Fettes College

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Fettes College
Fettes College Crest.svg
Motto Industria
Established 1870
Type Independent day and boarding school
Headmaster Michael Spens
Founder Sir William Fettes
Location Carrington Road
East Fettes Ave (Prep Sch)

Local authority City of Edinburgh
Students 750
Gender Mixed
Ages 7–18
Houses Carrington
College East
College West
Colours Chocolate & magenta         
Publications The Fettesian
The Hive
Former pupils Old Fettesians (OFs)
Mascot Bee
Website www.fettes.com

Fettes College /ˈfɛts/ is a private coeducational independent boarding and day school in Edinburgh, Scotland, with over two-thirds of its pupils in residence on campus. The school was originally a boarding school for boys only and became co-ed in 1983. In 1978 the College had a 9-hole golf course,[1] an ice skating rink used in winter for ice hockey and in summer as an outdoor swimming pool, a cross-country running track and a rifle shooting range within the forested 300-acre grounds.[2] Fettes is sometimes referred to as a public school, although the term is traditionally used in Scotland for state schools. The school was founded by from a bequest of Sir William Fettes in 1870 and started admitting girls in 1970. It follows the English rather than Scottish education system and has nine houses. The main building was designed by David Bryce.


Fettes College main building
Fettes College from the south-east

To perpetuate the memory of his only son William, who had predeceased him in 1815, Sir William Fettes (1750–1836), a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh and a wealthy city merchant, bequeathed the then very large sum of £166,000 to be set aside for the education of poor children and orphans.

After his death the bequest was invested, and the accumulated sum was then used to acquire the 350 acres of land, to build the main building and to found the school in 1870. Fettes College opened with 53 pupils (40 were Foundation Scholars with 11 others boarding and 2 day pupils).

An all-boys school until 1970, when female pupils were first admitted for the final year, Fettes has been fully co-educational since 1983. Some journalists have described Fettes as "the Eton of the North".[3][4][5] In 1988 the college sold 13 acres of its grounds for £3 million.[6]

In 1998 Fettes was placed 4th in the Daily Telegraph league table of schools.[7] In 1999 Fettes was placed 5th in the Sunday Times list of top mixed independent schools in the UK.[8] In 2001 Fettes was declared "Scottish School of the year" by the Sunday Times.[9]

Fettes pupils wear chocolate and magenta coloured blazers. It is said that Fettes "used to have a hearty, rugger-bugger, Caledonian image".[10]

In 2009 Fettes won the Scottish Schools U18 Rugby Cup, at Murrayfield Stadium, for the first time.[11]

In April 2009 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) published a report on Fettes that evaluated the school as "excellent" in four out of five Quality Indicators and "very good" in the other.[12]


Fettes College follows the English rather than Scottish education system. Pupils take GCSEs rather than Scottish Standard Grades and students now have the choice between A Levels and the new International Baccalaureate Diploma, but cannot take Scottish exams.[13] Life at Fettes revolves around sports like rugby, hockey, cricket, golf, inter house tennis, fives and squash in the afternoons and the various clubs and societies like sub-aqua, shooting, judo, fencing, CCF (Combined Cadet Force), debating society, drama, chess, war gaming, model railway, music society, classic dancing club, house prep etc. in the evenings.[14]

Fettes is an IB World School, one of only three schools in Scotland to have this status.[15]

Boarding houses[edit]

There are currently nine houses: four for boys, four for girls and one for boys and girls. The houses are named after the estates of the first Trustees. The male houses are large period buildings which stretch from East Fettes Avenue to Carrington Road; two of the female houses are in the upper floors of the main College Building, the third is in a modern building in the eastern part of the grounds, and the new fourth girls' house is in the western part of the grounds and was finished in September 2012. The new house was built to reduce the pressure on the three girls' houses, which were accommodating more pupils than the four boys' houses. The Upper Sixth Boarding House, for both boys and girls in their last year at Fettes, opened in September 2007.


  • Carrington (1872–present)
  • Glencorse (1873–present)
  • Kimmerghame (1920–present)
  • Moredun (1870–present)


  • Arniston
  • College East
  • College West
  • Dalmeny

Boys and girls[edit]

  • Craigleith (2007–present) Mixed Upper Sixth Form boarding house.


  • Dalmeny was renamed as Carrington in 1873.
  • Inverleith was the previous name for the Preparatory School, now a separate entity.
  • Dalmeny was the name of the day girls' boarding house on the ground floor of the west wing in the 1980s.
  • Kimmerghame was the name of the junior boarding house between 1884 and 1895. It was closed during World War II due to lack of pupils in the school.


College Chapel architecture by David Bryce

The college's main building by David Bryce (built 1863-9) blends the design of a Loire château with elements of the 19th century Scottish Baronial.

Fettes College Main Building

According to the school's website, the combination of styles and the site of the building led a modern architectural expert to praise it as "undeniably one of Scotland's greatest buildings".[16]

The war memorial, a bronze figure of a fallen officer telling his men to "carry on" is by William Birnie Rhind, 1919.[17]

Coat of arms[edit]

The school crest is a bee because it appears at the top of Sir William’s Coat of Arms and his Seal (for letters etc.) was also a Bee. When the College Arms were granted, they were Sir William’s with the colours reversed. Nowadays a more modern image is used but it is still the same Coat of Arms.

The bee is the origin of the school's motto 'Industria'. Its motif features prominently around the school. Beehives appear over the now-unused East and West doors of the College. A Bee in stone watches over the front of Malcolm House (1880) and the Prep School. A large bee fronts Kimmerghame (1928) and there is an original lead bee in the porch of the Headmaster’s Lodge.[18]

Fettes tartan[edit]

Fettes Tartan

A school tartan was designed in 1996 at the prompting of the Headmaster, Malcolm Thyne. It is a balance between the traditional kilt colours of green, blue and black and the Fettes colours of chocolate and magenta, with white stripes to add brightness.

The Fettes tartan is worn as a kilt by boys and as a kilt skirt by girls who do not have a family tartan. The first showing of the kilt was on the hockey/lacrosse tour of Australia and Japan in 1998.[19]

Fettes in fiction[edit]

Body Politic[edit]

In his first crime novel Body Politic, published in 1997, featuring detective Qunitilian Dalrymple and set in Edinburgh in 2020, Paul Johnston features Fettes College as a ruin, "blown to pieces in 2009" after it became a base for drug traders.

James Bond[edit]

While expanding on James Bond's back story, Ian Fleming wrote in You Only Live Twice that the agent had attended Fettes College, his father Andrew Bond's old school, after having been removed from Eton.

"Here the atmosphere was somewhat Calvinistic, and both academic and athletic standards were rigorous. Nevertheless, though inclined to be solitary by nature, he established some firm friendships among the traditionally famous athletic circles, at the school. By the time he left, at the early age of seventeen, he had twice fought for the school as a light-weight and had, in addition, founded the first serious judo class at a British public school."[20]

Fleming based his character on Sir Alexander Glen, who died in 2004 and who was Winston Churchill's envoy to Belgrade during the Second World War.[21]

While Fleming never claimed there was any source for the name of Bond other than James Bond, an American ornithologist, there was a real life James Bond who did attend Fettes. He was a frogman with the Special Boat Service, much as the fictional character Bond has a naval background. The school had his Who's Who entry copied and framed over the Second Master's office door in one of its main corridors. This has since been removed.

Captain Britain[edit]

Captain America "Uh, it's Captain Britain, right? Tony was telling me all about that submarine rescue you guys did a few weeks back. That was pretty amazing."

Captain Britain "Oh, Tony's hilarious, isn't he? Everyone here just absolutely loved him. We've all been very excited about meeting you too, Captain. Did you know I used to have a poster of you on my wall when I was a pupil up at Fettes College in Edinburgh?"

— The first meeting of Captains America and Britain[22]

Later to become Marvel Comics' Captain Britain, the British equivalent of Captain America, Brian Braddock was born to aristocratic parents in the town of Maldon, Essex. After falling upon hard times, Brian's family had lost their place in society, leaving Brian a lonely yet gifted child who immerses himself in the study of Physics.

A prodigious talent, Brian is selected to attend Fettes College where he excels in his studies. Following the death of his parents (Sir James and Lady Elizabeth) in what seemed to be a laboratory accident, Brian accepts a fellowship at Darkmoor nuclear research centre. When the facility is attacked by the Reaver, Brian tries to find help by escaping on his motorcycle. Although he crashes his bike in a nearly fatal accident, Merlyn and his daughter the Omniversal Guardian Roma appear to the badly injured Brian. They give him the chance to be the superhero Captain Britain. He is offered a choice: the Amulet of Right or the Sword of Might. Considering himself to be no warrior and unsuited for the challenge, he rejects the Sword and chooses the Amulet. This choice transforms Brian Braddock into Captain Britain, the champion of the British Isles.[23]


There have only been nine headmasters of the school since it was founded:[24]

  • 1870 – 1889 Alexander Potts
  • 1890 – 1919 William Heard
  • 1919 – 1945 Alec Ashcroft
  • 1945 – 1958 Donald Crichton-Miller
  • 1958 – 1971 Ian McIntosh
  • 1971 – 1979 Anthony Chenevix-Trench
  • 1979 – 1988 Cameron Cochrane
  • 1988 – 1998 Malcolm Thyne
  • 1998 – 2017 Michael Spens
  • 2017 –           Geoffrey Stanford

Other notable staff[edit]

  • Thomas Bedford Franklin FRSE (d.1960), maths master 1907-1921, amateur meteorologist and author (creator of the term micro-climate)[25]

Notable Old Fettesians[edit]

The school's war memorial by Birnie Rhind

Fettes College has produced many judges, lawyers, diplomats, military officers and politicians. In sport, its most notable alumni are on the rugby pitch. Four Old Fettesians have won the Victoria Cross and one the George Cross. The school has an old boys (and now girls) association known as the Old Fettesian Association (OFA).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Philp, p.131
  2. ^ Fettes College Prospectus 1978
  3. ^ "Tony Blair's revolting schooldays", The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 23 July 2004.
  4. ^ "Under the Green Oak, an old elite takes root in Tories", The Guardian, London, 12 August 2006.
  5. ^ "House of rivals shares the bond of an educated elite", The Times, London, 12 December 2005.
  6. ^ McConnell, Thomas (31 March 1988). "Fettes sells off land for £25m leisure village". The Glasgow Herald. p. 9. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  7. ^ "Daily Telegraph League Table of Top Schools", The Daily Telegraph, London, 29 August 1998.
  8. ^ "Top 250 Independent Schools", Parent Power Supplement, The Sunday Times, London, 15 November 1999.
  9. ^ Edinburgh's Fettes College "Independent School of the Year", "Scottish Snippets", 27 October 2001
  10. ^ The Tatler Schools Guide 2007.
  11. ^ "Gammell jnr helps spark Fettes revival", The Scotsman, Edinburgh. 15 March 2009.
  12. ^ "Fettes HMIE Report", 28 April 2009.
  13. ^ "Academic". fettes.com. 
  14. ^ Fettes College Prospectus 1978
  15. ^ Another two schools offer the IB BBC News, 17 August 2006
  16. ^ Fettes College: The Building Retrieved 2009-03-21
  17. ^ Philp, p. 53
  18. ^ Fettes College: The Bee Retrieved 2009-03-21
  19. ^ Fettes College: The Fettes Tartan Retrieved 2009-03-21
  20. ^ Ian Fleming, "You Only Live Twice", Chapter 21, Obit Retrieved 2009-03-21
  21. ^ "Sir Alexander Glen". The Telegraph. 2 March 2004. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  22. ^ Ultimates 2, No. 4, May, 2005
  23. ^ Chris Claremont (w), Herb Trimpe, Fred Kida (a). Captain Britain Weekly 1 (Week ending 13 October 1976), Marvel Comics
  24. ^ Philp, pp. 130-131
  25. ^ "Thomas Bedford Franklin". Retrieved 4 June 2016. 


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°57′49″N 03°13′34″W / 55.96361°N 3.22611°W / 55.96361; -3.22611