The College’s Early Years

When we opened in 1843, it was intended that the College should have a maximum of 500 boys and that roughly one third should be the sons of laity, who would be charged more (initially 50 guineas a year) to subsidise the clergy children (at 30 guineas a year). The College reached this number of pupils by 1848, but conditions were spartan and, apart from their studies, the boys were relatively neglected. Resentment built up, culminating in November 1851 with the ‘Marlborough Rebellion’. As a result, pupil numbers declined and the first Master of the College, Matthew Wilkinson, resigned. With the College now heavily in debt, its future was in jeopardy. Fortunately, the next two Masters (George Cotton, 1852–1858, and George Bradley, 1858–1870) proved to be inspiring Heads. They were innovators too. Cotton realised that sport channelled the energies of the boys, and he introduced organised games, led by the staff. Bradley’s rigorous approach to education made Marlborough one of the leading academic schools in the country.

By 1870, the College’s reputation both for scholarship and as a forward-looking, Christian boarding school was established. Over the best part of the next 100 years the College was seen as a school which provided a reliable stream of able young men to the professions, the armed forces, the church and all walks of public life, both in the UK and abroad.