A famously posh private school in northwest London opens its doors four times a year for the less posh to have a peer inside and see what all the fuss is about.

Last week, in this its 450th anniversary year, was one of those open days.

With just a few days a year to visit, the tours are split between a number of guides who weave their way around the buildings, sometimes with one group coming out of a building as another waits to go in, but in general, apart from a few delays here and there, it worked well enough.

The tours are a mix of the history of Harrow school and how it was founded, the day to day life of a Harrow student today with the traditions and customs, but really, it’s very much a chance to see inside rooms you wouldn’t normally get to see inside.

The tours take in the war memorial room, with its cenotaph, the replicas of all the Victoria Crosses awarded to old Harrovians — the originals are too valuable to be on display and regimental flags.

The chapel looks old, but was actually built in 1855 by George Gilbert Scott in the gothic revival style, and looks very different from the library next door, built at the same time by the same architect. He was quite versatile.

Inside the chapel it has been packed full of richly decorated stained glass windows and gothic arches, but running all the way around the base of the chapel are memorials to Harrovians who have died. Mostly in combat as young adults, but one wall is given over to students who died while at school. You get enough time to admire the chapel, but its mainly a chance to sit down and hear more about the history of the school.

Back at the original meeting point, and into the Old School. This is the first purpose-built part of the school, and inside, it looks it.

Deep dark wooden panels line the wall with two grand chairs and absolutely everything is covered in graffiti (similar to Eton). The graffiti is a result of how the early Harrow school operated.

Initially set up to fund education for local people, they quickly started bringing in paying students as well. As it’s a boarding school, and that usually meant boarding with tutors, if there wasn’t space, the paying students could sometimes sleep in the school room. And boys will be boys, so out came the penknives, and in went their names. Now it’s pretty much a tradition to add names, but now with permission.

We also learned that students started education at one end of the room and moved along as the years progressed. As the seats are known as forms, the rest of the English schools also ended up with school years moving through forms up to the sixth form.

Not in use these days, the old school room is preserved in memory of the early school, the graffiti, and the school beatings for errant schoolchildren. And beatings for speaking English in a school that only allowed Latin.

The fourth room included in the tour is the grand speech room, a semicircular space which is essentially an events hall, but named after the requirement of students to give end of year speeches. One has to be in Latin, and with jokes. Today they also provide an English translation.

The room though is terrifically Victorian with cast-iron columns and over the stage area a richly decorated ceiling. The organ in the centre sinks underground when not needed, and the space is lined with paintings of important old Harrovians, but really, it’s a spectacle of a room to walk into, and that’s what you’re here for.

As a tour, you’ll learn a modest amount about the history of the school, the origins of some common traditions and names that we probably don’t realise came from here, the beginnings of the game of squash, and plenty of anecdotes about some of the people who worked or studied here.

The tour lasts around 90 minutes, and in my mind, at £7.50 is very good value for money. Yes, photography is allowed throughout as the tours don’t include any of the student’s private boarding rooms.

The next tour is on Saturday 24th July 2022 – and you can reserve tickets here.

There’s also an exhibition at the moment to mark the school’s 450th anniversary, and that’s open after the tour finishes.

Harrow town centre is postcard pretty and worth a wander around if you arrive early. Arriving early is particularly advised if coming from Harrow on the Hill tube station, because despite its name it’s at the bottom of the hill, and that’s a very steep hill to walk up.

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2 comments
  1. David Mayer de Rothschild says:

    1996 🙂

  2. JP says:

    Ah latin.
    Ah beatings.

    O tempora, o mores!

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