Common Time 2019


Evensong in Chapel
One of the Queen's gold medals
Morning Hills
The combined choirs of the Chapels of Eton College and Winchester
Ad Portas 2008
Lighting the candles in the niches of the walls of Meads preceding Illumina
Illumina bonfire

Ad Portas

This ceremony is a development from the official welcome accorded to the examiners from New College on their arrival for the annual visit to elect Scholars to our sister foundation in Oxford. In 1615 Mrs Letitia Williams, a lady with strong Wiccamical connections (her brother was First on the Roll in 1605) and Royalist sympathies, had instituted a payment of 13s 4d to the Scholar who delivered the speech. Members of the Royal Family and the Bishops of Winchester had also been greeted over the centuries with formal speeches 'at the gates' and the practice of honouring the Monarch and senior members of the Royal Family continues today, in addition to honouring exceptional Old Wykehamists.

In 1873 the welcome to the New College examiners came to an end. Nevertheless, in the same year the Lord Chancellor, Lord Selborne, was received in similar style. In 1881 the practice of Ad Portas was formally revised, and that is the pattern we use today. It became from that time the highest honour that the College bestows. A significant feature of the revision was the inclusion of the 'Oratio ad Portas' by the Aulae Prae i.e. the Prefect of Hall (Senior Scholar).

A ceremony that has enjoyed such a curious history of necessity, formality and contrivance inevitably has at times given honorands pause for thought, particularly when they were expected to reply to the Prefect of Hall's speech in Latin! There have been forty-nine Receptions Ad Portas since 1873: in the course of these there have been eighteen responses in Latin, one in Latin and Greek, twenty in English, one in Marathi and ten in English and Latin.

The ceremony takes place in Chamber Court and the whole community attends.

Amicabilis Concordia

It is well understood that Winchester and Eton have an affinity that is not shared by other schools, but it is less understood why. The Amicabilis Concordia (friendly agreement) between Winchester College, New College Oxford, Eton College and King's College Cambridge, was signed on 1 July 1444, four years after Eton's foundation and sixty-two years after Winchester's. The relationship between Winchester and New College was the model for that between Eton and King's, and several of those involved in founding Eton College had been at Winchester. In 1443 William of Waynflete, who had been Headmaster at Winchester for eleven years, migrated, no doubt at the King's request, to Eton, where he had been appointed to the same office. With Waynflete (who later returned to Winchester as its bishop and founded Magdalen College Oxford) came five Fellows, four Clerks and thirty-five Scholars from Winchester.

Henry VI, while still Prince Henry of Windsor, grew up a devoutly religious scholar, unlike the warlike Plantagenets from whom he sprang. Trained under his uncle, Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester (and William of Wykeham's successor), Prince Henry had been a frequent visitor to Wykeham's College. Henry's foundation, like Wykeham's, was named for the Blessed Virgin Mary, though Winchester's dedication is to the Annunciation (25 March), while Eton's is to the Assumption (15 August). The qualifications of Eton Scholars are set down in statutes which are nearly word for word the same as at Winchester. They were to be admitted for the purpose of studying grammar. They were to be poor and in need of help, not less than eight or more than ten years old. The arrangement of the Eton buildings was also very much on the Winchester model. Henry had transported six cart loads of soil from Winchester to Eton to set his foundation upon fruitful soil.

The four colleges pledged to assist and support each other in "actions, lawsuits and controversies" as well as in a more general way - though the agreement specifies that any costs involved were to be "reasonable and necessary". This was a formal document, with the four colleges' seals affixed. Reciting the common objects and common interests of the two societies - "one in spirit and intent, though divided in locality" - the Amicabilis Concordia pledges them to a mutual defence of each other's right and privileges, and an interchange of kindly offices for ever - mutua et perpetua caritas. The obligations of the bond have, perhaps, never been formally claimed, but the bond has never been broken in spirit.

Today representatives of the other signatories are invited to formal functions at the several colleges from time to time, for example to annual feasts at New College and King's (both in December). If one of the colleges has a special anniversary, as occurred when Winchester commemorated the six-hundredth anniversary of the Founder's obit in 2004, the others send their choir and senior representatives. On that occasion the choirs of the four colleges sang Evensong in Winchester Cathedral.

While the assemblage of the four colleges is reserved for special occasions, the Amicabilis Concordia is annually observed when the Chapel choirs of Eton and Winchester join together to sing Evensong (in October) in their respective Chapels, year-and-year-about. In recent years this service at Winchester has used the title Amicabilis Concordia, since it is in observance of our friendly agreement that the occasion takes place. The Warden of Winchester and the Provost of Eton attend the service, with other members of their society, after which a dinner is held in Hall.


Every Tuesday during term, Evensong is sung in Chapel at 17.30. It is open to the public. The Chapel Choir is contemporary with the founding of the School and has had the good fortune to have been directed by some outstanding musicians in the past and at present by the Director of Chapel Music, Malcolm Archer. The sixteen boys who make up the treble line (Quiristers) are still funded as originally intended by William of Wykeham. The older voices are sourced by Music Scholars and staff.

Founder's Obit

Originally four days were set aside each year for commemorating the founder and the anniversary of his death. Each of these days included leave from lessons and a service known as Amen Chapel but these days this is a whole School gathering in Cathedral on or near the day of William of Wykeham's death.


At the end of the autumn (Short Half) term and in particular at the end of lessons at 16.45, the community is greeted by the enchanting sight of candles covering the expanse of the enclosing wall of Meads. (See the photograph at the top of this section.) A bonfire is lit, carols are sung, mince pies and punch are served and parents and boys and staff all gather together for the last time before Christmas and the New Year.

The ceremony, a recent one in the School's history, in fact marks the removal of the wall separating Commoners from Scholars in 1862. Only the Scholars had access to Meads (from 1790) through the narrow passage between School and Cloisters. Commoners lived in the brick building on the north side of Meads and their playing area was restricted to a small triangle of grass. Just before the wall was removed Commoners celebrated the occasion of the wall's imminent demise by putting lighted candle stubs in the holes where mortar had decayed and where flints had fallen out. Undoubtedly new holes were made. Old candle stubs which had accumulated over the year (candles provided bedside lighting in the upstairs chambers of College until 1934), were eventually used for the whole length of the mediaeval walls of Meads. These days the candles have to be bought for the occasion.

Induction of Quiristers

This ceremony precedes Evensong in Chapel. The Headmaster presides over the induction of the new boys into the Choir. It is a simple but impressive ceremony to which the parents of the boys concerned are present in addition to interested staff, boys and members of the public.

Induction of Scholars

A procession of the Warden, Headmaster and Second Master enters School. The Master in College introduces each Scholar to the Warden who then admits the Scholar using the Latin which has been used for centuries. Once inducted the Scholar rises and bows to the Warden to show his acceptance of the Warden's authority and his willingness to uphold the Statutes.

This is a private ceremony attended only by the relatives of the Scholar.

Medal Speaking

View an account of this ceremony »

The photograph in the centre right is of one of the medals.

Morning Hills

This ceremony theoretically takes place twice a year in the 'dry' (i.e. summer and autumn) terms and was begun by Dr Fearon in 1884 in order to emphasize the School's historic right of access to and use of Hills. The whole School, dressed 'up to Books' except for footwear, ascends St Catherine's Hill. On the slope just to the west of the maze names are called, followed by prayers, a psalm, the Lord's Prayer and The Grace. 

Other ceremonies such as Remembrance Sunday, the raising of the Union flag on certain days, the raising of the Warden's flag when he is in residence, special College ceremonies and House traditions, Winchester and Wykeham days are part of the nature of Winchester. 'Tradition' is not always easily defined as some examples are quite recent but they are, or become, markers along the road of life. They respect the past and give us all a sense of continuous history. If for no other reason, they remain a vibrant aspect of Winchester life.