Harrow School

From Academic Kids

Harrow School Chapel
Harrow School Chapel
Harrow School is a British public school, located in Harrow on the Hill, in North West London. It was founded in 1572 under a Royal Charter granted by Elizabeth I to John Lyon, a local yeoman, for the provision of education to local boys (Lyon was particular about keeping Harrow single-sex, a tradition that is still maintained). Harrow currently has approximately 850 pupils spread across 11 houses, all of whom board full-time. The majority of boarding houses were constructed in Victorian times, when the number of boys increased dramatically and the school began to resemble something similar to the current institution in terms of size and uniform.

In keeping with the wishes of the founder, Harrow founded John Lyon School in the 1870s in order to provide education for local boys.

Harrow also has a purpose-built feed school Orley Farm School, which was founded twenty years earlier, in 1850.


Harrow Traditions


Harrow has a rich heritage of tradition, which manifests itself in a variety of ways. The most well-known public example is probably the Harrow hat, which resembles a boater in materials and shape. This hat is worn to all lessons. Weekday dress consists of a white shirt, black tie, grey trousers, blue jumper and a bluer (see Harrow Slang below). Sunday dress consists of a black evening tailcoat, pinstriped trousers, a black waistcoat, black tie and a white shirt. Variations include a grey waistcoat for those in the top sports teams, a hat with black speckles for boys in the top cricket team, and various society ties worn to meetings of the respective societies (The Guild, Philatheletic Club and Monitors all have their own uniform variations discussed in their separate sections).


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Old Schools
One of the most distinctive Harrow traditions is the singing of School Songs. In the vein of the Eton Boating Song, many were written by teachers (commonly called 'beaks') about Harrow life in general in the latter half of the 19th Century. The School celebrates Songs once or twice a term, and Songs are sung with a similar frequency on a house level. The most famous is Forty Years On, which has become something of a catchphrase, and the title of a play by Alan Bennett. Many of the most popular songs were written by John Farmer and Edward Bowen. Indeed, it was they who first started the tradition.

New songs are occasionally written, although some feel that nostalgia cannot be ready-made and that "the old ones are the best ones"! The most recent addition to the collection is 'The Vaughan' by the current Master in Charge of Music, Richard Walker, and the lyrics by Tom Wickson. It describes the school library, recently refurbished, and the many pleasures that may be found there. However, many have criticised it for being too modern, and it was received with hissing at a recent Songs.


Harrow has two major sporting traditions, the first being Harrow Football. It is played with a large leather ball, used to score bases (goals) and is something of a cross between rugby and football. Tackling can be violent, as there are no restrictions as in rugby. As a result, injuries often occur, despite the game being played on the muddiest and softest pitches, and games kit often ends up dirty and torn. As no other schools play this unique game there are fiercely contended inter-house competitions and teams of Old Harrovians often return to play a school team.

The second tradition is the annual Eton versus Harrow cricket match played at Lords, and celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2005. It has more often been won by Eton in recent years, but this year was won by Harrow by 7 wickets. It is the oldest sporting fixture at Lords of any description, having begun in 1805, several decades before the current ground with its distinctive Victorian pavilion was built. Indeed, the well-known poet Lord Byron played in the first Harrow XI that year.

Harrow is also acknowledged by most historians as the inventor of the indoor racket sport squash, in the mid-nineteenth century. The game is derived from the older game rackets, which some assert was codified at Harrow in the early nineteenth century. The first recorded squash courts were constructed at Harrow in 1864.

Harrow Societies

As with many boarding schools, Harrow has a large number of societies, most of which are run by the boys. They include:

  • Alexander Society (Military History)
  • The Archives
  • Biology Society
  • Bridge Club
  • Canoe Club
  • Circus Skills
  • Classic Film Society (not classical)
    Missing image
    Harrow School Crest

  • Comedy Society
  • Debating Society
  • Drama
  • Duke of Edinburgh's Award
  • Film Society
  • Flambards & Bible Studies
  • Gore Society (Theology)
  • Jewish Society
  • Marmots (Climbing / Mountaineering)
  • Nehru Society (Indian Culture)
  • Old Speech Room Gallery Art Society
  • Photography Society
  • Rattigan Society (Drama)
  • Sixth Form Club (Social)
  • Sub Aqua Society
  • Ten Miles To London (Creative writing to go into a school magazine once a year)
  • Universal Challenge (Inter-House version of the TV show University Challenge)
  • Wine Tasting (Sixth Form)
  • Young Enterprise

There are many more. Indeed, every aspect of academic life has a society devoted to it - from the Alexander Society for military history to the Oriental Languages Society. Each society has its own signature tie for consistent members.


Monitors are chosen from boys who are deemed to have the best qualities in leadership and achievement. They have the power to give lines and other such punishments to boys who misdemean. Each house has at least one monitor, who is made "Head of House" (the most senior boy in house). On a school-wide level the best monitor is made "Head Boy" and a deputy is appointed to assist. Monitors wear top hats and carry black canes when in Sunday dress and wear a blue tie bearing the school crest. This crest is also printed on the bands of their hats. The head may wear a white bow-tie and white waistcoats when in Sunday dress.

The Guild

This is a small group of selected boys in the top year, deemed to be leaders in artistic and cultural fields within the school, whose role is to promote music, art, drama, and other such activities. It is a highly prestigious position. Guild members may wear a maroon waistcoat when in Sunday dress or a maroon tie with rampant lions when in everyday uniform.

The Philathletic Club

This is akin to the guild, but its members are all players in the top sports teams in the school. It is their job to promote the sport side of Harrow life. Again membership is an honour, and in many boys eyes, more so than being in the Guild. Their privileges include wearing a black bow tie instead of the usual black school tie, and giving punishments to teachers who misbehave in sports matches, though this power is rarely used seriously.

Harrow Slang

Below are a few examples of vocabulary used by Harrovians today:

  • Beak - Master (often named by their initials only i.e. the Head Master is BJL)
  • Flicks - Lights out (only used in some houses)
  • Ducker - Swimming pool
  • Reader - House library
  • Yarder - Small play area in each house
  • Bluer - Blue jacket worn by Harrovians
  • Greyers - Grey flannel trousers
  • Eccer - Games
  • Double - Writing lines as a punishment done on special "double" paper.
  • Chit - A note, depending on its colour may be good or bad
  • Fez - A cap for sport
  • Tolly up, Extension - Permission to stay up late to work
  • Custos - The caretaker
  • Tosh - Bath or shower
  • Bill, Call Over - morning or evening registration in houses
  • Existing Customs - The school rule book
  • Bill Book - A small, blue book published each term containing a list of boys and masters as well as other useful information

Harrow Terminology

This differs from slang in that it describes official activities. It is divided into two main groups - timetabling and year groups.


The everyday timetable at Harrow may at first seem illogical. From morning to evening, the lessons are denominated as follows:

2a   2b   2c   2d   2e   3   4   5

The reason for this is that originally there was early morning school (1A and 1B) before breakfast, and so morning lessons were '2'. 3, 4 and 5 were later additions to the timetable and are in the afternoon. Period 5 is also known as 'X' as only boys in the first two years at the school have it.

Year Groups

The first year at Harrow is for 13-year-olds going on 14. It is called the Shell and is equivalent to Year 9 in the State system. After that there is the Remove and the Fifth Form, or V2s (five-two's). The two years after that are the Sixth Form, which is made up of the Lower Sixth or VI3s, and the Upper Sixth or VI2s. Once there were also VI1s and these were pupils who stayed on to study for Oxbridge.

Sports teams are organised according to year. The Shells are known as Yearlings in both House and School competitions. The Removes are known as the Junior Colts in School competitions, and the Fifth Form are the Colts. For House matches these two years combine to form the Torpids, and the Torpids seconds team is the Shags. School matches in the Sixth Form are called the Sixth Form Game and in House, they are simply the House and House Seconders teams.

Harrow Houses

There are 11 boarding houses in Harrow, each with its own house master, resident tutor, tutor team and matron. Each house also has its own colours. A single house will hold around 70 boys. Below is a list of houses together with housemasters and colours:

  • West Acre – Mr M. E. Smith, Red, White and Blue
  • Newlands – Mr R. D. Burden, Yellow and White
  • Bradbys – Mr P. G. Dunbar, Purple and White
  • The Park – Mr P. D. Hunter, Red and White
  • Moretons – Mr S. P. Berry, Blue and White
  • Druries – Mr D. R. Elleray, Red and Black
  • The Headmasters – Mr W. J. McKinney, Pink and White
  • The Grove – Mr P. J. Bieneman, Red and Blue
  • The Knoll – Mr C. de L. Mann (temporary) to be replaced in September by Dr E. R. Sie, Yellow and Black
  • Rendalls – Mr K. M. Wilding, Magenta and Silver
  • Elmfield – Dr J. E. Holland, Purple and Black

In addition to these there is also Gayton House. Boys may move here, for up to a term, if their house is overfilled. Its housemaster is Mr G. S. Wilson, but boys retain allegiance to their own house while there.

Notable alumni

Notable alumni include:

Harrow Buildings

Old Schools

This is the oldest school building, built when the school was founded in 1572, and later extended. It contains the Old Speech Room Gallery, the Fourth Form Room and, appropriately, the History Department.

Old Speech Room Gallery & Museum

Harrow possesses a varied collection of art and antiquities including Egyptian and Greek antiquities, English watercolours, Modern British paintings, some sculpture, printed books and natural history. These are displayed in the Old Speech Room, which is a chamber that was built in 1819-1821 as a venue for the boys to practice public speaking. It is open to the public most afternoons during term time. Some of the highlights of the collection are on permanent display, and there is also a programme of temporary exhibitions, which boys who belong to the Old Speech Room Gallery Arts Society help to look after under the watchful eye of the curator, Mrs Leder. The current exhibitions are Books for Bibliophiles and Masterly Photographs, a display of photos by Harrow masters.

Fourth Form Room

This was the room where all lessons were originally taught. It is wood paneled and the original benches are still in place, as are many other fittings. The panels are covered in names, engraved by boys. There are even the names of famous OHs including Winston Churchill and Lord Byron. Today this tradition is continued formally on boards within each house. The room is very recognisable as it features in many films, for example the Charms classroom in the first Harry Potter film.

Speech Room

Speech Room is used on every Monday of term for the Headmaster to address all 800 boys and masters for notices or announcements. It is also used for some large audience lectures, concerts and the Shakespeare play owing to its resemblance to The Globe. Again it features in many films such as the school drama Goodbye Mr Chips

War Memorial

The primary purpose of this building is a monument to OHs who have died in wars. Its walls are carved with the names of them. It is used on Remembrance Sunday. Downstairs there are rooms for the Monitors, the Phil and the Guild. Upstairs there are three rooms- the Beak's Room, the OH Room, and the Fitch Room.

The Beaks Room

This is for Master's meetings and as a place for masters to meet at break every day.

The OH Room

So called as the walls are decorated with paintings of previous Harrow Headmasters, this is used for lectures and in the morning Thought for the Day, the alternative to morning Chapel for non-Christians.

The Fitch Room

This room was paid for by the mother of Alex Fitch, and OH who died in the great war, on the condition that a light for his portrait would always be left on. This has been the case ever since save during the blackout in the Second World War. It is very ornate, with paneling, and a floor taken from the deck of a ship.


The school chapel is an entirely separate building to St. Mary's, the church on the top of the hill. It is used for services on every day of the week; there is compulsory attendance for Church of England boys on either Tuesday and Thursday or Wednesday and Friday depending on House and everyone attends on Sundays. On all days there is a Eucharist in the crypt chapel.

Vaughan Library

Recently refurbished in 1999, the Vaughan has an extensive collection classified by the Dewey Decimal System, in addition to fiction and biography sections. Boys and beaks can borrow and request books as in any other library. There are also IT facilities and periodicals available. The Vaughan also serves as a prize ordering service for boys who have won a school prize (they select a book, DVD or CD).


This is the central dining room. It was built in 1970 and makes 3000 meals a day for boys and staff. There is a separate staff dining room. The exterior noticeboards display information on sports and societies.

Ryan Theatre

The theatre seats 300 people. Around 12 productions are put on by the school every year, and other outside companies put on performances. The average Harrow performance runs for 2 nights with the major Rattigan Society production running for 3. There are 4 dressing rooms, and the stage has a thrust that may be raised or lowered to create an orchestra pit. The current Head of Drama is Martin Tyrell.

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