Winchester College is a boys’ boarding school of approximately 700 pupils. Founded in 1382, it 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, boys 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.
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 boy’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. The lower parts of Chapel Choir are sung by senior boys from the school, some of whom have themselves been Qs.
The Quiristers have a busy performing and recording schedule. This has recently included Britten’s ‘A Ceremony of Carols' on BBC Radio 4, ‘Choral Evensong' on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM’s annual Christmas concert. The choir tours regularly and in recent years has visited Russia, Italy, Holland, France and the USA. Quiristers have regularly won places in the final of the BBC Young Chorister of the Year competition and on three recent occasions have won that competition.
Quiristers are educated at The Pilgrims’ School, located next to Winchester College, and receive a bursary worth 40 per cent of the school’s full boarding fee. They receive first class academic and musical training and have full access to all of the extra-curricular activities the school has to offer.
Auditions for Quiristers
For further information about Quiristerships, please contact Ali Dugdale, Admissions Registrar at The Pilgrims’ School.
29th May 2020
The role of our Porters - providing a warm welcome - as well as security for the school is as important today as it was 600 years ago. Suzanne Foster, our College Archivist, explains how the job has evolved over the centuries.
8th May 2020
On the anniversary of VE day, we look back at how Winchester marked this day in history.
27th April 2020
In view of the current COVID-19 outbreak, Tim Giddings examines the school’s previous encounters with epidemics.
8th January 2020
The stunning collection of Chinese art bequeathed to the school by Major Montagu and Eileen Duberly in honour of their son James, is now available to view online through the development of a new Winchester College Collections Database.
30th September 2019
The Treasury museum at the school is now free to the public and open daily, as we make these wonderful treasures more accessible to all.
15th August 2019
As part of its commitment to improve access to all, the school has started to run tours for the visually impaired, which are providing a different perspective on many aspects of the school for everyone involved as guides and participants are encouraged to experience the medieval buildings and environment in new ways.