The Brewhouse Gallery: Eton College

Published in Windlesora 01 (1982)


One may ask why Brewhouse? A reasonable question. The answer is that it was the building wherein the beer was brewed for College use. One may then ask why was the

College, catering mainly for the education of boys, brewing beer? Beer in the 15th century and much later was an important item in the diet of the boys and staff and of most other people as well.

It is reasonable to assume that the founder, King Henry the Sixth when he made his plans for building the College in 1440, would have included a brewhouse and bakehouse after the pattern of Winchester College. In David Loggan’s engraving of the College, circa 1690, the brewhouse and bakehouse are shown and named (on display). What happened to the original building is not known. It must have been demolished before 1714 when the present one was erected. This building was in continuous use as a brewhouse until 1875 when a fire destroyed its interior. This brought to an end the brewing of beer. There is a poster in the gallery, dated 1881, advertising the sale of the brewing plant. It was the Choir School until 1966 when the School ceased to exist.

It had long been recognised by the College authorities that a building was required to exhibit for enjoyment and study and to store and preserve some of the College treasures. After considerable renovation, the old brewhouse was opened as Brewhouse Gallery, by Lord Salisbury, in 1969.

Naturally most of the items on view deal with the activities of the boys and the great College occasions such as Montem and the Fourth of June. On display are the actual costumes worn by boys at the colourful ceremony of Montem. There are long since gone views of The Windmill Hotel, near Salt Hill in Slough, where most of the boys had a meal after the procession. Salt Hill, with its spacious gardens, where the boys lingered after their refreshments and the Montem Mount where the flag-waving display took place. This manoeuvre was said to require the skill and grace of a tightrope dancer. The Mount is still there, now, alas, sadly neglected and eroded. However, the Slough Borough Council and the College have joined forces to restore the Mount. This will bring pleasure to many, especially to those who cherish the historic relationship between the College and the Mount in Slough. The watercolour by G.B. Campion of Montem brings the scene to life. The boys gathered on the Mount; the Ensign flourishing the flag; the uniforms ranging from military Marshals complete with batons, swords and plumed hats to exotic oriental attire; the riders on horseback and the nobility in their carriages. It is a scene of gaiety and colour and a wonderful occasion.

There are sets of prints and many watercolours showing the boys at work and play. The set of twelve coloured lithographs by G.R. Winter is of interest because they show some of the daily routines of the boys and the organised games of the period. The watercolours by William Evans, who was a College drawing master, of the wall game, the cricket matches and the festivities on the river, under the shadow of Windsor Castle on the Fourth of June are fine examples of outdoor activities.

As one might expect illustrations of the College Chapel, the river and Windsor Castle in the background dominate most of our landscapes. The oil by John Varley of The Chapel from the River is a magnificent painting.

Paul Sandby is well represented which is understandable. He lived in Windsor Castle and was employed as a military draughtsman. He was a founder member of the Royal Academy and was the first English artist to engrave in aquatint. There are two superb gouaches by him of Windsor Castle and his watercolour of 0ld Windsor Bridge is of the highest class. His merit as an engraver can be judged from his set of six coloured aquatints of the Windsor and Eton area. One of the sets, The 5th of November at Windsor Castle, is typical of Sandby, full of life and spirit, the crowds dancing around the blazing bonfire and the fireworks shooting skywards.

There is also a display of English mezzotints after Sir Joshua Reynolds. This process was very popular in England in the 19th and 19th centuries. It was used in England in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was used mainly for the reproduction of portraits, and in skilled hands, prints can be produced of great tonal contrast from the smooth, velvety black to the lustrous white. The technique of mezzotint, compared with other methods of engraving, is complex and laborious and is now virtually

extinct. The great period when the art of mezzotint rose to its highest level was from 1770 to 1800. We possess works by nearly all the masters of that era. Prints on view include those by John Raphael Smith, Thomas Watson, William Dickenson, Joseph Grozer and Valentine Green. To illustrate the difference in ‘states’, on show are two impressions of Madona col Bambino. The progress of work on the plate can be followed and the difference between an early print and one produced much later can be seen. The earlier ‘state’ is much sharper in contrast and detail than the later ‘state’ when the soft copper plate is worn with use.

Our collection of English watercolours by nearly all the great 18th and 19th-century artists in that medium is outstanding. The collection was given to the College by Mr Alan Pilkington who left Eton in 1898. The bulk was given in his lifetime but many came by bequest after his death in 1973.

As one would expect there are numerous non-pictorial items such as The Bust of Shelley, Dr Keate’s Hat and the Montem Flag. There are examples of North American Bead Work; a selection of model elephants; running medals won by 01d Etonians when they were boys in the School, and the personal seals and other items given by Marquess Wellesley.

When one considers that all of the mass of material now housed in the Gallery was stored elsewhere in the College one must feel grateful to those enthusiastic, energetic and enterprising persons who brought the Gallery into being. Without it, the treasures, so well displayed, would probably be gathering dust unseen and unappreciated.

Patrick Devlin