The Origin of the Field Colours

Illustration by Lachlan Campbell

Did you know that when the Field Colours were first created in the Michaelmas Half of 1860, they were meant as a joke? Philip Norman, a member of the 1859 side recounted this story in the Eton Chronicle of March 1923.

In 1860 Herbert Garnet was an old choice (a colour from the year before) along with H.B Rhodes the Keeper (Captain). Garnet later in life re-acquainted his friendship with me through a series of letters, the last of which recounts his story.

'It was the football half of 1860 that I suggested to Rhodes (who wanted colours) that we should have those that now exist, but merely as a joke, and he was so pleased that much to my surprise he adopted them at once. He left that Christmas, and I was Keeper afterwards, but he never gave me the Keeper's Book, as he promised for me to enter things in. As there was no matches in the next half, nothing happened, so I suppose the record of the starting of the colours got lost'.

“Garnet's remark that he was Keeper afterwards indicates a state of things which I suppose has long ago passed away. In my time and his, there used to be a Keeper or Keepers of the Field in the Easter Half, although no football was played. I suppose it was a matter of survival.” — Herbert Garnet

It must be remembered that apart from the VIII and XI (who wore Eton Blue), no other colours existed. The Field was the first winter sporting colour to be brought in, and was followed within a couple of years by various Houses and other colours.

There is an interesting further tale to this story, which involved H.B. Rhodes. Having bought in the colours (shirts and caps), he decided to go full 'hog' and got his Tailor to fashion in a pair of fetching trousers made with one leg in scarlet and one in blue, which he duly wore in the first match, a veritable Peacock amongst the drab dung coloured hues. The sight must have been magnificent, clad from head to toe in scarlet and blue.

The Headmaster was not so convinced and banned the trousers from being worn again, his only comment being that it was a game for, 'young gentlemen, not court jesters'. Rhodes, however, got the last laugh as he introduced fetching white trousers (until then the preserve of the VIII and the XI) with a rather natty scarlet and blue stripe down the seams, which sadly lasted only for three of four years.

Illustrations by Lachlan Campbell; Photo by Getty Images

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