Essay Club: A Tradition of Over 160 Years

Essay Club: A Tradition of Over 160 Years

Harrow's Essay Club was established by former Head Master Charles Vaughan in the 1850s, for the purpose of hearing papers (essays) written and read by Club members, and then discussing them in open debate.

Founded around the same time as the Philathletic Club (for elite Harrovian sportsmen) and the Harrow Rifle Corps (combined cadet force), Essay Club was specifically for intellectual high-fliers in the Sixth Form. Membership is still restricted to a small group of around 10 Upper Sixth boys. Although not formally enshrined in a written constitution, outgoing members elect three boys in the Lower Sixth (‘the triumvirate’), who are invited to the final meeting of the year, and then choose the remaining members for their year group.

In the 1850s, the Club met in Charles Vaughan’s house, No. 1 High Street. Today, it meets fortnightly in the Vaughan Library, which is named after the same Head Master. The Head Master is always an ex officio member. The essayist normally invites one or two guests and, occasionally, former members attend too (Charles Vaughan’s favourite pupil, Montagu Butler, who was Head of School in 1851, was a regular Old Harrovian returner in the years before he became Head Master in 1860).

The Club follows the same format every meeting: the Club Secretary reads the minutes of the last meeting (minutes have been kept since the 1850s), the essayist introduces his guests and delivers his paper, which is then debated over a light buffet. Recent titles include: Women’s Liberation in the Ancient World; The Revolution in Human Genetics; Comments on the Present Malaise of English Football; A General Overview of Western Science; Life After a Nuclear war; The Evolution of Emotions; and Liberalism is its own Worst Enemy.

Homepage image: The Vaughan Library by Dr Spencer Bentley, Master of Theology, Philosophy and English.