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Old School Customs

"Hunting the ram" was a very old custom observed at Eton. It appears that the College had an ancient claim upon its butcher to provide a ram on the Election Saturday, to be hunted by the scholars. On one occasion, however, says Lipscombe, in his "History of Buckinghamshire" (1847, IV. 467) "the animal having been so pressed as to swim across the Thames, it ran into Windsor Market, with the boys after it, and much mischief was caused by this unexpected accident. The health of the scholars had also suffered from the length of the chase, or the heat of the season. The character of the sport was therefore changed about 1740, when the ram was ham-strung, and, after the speech, was knocked on the head with large, twisted clubs. But the barbarity of the amusement caused it to be laid aside at the election in 1747, and the, flesh of the ram was prepared in pasties The dish, however, still continued nominally to grace the Election Monday." In the "Gent. Mag" (1731, I. 351) we find the following notice of this odd custom:—"Monday, Aug. 2 was the election at Eton College, when the scholars, according to custom, hunted a ram, by which the Provost and Fellows hold a Manor."

The "Eton Montem" was also a time-honoured ceremony peculiar to Eton—said by some to have been coeval with the foundation of the College—and was observed biennially, but latterly triennially, down to the year 1844, when it was abolished. It consisted of a procession of the Eton scholars wearing costumes of various periods, to a small mount called Salt Hill, for the purpose of collecting money, or salt, for the benefit of the captain of the school, about to retire to the University. Sometimes as much as 4000 was thus collected. Some think this ceremony was identical with the boy-bishop. It originally took place on Dec. 6, the festival of St. Nicholas, but it was afterwards held on Whitson Tuesday. Amongst other customs connected with Eton, may be mentioned "Bever Days," when extra beer is served to the students, the term "bever" being equivalent to a "drink." Thus in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Woman Hater" (act i. sc. 3) we read "He—will devour three breakfasts—without prejudice to his bevers."

Source: The Illustrated London News, No.2256—Vol. LXXXI, Saturday, July 29, 1882, p.122