Founded in 1382 as a boys boarding school, Winchester College has the longest continuous history of any English school.
Winchester College was founded by William of Wykeham (1324-1404), who rose from unexceptional social origins to become Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England. Wykeham owed his education to one or more wealthy Hampshire patrons; his abilities as an architect and builder attracted him to increasingly powerful employers, including, finally, the King. Wykeham’s political and ecclesiastical careers were equally spectacular. As Lord Chancellor he occupied the highest political office in the land. “Everything was done by him,” remarked a contemporary historian, “and nothing was done without him”. As Bishop of Winchester, he occupied the richest see in the land.
Wykeham’s career enabled the acquisition of huge personal wealth. He applied this to twin educational purposes: a university college, known as New College Oxford, and a school in Winchester, to be called Winchester College. These would be linked, and both would provide an education for 70 scholars. The new generation of men educated here were to go out into the world, ready and equipped to serve society, and replacing clergy and administrators lost during the Black Death. Construction of the school began in 1387, and the buildings opened in 1394.
Those who work and live at both of Wykeham’s educational foundations are uniquely fortunate in their ability to inhabit beautiful and historic surroundings in which the highest standards of education have endured for over six hundred years. They are the proud inheritors of a formidable legacy, both educational and philanthropic.
The school’s motto and crest express Winchester College’s historic foundation and purpose.
Three Hampshire roses proclaim Wykeham’s pride in his county of birth; two chevrons, representing gables, recognise his achievements as a celebrated builder; and the single mitre celebrates Wykeham’s position as Bishop of Winchester.
‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ / ‘evil to him who evil thinks’, is the motto of the Order of the Garter, to which Wykeham was chaplain. The second motto, Manners Makyth Man, is Wykeham’s personal motto and also that of the school. Though it may sound old-fashioned to a modern ear, it was radically progressive in its time, not only in its language (not Latin but the dynamic up and coming English) but also in its meritocratic spirit, its proposal that we should be measured not by our birthright but by our personal qualities and achievements.
Several occasions and traditions established through the school’s long history still remain an active part of the calendar:
Originally four days were set aside each year to commemorate the death of the founder. Now, the event is marked in a service at Winchester Cathedral at which all new pupils are welcomed to the school, and afterwards attend a dinner hosted by the Warden in College Hall.
Domum is an event for leavers and their parents held at the end of the Summer term. The name is taken from the school song, Domum, Dulce Domum, which is sung several times during the course of the evening. Medal Speaking takes place at Domum: the Warden presents Medals, four of them Queen’s Medals struck at the Royal Mint, to mark achievements of distinction.
Admission of Scholars
This ceremony inducts academic Scholars to the school. The Housemaster of College (known as the Master in College) introduces each Scholar to the Warden who then, wearing the Founder’s Ring, admits the Scholar in a short ceremony unaltered over the centuries.
Admission of Quiristers
The Headmaster welcomes all new Quiristers to the choir in a ceremony held in the school’s Chapel. At the same ceremony he also presents a surplice (white choir robe) to all Quiristers who have passed their probationary year.
Parents, pupils and staff come together at the end of the autumn term for Illumina (short for Illumination). Candles cover the medieval walls surrounding the playing fields, and a large bonfire is lit. The event commemorates the removal in 1862 of a wall which separated those boys housed in College (known as Scholars or College Men) from boys who lived outside the College walls (known as Commoners). The removal of the wall gave greater recreational space to Commoners and allowed both sets of boys to play with and against each other. Just before the wall was removed, Commoners placed lit candle stubs into niches in the wall. View our virtual Illumina 2020.
Morning Hills takes place each year (either in the summer or autumn term) and involves the whole school ascending St Catherine’s Hill. The ceremony was established in 1884 in order to emphasise the school's historic right of access to and use of the Hill. Once at the top, each pupil’s name is read aloud, followed by prayers.
Amicabilis Concordia takes place in October each year when the Chapel choirs of Eton and Winchester join together to sing Evensong. The Warden of Winchester and the Provost of Eton attend the service, with other members of the school communities, after which a dinner is held in College Hall. The two schools take it in turns to host this annual event. It celebrates an agreement made in 1444 whereby Eton and Winchester, and their respective university colleges, New College Oxford and King’s College Cambridge, promised mutually to defend each other’s rights should it be required.
Dating back to the school’s origins, Ad Portas is the highest honour the school can bestow upon a guest. The ceremony takes place in the medieval heart of the College, known as Chamber Court, and the whole school is in attendance. Members of the Royal Family and the Bishops of Winchester have been welcomed at the school with the ceremony, in addition to honouring distinguished alumni, such as politicians, judges, academics and inventors.
Over the years, particular words and phrases have developed at Winchester. These are known as Notions. Some are very old in origin (from Latin, Middle English or Anglo-Saxon) and some have been absorbed from schoolboy slang. A selection of the most commonly used is given below:
When William of Wykeham founded Winchester College he made provision for 16 young boys under the age of 12 to sing in the Chapel. The school has maintained this same choral foundation for more than 600 years and the Quiristers, or Qs as they are usually known, form a vital part of the school’s Chapel Choir.
19th October 2021
We have an exciting opportunity for four young boys to join the Winchester College Chapel Choir in September 2022 as Quiristers. Find out more about what it's like to be a part of one of the country's most famous choirs.
11th October 2021
An ancient Greek vase, stolen from the school sixty years ago, has been recovered.
24th August 2021
England's largest free heritage festival takes place this September with Heritage Open Days. To celebrate this year's theme of 'Edible England', our College Archivist reflects on some of the unique terminology that has been associated with food over the centuries.
5th July 2021
In anticipation of a new Everest exhibition in Treasury this September, Mr Bill Norton, son of explorer and mountaineer Edward Norton spoke to pupils and staff about the challenges and team dynamics of the 1921 expedition.
28th May 2021
The school's Treasury museum will re-open to the public next month, on Monday 21 June, in line with Government advice.
30th March 2021
John Keats died 200 years ago of tuberculosis. He stayed in Winchester in 1819, his most productive year as a poet. While here he took regular walks in the water meadows and wrote “Ode to Autumn” after walking along the river to the Hospital of St Cross. This article looks at his time in Winchester and the disease which would eventually 'take his breath away'.