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About

The portrait of the Trusty Servant, painted in 1809 and recently cleaned, hanging just off Chamber Court (and photographed rather badly by me on 13 July 2007).

TrustyServant

Winchester College is an English public school, founded at the end of the fourteenth century. For the benefit of any non-UK readers I should explain that for schools in the UK, “public” means “private”, and “school” refers to pre-university institutions. So a “public school” is a private-sector school taking children in the age range 12-18.

Winchester College was founded by Bishop William of Wykeham, so alumni are called Old Wykehamists, or more colloquially (and generally only by each other) “old Woks”. It has a website, which I do not recommend – it appears the place is not what it was. Somewhat more encouraging is the Wikipedia entry, so I could be wrong.

The original part of the school is still in use. About 70 “scholars” live and study there. To become a scholar you have to take a competitive examination. Successful candidates are ranked in order of merit on the annual “Roll” (which is, or used to be, nailed to the main gate when it first comes out). Some candidates do not want to become scholars and only seek an “exhibition”. An exhibition gives you the honour, but you live and study with the “commoners” in one of the Victorian boarding houses scattered around the main part of the college. In the year I took the exam, I placed bottom (22) on the list, but luckily for me, several people above me only wanted an exhibition, so I got a scholarship.

The centre of the old part is “Chamber Court”. The chapel lies along one side, and the kitchens along another. The refectory is at the top of the stairs between them. Around the other sides are “chambers” on the ground floor and bedrooms on the upper floors. The old part is generally referred to as “College”. So an “old collegeman” is someone who got a scholarship and studied there.

I have no idea what it is like today, and only a limited idea of what it was like before my time (1963-7). When I was there, College was extraordinarily competitive and largely academic. I have never been in such a competitive environment before or since. Everyone there was bright by normal standards and some were extraordinarily bright and hard-working. When I moved to Trinity College, Cambridge to study maths, I was absolutely appalled by how stupid and idle the students appeared by comparison. I later realized that was not fair, there were some exceptional people at Trinity, but only maybe five per cent of the student body, whereas in College it was far higher. Of course, the fellows at Trinity were an exceptionally able group (the boast used to be that if Trinity was a country it would rank 4th in the number of Nobel prizes), but as a student one had only limited contact with them.
Later I found both H M Treasury and Lincoln’s Inn to have plenty of exceptionally able people, but they still could not really compare with College.

I have set up this blog so that any old collegeman may contribute articles, and anyone, old collegeman or not, may read them and comment on them.

So apart from the fact that the articles are contributed by old collegemen, there is no other connection with the school.

I am not exactly sure how many old collegemen there are. There are roughly 15 new scholars a year, so if the average scholar lived for 60 years after leaving, there would be about 900. I am currently endeavouring to contact them all to make them aware of this site. If I have missed someone, please do not hesitate to contact me.