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Within a ten minute walk of Windsor Castle, across a bridge over the River Thames, there’s an old Gothic building. It is the legendary Eton College. It is one of England’s largest independent schools and one of the highest in prestige. Members of the British royal family are traditionally educated here. It was one of the best schools when first founded and remains so now; it is still commonly known as one of the greatest schools among all the schools in the world.
Following the old tradition, Eton is a full boarding school, which means all students live and study at the school with their fellow students throughout the school year. Eton is also one of the four remaining boys’ schools, so there’s no opportunity for a girl to study there. Eton students traditionally come from England’s wealthiest and most prestigious families, many of them aristocratic. Boys enter Eton at about 13 and continue to study there until they are ready to enter university.
The school was founded by Henry VI in the fifteenth century to provide free education for poor pupils who would then go on to get a higher education at King’s College in Cambridge. That connection no longer exists today.
All students have a uniform of a black tailcoat and a waistcoat, a white collar and dark trousers. All students wear a white tie. This uniform is not for special occasions, it is worn at all times for all classes. If you visit Eton during term time, you will see students walking along the streets with books under their arms dressed in their uniforms.
At Eton, there are dozens of organisations known as ‘societies’, in many of which students come together to discuss a particular topic. The societies are traditionally governed by the boys themselves. Societies range from astronomy to Scottish dancing and stamp-collecting. Some of them are dedicated to music, some to arts, some to languages, and so on. Meetings are usually held after supper and often include a guest speaker. Among past guest speakers were composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, writer J. K. Rowling, designer Vivienne Westwood, and actor Ralph Fiennes.
One of the oldest and most influential Eton societies is called the Pop. Its members are like school head-boys or prefects who are given limited authority over other students. They are called Poppers and take an active part in many official events of the school year, including parents’ evenings. While all students wear black waistcoats, members of the Pop are allowed to wear any waistcoat they please. Prince William, when he was a Popper, wore a waistcoat designed like the British national flag. The style immediately became popular.
Irrespective of this, the official colour of the college is the so-called ‘Eton blue’. It’s a light blue-green colour which has been used since the early 19th century. The main purpose was to identify Eton sportsmen in rowing races and on the cricket field.