14 of the Most Beautiful Places to Study in Britain
While academic credentials are naturally of chief importance when you’re selecting the right boarding school for you, the surroundings in which you’re going to be living and studying will have a big impact on how motivated and happy you feel.
Beautiful surroundings can be hugely inspiring, and, for the most ambitious, provide excellent preparation for the Oxbridge environment, which those not used to such surroundings may otherwise find a little intimidating. Luckily, there’s no shortage of aesthetically pleasing boarding schools in the UK, and these are, in our opinion, some of the most attractive.
1. Prior Park College, Bath
Prior Park College in Bath takes some beating as nice-looking schools go; its beautifully landscaped grounds – in part thought to be the work of the legendary Capability Brown – are even owned by the National Trust. This top Roman Catholic independent day and boarding school is set in a Grade I listed Palladian mansion built in 1742, and it occupies an imposing spot at the top of a hill with sweeping views of the stunning city of Bath. The man who commissioned it was Ralph Allen, a local entrepreneur and philanthropist, whose comment on the positioning of the mansion is said to have been: “To see all Bath, and for all of Bath to see.” It became a school in 1830, though it was closed for a while between 1904 and 1924, seeing brief occupation by soldiers during the First World War. It reopened as a boarding school for boys, but it now takes boys and girls for day school and boarding.
2. Sherborne School, Dorset
Sherborne School in Dorset is unusual in that it’s an independent boys’ boarding school with a matching girls’ boarding school within walking distance, with which it shares some Sixth Form classes. It’s part of an educational tradition in Sherborne that dates as far back as the 8th century, begun by St Aldhelm; remarkably, Alfred the Great is alleged to have been one of the school’s early pupils, in the days when it was closely linked with Sherborne Abbey. It was established in its present form in 1550, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but traces of its monastic past survive in various parts of the existing buildings, including the Chapel, the Library, and the Headmaster’s Rooms. History is ever-present in this extraordinary school, adding to its interest and making it easily one of the most beautiful schools in Britain.
3. Stowe School, Buckinghamshire
Co-educational private boarding school Stowe School in Buckinghamshire receives many accolades for its outstanding academic credentials (just one being that it’s achieved a 100% success rate for pupils applying to medical school for the last three years), but its beauty is just as noteworthy. Stowe House was once the seat of the Dukes of Buckinghamshire and Chandos, and its sublime architecture is the work of various famous architects, including Vanbrugh, Soane, Adam and Gibbs. Like Prior Park College, Stowe House has beautiful, Capability Brown landscaped gardens owned by the National Trust, the important feature of which is a number of elaborate temples: follies that drew crowds from far afield as early as the 1730s. Both the gardens and the main House are open to the public, reflecting the fact that pupils attend a school so beautiful that it’s a major visitor attraction. Stowe School was founded in 1923 after a succession of occupiers that were the result of the Dukedom of Buckingham and Chandos dying out through the lack of a male heir. This influential school’s most famous alumnus is the founder of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson.
4. Eton College, Windsor
No list of beautiful schools would be complete without some mention of the country’s most famous school, Eton College, which also happens to be rather pleasing on the eye. Unlike many of the schools mentioned so far on this list, Eton’s buildings were purpose-built to be a school – and some of them were built a very long time ago. The school was established in 1440 by Henry VI, and its original buildings date back to roughly this time. They have, of course, been added to over the years – notably the ‘New Buildings’, designed by John Shaw Jr, which were constructed between 1844 and 1846. The college’s buildings aren’t the only beautiful structures in its vicinity; it sits almost in the shadow of the mighty Windsor Castle, the Queen’s favourite residence, from which Eton College’s magnificent Chapel is particularly visible.
5. Cobham Hall, Kent
Cobham Hall in Kent is a girls’ day and boarding school, and another school to occupy a beautiful old building – this time a Tudor manor house dating from the 16th century (though there has been a manor house on the site since the 12th century). The school was founded in 1962, the building having previously been home to the Earls of Darnley until 1957. Cobham Hall, which has an international student population comprising just under 50% of its total student body, is so easy on the eye that it has often been chosen as a film location, appearing on screen a number of times; most famously, it stood in for “Abbey Mount” boarding school in the 2008 film Wild Child.
6. Wycombe Abbey, Buckinghamshire
Wycombe Abbey is considered by many to be the girls’ equivalent of Eton College, and it’s one of the top-performing girls’ schools in the country. The building it occupies stands on land once owned by a 13th-century Abbess, but the school as it’s seen today isn’t really a preserved abbey from that period, for all its apparently ecclesiastical charm. The present building was previously an extensive manor house called Loakes House, which was acquired in 1798 by the 1st Baron Carrington, who employed the architect James Wyatt to transform the house into its present gothic ecclesiastical form. The building has a real romance to it, with its turrets and battlements. Located in the Chiltern Hills, its grounds have their own lake and woodland, making it a beautiful place to study.
7. Wellington College, Berkshire
Voted Best Public School 2014 by Tatler Magazine, Wellington College in Berkshire describes itself as “One of the world’s top coeducational day and boarding schools”. Founded in 1859, it was built as a national monument to the eponymous Duke of Wellington, and Queen Victoria herself laid the school’s foundation stone. The school’s impressive architecture – the style of which is referred to as the “French Grand Rococo” – is the work of the aforementioned Eton College architect John Shaw Jr, who was chosen by, among others, the Queen’s husband, Prince Albert. The buildings sit within a beautiful 400-acre estate – plenty of room for the school to enjoy much bigger-than-average playing fields, a superb golf course and its own woodland.
8. Downe House, Berkshire
The girls’ boarding school Downe House School in Berkshire was once housed in Charles Darwin’s former home, in Kent; this is where it gets its name. Growing numbers of pupils meant that the school was forced to relocate to bigger premises, which it did in 1922, to an estate in Berkshire called The Cloisters, which was originally a Roman Catholic convent. It retains an ecclesiastical air, with whitewashed cloisters a striking focal point. But it’s not just the school’s UK hub that makes it an attractive place to study. Girls spend one term in their second year improving their French in France, living on the school’s cosy converted farm in the Périgord Noir: an idyllic environment that makes the school worthy of a place on this list. Clare Balding is among the famous names to have been educated at Downe House, and the Duchess of Cambridge studied there for a term as well.
9. Charterhouse, Surrey
Charterhouse in Surrey was established way back in 1611 (though even that is young by Eton standards), and it’s every bit as visually stunning as its age would suggest – despite the fact that its present buildings only date from the school’s move to its present site in 1872. Built on the site of an old Carthusian monastery, its buildings are the design of the architect Philip Charles Hardwick and the building work of the illustrious Lucas Brothers – the very same builders responsible for the Royal Albert Hall and Covent Garden. The school’s picturesque Memorial Chapel was added in 1927, and was the design of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the famous Battersea Power Station and, amazingly, the red telephone box. The school is boys-only up to Sixth Form, into which girls were admitted in the 1970s.
10. Rugby School, Warwickshire
Perhaps best known for being the place where the sport of rugby was invented, Rugby School in Warwickshire is also incredibly photogenic. It dates back to 1567, though the school’s main buildings date to 1815. They’re centred around the attractive Georgian architecture of Old Quad. Aspects of Rugby’s history are written into its environs: there’s the King’s Oak, for instance, planted by Edward VII in 1909 at the top of The Close (Rugby’s famous playing field, where the game is said to have been invented). Many of the buildings are the work of prominent Gothic-Revival architect William Butterfield, who, among his vast portfolio of buildings, also designed Keble College, Oxford, and several other buildings for Oxford colleges. Rugby’s famous alumni include the war poet Rupert Brooke, the wartime Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland.
11. Harrow School, London
Harrow School is one of Britain’s prestigious old public schools, officially founded in 1572 by Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I (though it’s thought that there’s been a school on the same site since 1243, which, if true, would mean that it predates even Eton). The school’s striking red brick main building – known as “Old Schools” – is just one of a number of attractive Victorian buildings the school can boast of, and the school also features a beautiful example of a Victorian postbox. The most famous alumnus to have enjoyed living and studying in the attractive environs of Harrow is the wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.
12. Malvern College
Malvern College in Worcestershire has a 250-acre campus nestled against the beautiful Malvern Hills, which are famous for their pure spring water. In appearance it resembles an Oxford college, and the combination of its architecture and the majesty of the surrounding landscape takes some beating. It’s co-educational and allows both day and boarding pupils, and has benefited from an extensive development scheme in the last few years that have seen it build an impressive new sports complex. A marginally interesting piece of trivia surrounding Malvern College is that it is thought to be the first school to offer a careers service.
13. Tonbridge School, Kent
The boys-only boarding school Tonbridge School is another of Britain’s very old schools, having been founded in 1553. Though some of its boarding houses are spread through the town of Tonbridge, the visually appealing school itself occupies a 150-acre site that includes a beautiful Edwardian chapel. Its main buildings mostly date from the second half of the nineteenth century, though more recent additions include an Arts and Technology complex, a theatre, and the Sports and Media Centre. The school boasts some superb GCSE results; in 2008, for example, 4A*s and 6As was the average, with 98% of pupils achieving all A*, A and B grades.
14. Oundle School, Northamptonshire
Founded in 1556, just three years after Tonbridge School, Oundle School in Northamptonshire is a co-educational boarding and day school, and it’s yet another example of an attractive boarding school. Its campus is Oundle itself, an ancient market town that’s quintessentially British. Among the oldest parts of the school is Laxton House, the focus for day school pupils, which is set in the churchyard site of the school in its original form and includes the Cloisters, which give it a historic atmosphere. Adjacent to this is the Great Hall, an impressive focal point for the school. The school even has its own private art gallery, the Yarrow Gallery.
Please note that this is intended as a selection, not a ranking. Are there any beautiful schools you think we should have included on this list? Let us know in the comments below!