Churchill in the dress uniform of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, c. 1895. © Churchill Archives, Broadwater Collection
In 1892, when Churchill was 17, he won the Public Schools fencing championship, presaging his future career as a fighting man. Generally, however, his other achievements at school didn’t seem to suggest an academic future. His parents decided that he wasn’t university material and instead they wanted him to try to enter the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and the military career for which he had already shown an inclination.
He left Harrow in 1892 and went to a ‘crammer’ to help him pass the entrance exam, which he eventually did on the third attempt in 1893. Churchill’s poor maths meant he couldn’t join the artillery and engineers, and he didn’t do well enough in the final exam to qualify for the infantry, much to his father’s disappointment. Against his father’s wishes, he qualified for a cavalry cadetship (the cavalry was more expensive than the infantry; the family would need to buy one or two costly ‘hunters’, polo ponies).
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Harrow School on top of the Hill.
On 17 April 1888, Churchill went to Harrow School, an independent boarding school for boys founded in 1572 under a Royal Charter granted by Elizabeth I, in London.
He joined Head Master’s Boarding House, said to date from 1650.
Here, he wasn’t particularly happy and he didn’t particularly excel. However, Churchill’s ability to memorise lines, which he later used when he first made public speeches, was already apparent. While at Harrow, he entered a competition and won a school prize for reciting from memory 1,200 lines from Macaulay’s long poem, Lays of Ancient Rome – a quite remarkable achievement.
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Churchill died in 1965 and yet his name – and his legacy – lives on, in the educational organisations that he established in his lifetime and in the initiatives set up after his death, to promote excellence, innovation and leadership in education and research in science, technology, health and welfare and the arts. Churchill cared passionately about the future of his country and believed strongly in the importance of education and research in securing success and leadership in the years ahead.
The privilege of a university education is a great one; the more widely it is extended the better for any country.
Churchill, 12 May 1948, University of Oslo
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