July 16, 2014
My husband and I started off our 7 week European vacation in Cambridge, England, where he, at the time, was undergoing his company’s week-long training. We just got married and planned to visit Oxford, a place where we met and went to school, along with a dozen of other destinations in England, Greece, Belarus and Russia.
I admit, the only reason I bought Norwegian air flight from New York to Gatwick was the price, indeed, it was relatively inexpensive. The truth is – you get what you pay for – since I brought my dinner with me on the plane (and didn’t pre-order it with the airline), the flight attendants refused to serve me, and dozens of other unfortunate passengers, even water. Somehow, the stereotype of Norwegians as a prosperous and generous nation, died right there. Well, Norwegian air – business no more, at least not from me.
I arrived to Gatwick and realized that commute to Cambridge wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it would be. At first, I had to take a train from the airport to London, then change at Victoria Station in London and take the northbound Victoria (light blue) underground line to King’s Cross mainline station, from where I took a train to Cambridge. Apparently, you can make this journey in 2 hours, but traveling with luggage and during the morning rush hour, it took me about 3.5-4 hours to get to the Cambridge Railway Station. From there, a 10 minute taxi ride got me straight to the gate of the Christ’s College, an over 500 years old institution, where I was staying for the next 3-4 days.
Cambridge is most widely known as the home of the University of Cambridge, however, the history of Cambridge goes back to Bronze age and Roman times. Settlements have existed around the Cambridge area since prehistoric times. The earliest evidence is the remains of a 3,500-year-old farmstead discovered at the site of Fitzwilliam College. The principal Roman site at Cambridge is a small fort (castrum) named Duroliponte located on Castle Hill, just northwest of the city centre and around the location of the earlier British village.
Following the Roman withdrawal from Britain around 410, the location may have been abandoned by the Britons, although there is evidence that the invading Saxons had begun occupying the area by the end of the century. Their settlement—also on and around Castle Hill—became known as Grantebrycge. Vikings arrived in 875 and the Danelaw (Viking rule), had been imposed by 878. The Vikings’ vigorous trading habits caused Cambridge to grow rapidly and during this period the centre of the town shifted from Castle Hill on the left bank of the river to the area now known as the Quayside on the right bank. After the Viking period, the Saxons enjoyed a return to power, building churches such as St Bene’t’s Church, wharves, merchant houses and a mint, which produced coins with the town’s name abbreviated to “Grant”.
In 1068, two years after his conquest of England, William of Normandy built a castle on Castle Hill. Like the rest of the newly conquered kingdom, Cambridge fell under the control of the King and his deputies. Henry I granted the first town charter to Cambridge between 1120 and 1131. And in 1209, Cambridge University was founded by students escaping from hostile townspeople in Oxford. The oldest college that still exists, Peterhouse, was founded in 1284.
In 1349 Cambridge was affected by the Black Death. The town north of the river was almost wiped out and according to a few surviving records 16 of 40 scholars at Kings Hall died. After a second tragic epidemic in 1361, a letter from the Bishop of Ely suggested that two parishes in Cambridge be merged as there weren’t enough people to fill even one church. With over a third of English clergy dying in the Black Death, four new colleges were established at the University over the following years to train new clergymen, namely Gonville Hall, Trinity Hall, Corpus Christi and Clare.
Cambridge played a significant role in the early part of the English Civil War as it was the headquarters of the Eastern Counties Association, an organization administering a regional East Anglian army, which became the mainstay of the Parliamentarian military effort prior to the formation of the New Model Army.
In the 19th century, Cambridge expanded rapidly. This was due in part to increased life expectancy and also improved agricultural production leading to increased trade in town markets, but also due to construction of the initially resisted train station in 1845. During the WWII, Cambridge was an important centre for defense of the east coast as well as an evacuation centre for over 7,000 people from London and also parts of the University of London. The town itself escaped relatively lightly from German bombing raids – 29 people were killed and no historic buildings were damaged. In 1944, a secret meeting of military leaders held in Trinity College laid the foundation for the allied invasion of Europe.
But of course, Cambridge is first of all a university town, tightly packed with ancient colleges, the picturesque “Backs” – college gardens and leafy meadows (at least in summer), year-around students and visitors.
Let’s start with a brief (if possible) history of University of Cambridge. Established in 1209 it is the 4th oldest (after University of Bologna – 1088, University of Oxford – 1096 and University of Salamanca – 1134) university in the world. By the late 12th century, the Cambridge region already had a scholarly and ecclesiastical reputation, due to monks from the nearby bishopric church of Ely. However, it was an incident at Oxford which is most likely to have formed the establishment of the university: two Oxford scholars were hanged by the town authorities for the death of a prostitute, without consulting the ecclesiastical authorities, who would normally take precedence (and pardon the scholars) in such a case, but were at that time in conflict with the King John. The University of Oxford went into suspension in protest, and most scholars moved to cities such as Paris, Reading, and Cambridge. After the University of Oxford reformed several years later, enough scholars remained in Cambridge to form the nucleus of the new university. In order to claim precedence, it is common for Cambridge to trace its founding to the 1231 charter from King Henry III granting it the right to discipline its own members (ius non-trahi extra) and an exemption from some taxes.
A bull in 1233 from Pope Gregory IX gave graduates from Cambridge the right to teach “everywhere in Christendom”. After Cambridge was described as a studium generale in a letter by Pope Nicholas IV in 1290, and confirmed as such in a bull by Pope John XXII in 1318, it became common for researchers from other European medieval universities to visit Cambridge to study or to give lecture courses.
Cambridge is formed from a variety of institutions which include 31 constituent colleges (in comparison to Oxford’s 38 colleges and 6 Permanent Private Halls) and over 100 academic departments organized into six schools. Many colleges were founded during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but they continued to be established throughout the centuries to modern times (Homerton College achieved full status in March 2010, making it the newest college).
In medieval times, many colleges were founded so that their members would pray for the souls of the founders, and were often associated with chapels or abbeys. A change in the colleges’ focus occurred in 1536 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries. King Henry VIII ordered the university to disband its Faculty of Canon Law and to stop teaching “scholastic philosophy“. In response, colleges changed their curricula away from canon law, and towards the classics, the Bible, and mathematics. Although diversified in its research and teaching interests, Cambridge today maintains its strength in mathematics.
By the 14th century, the royal, nobility, church, trade guilds and anyone rich enough to court the prestige founded their own colleges, but it was 500 years later that the female students were allowed into the hallowed grounds, though, and even then in women-only colleges Girton College and Newnham, founded in 1869 and 1872 respectively. Women were allowed to study courses, sit examinations, and have their results recorded from 1881. By 1948 Cambridge minds had broadened sufficiently to allow the women to actually graduate.
The university occupies buildings throughout the town, many of which are of historical importance. The university has 114 libraries (compared to the University of Oxford which maintains the largest university library system in the UK; and, with over 11 million volumes housed on 120 miles (190 km) of shelving, the Bodleian group is the second-largest library in the UK, after the British Library). The Cambridge University Library is the central research library, which holds over 8 million volumes. It is a legal deposit library, therefore it is entitled to request a free copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland. In addition to the University Library, almost every faculty or department has a specialized library. For example, Trinity College’s Wren Library has more than 200,000 books printed before 1800, while Corpus Christi College’s famous Parker Library possesses one of the greatest collections of medieval manuscripts in the world, with over 600 items.
Cambridge University operates eight arts, cultural, and scientific museums, and a botanic garden. The Fitzwilliam Museum, is the art and antiquities museum (its rivalry – he Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, founded in 1683, is the oldest museum in the UK, and the oldest university museum in the world), the Kettle’s Yard is a contemporary art gallery, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology houses the University’s collections of local antiquities, together with archaeological and ethnographic artifacts from around the world, the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology houses a wide range of zoological specimens from around the world (some of them collected by Charles Darwin himself) and is known for its iconic finback whale skeleton that hangs outside.
It is “the other place” for me, since I am a proud Oxonian, but I was thrilled to spend 3 days discovering and learning more about this “other place”, a place that wouldn’t have existed if not because of Oxford. A town of 123,867 people, 24,488 (almost 20%) of which are students had a very similar vibe to the town of my own Alma Mater. Cambridge is a place of one of the world’s most influential and prestigious university, a home to many notable alumni, including several eminent mathematicians, scientists, economists, writers, philosophers, actors, politicians, and 90 Nobel laureates (unfortunately, Oxford isn’t that entitled, as it has educated only 27 Nobel laureates, 26 British prime ministers, many foreign heads of state and it is home to the Rhodes Scholars).
*map taken from the website of the University of Cambridge
So, I arrived to the gate of the Christ’s College and let the college’s porter direct me to my room. Luckily, my husband and I were housed in the college accommodations, so we got to experience a true Cambridge student life first hand. Of course, don’t mind me throwing a few comments here and there comparing Cambridge to Oxford.
The Christ’s college grew from God’s House, an institution founded in 1437 by William Byngham on land now occupied by King’s College Chapel. It received its first royal license in 1446 and by 1448, after receiving its second license, it moved to its present site. It was renamed Christ’s College and received its present charter in 1505 when it was endowed and expanded by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, and her confidant St. John Fisher. Along with Jesus, King’s, Trinity and St John’s colleges, it has also provided several of the well known members of the Cambridge Apostles, an intellectual secret society. The college is renowned for educating some of Cambridge’s most famous alumni, including Charles Darwin and John Milton. The college has also educated Nobel Laureates including Martin Evans, James Meade and Alexander R. Todd, Baron Todd. Some of the college’s other famous alumni include comedians Sacha Baron Cohen, John Oliver and Andy Parsons, Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma, South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts, historian Simon Schama, theologian William Paley and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
As of 2013, it had an endowment of £138 million, making it one of the wealthier colleges in Cambridge. Christ’s College is one of only 5 colleges in Oxford or Cambridge to have its own swimming pool. Recently refurbished, it is now known as the ‘Malcolm Bowie Bathing Pool’, and is thought to be the oldest outdoor swimming pool in Europe (dated from the mid 17th century).
Map is taken from the college’s website*
The original 15th-16th century college buildings now form part of First Court, including the chapel, Master’s Lodge and Great Gate tower. The Great gate itself is disproportionate: the bottom has been cut off to accommodate a rise in street level, which can also be seen in the steps leading down to the foot of L staircase in the gate tower. It is emblazoned with heraldic carvings of spotted Beaufort yale (antelope-like creatures), Tudor roses and porticullis. Its founder, Lady Margaret Beaufort, hovers above like a guiding spirit. The college hall, originally built at the very start of the 16th century, was restored in 1875–1879 by George Gilbert Scott the younger. The lawn of First Court is famously and unusually round, and a wisteria sprawls up the front of the Master’s lodge.
Second Court is fully built up on only three sides, one of which is formed by the 1640s Fellows’ Building. The fourth side backs onto the Master’s garden. Passing through the court, there is a gate to the Fellow’s Garden, which contains a mulberry tree under which 17th-century poet John Milton reputedly wrote Lycidas.
The Stevenson Building in Third Court was designed by J. J. Stevenson in the 1880s and was extended in 1905 as part of the College’s Quad-centenary. In 1947 Professor Albert Richardson designed a new cupola for the Stevenson building, and a second building, the neo-Georgian Chancellor’s Building (now known as The Blyth Building), completed in 1950.
The controversial tiered concrete New Court (often dubbed “the Typewriter”) was designed in the Modernist style by Sir Denys Lasdun in 1966–70 and this is where our dorm was located. The building indeed looked like a typewriter and resembled a typical Soviet resort somewhere in Palanga. I have to admit, though, it was one of the most comfortable college dorms I’ve ever stayed.
After a 4 hour nap, I caught up with my husband and we went on an evening stroll around town. For a town of 20,000 students, it seemed awfully small and compare to Oxford, terribly “modern”, and by “modern” I mean blocks of gray concrete student accommodations and college facilities. It felt half-ancient and half-contemporary but in an unsettling, unattractive way. It didn’t help that the city was flooded with Chinese students and Chinese tourists. I doubt I’ve seen so many Chinese people at one place anywhere outside China.
D. already familiarized himself with the town so we slowly walked around its main streets lined with traditional homes housing theaters, libraries and bookshops, but also multiple shops, cafes and restaurants. We stopped by the Shopping Mall on St. Andrew’s Street to look for a hat or a fascinator for our upcoming engagement photoshoot in Oxford and later had a simple yet delicious dinner at Jamie’s Italian. I love how British servers get so emotional when you tip them the “normal New York” 20%.
July 17, 2014
Since I had only 2 days, I decided to go “organized” and booked two tours with Cambridge Tourist Information Center
- a 2-hour walking tour of King’s and Queens’ Colleges (£18) at 11.00
- a tour of Corpus Christi and The Parker Library (£9) at 14.00
Both tours originated at the Information Center located on Peas Hill and I have to admit, they were fantastic. Guides as well as the content were superb. It was time well spent, especially if you are on a tight schedule.
Our guide, an older gentleman, (sorry, I forgot his name) picked our group of 15 people promptly at 11.00. For the entire duration of the tour, he never stopped talking, whether it was about the buildings we were passing by, or the performances that were currently running at the local theater, or about the Cambridge traditions, customs, rumors, people etc. To my satisfaction, he was “loading” us with relevant information. And of course, the very first stop was at The Eagle.
Originally opened in 1667 as the “Eagle and Child”, it was a lodging place for travelers and their horses as well as a pub. The site is owned by Corpus Christi College and apart from the main bar, it sports a beer garden and the so-called RAF bar, at the rear, with graffiti of World War II airmen covering the ceiling and walls.
But what makes The Eagle so famous – it is a birthplace of DNA. The story goes that when the university’s Cavendish Laboratory was still at its old site at nearby Free School Lane, the pub was a popular lunch destination for staff working there. Thus, it became the place where Francis Crick interrupted patrons’ lunchtime on 28 February 1953 to announce that he and James Watson had “discovered the secret of life” after they had come up with their proposal for the structure of DNA. Today the pub serves a special ale to acknowledge the discovery, dubbed “Eagle’s DNA” and it was a perfect place to bring my husband for post-dinner drinks.
Across the street from The Eagle is St. Bene’t’s Church – an Anglo-Saxon part church-part tower structure – the oldest church in Cambridgeshire and the oldest building in Cambridge (Bene’t is a contraction of Benedict, hence the unusual apostrophe in the name).
St Bene’t’s Anglo-Saxon tower was “most probably” built in 1020-1025, although the present bell-openings were added in 1586. The tower has characteristically Anglo-Saxon long-and-short quoins. Inside the church the 11th-century arch supporting the tower is the most notable feature. In the 13th century the chancel was altered, hence the deeply splayed Early English Gothic lancet windows on the south side. The nave and aisles were rebuilt in about 1300, while the sedilia and piscina in the chancel in 14th-century, with Decorated Gothic ogeed arches. St. Bene’t’s Church once had a well (later, a hand water-pump) that provided the town residents with water, though the quality of water could be questionable since it was pumped straight from the cemetery’s ground.
St Bene’t’s has one monumental brass: a small kneeling figure of Richard Billingford, who died in 1442 and had been Master of Corpus Christi College 1398–1432. Note, St Bene’t’s was the College’s chapel until 1579.
From the St. Bene’t’s Church, we turned left to a narrow yet historical street lined with similar looking townhouses – Free School Lane.
*the back of the Old Court of the Corpus Christi College.
Two buildings on this street were of a particular interest to us. One was an unassuming white residential building and the second, the original site of the world famous Cavendish Laboratory. The white townhouse was a home of a young lady named Alice Gillam Bell and her family. I doubt her name tells you anything, but once she married Sir Charles Todd, the whole world got to know her name. In 1855, Charles and his 18 y.o wife Alice moved from Cambridge to Adelaide, Australia. Sir Todd was to construct the first telegraph line across Australia and to become the head of the Electric Telegraph Department of Australia, while the third largest town in the Northern Territory in Australia was named Alice Springs, after Lady Alice Todd.
The second building of interest is the Cavendish Laboratory which has an extraordinary history of discovery and innovation in Physics since its opening in 1874 under the direction of James Clerk Maxwell, the University’s first Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics. Up till that time, physics meant theoretical physics and was regarded as the province of the mathematicians. The outstanding experimental contributions of Isaac Newton, Thomas Young and George Gabriel Stokes were all carried out in their colleges. The need for the practical training of scientists and engineers was emphasized by the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the requirements of an industrial society. And this need to build dedicated experimental physics laboratories was achieved through the generosity of the Chancellor of the University, William Cavendish, the Seventh Duke of Devonshire. He provided £6,300 to meet the costs of building a physics laboratory, on condition that the Colleges provided the funding for a Professorship of Experimental Physics. This led to the appointment of Maxwell as the first Cavendish professor.
Since its foundation, the Laboratory has had great fortune in appointing Cavendish professors who, between them, have changed completely our understanding of the physical world. Maxwell did not live to see his theories of electricity, magnetism and statistical physics fully confirmed by experiment, but his practical legacy was the design and equipping of the new Laboratory. Maxwell died in 1879 at the early age of 48 and was succeeded by Lord Rayleigh, who was responsible for setting up a systematic course of instruction in experimental physics, which has remained at the core of the Laboratory’s teaching programme.
JJ Thomson succeeded Rayleigh in 1884 and began the revolution in physics which was to lead to the discovery of quantum mechanics in the 1920s. During Thomson’s long tenure, the University allowed students from outside Cambridge to study for the new degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1895. Among the first generation of physics graduate students were Ernest Rutherford and Charles Wilson, who, along with JJ Thomson, were to win Nobel prizes for their researches. The discovery of the electron by Thomson, the invention of the Cloud chamber by Wilson, the discovery of artificial nuclear fission by Rutherford are examples of the extraordinary advances in experimental technique which ushered in what became known as modern physics.
In 1919, Thomson was succeeded by his former student Rutherford, under whose tenure Francis Aston discovered the isotopes of the chemical elements, Patrick Blackett first photographed artificial nuclear interactions, James Chadwick discovered the neutron and John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton carried out the experiment which produced the first controlled nuclear disintegrations induced by accelerated high energy particles, as well as proving experimentally for the first time that E = mc2.
Lawrence Bragg succeeded Rutherford as Cavendish professor in 1938 and developed the use of X-ray crystallography as an extraordinarily powerful tool for understanding the structure of biological molecules. The culmination of these studies was the determination of the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule by Francis Crick and James Watson. The scope of physics continued to expand with the push to very low temperatures through research conducted in the Mond Laboratory and to very high energies with the construction of the next generation of particle accelerators.
Bragg was succeed by Nevill Mott in 1954 and under his leadership, many pioneering studies were carried out in what is now be termed condensed matter physics, including his own work on amorphous semiconductors which was to lead to his Nobel prize. The Laboratory continued to expand at a great rate until the site in central Cambridge became so overcrowded that a move to a new green-field site in West Cambridge, managed by Brian Pippard, Mott’s successor as Cavendish Professor in 1971, was deemed necessary.
The move was completed in 1974 and a completely new phase of discovery began. Large facilities were developed in radio astronomy and semiconductor physics, which continue to be frontier areas of research within the Laboratory. Completely new disciplines were fostered. With Sam Edward‘s appointment as Pippard’s successor in 1984, soft condensed matter became a major component of the Laboratory’s programme. This led in turn to major initiatives in biological physics and the physics of medicine. Polymer semiconductor physics has flourished under Edwards’ successor Richard Friend. In the first decade of the 21st century, new frontiers have been opened up in the areas of nanotechnology, cold atoms and ultra-low temperature physics.
As of 2011, 29 Cavendish researchers have won Nobel Prizes, so I can tell with 100% assurance that it was the most important building in a whole of Cambridge. From there, through picturesque streets of Cambridge we proceeded to the Queens’ College.
Queens’ College was founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou (the Queen of Henry VI), and re-founded in 1465 by Elizabeth Woodville (the Queen of Edward IV). This dual foundation is reflected in its orthography: Queens’; although the full name is “The Queen’s College of St Margaret and St Bernard”. By 1460 the library, chapel, gatehouse and the President’s lodge were completed and the chapel licensed for service. Between that time and the early 1600s many improvements were made and new buildings constructed, including the Walnut Tree Building, which was completed in 1618. Since then the college has refurbished most of its old building and steadily expanded. Ever since, Queens’ College has some of the most recognizable buildings in Cambridge combining medieval and modern architecture in extensive gardens. It is also one of only two colleges in which buildings straddle both sides of the River Cam (the other being St John’s) colloquially referred to as the “light side” and the “dark side”, with the world-famous Mathematical Bridge connecting the two.
After crossing the bridge, we appeared in the Cloister court which houses the President’s lodge – the oldest building on the river at Cambridge (ca. 1460). The Cloister walks were erected in the 1490s to connect the Old Court of 1448-9 with the riverside buildings of the 1460s, thus forming the Cloister court. Essex Building, in the corner of the court, was erected 1756–60, is so named after its builder, James Essex the Younger, a local carpenter who had earlier erected the wooden bridge. The tower of Cloister Court is where famous Dutch scholar and reformer Desiderius Erasmus lodged from 1510 to 1514. He had plenty to say about Cambridge: the wine tested like vinegar, the beer was slop and the place was too expensive, but he did note that the local women were good kissers.
Through a doorway, we passed to the Old Court, which was built between 1448 and 1451. Stylistic matters suggest that this was designed by and built under the direction of the master mason Reginald Ely, who was also at the same time erecting the original Old Court of King’s College (now part of the University Old Schools opposite Clare College), and the start of King’s College Chapel. Whereas King’s was built using very expensive stone, Queens’ Old Court was made using cheaper clunch with a red brick skin. Queens’ was finished within two years, whereas King’s Old Court was never finished, and the chapel took nearly a century to build.
Since 1940s, the present student library is War Memorial Library. It was formerly the original chapel, part of Old Court and it was named in honor of Queens’ College alumni and members who died in the service of World War Two. The Old Library, built in 1448, was a part of Old Court, and is sitting between the President’s Lodge and the original chapel. It is one of the earliest purpose-built libraries in Cambridge. It houses a collection of nearly 20,000 manuscripts and printed books. It is especially notable because nearly all printed books remain in their original bindings, due to the fact that Queens’ has never been wealthy enough to afford re-binding all their books in a uniform manner, as was the fashion in the 18th century. It is also notable because it contains of the earliest English celestial globes, owned once by Queens’ fellow of mathematics Sir Thomas Smith (1513–1577), and because its medieval lecterns were refashioned into bookshelves, still present today.
The next court, Walnut Tree Court, was erected 1616–1618. Walnut Tree Building on the East side of the court dates from around 1617 and was the work of the architects Gilbert Wragge and Henry Mason at a cost of £886.9s. Only the ground floor of the original construction remains after a fire in 1777, so it was rebuilt from the first floor upwards between 1778–1782, and battlements were added to it in 1823. This court was formerly the site of a Carmelite monastery founded in 1292, but is now the location of the College Chapel and various fellows’ rooms. The present walnut tree in the court stands on the line of a former wall of the monastery, and was a replacement from an older one in the same position after which the court was named.
The College Chapel in Walnut Tree Court was designed by George Frederick Bodley and consecrated in 1891. It follows the traditional College Chapel form of an aisle-less nave with rows of pews on either side, following the plan of monasteries, reflecting the origins of many Colleges as a place for training priests for the ministry. The triptych of paintings on the altarpiece panel may have originally been part of a set of five paintings, are late 15th Century Flemish, and are attributed to the ‘master of the View of St Gudule’. They depict, from left to right, the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Resurrection of Jesus, and Christ’s Appearance to the Disciples.
Queens’ College has another two courts – Friar’s Court (built in 1886) and more modern Cripps Court (1972 and 1988) which serve mostly as the accommodation facilities for the students and Fellows. After spending a very entertaining 45 minutes in the Queens’ College, via Trumpington Street, we proceeded to the King’s College Chapel. We stopped by the gate of St. Catherine’s College where the guide gave us a few interesting facts about this college.
Founded in 1473, the St. Catherine’s College is often referred to by the nickname “Catz”. Robert Woodlark, Provost of King’s College, had begun preparations for the founding of a new college as early as 1459 when he bought tenements on which the new college could be built. The preparation cost him a great deal of his private fortune (he was suspected of diverting King’s College funds), and he was forced to scale down the foundation to only three Fellows. He stipulated that they must study theology and philosophy only. As the College entered the 17th century, it was still one of the smallest colleges in Cambridge. However, rapid growth in the fellowship and undergraduate population made it necessary to expand the college, and short-lived additions were made in 1622. By 1630 the College began to demolish its existing buildings which were decaying, and started to build a new court. In 1637 the College came into possession of the George Inn (later the Bull Inn) on Trumpington Street. Behind this Inn was a stables which was already famous for the practice of its manager, Thomas Hobson, not to allow a hirer to take any horse other than the one longest in the stable, leading to the expression “Hobson’s choice”, meaning no choice at all.
The period of 1675 to 1757 saw the redevelopment of the college’s site into a large three-sided court, one of only four at Oxbridge colleges.
While we were passing by the St. Mary’s church, our guide pointed at the Gonville and Caius College (pronounced “Keys”), located on the north-west corner of the square. Sadly, it was closed for visitors but its story was so fascinating that it did require an additional visit. The college was founded twice – first time, as Gonville Hall, by Edmund Gonville, Rector of Terrington St Clement in Norfolk in 1348, making it the fourth-oldest surviving college. When Gonville died three years later, he left a struggling institution with almost no money.
By the sixteenth century, the college had fallen into disrepair, and in 1557 it was re-founded by Royal Charter as Gonville and Caius College by the physician John Caius. John Caius was master of the college from 1559 until shortly before his death in 1573. He provided the college with significant funds and greatly extended the buildings. During his time as Master, Caius accepted no payment but insisted on several unusual rules. He insisted that the college admit no scholar who “is deformed, dumb, blind, lame, maimed, mutilated, a Welshman, or suffering from any grave or contagious illness, or an invalid, that is sick in a serious measure”. Caius also built a three-sided court, Caius Court, “lest the air from being confined within a narrow space should become foul”. Caius did, however, found the college as a strong centre for the study of medicine, a tradition that it aims to keep to this day. Its famous alumni include Francis Crick (joint discoverer, along with James Watson, of the structure of DNA), Sir James Chadwick (discoverer of the neutron) and Sir Howard Florey (developer of penicillin). Stephen Hawking, previously Cambridge’s Lucasian Chair of Mathematics Emeritus, is a current fellow of the college, ironically and despite Caius’ rules, this megastar of astrophysics is wheelchair-bound.
The college is of particular interest thanks to its three fascinating gates: Virtue, Humility and Honor. They symbolize the progress of the good students, since the third gate (the Porta Honoris) leads to the Senate House and thus – graduation.
The entrance to the King’s College Chapel is from the Senate House Passage, immediate left at the Gonville and Caius College. We didn’t go inside the King’s college but its world-recognizable structure and overwhelming presence in Cambridge requires elaboration about the history and background of this college.
The young king Henry VI laid the foundation stone of the “King’s College of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas in Cambridge” aka The King’s College on Passion Sunday, 1441. King’s College was one of his two “royal and religious” foundations, the other being Eton College. Both colleges were to admit a maximum of 70 scholars and the boys from Eton being guaranteed automatic and exclusive entry into King’s (the college statutes were amended only in 1861 allowing non-Etonian members as well). Henry drew up detailed instructions for the building of a Great Court, but only the Chapel was ever finished, and even that took nearly a century. After Henry’s murder in the Tower of London in 1471 the completion of the Chapel was made possible through the patronage of subsequent kings, most conspicuously Richard III, of Shakespearean notoriety, and Henry VII. It was finally finished in 1544 during the reign of King Henry VIII.
There are six Nobel laureates who were either students or fellows of King’s, but the most famous person associated with King’s is John Maynard Keynes.
So, King’s College Chapel is seen as emblematic of Cambridge and regarded as one of the greatest examples of late Gothic English architecture. It has the world’s largest fan-vault ceiling, and the chapel’s stained-glass windows and wooden chancel screen are considered some of the finest from their era. The architect of the chapel is disputed. Reginald Ely, who was commissioned in 1444 as the head press mason, was a possible architect of the chapel. However, Nicholas Close (or Cloos), was recorded as being the surveyor, which has been generally accepted to be synonymous with architect. Despite its apparent unity of style from the outside, the King’s Chapel is a product of three separate periods of construction, as is evidenced by the changes in the external stone coloring (from white magnesian limestone to buff-colored oolitic limestone) which were the result of interruption to the building work during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485). Internally the contrasts are even greater.
The simplicity of the decoration in the Choir which Henry VI had expressly desired was not followed through in the Ante-Chapel, with its plethora of Tudor devices – portcullises, Tudor roses and the like. The Tudors had, after all, just won a long civil war. John Wastell, the master mason responsible for finishing the stonework of the building, discarded the plans for a conventional lierne vault, and replaced it with the breath-taking fan vault – the largest of its kind in the world.
The windows of King’s College Chapel (completed in 1531) are some of the finest in the world from their era. There are 12 large windows on each side of the chapel, and larger windows at the east and west ends (26 in total). The upper windows represent the Old Testament, while the lower – New Testament. With the exception of the west window they are by Flemish hands and date from 1515 to 1531. The one modern window is that in the west wall, which is by the Clayton and Bell company and dates from 1879.
This large, dark oak Screen, which separates the nave from the altar and houses the chapel organ, was erected in 1533–1536 by King Henry VIII of England in celebration of his marriage to Anne Boleyn and bears his initials and whose of the queen. Oddly, in 1533 Henry VIII married Anne, and 1536, he had her executed. The screen is an example of early Renaissance architecture, which is a striking contrast to the Perpendicular Gothic chapel, and it was said to be “the most exquisite piece of Italian decoration surviving in England”.
Under the Organ Screen, we proceeded into the Choir. On each side are Stalls, of varying degrees of grandeurs, from the plain to the highly ornate. The Great East Window, depicting the passion and crucifixion of Christ, was the last to be completed. On the Sanctuary Altar stands another spectacular gift to the college – “The Adoration of the Magi”, painted by Rubens in 1634 for the Convent of the White Nuns at Louvain in Belgium, generously donated to the College by A.E. Allnatt in 1961, for the installation of which the East End of the Chapel was re-ordered and the floor level lowered.
The chapel’s choir, composed of male students at King’s and choristers from the nearby King’s College School, is one of the most accomplished and renowned in the world. Every year on Christmas Eve the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (a service devised specifically for King’s by college dean Eric Milner-White) is broadcast from the chapel to millions of listeners worldwide.
If all these aren’t enough, there are also Chapel of All Souls, St. Edward’s Chapel, Chapel Exhibition Tomb Chapel and the Whichcote Chapel.
When we left the King’s College Chapel, the guide pointed at the Cambridge University Press Book shop on the north-east corner of the St. Mary’s Church square, noting that in 1583 opposite to this site the first book was printed by Cambridge University Press in a line of printing which ran unbroken until 2013. This has also been the longest continuously operating bookshop site in England where books were first sold in the 1580s. The blue plaque on the wall confirmed all of the above. (Ok, I admit, Cambridge University Press is the world’s oldest publishing house, but it is the second-largest university press in the world, after Oxford University Press).
Our two-hour tour ran late because many of us had questions and comments about the fascinating history and jaw-dropping architecture of Cambridge’s old colleges. At 13.30 I met my husband and while munching on a sandwich, briefly walked him through all the public places I passed through with a group just a few hours earlier. At 14.00 we started the second hour-long tour of the day – Corpus Christi College and the Parker Library.
Corpus Christi College is notable as the only college founded by Cambridge townspeople: it was established in 1352 by the Guild of Corpus Christi and the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, making it the sixth-oldest college in Cambridge. Both guilds were harshly hit by the Black Death, so they merged in 1349, acquired land in the centre of town and their patron, the Duke of Lancaster, applied to King Edward III for a license to found a new college. Construction began immediately of a single modest court near the parish church and in 1356 it was ready to house the Master and two fellows. The united guild merged its identity with the new college, which acquired all the guild’s lands, ceremonies (some of which exist today), and revenues.
In its early centuries, the college was relatively poor and so could not construct new buildings; thus Old Court has survived to the present day. As I mentioned earlier, its members worshipped in St Bene’t’s Church next door, since they had no chapel. By 1376 it possessed 55 books, and many more would be donated or bequeathed over the succeeding centuries, including, most significantly, those donated in the 16th century by Archbishop Matthew Parker, who is celebrated by the college as its greatest benefactor.
It was during the time of Protestant Reformation that Matthew Parker became Master. He donated his unrivaled library to the college, much silver plate and its symbol, the pelican. In order to ensure the safety of his collection Parker inserted into the terms of his endowment conditions which stated that if any more than a certain number of books were lost, the rest of the collection would pass first to Gonville and Caius College and then (in the event of any more losses) to Trinity Hall. Till now, every few years, representatives from both of those colleges ceremonially inspect the collection for any losses. Parker placed a similar condition on the silver that he bequeathed to the college and these stipulations are part of the reason why Corpus Christi College retains to this day the entirety of the library and the silver collection: they were unable to sell off (or melt down) the less valuable parts of either collection without losing both. So assiduous was Archbishop Parker in his acquisition of books and manuscripts he earned himself the epithet of “Nosey Parker”, bringing about a phrase still used today. Parker was forced to resign as Master in 1553 by the accession of Mary I but was elected Archbishop of Canterbury upon the succession of Elizabeth I.
Entry to this illustrious college is from the New Court, but let me start with a history of the Old Court. Built in the 1350s, it contains some of Cambridge’s oldest buildings, and retains many of its original features, such as sills and jambs used to hold oil-soaked linen in the days prior to the arrival of glass. The court is the oldest continually inhabited courtyard in the country (a claim disputed by Merton College, Oxford, which says the same of its Mob Quad). It is possibly built from the core of an even older building. Four sided, it typifies the model of construction of the colleges in Oxford or Cambridge. Due to its age the rooms are large and contain antique furniture but lack basic facilities and plumbing.
There is a large plaque, on the northern wall, dedicated to Christopher Marlowe and John Fletcher, both famous playwrights who studied at Corpus. Standing inside Old Court one can see the tower of St Bene’t’s Church, the oldest building in Cambridge, and the Old Cavendish Laboratory. Around 1500, the master, Thomas Cosyn built a brick gallery which connects Old Court with St. Benet’s Church; the gallery is now part of an Old Court room set.
New Court (completed 1827) was designed by William Wilkins, who is buried in the vaults of the college chapel. Although he went on to design the curtain wall in front of King’s College and the National Gallery in London, he considered Corpus to be his favorite work and requested to be buried in the Chapel. A plaque commemorating him is in the entrance to the Parker Library within the court. This court also housed the Butler Library, the college’s student library, directly below the Parker Library. Upon completion of the building works in 2008, it relocated to the new Library Court and was renamed the Taylor Library after the project’s main benefactor John Taylor. New Court was built to symbolize the harmony between the mind, body and soul with the Parker Library on the right representing the mind, the Hall and kitchens on the left representing the body and the Chapel in the centre representing the soul. As you enter, take a look at the statue on the right, that of the eponymous Matthew Parker.
The current chapel is the third the college has had and was completed in 1827 along with the rest of New Court. It was also designed by William Wilkins, but includes some medieval glass and features, including the fellows’ stalls, several memorials and the floor of the older Elizabethan Chapel, which was demolished in the construction of New Court. The first four stained glass windows date to around 1500 and are believed to come from the Abbey of Mariawald in Germany which had been dissolved by Napoleon. Hanging on the South wall is a depiction of the Madonna and Child by 17th Century artist Elisabetta Sirani. The Chapel also features an icon, something unusual for an Oxbridge college – the depiction of the Christ Pantocrator was painted for the college by a Greek Orthodox monk and is used as a focus for meditation.
The Chapel was extended in the late 19th Century to make room for increasing student numbers and the chancel dates from this time. The ceiling, which had been a stone fan ribbed vault like the ceiling of the college gatehouse, was replaced by the painted wooden ceiling still in place today.
Another item, related to the Corpus Christi College but isn’t visible from the inside, is a clock. In 2005, the lease of the bank adjacent to Corpus expired and the college reclaimed it to begin construction of Library Court. On 19 September 2008, physicist Stephen Hawking unveiled a new clock called the Chronophage, which means “Time Eater” in Greek. It is situated facing onto the corner of King’s Parade and Trumpington where the old entrance to the bank used to be. Made of 24-carat gold, it displays the time through a series of concentric LED lights. The clock is unusual not only because of its design (a hideous-looking hopper or “time-eater” crawls across the top), but also because it is only accurate once every 5 minutes. At other times it slows or stops and then speeds up, which according to its creator, John Taylor, reflects life’s irregularity. The clock is neon lit at night and is extremely popular with tourists.
The second part of the tour was dedicated to the Parker Library. Its collection was begun in 1376 and much improved by a bequest from Matthew Parker, the college’s Master between 1544 and 1553, who formed a fine collection of manuscripts from the libraries of dissolved monasteries. He served as chaplain to Anne Boleyn, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559–1575. Parker one of the architects of the Elizabethan Settlement and the modern Church of England, keenly interested in collecting and preserving manuscripts from Anglo-Saxon England as evidence of an ancient English-speaking church independent of Rome. Parker wished to demonstrate an apostolic succession for the English Church. The original gift from Parker consisted of about 480 manuscripts (currently the collection comprises over 600 manuscripts) and around 1000 printed books spanning the 6th–16th centuries. It is one of the finest and most important collections of medieval manuscripts in the world.
Its most famous possession is the Canterbury Gospels, probably brought to England by St Augustine, when he was sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the people of Britain in 598 AD. The Gospels are still used in the enthronement of the Archbishops of Canterbury today and are transported to and from Canterbury by the Master and college representatives. The library houses a significant proportion of all extant Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, including the earliest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (c. 890), the Old English Bede, and King Alfred’s translation of Pastoral Care (a manual for priests), as well as the Latin St. Augustine Gospels, one of the oldest bound books in existence. The collection also includes key Middle English texts, such as the Ancrene Wisse, the Brut Chronicle and Geoffrey Chaucer‘s Troilus and Criseyde. Other items include medieval travelogues and maps, apocalypses, bestiaries, one of the oldest pieces of extant written music, and illuminated manuscripts, such as the Bury Bible (c. 1135) and the Chronica Majora by Matthew Paris (c. 1250), to name only a few.
Important to mention, since Corpus maintains its impressive collection of silver, an unrivaled collection of manuscripts and massive collection of rare wines and ports, it is rumored to be the Cambridge’s richest college per student.
After the tour, D. had to go back to his training, but I, overwhelmed with knowledge and full of wonderful impressions, continued exploring the town. First, I visited the St. Botolph’s Parish Church, located at the junction of Silver Street and Trumpington Street. The Church is dedicated to St Botolph, a seventh century abbot in East Anglia, who is the patron saint of travelers. The church was the south gate of medieval Cambridge, through which travelers from London entered the town. It was also the first church reached by travelers from the west who crossed the Cam where Silver Street Bridge now stands.
Norman and Saxon churches stood on the site prior to the existing church, which was built in 1350. The tower, which is crowned with carved symbols of the four Evangelists, was added in the next century. The four bells were cast in 1460 and at about the same time, the carved Rood Screen was added. This is now the only medieval Rood Screen remaining in the ancient parish churches of Cambridge. On it are painted panels depicting the angel announcing to Mary that she is to bear the child Jesus. These paintings date from the late 19th Century.
The north window in the Chancel is a memorial to Dr. Campion, Rector of St Botolph’s (1862-1890) and subsequently President of Queens’ College. It shows St Botolph between St Bernard and St Margaret, the two patron saints of Queens’. Other windows in the Church bear representations as follows: over the altar, the Ascension of Christ; in the North Aisle, Faith, Hope and Charity and the Crucifixion; in the South Aisle, the Annunciation, and the Nativity and Baptism of Christ; and in the South Chapel, St George and St Michael, created in 1922 by famous artist Rachel Tancock.
The Chancel was rebuilt in the 19th century by the Victorian architect George Bodley. This work includes the beautiful decorated ceiling and Rood Screen paintings, which have just been completely restored. Bodley also designed the lectern, which was given to the church in memory of the Cambridge builder Kett. There is a memorial to Darwin by the vestry door. Darwin’s family were parishioners of St Botolph’s. The diagram below shows a plan of St Botolph’s, indicating in which period each part of the church was constructed.
Just two minutes walk south along Trumpington Street, on the left side, you will see the Parish Church of Little St. Mary’s. There has been a place of worship on the current site since around the twelfth century. The earliest known records of the church state that the first church here, called St Peter-without-Trumpington Gate, was controlled by three successive generations of the same family until 1207. After that date it was given to the Hospital of St John the Evangelist and served by chaplains from that foundation.
In the 1280s, the Bishop of Ely lodged some scholars in the Hospital but to his dismay found soon that the sick and the students could not live in harmony together. The students were moved in 1284 to the site of what is now Peterhouse (the first Cambridge college). By the 1340s, the church was in such a bad state that the fellows of Peterhouse decided to rebuild it. In 1352, the new building had the dual purpose of College Chapel (to Peterhouse) and Parish Church. At this time, it was rededicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1632, Peterhouse built a separate Chapel and St Mary the Less reverted to being a Parish Church.
Richard Crashaw the metaphysical poet, was a priest there from 1638 to 1643, at the same time that he was a Fellow of Peterhouse. A few years after his departure, many of the Church’s ornaments and statues were damaged or destroyed by the Puritan extremist William Dowsing. Abraham Baker and his three wives, Ann, Elizabeth Cropley and Margaret Tillet, and nine of his thirteen children are buried at the church. He was Churchwarden in 1677 when he purchased the parish register book, which is now held in the Cambridge Record Office.
The damage to the sedilia and the entrance to the Lady Chapel has never been repaired. In 1741 the church was refitted with wooden panelling, box pews, choir gallery, and the present pulpit. From 1856–57 Sir George Gilbert Scott restored the church and removed the 18th-century panelling, but by 1880 the church was much as it is now. The south, or Lady Chapel, was added in 1931, while the Parish Centre at the west end of the church was built in 1892 and then enlarged.
Little St. Mary’s Church is a memorial to Peterhouse student Godfrey Washington, great-uncle of George Washington, the first president of the US. His family coat of arms was the stars and stripes, the inspiration for the US flag. Oddly enough, I was the only visitor at the church but not the only “person” there, a playful gorgeous cat accompanied me through the rooms and graveyard for the entire time.
It wasn’t even 16.00, so I had over an hour to check out one of the highlights of Cambridge – The Fitzwilliam Museum (The Museum plan), which is free and located less than 5 minutes walk from the Little Mary’s Church.
This colossal neoclassical building was one of the first public art museums in Britain, built to house the fabulous treasures that the 7th Viscount FitzWilliam had bequeathed to his old university in 1816. The bequest also included £100,000 “to cause to be erected a good substantial museum repository”. The unabashedly over-the-top building, it sets out to mirror its contents in an ostentatious jumble of styles that mixes mosaic with marble, Greek with Egyptian and more. The “Founder’s Building” itself was designed by George Basevi in 1837, but he didn’t live to see its completion: while working on Ely Cathedral he stepped back to admire his handiwork, slipped and fell to his death. It was completed by C. R. Cockerell and opened in 1848 (the entrance hall is by Edward Middleton Barry and was completed in 1875).
The lower galleries are filled with priceless treasures from ancient Egyptian sarcophagi to Greek and Roman art, Chinese ceramics to English glass, and some dazzling illuminated manuscripts. The upper galleries showcase works by Leonardo da Vinci, Titan, Rubens, the Impressionists, right through Rembrandt and Picasso.
Knowing how tiring museums can be, I spent remarkably beautiful 90 minutes there, without rushing and devoting enough time to objects I had interest in. Loaded with inevitable pile of art and museum’s books, at 17.30 I headed back to the Christ’s College to take a shower, change and go out for dinner and drinks with D. As I mentioned above, the Fitz isn’t the only museum in town, it has many more – click for additional information Museums 1 and Museums 2.
For an early dinner, we chose Strada, an Italian restaurant next to Trinity College. We had simple but delicious meal in their outdoor gallery.
After the dinner, as I promised D., we went to the Eagle Pub to try some ale and experience the pub’s magic ambience. It wasn’t late but the place was packed and even though the table were Watson and Crick “discovered” DNA was occupied, we placed ourselves nearby and enjoying one pint for both of us. Still jet-lagged, I managed to hang out for a bit, but was happy to go back to the dorm and get some sleep.
July 18, 2014
We were leaving for Oxford in mid day, so I had an entire morning to see some other colleges and churches. Unfortunately, the Trinity College was closed for visitors, so I continued the same route to the St. John’s College. I visited it at my own pace, checking every corner of it, maybe that is why I found this college to be one of the most beautiful in Cambridge. St. John’s College was founded on the site of the 13th century Hospital of St John in Cambridge at the suggestion of Saint John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and chaplain to Lady Margaret. However, Lady Margaret died without having mentioned the foundation of St John’s in her will, and it was largely the work of Fisher that ensured that the college was founded, thus, the college received its charter on 9 April 1511. Over the course of the following five hundred years, the college expanded westwards towards the River Cam, and now has eleven courts, the most of any Oxford or Cambridge College. The first three courts are arranged in enfilade.
St John’s distinctive Great Gate follows the standard contemporary pattern employed previously at Christ’s College and Queens’ College (pictures above). The gatehouse is crenelated and adorned with the arms of the foundress Lady Margaret Beaufort. Above these are displayed her ensigns, the Red Rose of Lancaster and Portcullis. The college arms are flanked by curious creatures known as yales, mythical beasts with elephants’ tails, antelopes’ bodies, goats’ heads, and swiveling horns. Above them is a tabernacle containing a socle figure of St John the Evangelist, an Eagle at his feet and symbolic, poisoned chalice in his hands.
First Court is entered via the Great Gate, and is highly architecturally varied. First Court was converted from the hospital on the foundation of the college, and constructed between 1511 and 1520. Though it has since been gradually changed, the front (east) range is still much as it appeared when first erected in the 16th-century. The south range was refaced between 1772–76 in the Georgian style by the local architect James Essex. The most dramatic alteration to the original, Tudor court however remains the Victorian amendment of the north range, which involved the demolition of the original mediaeval chapel and the construction of a new, far larger set of buildings in the 1860s. These included the Chapel – the tallest building in Cambridge. Parts of First Court were used as a prison in 1643 during the English Civil War.
Second Court, built from 1598 to 1602, has been described as ‘the finest Tudor court in England’. Built atop the demolished foundations of an earlier, far smaller court, Second Court was begun in 1598 to the plans of Ralph Symons of Westminster, and Gilbert Wigge of Cambridge. Their original architectural drawings are housed in the college’s library, and are the oldest surviving plans for an Oxford or Cambridge college building. It was financed by Mary Talbot, the Countess of Shrewsbury, whose arms and statue (added in 1671) stand above the court’s western gatehouse. Behind the Oriel window of the north range, one of the sticking features of the court, lies the Long Gallery, a promenading room that was, prior to its segmentation, 148 feet long. In this room, the treaty between England and France was signed that established the marriage of King Charles I of England to Queen Henrietta Maria. In the 1940s, parts of the D-day landings were planned there. Second Court is also home to the college’s famous ‘triple set’, K6.
Third Court is entered through Shrewsbury Tower, which from 1765 to 1859 housed an observatory. Each of its ranges was built in a different style. The Old Library was built in 1624, largely with funds donated by John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln. The Library’s fine bay window overlooks the River Cam, and bears the letters ILCS on it, standing for Iohannes Lincolniensis Custos Sigilli, or John of Lincoln, Keeper of the Seal. The original intention of the college had been to construct an elegant, classical building supported by pillared porticos, but Bishop William insisted on a more traditional design. Thus, though the college lays claim to few examples of neo-classical design, the college Library stands as one of the earliest examples of English neo-Gothic architecture. Following the completion of the college library, the final sides of Third Court were added between 1669 and 1672, after the college had recovered from the trauma of the English Civil War. The additions included a fine set of Dutch-gabled buildings backing onto the River Cam, and a ‘window-with-nothing-behind-it’ that was designed to solve the problem of connecting the windowed library with the remainder of the court.
The bridge connecting Third Court to New Court, originally known as New Bridge, is now commonly known as the Bridge of Sighs (designed by Henry Hutchinson). Built in 1831, it is one of the most photographed buildings in Cambridge, and was described by the visiting Queen Victoria as “so pretty and picturesque”. It is a single-span bridge of stone with highly decorative Neo-Gothic covered footwalk over with traceried openings. There is a three bay arcade at the East end of the bridge.
The 19th century neo-Gothic New Court, probably one of the best known buildings in Cambridge, was the first major building built by any of the colleges on the west side of the river. Designed by Thomas Rickman and Henry Hutchinson, New Court was built between 1826 and 1831 to accommodate the college’s rapidly increasing numbers of students. It is a three-sided court of tall Gothic Revival buildings, closed on the fourth side by an open, seven-bayed cross-vaulted cloister and gateway. It is four stories high, has battlements and is pinnacled. The main portal has a fan vault with a large octagonal pendant, and the interior of the main building retains many of its original features including ribbed plaster ceilings in the mock-Gothic style. Its prominent location (especially when seen from the river) and flamboyant design have led it to be nicknamed “The Wedding Cake”. Hutchinson was suitably proud of his creation, and it is said that he once dashed up a staircase to reprimand an undergraduate for spoiling its symmetry by sitting too near one of its windows. It was by far one of the most beautiful buildings in Cambridge and its proximity to the river and surreal quietness and tranquility of the Backs, made it my absolutely favorite.
I exited the John’s College through its Chapel, located in the north west-corner of First Court. It was constructed between 1866 and 1869 to replace the smaller, mediaeval chapel which dated back to the 13th century. When in 1861 the college’s administration decided that a new building was needed, Sir George Gilbert Scott was selected as architect. He had recently finished work on the chapel at Exeter College, Oxford, and went about constructing the chapel of St John’s College along similar lines, drawing inspiration from the Church of Saint Chapelle in Paris.
The Chapel’s benefactor Henry Hoare died in a railway accident and left the college £3000 short of his expected benefaction, hence the tower (50 m high and the tallest structure in Cambridge) was completed, replete with louvres but left without bells. It is based on Pershore Abbey. The Chapel’s antechamber contains statues of Margaret Beaufort and John Fisher. Inside the building is a stone-vaulted antechapel, at the end of which hangs a ‘Deposition of the Cross’ by Anton Rafael Mengs, completed around 1777. The misericordes and panelling date from 1516, and were salvaged from the old chapel. The chapel contains some fifteenth-century glass, but most was cast by Clayton and Bell, Hardman, and Wailes, in around 1869. Freestanding statues and plaques commemorate college benefactors such as James Wood, Master 1815–39, as well as alumni including William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and William Gilbert. The college tower is accessible to climb via a small door on First Court, but I decided to pass.
Before leaving St. John’s College, let me remind you that its alumni include nine Nobel Prize winners, six prime ministers of various countries, three archbishops, at least two princes, and three Saints.
I turned left at the St. John’s Gate and proceeded towards the Round Church, which is more properly called The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was built around 1130 by the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre, who were probably a group of Austin canons. Its shape was inspired by the rotunda in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem and consisted of a round nave and an ambulatory, with a short chancel, probably in the shape of an apse. Throughout centuries, the church underwent multiple structural alterations, new, north and south, aisles were added. By the middle of the 13th century it had become a parish church under the patronage of Barnwell Priory, but by 1994 the congregation had grown too big to be accommodated and it moved to the nearby Church of St Andrew the Great.
I didn’t go inside (there was a fee) but comfortably sat down on one of the benches and read my travel guide. It is always interesting to observe different cities’ morning “routine” – pedestrians rushing to work, tourists wandering around, etc. My “Cambridge morning” consisted of drunks comfortably lounging in groups of 2-3 people on the benches and getting wasted on beer (which was in plain sight) and some hard liquor (which was hidden in the bags) as early as 10.30.
On the way back to Christ’s College, where I was supposed to meet D., I stopped by an iconic building which I have passed at least a half-dozen times in the last 3 days but never managed to get in – Great St. Mary’s Church (aka University Church). Just as every road goes to Rome, every street in Cambridge leads to St. Mary’s Church and its Square.
The first church on the site of the current one was built in 1205, but this was mostly destroyed by fire (attributed to the Jewish populations of the city) 9 July 1290 and then rebuilt. During its early years, the church was the property of the crown, but on 15 July 1342, the land was passed to King’s Hall and then to Trinity College, where it has rested since.
In the Middle Ages it became an official gathering place for meetings and debates for Cambridge University, but this ceased in 1730 when the University’s Senate House was built across the street. The present building was constructed between 1478 and 1519, with the tower finished later, in 1608. The cost of construction was covered largely by Richard III and Henry VII. The church is designed in the Late Perpendicular style. The stained glass is the work of Hardman and was added between 1867 and 1869. To accommodate the large audiences that were present for special occasions, and in particular the University Sermon, attendance of which was compulsory, the galleries were added in 1735. The church contains one of the few moveable pulpits in England. The hearse cloth of Henry VII is at the east end of the north aisle. The medieval font dates from 1632 and the sculpture, completed in 1960 by Alan Durst, behind the high altar is of Christ in Majesty.
Various leading philosophers of the English Reformation preached there, notably Erasmus. Martin Bucer, who influenced Thomas Cranmer‘s writing of the Book of Common Prayer, was buried there. Under Queen Mary, his corpse was burnt in the marketplace, but under Elizabeth I, the dust from the place of burning was replaced in the church and now lie under a brass floor plate in the south chancel.
One of the “must-do” things in Cambridge is to climb the tower of St. Mary’s church (119 steps), which is open daily from 10.00 to 17.30 and costs £3.90 per adult. The views from the roof-top are simply magnificent.
It was only noon, but I felt fully emerged in the beauty and history of this town. D. and I grabbed something easy to eat and decided to spent the last hour in Cambridge by visiting one of the colleges together. We asked locals and many of them recommended to visit the Emmanuel College, which was conveniently located next to the Christ’s College.
45 years prior to the establishment of Emmanuel college, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, its side had been occupied by a Dominican friary. The college, making use of the existing buildings, was founded in 1584 by Sir Walter Mildmay, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Elizabeth I. A Puritan, he intended Emmanuel to be a college of training for Protestant preachers.
Under Mildmay’s instruction, the chapel of the original Dominican Friary had been converted to be the College’s dining hall, with the friar’s dining hall becoming a puritan chapel. In the late 17th century, the College commissioned a new chapel, one of three buildings in Cambridge to be designed by Christopher Wren (1677). After Wren’s construction, the puritan chapel became the College library until it outgrew the space and a purpose-built library was constructed in 1930.
There is a large fish pond and a colony of ducks in the grounds, part of the legacy of the friary. The Fellows’ Garden contains a swimming pool, which was originally the friar’s bathing pool, making it one of the oldest bathing pools in Europe. Beautiful gardens and courts were a perfect setting for a fairy-tale wedding which was taking place on the same afternoon.
Emmanuel graduates had a large involvement in the settling of North America. Of the first 100 university graduates in New England, one-third were graduates of Emmanuel College. Harvard University, the first college in the United States, was organised on the model of Emmanuel, as it was then run. I was also named for John Harvard (B.A., 1632), an Emmanuel graduate.
And here we are 3 days later, equipped with all the knowledge and in possession of a few hundred stunning pictures. Cambridge still was the “other place” for me, but at least I dared to learn more about it and be able to judge for myself. Farewell, Cambridge!