Eton college has been forced to delay the start of school term after the toilets in its boarding houses backed up because of flooding in the Thames Water sewers caused by recent heavy rains.

The £46,000-a-year private school apologised to parents, saying pupils would begin the year learning remotely online, after the water company informed it of the issue.

Pupils had been due to return to the prestigious boys’ school, near Windsor in Berkshire, on Tuesday after the Christmas break.

“I am very sorry to say that Thames Water have just alerted us to the fact that their sewerage drains are backfilling due to floodwater,” said an email sent to parents and guardians, first reported by Bloomberg. “The sewers in the centre of Eton won’t cope with the arrival of nearly 1,350 boys.”

The school added: “We cannot safely operate as a school until Thames Water have resolved the issues around our sewerage drains.”

Eton was founded in 1440 by Henry VI, offering a free education for all and charging some for accommodation. Former pupils include Boris Johnson, Prince William, Prince Harry and David Cameron. The site has the main college and 24 “Oppidan”, or residential, houses, each with a house master and a clutch of staff.

A spokesperson for Eton said: “Following extensive flooding in the region, the Thames Water sewers which serve the town of Eton flooded.

“Therefore boys could not return for the scheduled start of term on 9 January and the college has moved to remote teaching. We are in regular contact with Thames Water as they seek to resolve the situation and we look forward to welcoming boys back as soon as possible.”

Thames Water said: “Our engineers are responding to reported sewerage issues at Eton college, Windsor.

“In this instance, the recent heavy rainfall, along with high groundwater levels and river flooding, caused our local sewer system to overload.

“We are sorry to staff and students who have been impacted. Our teams will be carrying out a clean-up in the coming days once the river levels recede.”

The high-profile incident marks an embarrassing start for Chris Weston, the former chief executive of the power-generating equipment company Aggreko, who took over at Thames Water this week.

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He is tasked with improving the performance at the debt-laden utility company which has 15 million customers in London and south-east England and has faced criticism from the public and politicians over leaky pipes and releasing sewage into waterways.

Large parts of England have suffered flooding since the start of the year, as Storm Henk brought a deluge of rain. In a statement released on Monday night, Thames said recent heavy rainfall, combined with a high water table, have put “huge pressure on our sewers and pumping stations”.

“Water is entering our network above and below ground, and flows from flooded rivers are adding to the problem in some areas,” it said.

Thames’s Slough sewage treatment works, near Eton, was discharging pollution into the Roundmoor Ditch on Wednesday, according to company data analysed by the website Sewage Map.

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