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Unknown, teaching existed since at least 1179, refounded in 1560
Chairman of Governors
Very Revd. John Hall, Dean of Westminster
Henry VIII (1541)Elizabeth I (1560 - refoundation)
Dat Deus Incrementum; (God Gives the Increase)
Westminster school documentary part 1
Westminster School is an English independent day and boarding school located within the precincts of Westminster Abbey. It has the highest Oxford and Cambridge university acceptance rates of any secondary school or college in the world. With origins before the 12th century, the educational tradition of Westminster probably dates back as far as AD 960, in line with the Abbey's history. The school's alumni include Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Robert Hooke, Sir Christopher Wren, Louis Theroux, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, Edward Gibbon, Henry Mayhew, A. A. Milne, Peter Ustinov, Tony Benn and seven Prime Ministers. Boys are admitted to the Under School at age seven and to the senior school at age thirteen; girls are admitted at age sixteen into the Sixth Form. The school has around 750 pupils; around a quarter are boarders, most of whom go home at weekends, after Saturday morning school. It is one of the original seven public schools as defined by the Public Schools Act 1868. Charging up to £7,800 per term for day pupils and £11,264 for boarders in 2014/15, Westminster is the 13th most expensive HMC day school and 10th most expensive HMC boarding school in the UK.
- Westminster school documentary part 1
- Notable buildings
- University applications
- Examination Results
- Westminster jargon
- Other jargon and slang
- Sport Station
- Other notable masters
- Notable former pupils
- Victoria Cross holders
Schoolboys have been educated at Westminster since 1179, and if the Croyland Chronicle is to be believed since before the Norman Conquest, with parts of the buildings now used by the school dating back to the 11th century Anglo-Saxon Abbey at Westminster.
In 1540, Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in England, including that of the powerful Abbots of Westminster, but personally ensured the School's survival by his royal charter. The Royal College of St. Peter carried on with forty "King's Scholars" financed from the royal purse. By this point Westminster School had certainly become a public school (i.e. a school available to members of the public, as long as they could pay their own costs, rather than private tuition provided to the nobility). During Mary I's brief reign the Abbey was reinstated as a Roman Catholic monastery, but the school continued.
Elizabeth I refounded the School in 1560, with new statutes to select 40 Queen's Scholars from boys who had already attended the school for a year. Queen Elizabeth frequently visited her scholars, although she never signed the statutes nor endowed her scholarships, and 1560 is now generally taken as the date that the school was "founded".
Elizabeth I appointed William Camden as headmaster, and he is the only layman known to have held the position until 1937. It was Dr Busby, himself an Old Westminster, who established the reputation of the school for several hundred years, as much by his classical learning as for his ruthless discipline by the birch, immortalised in Pope's Dunciad. Busby prayed publicly Up School for the safety of the Crown, on the very day of Charles I's execution, and then locked the boys inside to prevent their going to watch the spectacle a few hundred yards away. Regardless of politics, he thrashed Royalist and Puritan boys alike without fear or favour. Busby also took part in Oliver Cromwell's funeral procession in 1658; when Robert Uvedale, a Westminster schoolboy, succeeded in snatching the "Majesty Scutcheon" (white satin banner) draped on the coffin (it was given to the School by his family two hundred years later). Busby remained in office throughout the Civil War and the Commonwealth, when the school was governed by Parliamentary Commissioners, and well into the Restoration.
In 1679, a group of scholars killed a bailiff, ostensibly in defence of the Abbey's traditional right of sanctuary, but possibly because the man was trying to arrest a consort of the boys. Dr Busby obtained a royal pardon for his scholars from Charles II and added the cost to the school bills.
Until the 19th century, the curriculum was predominantly made up of Latin and Greek, and all taught Up School. The Westminster boys were uncontrolled outside school hours and notoriously unruly about town, but the proximity of the School to the Palace of Westminster meant that politicians were well aware of the boys' exploits. After the Public Schools Act 1868, in response to the Clarendon Commission on the financial and other malpractices at nine pre-eminent public schools, the school began to approach its modern form. It was legally separated from the Abbey, although the organisations remain close and the Dean of Westminster Abbey is ex officio the Chairman of the Governors. There followed a scandalous public and parliamentary dispute lasting a further 25 years, to settle the transfer of the properties from the Canons of the Abbey to the School. School statutes have been made by Order in Council of Queen Elizabeth II. The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford and the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge are ex officio members of the school's governing body.
Unusually among public schools, Westminster did not adopt most of the broader changes associated with the Victorian ethos of Thomas Arnold, such as the emphasis on team over individual spirit, and the school retained much of its distinctive character. Despite many pressures, including evacuation and the destruction of the School roof during the Blitz, the school refused to move out of the city, unlike other schools such as Charterhouse and St. Paul's, and remains in its central London location.
Westminster Under School was formed in 1943 in the evacuated school buildings in Westminster, as a distinct preparatory school for day pupils between the ages of 8 to 13 (now 7 to 13). Only the separation is new: for example, in the 18th century, Edward Gibbon attended Westminster from the age of 11 and Jeremy Bentham from the age of 8. The Under School has since moved to Vincent Square, overlooking the School's playing fields. Its current Master is Mr Mark O'Donnell.
In 1967, the first female pupil was admitted to the School, with girls becoming full members of the school from 1973 onwards. In 1981, a single-sex boarding house, Purcell's, was created for girls. In 1997 the school expanded further with the creation of a new day house, Milne's at 5a, Dean's Yard.
In 2005 the school was one of fifty leading private schools guilty of running a cartel, exposed by The Times, which had allowed them to collaborate in uncompetitive fees for thousands of customers. Mrs Jean Scott, the head of the Independent Schools Council, said that independent schools had always been exempt from anti-cartel rules applied to business, were following a long-established procedure in sharing the information with each other, and that they were unaware of the change to the law (on which they had not been consulted). She wrote to John Vickers, the OFT director-general, saying, "They are not a group of businessmen meeting behind closed doors to fix the price of their products to the disadvantage of the consumer. They are schools that have quite openly continued to follow a long-established practice because they were unaware that the law had changed.". However, each school agreed to pay a nominal penalty of £10,000 and ex-gratia payments totalling £3 million into a trust designed to benefit pupils who attended the schools during the period in respect of which fee information was shared.
In 2007, the school responded to an invitation to become the sponsor of Pimlico School, which was due to be rebuilt as an academy, but decided not to go ahead after Westminster City Council developed its plans. In 2013 the school collaborated with the Harris Federation to set up a selective, mixed, sixth form academy, with entrance priority given to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Harris Westminster Sixth Form opened nearby in 2014, and Pupils of the Academy share some lessons and facilities of the School.
In 2010 the School and the Abbey celebrated the 450th anniversary of the granting of their Royal Charter and Elizabeth I's refoundation of the school in 1560. Queen Elizabeth II with HRH the Duke of Edinburgh unveiled a controversial statue in Little Dean's Yard of Her Majesty's namesake Elizabeth I, the nominal Foundress of the School, by Old Westminster sculptor Matthew Spender. His Royal Highness's comments in immediate reaction to the unveiling are not publicly reported, but are gleefully referenced within the School. The head of the statue came off in May 2016 after a Sixth Former (a pupil in Year 12) tried to climb on the statue. The school has yet to decide the future of the statue.
In May 2013, the school was criticised for staging an auction involving the selling of internships to fund bursaries, resulting in adverse coverage in the press.
The School is located primarily in the precincts of the former medieval monastery of Westminster Abbey, its main buildings surrounding its private square Little Dean's Yard (known as 'Yard'), off Dean's Yard, where Church House, the headquarters of the Church of England, is situated, along with some of the Houses, the Common Room, the humanities building Weston's, and College Hall.
Immediately outside the Abbey precincts on Great College Street is Sutcliff's (named after the tuck shop in the building in the 19th century), where Geography, Art, Theology, Philosophy and Classics (Latin and Ancient Greek) are taught. The Robert Hooke Science Centre is further away, just off Smith Square. As part of an expansion programme funded by donations and a legacy from A. A. Milne, the school has acquired the nearby Millicent Fawcett Hall for Drama and Theatre Studies lessons and performances; the Manoukian Centre for Music lessons (both timetabled and private) and recitals; and the Weston Building at 3 Dean's Yard. It also often uses St John's, Smith Square as a venue for major musical concerts.
College Garden, to the East of Little Dean's Yard, is believed to be the oldest garden in England, under continuous cultivation for around a millennium. Just beyond rises the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament; the Queen's Scholars have special rights of access to the House of Commons. To the North, the Dark Cloister leads straight to the Abbey, which serves as the School Chapel.
The playing fields are half a mile away at Vincent Square, which Dean Vincent created for the School by hiring a horse and plough to carve 10 acres (40,000 m2) out of the open Tothill Fields. The boathouse is now some way from the school at Putney, where it is also used for the Oxford and Cambridge boat race; but the school's First Eight still returns annually to exercise its traditional right to land at Black Rod Steps of the Palace of Westminster.
In 2011, the school agreed to buy a 999-year lease for the Lawrence Hall, London from The Royal Horticultural Society. This listed Art-Deco building, adjacent to the school's playing fields at Vincent Square, has been converted into a Sports Centre. It provides space for an array of activities, including climbing, martial arts, fencing, rowing, table tennis, badminton, netball, indoor football and indoor cricket. In 2012 the School took possession of St Edward’s House, which was the last Anglican monastery in London. Located on the corner of Great College Street and Tufton Street the building now houses Purcell’s, a Boarding House for girls and a Day House for boys, as well as a small Chapel and Refectory. Westminster Under School has also been enlarged by the addition of a building on Douglas Street which provides an Art Studio, IT Suite and Dining Hall.
Westminster School, situated in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Westminster Abbey, St. Margaret's, and the Palace of Westminster, has several buildings notable for unique qualities, age, and history.
'College Hall', the 14th-century Abbot's state dining hall, is one of the oldest and finest examples of medieval refectory in existence, and is still in use for its original purpose every day in term-time; outside of term it reverts to the Dean, as the Abbot's successor. Queen Elizabeth Woodville took sanctuary here in 1483 with 5 daughters and her son Richard, but failed to save him from his fate as one of the Princes in the Tower. In the 1560s, Elizabeth I several times came to see her scholars act their Latin Plays on a stage in front of the attractive Elizabethan gallery, which may have been first erected especially for the purpose.
'College', now shared between the three Houses of College, Dryden's and Wren's, is a dressed stone building overlooking College Garden, the former monastery's Infirmary garden which is still the property of the Collegiate Church of Westminster Abbey. College dates from 1729, and was designed by the Earl of Burlington based on earlier designs from Sir Christopher Wren (himself an Old Westminster).
'School', originally built in the 1090s as the monks' dormitory, is the School's main hall, used for Latin Prayers (a weekly assembly with prayers in the Westminster-dialect of Latin), exams, and large concerts, plays and the like. From 1599 it was used to teach all the pupils, the Upper and Lower Schools being separated by a curtain hung from a 16th-century pig iron bar, which remains the largest piece of pig iron in the world. The School Gateway was also designed by the Earl of Burlington, and are engraved with the names of many pupils who used to hire a stonemason for the purpose. The panelling "up School" is similarly, but officially, painted with the coats of arms of many former pupils. The original shell-shaped apse at the North end of School gave its name to the Shell forms taught there and the corresponding classes at many other public schools. The current shell displays a Latin epigram on the rebuilding of School, with the acrostic Semper Eadem, Elizabeth I's motto. The classroom door to the right of the Shell was recovered from the notorious Star Chamber at its demolition but was destroyed during the Blitz.
The building lies directly on top of the Westminster Abbey museum, and ends at the start of the Pyx Chamber.
Both School and College had their roofs destroyed during the Blitz by incendiary bombs in 1941. The buildings were re-opened by George VI in 1950.
Ashburnham House, which today houses the library, the IT department and the Mathematics Department, and until 2005 the Economics, English and History of Art departments as well. Ashburnham House was built by Inigo Jones or his pupil John Webb around the time of the Restoration as a London seat for the family who became the Earls of Ashburnham. It incorporates remains of the mediaeval Prior's House, and its garden is the site of the monks' refectory and some of the earliest sittings of the House of Commons. In 1731 when Ashburnham housed the King's and Cottonian libraries, which form the basis of the British Library, there was a disastrous fire, and many of the books and manuscripts still show the marks. After the Public Schools Act 1868 there was a scandalous parliamentary and legal battle between the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey and the School, until the School eventually obtained Ashburnham House under the Act for £4,000. The dispute was reported in The Times, and it was suggested by Thomas Wise, Secretary of The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings that the property was "in danger of being pulled down or of being virtually destroyed by being converted into a boarding-house in connexion with Westminster School" adding that the "house is admirably suited for a residence for the Dean or one of the Canons, and is totally unfitted for a school or a boarding house". The School responded writing that "The Chapter themselves have in past years greatly altered and disfigured Ashburnham-house. It had originally two wings; one was destroyed and never restored. About 1848 the roof was taken off, a story added, and a dome in the ceiling of the drawing-room demolished, the external elevation being ruined. The house now has no beauty externally, and hardly and features of interest internally, except the staircase, which in any case would be preserved". On 28 November William Morris also became involved in the campaign, writing a letter to the Editor of the Daily News. In the event the School demolished the adjacent building, Turle's House and renovated sections of the east wing, but left the staircase and drawing room untouched. During the Second World War, the library was used for military purposes, and as an American officers' club, The Churchill Club.
The 'Greaze' has been held 'up School' (in the School Hall) on Shrove Tuesdays since at least 1753. The head cook ceremoniously tosses a horsehair-reinforced pancake over a high bar, which was used from the 16th century to curtain off the Under School from the Great School. Members of the school fight for the pancake for one minute, watched over by the Dean of Westminster Abbey (as Chairman of the Governors), the Head Master, the upper years groups of the School and distinguished or even occasionally Royal visitors. The pupil who gets the largest weight is awarded a gold sovereign (promptly redeemed for use next year), and the Dean begs a half-holiday for the whole School. Weighing scales are on hand in the event of a dispute. A cook who failed to get the 'pancake' over the bar after three attempts would formerly have been "booked", or stoned with Latin primers, although that tradition has long lapsed.
The privilege of being the first commoners to acclaim each new sovereign at their coronation in Westminster Abbey is reserved for the Queen's (or King's) Scholars. Their shouts of "Vivat Regina/Rex" ("Long Live the Queen/King") are incorporated into the coronation anthem I was glad. The tradition dates back to the coronation of King James II.
Despite the formal separation from the Abbey, the school remains Anglican, with services in the Abbey attended by the entire school at least twice a week, and many other voluntary-attendance services of worship. The school was expressly exempted by the Act of Uniformity to allow it to continue saying Latin prayers despite the Reformation. Every Wednesday there is an assembly Up School known as Latin Prayers, which opens with the Headmaster leading all members of the school in chanting prayers in Latin, followed by notices in English. The School's unique pronunciation of formal Latin is known as 'Westminster Latin', and descends from medieval English scholastic pronunciation: Queen Elizabeth I, who spoke fluent Latin, commanded that Latin was not to be said "in the monkish fashion", a significant warning upon loyalties between Church and State. The School commemorates its benefactors every year with a service in Westminster Abbey in Latin in which the Captain of the Queen's Scholars lays a wreath of pink roses on the tomb of Elizabeth I: the service alternates between 'Little Commem' which is held in Henry VII's Chapel and involves just the Queen's Scholars and the much larger 'Big Commem' to which the whole school community is invited.
Since the monastic Christmas revels of medieval times, Latin plays have been presented by the Scholars, with a prologue and witty epilogue on contemporary events. Annual plays, "either tragedy or comedy", were required by the school statutes in 1560, and some early plays were acted in College Hall before Elizabeth I and her whole Council. However, in a more prudish age Queen Victoria did not accompany Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales to the play, and recorded in her diary that it was "very Improper". Today, the play is put on less frequently, any members of the school may take part, and the Master of the Queen's Scholars gives the Latin prologue. The 1938 play caused a diplomatic incident with the German ambassador withdrawing offended by the words 'Magna Germania' figuring in extenso on a map of Europe displayed.
The Queen's Scholars have privileged access to the House of Commons gallery, said to be a compromise recorded in the Standing Orders of the House in the 19th century, to stop the boys from climbing into the Palace over the roofs.
There are four main points of entry for pupils:
As well as the Queen's Scholarships which pay one half of boarding fees, and of which there are normally eight in each year, there are Honorary Scholarships for boys who pass the Challenge and could have been scholars but do not want to board. Stephen Hawking was entered for the Challenge in 1952, but fell ill on the day of the Challenge examination.
Those entering the Lower School also have the opportunity to win scholarships based on musical talent, and bursaries for those whose parents are not able to fund their tuition. Ignoring scholarships and bursaries, annual fees are as follows:
According to a report by the Sutton Trust, Westminster School had the highest average Oxbridge acceptance rate over the period 2002–2007 of any school at 49.9% and in the period 2008–2013, with 97 pupils achieving Oxbridge places in 2014. It also has an 85.6% (5-year average) acceptance rate into the Sutton Trust list of the top 13 universities for research in the UK. The report claimed that, in general, independent schools achieve 16.3% more places at Sutton 13 universities than would be expected on merely from A-level grades, although it has been accepted that module grades were significantly better at Westminster and that the new A* at A-Level should provide more accurate differentiation.
GCSE summary: last five years
A-Level Results: last five years
In addition, Westminster School graduates regularly secure places at top universities in the United States, such as Harvard University, Yale University and Stanford University.
Westminster has an unusual system for naming the school years, which can confuse those not familiar with the system.
The Lower and Upper Shell years are named after the shell-shaped alcove up School where they were originally taught; the name has been adopted by several other schools with a Westminster connection.
The first term of the academic year, from September to December, is known as Play Term. This is the term in which the Latin Play used to take place (see Customs). The second term, from January to Easter is the Lent Term. The third term of the academic year, from April to July is the Election Term. This is the term in which new scholars are elected, formerly in place of those examined and elected to the universities.
Other jargon and slang
The school is split into 11 houses, some of which are 'day houses' (and only admit day pupils, those who go home after school), the others having a mix of day pupils and boarders. Each house has a Housemaster, a teacher who is responsible for the house, the pupils in it and their welfare, and a Head of House, a pupil in the Remove, nominated by the Housemaster. The role of the Head of House largely consists in assisting the Housemaster in organising activities such as house competitions, for which the Head of House might draw up teams. Grant's is the only house to have a Head of Hall, also a pupil in the Remove, who acts as an assistant to the Head of House. The reason for this is because the Grant's Head of House must be a boarder, as there is a room specially for the Head of House. Thus the Head of Hall is chosen from the day pupils in Grant's. It is not necessary in Rigaud's that the Head of House be a boarder - if the position is given to a day pupil, the position "Head of Boarding" is created, giving them responsibility for some of the boarding-only duties in the house. Further to these positions, each day house (a house which only admits day pupils) has an Assistant Housemaster, and each boarding house has a Resident Tutor. The houses are named after people connected to the house or school in various ways – mainly prominent Old Westminsters but also former Head Masters and Housemasters. Grant's is the oldest house for pupils other than scholars, not only of Westminster but of any public school.
Houses are a focus for pastoral care and social and sporting activities, as well as accommodation for boarders. All the day houses are mixed-sex, and all houses admit girls; only Busby's, Liddell's, Grant's and Purcell's provide boarding accommodation for girls – the remainder admit day girls only.
Each house has associated colours, which are worn on ties awarded for various (usually sporting) achievement while representing the house. There are also pink-striped ties awarded for achievement while representing the whole school, with the amount of pink denoting the level of achievement (and also partially in which year the pupil was awarded the tie). Wren's and Milne's use slightly different colours on house ties from those seen on their shirt.
College, the House of the Queen's Scholars (all of whom board unless in extraneous circumstances), has assigned to it some of the non-boarding girls who enter the School in the VIth form. Wren's was formerly known as Homeboarders and Dryden's as Dale's. Before it was rebuilt, Rigaud's was known as Clapham's and Best's.
The School has three Eton Fives courts, located behind Ashburnham House. The school frequently fields pupils as national entries in international competitions in rowing, or "Water", and fencing.
Westminster School Boat Club is one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world, located on the River Thames. The Oxford University Boat Club uses Westminster's boat house at Putney as its HQ for the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race on the Thames. The boathouse was remodelled in 1997, and won a Wandsworth design award in 1999. The school's colour is pink; Westminster rowers raced Eton College for the right to wear pink. One story goes that, at one annual Eton-Westminster rowing race, both crews arrived wearing pink, which was fashionable at the time. The Eton crew bought some light-blue ribbon (which later became the standard Eton colours) to differentiate themselves, but the Westminster crew won the race and the right to wear pink in perpetuity. The premier Leander Club at Henley, founded in London by a number of Old Westminster rowers, later adopted it, although they call the colour cerise. The only problems arise when racing against Abingdon School, who also wear pink.
Since 1810, when Headmaster William Vincent fenced off and ordered the ploughing of the waste marshlands known as Tothill Fields, which were being threatened by London's urban sprawl, for use by the school, the School's main sports ground is nearby at Vincent Square, which football and cricket on the main area and tennis and netball on the courts; it also hosts a playground for Westminster Under School. At 13 acres, it is the largest private, open green space in Central London, despite this, it is not large enough for all the pupils doing these sports to use simultaneously (the three football pitches and typically one smaller practise pitch become one main cricket square and several smaller practise squares for the cricket season). Therefore, the school hires and owns other sporting facilities near the school. These include the oldest boating club in the world, an astroturf ground in Battersea, and a fencing centre. "Green" (Dean's Yard) is also used, as are the 2 school gyms (one in the Abbey Cloisters and one in the Weston Building) and the three Eton Fives courts in Ashburnham Garden, the garden behind Ashburnham House.
Westminster played in the first school cricket match against Charterhouse School in 1794 and from 1796 played cricket against Eton.
Westminster has an historic joint claim to a major role in the development of Association Football, which remains the school's largest sport. During the 1840s at both Westminster and Charterhouse, pupils' surroundings meant they were confined to playing their football in the cloisters, making the rough and tumble of the handling game that was developing at other schools such as Rugby impossible, and necessitating a new code of rules. During the formulation of the rules of Association Football in the 1860s, representatives of Westminster School and Charterhouse also pushed for a passing game, in particular rules that allowed forward passing ("passing on"). Other schools (in particular Eton College and Harrow) favoured a dribbling game with a tight off-side rule. By 1867 the Football Association had chosen in favour of the Westminster and Charterhouse game and adopted an off-side rule that permitted forward passing. The modern forward-passing game was a direct consequence of Westminster and Charterhouse Football.
Other notable masters
Notable former pupils
The following people were educated at Westminster, amongst about 900 listed in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
Victoria Cross holders
Six former pupils of Westminster have won the Victoria Cross: