarram Jah the last Nizam of Hyderabad, King Hussein of Jordan and his cousin, Faisal II, the last King of Iraq, and had among its pupils a large number from the Thai, Indian, Malaysian and Middle Eastern royal families. A number of members of the British Royal Family have also attended the school.

Other notable alumni include writers (including Lord Byron, Sir Terence Rattigan and Richard Curtis), numerous aristocrats (including the current richest British subject, the Duke of Westminster and the prominent reformist Lord Shaftesbury) and business people (including DeBeers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer, Pret a Manger founder Julian Metcalfe) and the big game hunter and artist General Douglas Hamilton, as well as Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. In sports, the school produced the first two Wimbledon champions (Spencer Gore and Frank Hadow) as well as FA Cup creator C.W. Alcock.

Prominent modern celebrities who attended Harrow include eccentric horse-racing pundit John McCririck, singer James Blunt and actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Fictional Old Harrovians include the character Withnail from the film Withnail and I.

School traditions

A modern view from the library to the Old Schools, one of the sets of the Harry Potter films[edit] Uniform
Boys at Harrow have two uniforms.

Everyday dress, worn to most lessons, consists of a white shirt, black silk tie, grey trousers (introduced by Barnaby Lennon), black shoes, blue jumper (sweater), a dark blue woollen uniform jacket, the school blue and white scarf on cold days and, notably, a boater style straw hat with a dark blue band. Variations include Boys who are monitors who are allowed to wear a jumper of their choice and members of certain societies who may earn the right to replace the school standard tie with one of a variety of scarves, cravats, neck and bow ties.[14]

An alternative uniform, Sunday dress, worn every Sunday and for public engagements, consists of a morning suit; a black tailcoat, pinstriped trousers, a black waistcoat, black tie, braces and a white shirt. Variations include a grey waistcoat for those in the top sports teams, red waistcoats for members of “The Guild”, which is the school’s arts society and a hat with black speckles for boys in the 1st XI Cricket.

All school monitors wear a top hat instead of the Harrow boater and carry a personalised cane. The Head of School has the distinction of wearing full white tie as Sunday Dress.

The Harrow uniform achieved notoriety in the mid 20th century when a 1937 photograph of two Harrovians in Sunday Dress being watched by three working class boys was taken outside Lord's Cricket Ground. The photograph was placed on the front cover of the News Chronicle (now the Daily Mail) the following morning under the tagline "Every picture tells a story". The picture was soon reproduced in other national publications and became, and remains, one of the most popular symbols of the class divide in the United Kingdom.
Every new boy who enters the school is given a two week period of time called "grace" when he is not fully subject to all school rules and is shown the ropes by an assigned boy in the year above called a "Shepherd". When this period of time ends the boy sits the "new boys' test" which tests general knowledge of the school’s traditions. Some time later all new boys also sing a solo in front of their house at a house songs, officially ending their time as a new boy.

All boys are required to wear their hats when going to or from lessons and to "cap" all teachers (also known as "beaks") who pass them which is done by the boy raising his forefinger to the brim of his hat.


Roodone said...

wonderful post. I am a theology teacher in a college prep school in Illinois. The tradition of the British schools is lost on America. I love this stuff. Thank you for posting.

Anonymous said...

We toured Harrow last summer. The boys have quite a walk to get down to the playing fields. Thank you for sharing your photos.