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Downside Traditions


Every May the Downside Schola Cantorum (the oldest Roman Catholic school choir in the UK) climb to the top of the Roberts Tower to perpetuate the 500-year-old tradition of singing Madrigals to the rising sun welcoming the arrival of spring.

This is not a tradition unique to the School; singing the Madrigals originated at Magdalen College in Oxford. The precise origins of the Oxford May Morning Madrigals are uncertain, but the tradition is thought to date back to at least 1509, when Magdalen’s Great Tower was completed.

Amid delightful spring birdsong, the glorious sound of well-known springtime favourites echo down to the spectators in the School’s main quad below. There are few better ways to start off the month of May than with Madrigals in the early morning spring sunshine followed by the traditional post-Madrigals bacon sandwich!



We are proud to still keep the tradition of the Downside Wall Game alive. The Downside Wall is a massive structure, some 12 metres high by 30 wide, comprising two playing walls, each with angled wings, and an open-fronted shelter forming a sort of distance-piece between them.

The Downside Wall Game is an outdoor racquet sport that has been played by pupils at Downside since 1820. It bears some similarities to Fives, however, it is played with a solid wooden bat rather than one’s hand. By the end of the 19th century the Wall Game had become a Downside favourite.

In 2021, former House Master of Roberts, Mr McLean, made new bats with some of the Roberts boys. Mateusz Kapustka (R20), Head of School 2019/20 is particularly proud of his self-crafted Downside bat. It sits, with other items of his Downside memorabilia, on a shelf in his room at Glasgow University, where he is reading Economics.



The celebrated Christmas Dash is unique to Downside. It’s one of our more unusual School traditions, and one of the most popular Inter-House events of the year. The Dash happens on the same day as the School’s Advent Carol Service and Christmas Fair, marking the end of the Michaelmas Term.

Each House has runners that complete an athletics course and an ‘eater’ who has to eat a combination of foods as quickly as possible including items such as chocolate-covered sprouts and cheese crackers. Oh – and one of the Smythe Sixth Formers always runs the course in a yellow Ali G tracksuit!



This annual tradition was started in 2020 by Librarian Ms Craig. It involves an energetic recitation by our youngest pupils (those new to the First Form (Year 7)) of Hilaire Belloc’s classic cautionary tale, Matilda Who Told Lies and Was Burnt to Death.

The choice of the poem is not random: Belloc‘s son, Louis (C15), attended Downside and his grandson, Dom Philip Jebb (b45), was Head here.

This event now marks part of National Poetry Day in October at Downside every year.

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