Lancing College , Quadrangle, 1989

Photographer Mark Draisey was given the opportunity to capture a unique and in-depth insight into the history-laden Public Schools of Britain [in the UK what are called "Public Schools" are actually the elite private schools] . Since the start of the project many years ago, he has assumed a collection of over 2000 high quality photographs documenting the lifestyle of boys' boarding schools across the UK. His series witnessed the changes these schools went through over the years and after thirty years of work, the photographs will soon be released in a beautiful book.


Charterhouse Dormitory, 1987


Christ's Hospital, School Uniform, 1986

Mark Draisey: I first became interested in places like Oxford and Cambridge Universities and the public schools of Britain when I was at art college studying illustration and photography, partly because of programmes such as Brideshead Revisited televised in the late 70's which depicted the English upper classes at Oxford. I was intrigued by boarding school life, the traditions and grandeur of such establishments.


Eton College, 1985


Eton College, Procession of Boats, 2010

In my final year at art school, I set myself a project to photograph a day in the life of a public school, which actually involved many visits to Hurstpierpoint College to cover all aspects of school life. This lead on to extending the project to ten schools because I found it all so interesting, especially as it was rare for anyone to be allowed to candidly photograph them without restriction. After a couple of years, I approached a publisher who was interested in producing a book, but they insisted on a minimum of 25 schools all over the British Isles. I was very fortunate to be granted access to most of the schools I wrote to from 1985-1991. 


Eton College Game, 2010

Haileybury Dormitory, 1986

I think, above all, it's the atmosphere and sense of history that surrounds you in these ancient schools. The King's School Canterbury is reputed to be Britain's oldest school having been founded in 597 AD and you can definitely feel the heritage as you walk around. Some schools have very unusual uniforms which also add to the charm and interest, such as Eton and Harrow with their tail coats and a host of multi-coloured blazers, caps and scarves. Then there is Christ's Hospital School who's uniform has changed little since its beginnings in the 1550's.

Eton is possibly the most photogenic because of its size and breadth of tradition, but I found Winchester College, architecturally, the most beautiful.


Haileybury Rackets Court, 1986


Harrow School, Football, 1988

On British schools:

Most people outside of the UK get confused that our public schools are in fact private. However, the reasons for this are too complex to fit in here. Your readers might not be aware that many violent rebellions took place at various schools during the 19th century due to the appalling conditions and inadequate food.

[something that differentiates these schools] really is their 'Britishness' and history I guess. In the UK we tend to cling on to ancient traditions no matter how irrelevant they are in the modern world. 


Harrow School, 1988


King's School, Canterbury, 1989

On catching the boys in their natural habitat:

Most of the time, the boys were too busy getting on with their everyday routines to be distracted by my camera, but given the chance, most wanted to be included in my photos.


Loretto School, Chapel, 1990

Apart from the aforementioned quirky uniforms, I believe it is the fact that boys here are given enormous powers as they reach their final years at school. They organise societies, games fixtures, and at some schools, their own timetable. In times gone by, they even administered corporal punishment to other boys (phased out by the 1980's). This gives them a head start over non-boarding school students when it comes to confidence and leadership skills.


Marlborough College, Beagles, 1988


Monmouth School, Rowing, 1990


Radley College, Oxford, 1987


Repton School, Classroom, 1990

I was fortunate enough to record these schools at a time just prior to massive changes both in the level of comfort of the living conditions and improving the general facilities, but the biggest change was the introduction of girls to many of the schools.


Rugby School, 1986


Sherborne School, Abbey, 1987


Stowe, Fencing Class, 1987


Wellington College, Bedroom, 1986

Although I went to a state school, it was very similar to public schools academically, sporting-wise and in its traditions. After nearly 30 years of trying, a book of my school photographs is due for publication later this year.


Wellington College, Combined Cadet Force, 1986


Winchester College, Chamber Court, 1987


Winchester College, Football, 1987


Ampleforth College, House Lunch



Christ's Hospital School, Open Air Lesson


You can see more of Mark Draisey's British School photography on his website.

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