Eton

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Shelley Sites/Sights

Eton

Eton College, in which Shelley enrolled in 1804, was of course easy to find, and most of the exteriors we photographed would have been familiar to him. Henry V still maintains his post in the central quadrangle, and cloistered areas still are used by Eton tutors.
The room in which Shelley attended classes is also much the same, although there would have been far fewer busts along the walls. One can still see Shelley’s autograph carved into the woodwork.
Outside the quadrangles lie the famed playing fields of Eton, and two sites that would have been especially important to Shelley. In the area where the "Wall Game" (a sort of penny-pitch using a small ball) was played, two sections of the wall come together on a high rise of lawn that forms a natural amphitheater. This is where Eton students used to engage in a sort of trial by combat, working out their differences through fisticuffs (so rough that at least one child, a Shaftsbury heir, later died).

Shelley, a strange-looking child who had arrived in Eton at mid-term and who refused to participate in such traditional activities as serving older boys, had been singled out for abuse from the time he arrived. Today the wall is much as Shelley would have remembered it, with the exception of the added gate closest to the corner.

Further afield, the Eton woods afforded the boy more freedom than he had known since leaving Field Place.

Today the grounds are carefully manicured into a park, but in Shelley’s day they would have been far wilder and more Romantic. The young poet spent hours rambling here, sometimes walking and talking with friends, and pausing to rest on a bench—a copy of which still stands—that afforded a lovely view of the Thames.
For those wishing to do Shelley research at Eton College, a wonderful contact is the College Librarian, Michael Meredith. He can be reached through his Administrative Assistant, Nick Baker at 01753 671221 (fax: 01753 801507, email: collections@etoncollege.org.uk). The College has a wonderful collection of Shelleyana, including personal memorabilia, autograph copies of his textbooks, biographies, and prints.

Published @ RC

January 2006