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.
Churchill’s future interest in soldiering was already evident at school. He joined the Harrow Rifle Corps within weeks of entering the school and, following encouragement from his father, was enrolled in the academic programme to prepare students for Sandhurst (the Royal Military College, now called the Royal Military Academy). In a letter from 1889, Churchill writes to ‘Mamma’, telling her that he has joined the ‘Army class’ and that he is learning French and geometrical drawing and studying for the Shakespeare prize.
In all the twelve years I was at school no one ever succeeded in making me write a Latin verse or learn any Greek except the alphabet.
Churchill, My Early Life
But his mother was very disappointed in her son, feeling he could achieve much more. In 1890, she wrote: ‘I had built up such hopes about you & felt so proud of you – & now all is gone … your work is an insult to your intelligence. If you would only trace out a plan of action for yourself & carry it out & be determined to do so – I am sure you could accomplish anything you wished.’
Churchill was to return to Harrow many times during his life, most memorably in 1941 during the Second World War, when he gave his famous speech to the schoolboys, ‘Never Give in’.
Find out more information about Churchill’s time at Harrow, here.