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Westminster School

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Title: Westminster School  
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Subject: Westminster Abbey, List of schools in the City of Westminster, C. W. A. Scott, William Cowper, Schools' Head of the River Race
Collection: 1170S Establishments in England, Boarding Schools in London, Church of England Independent Schools in the Diocese of London, Education in the City of Westminster, Educational Institutions Established in the 12Th Century, Grade I Listed Buildings in the City of Westminster, Independent Boys' Schools in London, Independent Schools in the City of Westminster, Member Schools of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, People Educated at Westminster School, London, Westminster Abbey
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Westminster School

Westminster School

Dat Deus Incrementum

(God Gives the Increase)
Established Earliest recorded evidence of the school dates from 1371
Refounded in 1560
Type Public school
Independent day and boarding
Religion Church of England[1]
Head Master Patrick Derham[2]
Chairman of Governors Very Revd. [4][5]
Founder Henry VIII (1541)
Elizabeth I (1560)
Location Little Dean's Yard
SW1P 3PF[6][7]
United Kingdom
Local authority City of Westminster
DfE number 213/6047
DfE URN 101162 Tables
Staff 105
Students 747
Gender Boys
Coeducational (Sixth Form)[8][9]
Ages 13 (boys), 16 (girls)–18
Houses      College
Colours Pink     
Publication The Elizabethan
Former pupils Old Westminsters

Westminster School is an independent school within the precincts of Westminster Abbey, England, which has the highest Oxford and Cambridge acceptance rates of any secondary school or college in the world.[10] Founded in the 14th century, the school's alumni include Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Robert Hooke,[11] Sir Christopher Wren, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham,[12] Edward Gibbon, Henry Mayhew, A. A. Milne, Peter Ustinov, Tony Benn and seven Prime Ministers. Boys are admitted to the Under School at age seven, and to the senior school at age thirteen; girls are admitted only at sixteen.[13] The school has around 750 pupils; around a quarter are boarders, most of whom go home at weekends, after Saturday morning school.[14] It is one of the original nine British public schools as defined by the Public Schools Act 1868.[15] Charging up to £7,800 for day pupils per term and £11,264 for boarders per term in 2014/15, Westminster is the 13th most expensive HMC day school and 10th most expensive HMC boarding school in the UK.[16]


  • History 1
  • Location 2
  • Notable buildings 3
  • Customs 4
  • Entry 5
  • University applications 6
  • Westminster jargon 7
    • Other jargon and slang 7.1
  • Houses 8
  • Sport ("Station") 9
  • Headmasters 10
  • Other notable masters 11
  • Notable former pupils 12
    • Victoria Cross holders 12.1
  • See also 13
  • References 14
  • Further reading 15
  • External links 16


Little Dean's Yard from Liddell's Arch

Although it is likely that schoolboys were taught by monks from Westminster Abbey's foundation, the earliest recorded evidence of the school dates from 1371 and exists in Westminster Abbey's muniments.[17] Parts of the buildings now used by the school date back to the 11th century and were originally part of the Anglo-Saxon Abbey at Westminster.

The entrance to Dean's Yard and Westminster School war memorial viewed from the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in August 2012.

In 1540, Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in England, but personally ensured the School's survival by his royal charter.[18] The College of St. Peter carried on with forty "King's Scholars" financed from the royal purse. By this point Westminster School had certainly become a public school (i.e., a school available to members of the public from across the country, so long as they could pay their own costs, rather than private tuition provided to the nobility). During Mary I's brief reign the Abbey was reinstated as a Roman Catholic monastery but the school continued.

Elizabeth I re-founded the School in 1560,[19] with new statutes to select 40 Queen's Scholars from boys who had already attended the school for a year.[20] Queen Elizabeth frequently visited her scholars, although she never signed the statutes nor endowed her scholarships, and 1560 is now generally taken as the date that the school was "founded".

Elizabeth I appointed William Camden[21] as headmaster and he was the only layman known to have held the role until 1937.[22] It was Dr Busby,[23][24] himself an Old Westminster, who established the reputation of the school for several hundred years, as much by his classical learning as for his ruthless discipline by the birch, immortalised in Pope's Dunciad. Busby prayed publicly Up School[25] for the safety of the Crown, on the very day of Charles I's execution, and then locked the boys inside to prevent their going to watch the spectacle a few hundred yards away. Regardless of politics, he thrashed Royalist and Puritan boys alike without fear or favour. Busby also took part in Oliver Cromwell's funeral procession in 1658; when Robert Uvedale, a Westminster schoolboy, succeeded in snatching the "Majesty Scutcheon" (white satin banner) draped on the coffin[26] (it was given to the School by his family two hundred years later). Busby remained in office throughout the Civil War and the Commonwealth, when the school was governed by Parliamentary Commissioners, and well into the Restoration.

In 1679, a group of scholars killed a bailiff, ostensibly in defence of the Abbey's traditional right of sanctuary, but possibly because the man was trying to arrest a consort of the boys. Dr Busby obtained a royal pardon for his scholars from Charles II, and added the cost to the school bills.

Liddell's arch, the main entrance to Little Dean's Yard.

Until the 19th century, the curriculum was predominantly made up of Latin and Greek all taught Up School.[27] The Westminster boys were uncontrolled outside school hours and notoriously unruly about town, but the proximity of the School to the Palace of Westminster meant that politicians were well aware of the boys' exploits. After the Order in Council of Queen Elizabeth II. Furthermore, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford and the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge are ex officio members of the school's governing body.[29]

Unusually among the leading public schools, however, Westminster did not adopt most of the broader changes associated with the Victorian ethos of Thomas Arnold, such as the emphasis on team over individual spirit, and the school retained much of its distinctive character. Despite many pressures, including evacuation and the destruction of the School roof during the Blitz, the school also refused to move out of the city unlike other schools such as Charterhouse and St. Paul's, and remains in its central London location.

Westminster Under School was formed in 1943[30] in the evacuated school buildings in Westminster, as a distinct preparatory school for day pupils between the ages of 8 to 13 (now 7 to 13). Only the separation is new: for example, in the 18th century, Edward Gibbon attended Westminster from the age of 11 and Jeremy Bentham from the age of 8.[31] The Under School has since moved to Vincent Square,[32] overlooking the School's playing fields. Its current Master is Mrs. Elizabeth Hill.

In 1967, the first female pupil was admitted to the School, with girls becoming full members of the school from 1973 onwards.[33] In 1981, a single-sex boarding house, Purcell's, was created for girls. In 1997 the school expanded further with the creation of a new day house, Milne's at 5a, Dean's Yard.

In 2005 the school was one of fifty leading private schools guilty of running an illegal price-fixing cartel, exposed by The Times, which had allowed them to drive up fees for thousands of customers.[34][35] Mrs Jean Scott, the head of the Independent Schools Council, said that independent schools had always been exempt from anti-cartel rules applied to business, were following a long-established procedure in sharing the information with each other, and that they were unaware of the change to the law (on which they had not been consulted). She wrote to John Vickers, the OFT director-general, saying, "They are not a group of businessmen meeting behind closed doors to fix the price of their products to the disadvantage of the consumer. They are schools that have quite openly continued to follow a long-established practice because they were unaware that the law had changed.".[36] However, each school agreed to pay a nominal penalty of £10,000 and ex-gratia payments totalling £3 million into a trust designed to benefit pupils who attended the schools during the period in respect of which fee information was shared.[37][38][39]

In 2007, the school responded to an invitation to become the sponsor of Pimlico School, which was due to be rebuilt as an academy but decided not to go ahead. Westminster City Council chose John Nash, a businessman who owns the for-profit Alpha Plus schools group.[40][41][42]

In 2010, the school and Westminster Abbey hosted an event to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the granting of the institution's Royal Charter. Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, guests of the occasion, unveiled a statue of Elizabeth's namesake in Little Dean's Yard. The Statue of The School's Foundress was created by sculptor and Old Westminster Matthew Spender.[43]

In May 2013, the school was criticised for staging an auction involving the selling of internships to fund bursaries, resulting in adverse coverage in the press.[44]

Also in 2013, it was announced that the school would be collaborating with the Harris Federation to set up a selective, mixed, Sixth Form Academy at an as yet unspecified location in the capital, with entrance priority to be given to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.[45] The Academy became known as Harris Westminster.


The School is located primarily in the precincts of the former medieval monastery of Westminster Abbey,[46] its main buildings surrounding its private square Little Dean's Yard (known as 'Yard'), off Dean's Yard, where Church House, the headquarters of the Church of England, is situated,[47] along with some of the Houses, the Common Room, the humanities building Weston's, and College Hall.

Liddell's House, and the school reception, taken from Dean's Yard

Immediately outside the Abbey precincts on Great College Street is Sutcliff's (named after the tuck shop in the building in the 19th century), where Geography, Art,[48] Theology, Philosophy and Classics (Latin and Ancient Greek) are taught. The Robert Hooke Science Centre[49] is further away, just off Smith Square.[50] As part of an expansion programme funded by donations and a legacy from A. A. Milne,[51] the school has acquired the nearby Millicent Fawcett Hall for Drama and Theatre Studies lessons and performances;[52][53] the Manoukian Centre for Music lessons[54][55][56] (both timetabled and private) and recitals; and the Weston Building at 3 Dean's Yard.[57][58] It also often uses St John's, Smith Square as a venue for major musical concerts.

The School often uses St John's, Smith Square as a venue for major musical concerts.

College Garden, to the East of Little Dean's Yard, is believed to be the oldest garden in England, under continuous cultivation for around a millennium.[59] Just beyond rises the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament; the Queen's Scholars have special rights of access to the House of Commons. To the North, the Dark Cloister leads straight to the Abbey, which serves as the School Chapel.[60]

The playing fields are half a mile away at [61] where it is also used for the Oxford and Cambridge boat race; but the school's First Eight still returns annually to exercise its traditional right to land at Black Rod Steps of the Palace of Westminster.

In 2011, the school agreed to buy a 999-year lease for the Lawrence Hall, London from The Royal Horticultural Society.[62] This listed Art-Deco building, adjacent to the school's playing fields at Vincent Square, has been converted into a Sports Centre. It provides space for an array of activities, including climbing, martial arts, fencing, rowing, table tennis, badminton, netball, indoor football and indoor cricket.[63] In 2012 the School took possession of St Edward’s House, which was the last Anglican monastery in London.[64] Located on the corner of Great College Street and Tufton Street the building now houses Purcell’s, a Boarding House for girls and a Day House for boys, as well as a small Chapel and Refectory.[65] Westminster Under School has also been enlarged by the addition of a building on Douglas Street which provides an Art Studio, IT Suite and Dining Hall.[66]

Notable buildings

Westminster School, situated in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Westminster Abbey, St. Margaret's, and the Palace of Westminster, has several buildings notable for unique qualities, age, and history.

'College Hall', the 14th-century Abbot's state dining hall, is one of the oldest and finest examples of medieval refectory in existence, and is still in use for its original purpose every day in term-time; outside of term it reverts to the Dean, as the Abbot's successor.[67] Queen Elizabeth Woodville took sanctuary here in 1483 with 5 daughters and her son Richard, but failed to save him from his fate as one of the Princes in the Tower. In the 1560s, Elizabeth I several times came to see her scholars act their Latin Plays on a stage in front of the attractive Elizabethan gallery, which may have been first erected especially for the purpose.[68][69]

College Dormitory, which houses College, Wren's, Dryden's and the shooting range, located on the roof, as seen from College Garden

'College', now shared between the three Houses of College, Dryden's and Wren's, is a dressed stone building overlooking College Garden,[70] the former monastery's Infirmary garden which is still the property of the Collegiate Church of Westminster Abbey. College dates from 1729, and was designed by the Earl of Burlington based on earlier designs from Sir Christopher Wren (himself an Old Westminster).

'School', originally built in the 1090s as the monks' dormitory, is the School's main hall, used for Latin Prayers (a weekly assembly with prayers in the Westminster-dialect of Latin),[71] exams, and large concerts, plays and the like. From 1599 it was used to teach all the pupils, the Upper and Lower Schools being separated by a curtain hung from a 16th-century pig iron bar, which remains the largest piece of pig iron in the world. The School Gateway was also designed by the Earl of Burlington, and are engraved with the names of many pupils who used to hire a stonemason for the purpose.[72] The panelling "up School" is similarly, but officially, painted with the coats of arms of many former pupils. The original shell-shaped apse at the North end of School gave its name to the Shell forms taught there and the corresponding classes at many other public schools. The current shell displays a Latin epigram on the rebuilding of School, with the acrostic Semper Eadem, Elizabeth I's motto. The classroom door to the right of the Shell was recovered from the notorious Star Chamber at its demolition but was destroyed during the Blitz.

The phoenix which was placed on the roof of school in the 1950s to commemorate the school's resurgence after World War II.
The building lies directly on top of the Westminster Abbey museum, and ends at the start of the Pyx Chamber.

Both School and College had their roofs destroyed during the Blitz by incendiary bombs in 1941. The buildings were re-opened by

  • School Website

External links

  • Westminster School Almanack

Further reading

  1. ^ School Overview – Westminster School, schoolsfinder (government website).
  2. ^
  3. ^ As Dean of Westminster he chairs the governors of Westminster School. Archived 11 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Performance tables, Westminster School. Department for Education, 2005.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Schools Guide. The Tatler (London). 2009.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ The King's Nurseries, John Field, page 14
  18. ^ Historical notes on Westminster Schools. Westminster City Council. "After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540, Henry VIII personally ensured its survival by statute".
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ The King's Nurseries, John Field, page 29
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Up School" is a Westminster term, meaning in or to the ancient school hall.
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ The Record of Old Westminsters
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ (subscription required)
  35. ^ (subscription required)
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ [1], The Telegraph, 22 May 2010
  44. ^ Luke Hurst: Westminster School are Slapping You in the Face With a Big Wad of Cash. Huffington Post. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  45. ^ Top public school offers pupils from poor backgrounds academy route to Oxbridge. The Times (20 April 2013). Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  46. ^ "Westminster School has been teaching scholars in the precincts of the Abbey since at least 1394" |date=10th July 2015
  47. ^
  48. ^ Westminster School | Activities | Art Archived 31 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  49. ^
  50. ^ Westminster School | Academic Life | Robert Hooke Science Centre Archived 29 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  51. ^
  52. ^ Westminster School | Activities | Drama Archived 29 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^ Westminster School | Activities | Music Archived 28 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  56. ^
  57. ^ Westminster School | Academic Life | Information Technology Archived 24 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  58. ^ [2]
  59. ^
  60. ^
  61. ^ a b c Westminster School | Activities | Sports Archived 12 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^ Society of St. John the Evangelist#British congregation
  65. ^
  66. ^
  67. ^ [3] Archived 16 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  68. ^
  69. ^
  70. ^
  71. ^ Westminster School Almanack, p. 13.
  72. ^
  73. ^ The King's Nurseries, John Field, page 101
  74. ^ Westminster School | Academic Life | The Library Archived 11 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  75. ^ Westminster School | Academic Life | Information Technology Archived 11 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  76. ^
  77. ^ Cotton Manuscripts, British Library.
  78. ^
  79. ^ [The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Nov 23, 1881; pg. 8]
  80. ^ [The Times (London, England), Monday, Nov 28, 1881; pg. 6]
  81. ^
  82. ^
  83. ^ [4] 1753 – "First recorded 'Pancake Greaze" |accessdate=10th July 2015
  84. ^
  85. ^
  86. ^
  87. ^
  88. ^ Tanner, Lawrence E (1934), Westminster School: A History, Country Life Ltd, London (p. 36)
  89. ^ "Westminster School, a public school with ancient and modern buildings nearby, was once the Abbey School." Archived 25 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  90. ^
  91. ^
  92. ^
  93. ^ Top 100 Schools, Financial Times Special Report, 8 March 2008.
  94. ^
  95. ^
  96. ^
  97. ^
  98. ^ Sutton Trust Report – September 2007 Archived 25 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  99. ^ Westminster School | Studying at Westminster Archived 6 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  100. ^
  101. ^ In the term before entry, candidates take the Common Entrance or The Challenge (Westminster scholarship examination) to ensure the required standard is met. Archived 23 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  102. ^
  103. ^ Lawson, W.H., Hope, J.R. and Cripps, A.H.S., Winchester College Notions, by Three Beetleites: Winchester 1901. page 81
  104. ^
  105. ^
  106. ^
  107. ^ Westminster School | Entry Levels | Entry at 7/8 Archived 11 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  108. ^ Formerly Barton Street, and originally a part of Dryden's
  109. ^
  110. ^ [5] Archived 12 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  111. ^ Prospectus, p. 20. "In 1837 there was a boat race against Eton in which each school chose their colours – Westminster chose pink which remains the school's colour to this day."
  112. ^
  113. ^
  114. ^
  115. ^
  116. ^ The Earliest School Match
  117. ^
  118. ^
  119. ^
  120. ^ Marples, Morris. A History of Football, Secker and Warburg, London 1954, page 150
  121. ^ – Football Rules are brilliant! Archived 5 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  122. ^
  123. ^
  124. ^
  125. ^
  126. ^
  127. ^
  128. ^
  129. ^
  130. ^
  131. ^
  132. ^
  133. ^
  134. ^
  135. ^
  136. ^ Hosted by Credo Reference.
  137. ^
  138. ^
  139. ^
  140. ^
  141. ^
  142. ^
  143. ^
  144. ^
  145. ^
  146. ^
  147. ^
  148. ^
  149. ^
  150. ^
  151. ^
  152. ^ Westminster School Development Office, (2005), The Elizabethan Newsletter 2004/2005, page 4, (Westminster School)


See also

Six former pupils of Westminster have won the Victoria Cross:

Victoria Cross holders

A monument to commemorate former pupils who died in the Crimean War, situated in the Sanctuary, next to the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey

The following people were educated at Westminster, amongst about 900 listed in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

Notable former pupils

Other notable masters


Westminster has an historic joint claim to a major role in the development of Association Football,[118] which remains the school's largest sport. During the 1840s at both Westminster and Charterhouse, pupils' surroundings meant they were confined to playing their football in the cloisters,[119] making the rough and tumble of the handling game that was developing at other schools such as Rugby impossible, and necessitating a new code of rules. During the formulation of the rules of Association Football in the 1860s, representatives of Westminster School and Charterhouse also pushed for a passing game, in particular rules that allowed forward passing ("passing on"). Other schools (in particular Eton College and Harrow) favoured a dribbling game with a tight off-side rule. By 1867 the Football Association had chosen in favour of the Westminster and Charterhouse game and adopted an off-side rule that permitted forward passing.[120][121] The modern forward-passing game was a direct consequence of Westminster and Charterhouse Football.

Westminster played in the first school cricket match against Charterhouse School in 1794[116] and from 1796 played cricket against Eton.[117]

The School's main sports ground is nearby at Vincent Square,[114][115] but it is limited to football and cricket on the main area and tennis and netball on the courts; it also hosts a playground for Westminster Under School. It is not large enough for all the pupils doing these sports to use simultaneously (the football pitches are made into cricket pitches for the summer). Therefore, the school hires and owns other sporting facilities near the school. These include the oldest boating club in the world, an astroturf ground in Battersea, and a fencing centre. 'Green' (Dean's Yard) is also used, as are the 2 school gyms (one in the Abbey Cloisters and one in the Weston's school building) and the three Fives courts, as well as informal "yard cricket", "yard football" and "Scuba Football" played in Little Dean's Yard.

The school playing fields in Vincent Square

Westminster School Boat Club is one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world, located on the River Thames. The Oxford University Boat Club uses Westminster's boat house at Putney as its HQ for the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race on the Thames. The boathouse was remodelled in 1997, and won a Wandsworth design award in 1999.[110] The school's colour is pink; Westminster rowers raced Eton College for the right to wear pink.[111] The story goes that, at one annual Eton-Westminster rowing race, both crews arrived wearing pink, which was fashionable at the time. The Eton crew bought some light-blue ribbon (which later became the standard Eton colours) to differentiate themselves, but the Westminster crew won the race and the right to wear pink in perpetuity.[112] The premier Leander Club at Henley, founded in London by a number of Old Westminster rowers, later adopted it, although they call the colour cerise.[113] The only problems arise when racing against Abingdon School, who also wear pink.

Westminster School Boat Club's boathouse in Putney.

The School has three Eton Fives courts, located behind Ashburnham House. The school frequently fields pupils as national entries in international competitions in rowing, or "Water", and fencing.

Westminster School Boat Club's boathouse in Putney.

Sport ("Station")

College, the House of the Queen's Scholars (all of whom board), has assigned to it some of the non-boarding girls who enter the School in the VIth form. Wren's was formerly known as Homeboarder's and Dryden's as Dale's.

House Abbr. Founded Named after Colours Pupils
Boarding Non-boarding
College CC 1560 n/a Dark green Boys Girls
Grant's GG 1750 The "mothers" Grant – landladies who owned the property and put up boys in the days before boarding existed, when the School only accommodated Scholars; the oldest house in any of the Public Schools. Maroon on light blue Boys Mixed
Rigaud's RR pre-1896 (rebuilt) Stephen Jordan Rigaud Black on orange Boys Mixed
Busby's BB 1925 Richard Busby Dark blue on maroon Mixed Boys
Liddell's LL 1956 Henry Liddell Blue on yellow Mixed Mixed
Purcell's[108] PP 1981 Henry Purcell White on purple Girls Boys
Ashburnham AHH 1881 The Earls of Ashburnham whose London house is now part of the School Light blue on dark blue None Mixed
Wren's WW 1948 Christopher Wren Pink on black (Blue and Maroon used on ties)
Dryden's DD 1976 John Dryden Silver on red
Hakluyt's HH 1987 Richard Hakluyt[109] Yellow on blue
Milne's MM 1997 A. A. Milne Black on orange (Tie uses Red and Yellow)
At inter-house sporting events, pupils wear house T-shirts, which are in house colours and feature the name of the house (except the College T-shirt which has no text).

Each house has associated colours, which are worn on ties awarded for various (usually sporting) achievement while representing the house. There are also pink-striped ties awarded for achievement while representing the whole school, with the amount of pink denoting the level of achievement. Wren's and Milne's use slightly different colours on house ties from those seen on their shirt.

Houses are a focus for pastoral care and social and sporting activities, as well as accommodation for boarders. All the day houses are mixed-sex, and all houses admit girls; only Busby's, Liddell's, Grant's and Purcell's provide boarding accommodation for girls – the remainder admit day girls only.[107]

The school is split into 11 houses, some of which are 'day houses' (and only admit day-pupils, those who go home after school), the others having a mix of day-pupils and boarders. The houses are named after people connected to the house or school in various ways – mainly prominent Old Westminsters but also former Head Masters and House Masters. Other than College, Grant's is the oldest house, not only of Westminster but of any public school.

Rigaud's House (far right), Grant's House (right), residence of the Master of the Queen's Scholars (centre), College (far left, top floors) and the Houses of Wren's and Dryden's (far left, ground floor)


Cigarette, origins unknown, though most likely a bastardisation of 'g'rette, a contraction of the word cigarette, whilst making a phonetic reference to the famous Westminster tradition, "The Greaze."
End of term exams for the Upper School, first coined by the Classics department in the 1970s.
Mill (obsolete)
A fight.
Muzz (obsolete)
Swot (both noun and verb). This word was still in use in the 1920s and attempts were made to revive it in the 1970s.[102] cf "to mug" in Winchester College notions[103]
During the annual Anglican confirmation service, non-church goers are confined to their Houses. This is referred to as occupat.[104]
Order Sheets
School reports.
The Pink List
The list of pupils and members of the Common Room of the school. This exists both as a small pink book (the source of the name) and as a computer database.
A day's holiday, especially in conjunction with a notable event. Annual plays are the Queen's Play and the Dean's Play. A recent extraordinary play was the "Pooh Play" in recognition of the School's selling the rights to Winnie the Pooh to the Walt Disney Corporation.[105] The day on which a play is given is usually a Saturday. q.v. 'Begging a play'.
Praebendum (plural Praebenda)
Essentially same as a Digniora, but issued to those boys and girls in the Upper School (VIth and Remove) who submit outstanding pieces of work, or attain well-above average test results.
Used to refer to Westminster School Boat Club, which is in Putney, an area of London.
Rag (obsolete)
Both a noun and a verb pertaining to misbehaviour (e.g. "He was punished for ragging in Prep.", or "What a foolish rag!")
Shag (Day)
Pupils may attend school wearing clothes not specified by the uniform code, but are expected to give to charity if they do so. This is only permitted on certain days; "It's Shag Day on Saturday." Compare mufti day. As a verb, it was widely used to mean "play truant", but fell into disuse due to the more widely known modern meaning.
Sports which are compulsory and held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at various times; "He missed Station as he was sick". Originally it meant any compulsory engagement.
Up (house, School,[106] etc.)
"Inside" or "to". "You should be up house if you don't have a lesson", "Latin prayers take place up School". Events in Vincent Square are said to be "up Fields", particularly among the Common Room. Exceptions to the rule are that one is never "up College" only "in College", "in Yard", "at Putney" and "on Green".
Rowing Station (The [61]
Little Dean's Yard; "He was in Yard" (always without an article). This is also often used to refer to the period after Prep from 9pm to 10pm when boarders are free to entertain themselves in Yard.
Pupils relax and play football on Green
When used without an article, refers to the compulsory morning service in the Abbey on Mondays and Fridays;[100] "It's time for Abbey".
Begging a Play
Making a request for a Play (q.v.). The Dean annually begs a play at the Greaze, but other plays may also be begged especially by celebrities or in recognition of notable events in the life of the School.
The Challenge
The exam sat by boys applying for scholarships. It was wholly oral until 1855, its name deriving from the practice of a candidate interrupting, or 'challenging' one already speaking.[101]
An award given to a pupil for an outstanding piece of work. Previously issued to pupils from all years (Vth form – Remove), it is now only given to boys in the lower school (Vth, Lower Shell and Upper Shell). An award of a digniora was once an extremely rare event, normally unwitnessed over the course of a Westminster career. The teacher awarding one would write digniora on the work to be honoured with instructions for the pupil to proceed to his housemaster; his housemaster would then escort the pupil to the Headmaster's study where a beaming head would fish out from a cache of surplus Maundy money a piece of silver coinage. More recently the custom has evolved where pupils who receive three go to the Head of Year to be given a silver threepenny piece, generally from the early 20th century, and once 5 dignioras have been earned they can go and see the Head Master to be given a £10 book token.
A year of scholars. The first election are the year 9 scholars, the second election are the year 10 scholars etc. There are usually eight scholars in each of 5 Elections.
Vincent Square. One is always "up Fields". See "Up".
Going/coming down
Used in a sentence like "Are you going/coming down today?" This means "Are you going rowing?"
The Greaze
Annual pancake fight. See the section on customs.
Dean's Yard; The lawn in the middle of Dean's Yard; "The school has a legal right to play football on Green" (always without an article).

Other jargon and slang

The first term of the academic year, from September to December, is known as Play Term. This is the term in which the Latin Play used to take place (see Customs). The second term, from January to Easter is the Lent Term. The third term of the academic year, from April to July is the Election Term. This is the term in which new scholars are elected, formerly in place of those examined and elected to the universities.

The Lower and Upper Shell years are named after the shell-shaped alcove up School where they were originally taught; the name has been adopted by several other schools with a Westminster connection.

  • Year 9: Fifth Form
  • Year 10: Lower Shell
  • Year 11: Upper Shell (GCSE)
  • Year 12: Sixth Form (AS)
  • Year 13: Remove (A2)

Westminster has an unusual system for naming the school years, which can confuse those not familiar with the system.[99]

Westminster jargon

According to a report by the Sutton Trust, Westminster School had the highest average Oxbridge acceptance rate over the period 2002–2007 of any school at 49.9%[93][94] and in the period 2008–2013,[10] with 97 pupils achieving Oxbridge places in 2014.[95][96][97] It also has an 85.6% (5-year average) acceptance rate into the Sutton 13 list of the top 13 universities for research in the UK. The report claimed that, in general, independent schools achieve 16.3% more places at Sutton 13 universities than would be expected on merely from A-level grades, although it has been accepted that module grades were significantly better at Westminster and that the new A* at A-Level should provide more accurate differentiation.[98]

University applications

Those entering the Lower School also have the opportunity to win scholarships based on musical talent, and bursaries for those whose parents are not able to fund their tuition.

As well as the Queen's Scholarships which pay one half of boarding fees, and of which there are normally eight in each year, there are Honorary Scholarships for boys who pass the Challenge and could have been scholars but do not want to board. Stephen Hawking was entered for the Challenge in 1952, but fell ill on the day of the Challenge examination.

  • For the Under School, at ages 7, 8, and 11, judged by a combination of internal exam and interview.[91]
  • For the Lower School, at age 13, judged by either Common Entrance, a standardised, national set of exams for entrance to independent schools,[92] for standard entry; or the Challenge, an internal set of exams for scholarship entry; as well as interview.
  • For the Upper School, at age 16, judged by subject-specific exams and interviews and conditional upon GCSE results. This is the only point of entry for girls, and only a handful of boys join at this point each year.

There are four main points of entry for pupils:


The Queen's Scholars have privileged access to the House of Commons gallery, said to be a compromise recorded in the Standing Orders of the House in the 19th century, to stop the boys from climbing into the Palace over the roofs.

Since the monastic Christmas revels of medieval times, Latin plays have been presented by the Scholars, with a prologue and witty epilogue on contemporary events. Annual plays, "either tragedy or comedy", were required by the school statutes in 1560, and some early plays were acted in College Hall before Elizabeth I and her whole Council. However, in a more prudish age Queen Victoria did not accompany Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales to the play, and recorded in her diary that it was "very Improper". Today, the play is put on less frequently, any members of the school may take part, and the Master of the Queen's Scholars gives the Latin prologue. The 1938 play caused a diplomatic incident with the German ambassador withdrawing offended by the words 'Magna Germania' figuring in extenso on a map of Europe displayed.

Despite the formal separation from the Abbey,[89] the school remains Anglican, with services in the Abbey attended by the entire school at least twice a week, and many other voluntary-attendance services of worship. The school was expressly exempted by the Act of Uniformity to allow it to continue saying Latin prayers despite the Reformation. Every Wednesday there is an assembly Up School known as Latin Prayers, which opens with the Headmaster leading all members of the school in chanting prayers in Latin, followed by notices in English. The School's unique pronunciation of formal Latin is known as 'Westminster Latin', and descends from medieval English scholastic pronunciation: Queen Elizabeth I, who spoke fluent Latin, commanded that Latin was not to be said "in the monkish fashion", a significant warning upon loyalties between Church and State. The School commemorates its benefactors every year with a service in Westminster Abbey in Latin in which the Captain of the Queen's Scholars lays a wreath of pink roses on the tomb of Elizabeth I: the service alternates between 'Little Commem' which is held in Henry VII's Chapel and involves just the Queen's Scholars and the much larger 'Big Commem' to which the whole school community is invited.[90]

The privilege of being the first commoners to acclaim each new sovereign at their coronation in Westminster Abbey is reserved for the Queen's (or King's) Scholars. Their shouts of "Vivat Regina/Rex" ("Long Live the Queen/King") are incorporated into the coronation anthem I was glad.[87] The tradition dates back to the coronation of King James II.[88]

The 'Greaze' has been held 'up School' (in the School Hall) on Shrove Tuesdays since at least 1753.[83] The head cook ceremoniously tosses a horsehair-reinforced pancake over a high bar, which was used from the 16th century to curtain off the Under School from the Great School. Members of the school fight for the pancake for one minute, watched over by the Dean of Westminster Abbey (as Chairman of the Governors), the Head Master, the upper years groups of the School[84] and distinguished or even occasionally Royal visitors. The pupil who gets the largest weight is awarded a gold sovereign (promptly redeemed for use next year), and the Dean begs a half-holiday for the whole School. Weighing scales are on hand in the event of a dispute. A cook who failed to get the 'pancake' over the bar after three attempts would formerly have been "booked", or stoned with Latin primers, although that tradition has long lapsed.[85][86]

Pupils fight for the pancake (left), watched by the Dean of Westminster Abbey and the Head Master (right). The set of scales will determine the winner.


Ashburnham House, which today houses the library,[74] the IT department[75] and the Mathematics Department,[76] was built by Inigo Jones or his pupil John Webb around the time of the Restoration as a London seat for the family who became the Earls of Ashburnham. It incorporates remains of the mediaeval Prior's House, and its garden is the site of the monks' refectory and some of the earliest sittings of the House of Commons. In 1731 when Ashburnham housed the King's and Cottonian libraries, which form the basis of the British Library,[77] there was a disastrous fire, and many of the books and manuscripts still show the marks.[78] After the Public Schools Act 1868 there was a scandalous parliamentary and legal battle between the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey and the School, until the School eventually obtained Ashburnham House under the Act for £4,000. The dispute was reported in The Times, and it was suggested by Thomas Wise, Secretary of The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings that the property was "in danger of being pulled down or of being virtually destroyed by being converted into a boarding-house in connexion with Westminster School" adding that the "house is admirably suited for a residence for the Dean or one of the Canons, and is totally unfitted for a school or a boarding house".[79] The School responded writing that "The Chapter themselves have in past years greatly altered and disfigured Ashburnham-house. It had originally two wings; one was destroyed and never restored. About 1848 the roof was taken off, a story added, and a dome in the ceiling of the drawing-room demolished, the external elevation being ruined. The house now has no beauty externally, and hardly and features of interest internally, except the staircase, which in any case would be preserved".[80] On November 28 William Morris also became involved in the campaign, writing a letter to the Editor of the Daily News.[81] In the event the School demolished the adjacent building, Turle's House and renovated sections of the east wing, but left the staircase and drawing room untouched.[82] During the Second World War, the library was used for military purposes, and as an American officers' club, The Churchill Club.

Ashburnham House, as seen in 1880


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