Ad Montem

Mound-restored

The Mound has had a varied and prestigious history: the Normans built a castle upon it that later became a royal hunting lodge and royal connections run deep. The first gold coins minted by an English King were made there and in 1267 Parliament met at the castle when the Statues of Marlborough, the basis of modern property law, were promulgated by Henry III. After a few quiet centuries, the Mound became an aesthetic and cultural haven as the centre-piece of the beautifully landscaped garden of Lady Hertford. She added the spiral path to the top of the Mound and the picturesque grotto at the bottom in the early eighteenth century.

Since the site became a school in 1843, it is believed that the Mound has played a role in occasions of investiture and celebration throughout the early part of the College’s history. Indeed, there is a fascinating painting from the mid nineteenth century hanging in the Master’s Lodge showing pupils processing around the Mound in what is thought to be the appointment of scholars.

Over the last 15 years, thanks to the remarkable legacy of Eric Elstob (C2, 1956-60), the Mound is being slowly restored to its former glory with the support of the Mound Trust and Historic England. In the most recent phase of conservation, trees have been removed and over 1000 new hedge plants planted which will grow around the spiral path to the top. The tree coppicing and felling work is very specialist due to the height of the Mound at nineteen metres, plus the height of the trees, and has to be done using old fashioned block and tackle to lower the cut tree sections; the alternatives would be some very large cranes or even a helicopter. This restoration work is allowing the College to reconnect with the history and significance of the Mound and is facilitating more safe access.

As a result, in the week of the autumn equinox in 2020, the Shell embarked on a new tradition to mark their time at Marlborough, ad Montem, which translates as “to the Hill”. In a ceremony of welcome, the Shell processed in their Houses, dressed in House colours, from Court to the bottom of the Mound and then began the ascent around the gently inclining half-mile spiral path. When all the year group were on the Mound, a formal photograph was taken from the Chapel side. The ceremony and photograph will be repeated by these pupils at the end of their Upper Sixth as part of their leaving celebrations when they will have metaphorically completed their spiral of progress to the top of the school. It is hoped that this tradition will now be observed by each new Shell intake.

It was a beautiful autumnal day and the ceremony was a real spectacle which we hope will form a treasured memory for the Shell 2020 as trail-blazers in this tradition.