“God! I will pack, and take a train, And get me to England once again! For England's the one land, I know, Where men with Splendid Hearts may go; And Cambridgeshire, of all England, The shire for Men who Understand.” Rupert Brooke, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester (1912)
Cambridge is a jewel in the crown of England's heritage. Renowned as a seat of learning, its colleges continue to hone some of the world's greatest intellects, its beauty to inspire poets and artists. A city steeped in history, Cambridge is also at the forefront of 21st century technology. It remains a magnet to those who desire both the experience of the old and the excitement of the new. Cambridge's main attractions are all within easy walking distance, best enjoyed with a lazy stroll around its famous streets. Visitors with more time on their hands can explore the surrounding villages and towns. The following are all within a 15-mile (25km) radius of Cambridge.
First-time visitors will wander anxiously, asking themselves, “Where's the university?” But
Many of the museums are also owned by the
Abandon the car as soon as you can to explore the
The City Edge
The village of Grantchester, immortalized in Rupert Brooke's poem, is a 45-minute walk south along the River Cam. It can also be reached by punt (or road). If the quiet charm isn't attraction enough, the village is well served by pubs and the famous Orchard tearooms.
Go from the Great War of Brooke's poetry to the Second World War; a 15-minute bicycle ride west of the city leads to the
The more energetic can follow the 16-mile
Expect few surprises from the local geography: hills are few and far between, and much of the land is given over to farming. However, the peaceful villages are attractive and welcoming, as is the picturesque Essex town of Saffron Walden (with nearby
Just 13 miles (21km) to the east of Cambridge lies Newmarket, the home of British horseracing. Visit the
Ely and the Fens
For centuries, the region north of Cambridge was untamed by man – treacherous marshes separated isles of higher ground. Drainage has changed this, leaving a flat landscape criss-crossed by rivers and canals, and the dark peat testifies to the fertility of the soil.
Huntingdon and St Ives
Photo by JP Oakar
Cambridge is considered a breeding ground for performing arts talent – but why not judge for yourself? For student-led performances (for example at the ADC Theatre, as well as in the many colleges), see the Listings sections of the two student newspapers The Cambridge Student and Varsity, for details of the plays and events showing during university term-time. As at Oxford, many a famous thesp has honed his or her craft at the university.
All year round drama is, of course, available at various locations throughout the city. The Cambridge Drama Centre, off Mill Road offers an alternative approach and concentrates on hosting productions from outside Cambridge.
By contrast, The Cambridge Arts Theatre (and The Playroom) in St Edward's Passage, offers mainstream theatre and the very best family orientated shows in town as well as more eclectic productions. The ADC Theatre on Park Street plays host to numerous productions – and also has at least 20 student shows a year, including themed productions at key times in the year (for example, Christmas), as well as comedy shows.
There are two cinemas in Cambridge: the multiplex style Warner Brothers Village (at The Grafton Centre) which offers all the latest blockbusters, and the Cambridge Arts Picture House on St Andrew's Street which shows a huge variety of less mainstream and foreign language films each week. Themed weeks are a specialty of this cinema, and its cafe and bar is particularly popular.
There are two main discos that regularly attract the largest crowds of partygoers, as they offer the liveliest and most varied sounds. 5th Avenue, more popularly known by its former name of Cindy's, remains a firm favorite; music ranges from 70s and 80s pop to dance, trance and funk. Dress smart at the weekend and expect to queue. Life, just off Sidney Street is popular with both town and gown. Again, there is a range of music on offer, depending on the night – pop, 70s and 80s disco, rock and dance.
If you're looking for mellow late night vibes, or just a change from the two large disco style clubs, then there's The Fez in Market Passage. There's plenty of seating for when you want a break and a good variety of music including salsa and hip-hop.
If you enjoy smaller, more chic clubs then you'll want to get down to Po Na Na in Jesus Lane, which caters for Latino, pop, funk, hip-hop and jazz in its funky basement setting. Of course, if you want even more choice you can always catch a fast train to the big city!
If you want to hear some great live music then explore the world outside the city centre. The Boat Race in East Road provides Cambridge with live music seven days a week and is wholly dedicated to providing performing space for local and touring bands. The Portland Arms on Chesterton Road has live bands – including funk, indie, traditional folk and pop – several days a week.
Various other venues include the following pubs which cater for a wide variety of musical tastes: Seven Stars on Newmarket Road and the Clarendon Arms in Clarendon Street, which has modern jazz every Wednesday night. For more jazz and blues, check out the Cricketers' Arms in Claredon Street and the Elm Tree in Orchard Street as well as the Claredon Arms near Parker's Piece.
For live folk music at the weekend there's Live and Let Live in Mawson Road.
Two excellent large venues stage a variety of music and comedy. The centrally located Corn Exchange on Wheeler Street, a former market hall, puts on regular opera, ballet, musicals, orchestral gigs and the majority of the city's major music band concerts. Further afield is The Junction in Clifton Road which is much more rock, indie, jazz and soul focused, though it also hosts a number of famous comedy and dance acts throughout the year. King's College in King's Parade, of course, is a favorite for choral and classical music, and is popular with many visiting artists. Lunchtime concerts, in everything from classical music to medieval Spanish singing, take place at Kettle's Yard.
Regular dance performances and musicals are staged at The Corn Exchange.
Kettle's Yard on Castle Street is a wonderfully preserved home linked with the Bloomsbury set and which now hosts a wide variety of artistic endeavours. The Fitzwilliam Museum has a marvellous collection of ceramics, art (Rubens, Monet, and Picasso), Egyptian galleries, illuminated manuscripts and classical statues. At the New Museums Site, Free School Lane, you'll discover the Cambridge University Collection of Air Photographs. There's also the Cambridge Medieval Brass Rubbing Centre to explore on Bridge Street (the Round Church). And don't forget the many historical colleges of the university, which are dotted around the city center.
Photo by JP Oakar
TOUR 1 An Introductory Tour
The following tour takes visitors round the city centre and passes 11 of Cambridge University's colleges. These colleges are private institutions but they are open to the public. Some charge admission, and some are only open limited hours of the day. Groups of more than six can only enter the colleges when accompanied by a blue-badged tourist guide from the Tourist Information Centre.
This tour begins and ends at the front of the Guildhall, the headquarters of Cambridge City Council, which looms over the crowded market place. This market has been at the heart of the city for over 1,000 years.
Follow Peas Hill south, past St Edward's Church, one of the centres of the English Protestant reformation, and right into Bene't Street. On the right-hand side, the Eagle Public Housewith a Tudor courtyard and the Air Force Bar bearing the graffiti of Second World War aircrew. Opposite the Eagle, St Bene't's Church, the oldest building in the city. The tower is Anglo-Saxon.
Take Free School Lane (to the left of the church). To your left, the Cavendish Laboratories, scene of major scientific discoveries including the splitting of the atom and the identification of DNA. Over the high wall to the right is Corpus Christi College. Turn right at the end of the street into Botolph Lane, leading down to the main road.
You're now standing near the site of Trumpington Gate, in medieval times the southern entrance to the city. The church beside you is St Botolph's, dedicated to the patron saint of travelers. Turn left into Trumpington Street. The first college on your left is Pembroke College (1347). The chapel was architect Christopher Wren's first commission. Across the road, Peterhouse (1284). This is the oldest college in Cambridge.
Take time to look into the church beside Little St Mary's. Look for the memorial on the interior north wall. It is dedicated to Godfrey Washington, great uncle of George Washington, and the family crest bears the stars and stripes which now adorn the US flag.
Follow the path down the side of Little St Mary's, which takes you to the riverside, and then turn right and walk up to Silver Street Bridge. From here, you can see the wooden Mathematical Bridge of Queen's College. Take Silver Street back into the centre. When you see St Botolph's Church, turn left.
Just past the church is is Corpus Christi College, founded in 1352. Though not the oldest college, its Old Court is the oldest surviving college courtyard, giving the visitor an idea of how the early institutions looked; opposite Corpus Christi is St Catharine's College (1473). The livery stable of Thomas Hobson once stood outside its gates. He hired his coach horses by strict rotation, the customer having no say in the selection, giving us the saying “Hobson's choice”, meaning no choice at all.
The next college on the left is King's College (1441), with its world famous chapel (the public entrance comes later on the tour). Past this, Great St Mary's Church and the Senate House, which hosts the University's graduation ceremonies.
Turn left down Senate House Passage. It is said that students of Gonville and Caius College (on the right) who stayed out of college past locking-up time, used to leap back into the college from the roof of the Senate House. Trinity Lane leads left to the entrances of King's College and Clare College (1326). The interior of King's College Chapel is a superb example of early Tudor design – unmissable.
Double back to Trinity Lane – passing Trinity Hall (1350) – and follow it northwards and then east. Look at the windows on the left-hand side: not all are what they first appear.
Turn left into Trinity Street. The first college on the left is Trinity College (1546) with its magnificent gatehouse. King Henry VIII stands proud, holding the English monarchy's orb and chair leg. Any attempt to replace the sceptre is matched by students' substituting it with a wooden chair-leg! Trinity College has the largest courtyard in either Oxford or Cambridge – this is the scene of the Great Court Run, featured in the film, Chariots of Fire, but Trinity's Master refused to admit a film crew. Eton School in Windsor was used instead.
Continue along Trinity Street to St John's College (1511) and its floral gatehouse, representing its founder Lady Margaret Beaufort. The college courtyards lead to the famous Bridge of Sighs and the “wedding cake” building. The street ends at the Round Church, home of the Cambridge Medieval Brass Rubbing Centre.
Turn right here, onto Sidney Street. On the left, opposite the Sainsbury's, is Sidney Sussex College (1596) where Oliver Cromwell studied. His head is buried in the chapel. Continue down Sidney Street and turn right into Market Street, which takes you back to the Guildhall.
TOUR 2 A Literary Tour (2 hours 30 minutes)
This tour begins and ends by the weir at Laundress Green, Mill Lane, just a minute's walk away from Silver Street Bridge.
The weir by the Mill pub is the spot where the upper river, the Granta, becomes the Cam. About two miles upstream lies the little village of Grantchester and, beyond that, Trumpington, the location for a chapter of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (written c. 1387-1400). The reeve (estate steward) tells of a Trumpington miller, Simkin, who cheats two university scholars in a transaction, yet gets his comeuppance when they sleep with his wife and daughter. Poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) would later swim in that same mill pool while studying at Trinity College. A century later, poet Rupert Brooke resided in Grantchester, both at the Orchard Tea Rooms and the Old Vicarage (the latter now the home of novelist Jeffrey Archer). Brooke was seeking an alternative lifestyle, and outsiders dubbed his coteries of friends “neo-pagans”.
Chaucer, Byron, Brooke and Archer – and your walk is yet to start…
Cross to the city side of the river and follow the road past the front of the University Centre, turning left into Little St Mary's Lane. At the far end of this, turn right to arrive at Peterhouse.
Thomas Gray (1716-71), writer of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, studied and taught at Peterhouse. He never fitted in with his contemporaries, and as a fellow, paranoia excluded him from others; his phobias included dogs, others' opinions – and fire. He was so afraid of perishing in a blaze that he fixed an iron bar to his window, to be used with a rope as a means of escape. Cruel peers raised a false alarm, hoping to see Gray land in a pail of water below. Gray stopped short of jumping out the window, but felt so hurt by his colleagues' behavior that he moved across the road to Pembroke College. The barred window is still visible.
Follow Gray across Trumpington Street, and slightly north, to Pembroke College. Other poets who studied here include Edmund Spenser (1552-99), writer of The Faerie Queene, and Ted Hughes (1930-99), who first met future wife Sylvia Plath (1932-63) at nearby Falcons Yard (demolished in the 70s to make way for the Lion Yard Shopping Centre).
Continue north along Trumpington Street. On your left is the mock ecclesiastical Pitt Building, part of Cambridge University Press. The press was granted a printing license by Henry VIII in 1534 and is still publishing today.
On the right, just past St Botolph's, is Corpus Christi College. Shakespeare contemporary and fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564-93) studied here, at one time residing on R staircase in Old Court. Another famous student is novelist Christopher Isherwood: he came to hate Cambridge, and left after answering every question in an exam with a limerick or rhyme.
Continue north, turning right into Bene't Street, and pause for breath (or a pint) at The Eagle pub. Its courtyard is a rare Cambridge example of an Elizabethan inn. Given its proximity to Corpus Christi, we can assume that Marlowe drank here. It is also known that Shakespeare's Hamlet was performed in a Cambridge inn yard in 1602, perhaps with the playwright in attendance. Was that here? Certainly Charles Dickens stayed here in 1859 to perform a public reading of his work.
Look to the opposite side of Bene't Street to see the Friar's House, where Australian writers Clive James (born 1939) and Germaine Greer (born 1939) were once neighbours. Then follow Bene't Street into Wheeler Street, turn left into Guildhall Street and right into Petty Cury. At the end of this, cross the road and enter Christ's College.
Poet John Milton (1608-74) – nicknamed the Lady of Christ's due to his delicate stature – studied here. At the back of the college, the Fellows' Garden (open weekdays) contains a mulberry tree beneath which Milton supposedly sat, composing sonnets.
Turn right out of Christ's and follow the right fork of the road (Hobson Street). In the 80s, an office on this street was the home of literary magazine Granta. The magazine first appeared in November 1888 as The Gadfly, renamed The Granta to pre-empt an intellectual pamphlet intended to bear that name. In 1990, Granta's editorial staff moved to London, its showcase of new writing now somewhat removed from its original articles of student satire.
Turn right into King Street, first left, then right into Jesus Lane. The entrance to Jesus College is on the left. Archbishop of Canterbury and fellow of the college Thomas Cranmer (1485-1556) made a major contribution to church liturgy of the time, much of his work later included in the Book of Common Prayer (1662). He was later burnt at the stake in Oxford. Less pious was Jesus student Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), famed poet of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Once resident of rooms on D staircase in First Court, his student years were a confusion of debt, opium consumption, sexual liasons and revolutionary politics. How students have changed! A mile east of the college, lies Stourbridge Common, once the site of a great fair which inspired Vanity Fair in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678).
Double back along Jesus Lane, turning right into Park Street. The ADC (Amateur Dramatic Club) Theatre is the venue of the annual Footlights Revue, part of the university's drama scene which has given the world the likes of Monty Python, Fry and Laurie, the Goodies and Beyond the Fringe.
Continue past the car park, turning left into Portugal Place and then right onto Magdalene Street. Cross the bridge and enter Magdalene College.
Magdalene's most famous student, diarist Samuel Pepys (1608-74) actually first came up to Trinity Hall; he transferred college almost straight away. Parallel to a career in civil administration (he reached the post of Secretary to the Admiralty in 1672) he wrote a daily diary over a nine year period, a unique insight into Restoration London. Dying childless, the 3,000 volumes of his private library were bequeathed to Cambridge, housed in Magdalene in 1724. Magdalene later saw Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies (1863), living on C staircase, First Court, and in 1954 C S Lewis arrived here following appointment as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English.
Cross back over the river and at the Round Church turn right into St John's Street. To your right, St John's College. Among its alumni is Douglas Adams, writer of cult classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) studied here too, once lodged in a room above the college kitchens. Another Johnian was Irishman Patrick Brunty. By the time he graduated, he had Frenchified his name to Brontë, and he was to father some of England's greatest novelists.
Rejoin St John's Street and follow it south, passing Trinity College (you'll return here soon) and, opposite its entrance, Heffers Bookshop, a long-standing Cambridge institution. Turn left into Rose Crescent. Ignore the McDonald's restaurant and imagine the Rose Tavern which once stood on this street; both Pepys and writer Samuel Johnson (1709-84) stayed here. At the end of the crescent, a plaque marks Bacon's Tobacco Shop; poet Alfred Tennyson stayed above this shop when he first arrived in Cambridge in 1827.
Turn right, then left at the Senate House, to arrive at the gatehouse of King's College. Among the college's literary alumni, novelist E M Forster (1879-1970), Rupert Brooke and author Salman Rushdie. How many great minds have passed through this gateway! But mere mortal visitors are directed to a side entrance on Trinity Lane. Here, visitors first enter the magnificent chapel where, on her first visit to the university in 1564, Queen Elizabeth I was entertained with plays.
Follow the guided route around the college grounds and, when passing the riverbank, consider that it was perhaps here where Virginia Woolf sat contemplating the twin themes of women and fiction for A Room of One's Own (1929): “Instantly a man's figure rose to intercept me ... His face expressed horror and indignation ... I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the ground is the place for me.”
Returning to Trinity Lane, and passing Clare (college of Siegfried Sassoon 1886-1967) and Trinity Hall (J B Priestley 1894-1984 and of another genre, Mr Boon – half of romantic publishing duo Mills and Boon), we return to Trinity Street and turn left to reach the entrance to Trinity College.
Entering Great Court, look for K staircase, known as Mutton Hole Corner. Poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) is said to have resided here. Born into aristocracy, Byron lacked little as a student; disappointed at being refused admission to Oxford, he led a wild lifestyle with study coming a certain second. Arriving for his last term at Trinity, he brought along a pet bear and housed it in his rooms, much to the concern of the college authorities. Later, Giles Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) dwelt in these same rooms. As Bohemian as Byron was hedonistic, his circle of acquaintances – including Leonard Woolf, Toby Stephen and Clive Bell – evolved into the Bloomsbury Group.
Enter the college chapel to see statues of philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and poet Alfred Tennyson (1809-92): “And heard once more in college fanes, The storm their high-built organs make, And thunder-music, rolling, shake, The prophet blazoned on the panes.”
Trinity was also home to novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63) who coined the term Oxbridge; Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), writer of Lolita; and poets A E Housman (1859-1936) and John Cornford (1915-36). A A Milne (1882-1956), creator of Winnie the Pooh, studied at Trinity too, as did his son Christopher Robin Milne.
Cut through New Court (where Leonard Woolf first met future wife Virginia Stephen) to reach the Wren Library, where you will find a statue of Byron and a collection of unique manuscripts and autographs.
Cross the bridge and follow the path out of the college grounds. Just before you reach the road, turn left and follow the footpath along the Backs – the riverside college lawns. Imagine Rupert Brooke punting Henry James along the Cam, and others, all now dead, reading, studying or just enjoying university life. The path continues to Silver Street Bridge, a stone's throw from where the walk began.
TOUR 3: Punt Tour of The Backs (about 1 hour)
This tour begins on the Mill Pond by Laundress Green or Silver Street Bridge. Both self-hire and chauffeured punts can be found here at Scudamore's and at Cambridge Chauffeur Punts.
Three mills used to turn on the waters around the Mill Pond. The only one that remains is now the Bella Pasta restaurant! To the left of Silver Street Bridge is Darwin College (1964), once home to naturalist Charles Darwin's son before the family left it to the university. To the right of the bridge, the Anchor pub, where in the 50s and 60s the landlord encouraged student poets to display their lines. Among the young names, a Ted Hughes…
Pass under Silver Street Bridge to see before you Queens' College's Mathematical Bridge. The current model was built in 1904; an earlier version of the same design had appeared in 1749. It is said that the bridge was first constructed without nuts or bolts, the planks cleverly slotted together. When someone dismantled the bridge, they weren't able to rebuild it without resorting to fasteners. Queens' College's (1448) was founded by two queens – Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, and Elizabeth de Woodville, wife of Edward VI.
Try to follow the centre of the river when punting. When the old riverside towpaths were blocked, the middle of the river was graveled and the barge horses waded through the water on this sub-aqua path. Following this route avoids the sticky mud around the riverbanks.
The next bridge heralds the approach of King's College (1441) on the right bank. The symmetrical grey building is the Gibbs' Building (1724) – both this and the university's Senate House were designed by James Gibbs. To its left, King's College Chapel, a monumental achievement by the many architects and builders who worked on it between 1446, when the foundation stone was laid, and 1554, when the high altar was put in place. Its interior is awe-inspiring – well worth a visit once you're back on dry land.
On the opposite bank, the meadow called Scholars' Piece. Until the 1800s, no buildings stood on this bank of the river. This area was quite literally the backs of the colleges. The name The Backs is still in use.
To the left of King's College Chapel is Old Court of Clare College (1326), the second oldest foundation in the university. Its founder, Lady Elizabeth of Clare, was widowed three times before her 30th birthday.
Clare Bridge (built around 1640) appears to droop in the middle. Look closely at the balls on the parapet: the one on the far left has a slice taken out. The story goes that a group of students had a bet on the number of stone balls on the bridge. One of them reduced the total by removing a slice, winning the bet.
On the left bank, Clare's Fellows' Garden is a peaceful sanctuary from university pretensions and academic hypotheses, with colorful flower-beds and a delightful sunken pond.
After Clare, the next college on the right is Trinity Hall (1350). Writer Henry James considered its garden “the prettiest corner of the world”. Trinity Hall has a reputation as a college for aspiring lawyers.
Pass under modern Garret Hostel Bridge to enter the grounds of Trinity College, richest of all Oxbridge colleges: it used to hold that Trinity was England's third largest landowner after the Crown and the Church and this may still be true. King Henry VIII founded the college in 1546. His descendant Prince Charles studied here, one of a long list of illustrious alumni, which includes Bertrand Russell, Francis Bacon, Nehru, Byron and Isaac Newton.
After passing beneath Trinity Bridge, the building on your right is the Wren Library. Designed by Christopher Wren (architect of St Paul's Cathedral in London) and built around 1695, its peach-honey Northamptonshire bricks glow when the sun is upon them – yet this is only the back entrance!
Already apparent on the left bank are the Gothic angles of St John's College's New Court, built in 1824. The building is better known by its nickname, the “wedding cake”.
Once under the Kitchen Bridge, you see the Bridge of Sighs, linking the two parts of St John's College. It is named after the famous Venetian bridge which led condemned prisoners to their execution, but these bars aren't to keep people in, rather to keep undergraduates from sneaking back into college after a late night's drinking. Built in 1831, one of the bridge's oddest days came one morning in 1957 when a Mini was found suspended by rope from its arch. Students had punted the car down the river and hoisted it up!
The river continues under Magdalene Street Bridge, a crossing point since Roman times, past the last of the riverine colleges, Magdalene (1542). Among its alumni, Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies: who knows if little orphaned children still inhabit the murky depths of the River Cam? There are certainly pike and water voles, so keep your eyes peeled.
The park on the right is Jesus Green. During the 16th-century Reformation, it witnessed clerics being burnt at the stake. Mercifully, these times have now passed and, with further progress on the river blocked by Jesus Green Lock, the park provides an ideal spot to moor the punt, picnic and play before returning upstream to the Mill Pond.
Photo by: JP Oakar
Chapels, colleges, alleyways, laboratories, libraries; all have a tale to tell. If only the stones could speak – and they do! Henry VIII clutching a chair leg; the grave of Captain Cook's wife, so far from her husband; Christopher Wren's first building; the Washington family's coat-of-arms (which inspired the Stars and Stripes). All can be found if you know where to look.
Coming out of the railway station, you join Hills Road. Taking this northward, you follow in the footsteps of Roman legions marching from Colchester. They continued their path till they reached the river, which was forded and later bridged. The crossing point (now Magdalene Street Bridge) with nearby hill (Castle Hill) proved an ideal place to settle, and the town of Durolipons was born.
After the Romans, others came and went: Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and Normans, all remembered in the local parish names (St Clement, St Bene't and St Giles reflect three different Christian cultures, and the Anglo-Saxon tower of St Bene't's is now the oldest surviving building in the city). The centre of the town moved south to the current market area. With an 11th-century population of some 1,600, Cambridge was one of eastern England's largest towns.
Growth continued into the 13th century. In 1209, King John declared Cambridge a royal borough; a merchant's guild was established, and regular fairs were held on Midsummer Common. Many goods were transported by boat, and Cambridge's wharf trade boomed. Though already an important market town, simultaneous developments were about to change the city's destiny forever.
In the early 13th century, riots in Oxford – and later Paris – caused many of these cities' scholars to flee, fearing for their lives. For reasons unknown, many headed to Cambridge. These students – most of them young men in their early teens – would gather in groups for lessons in grammar, rhetoric and logic, all taught in Latin. The education lacked formality or ceremony; indeed the learners were an unruly lot, but this indiscipline soon prompted teachers and townsfolk to impose some form of order. Students were gathered in hostels, and rules established.
In 1284, the Bishop of Ely, Hugh de Balsham, founded Peterhouse to house a Master and six Fellows. This was the first of the Cambridge colleges. Over the next 70 years, seven more followed. The Old Court of Corpus Christi College is the oldest surviving university building, and gives the visitor an idea of the style of colleges at this time. The town and its nascent university survived plague, peasant uprisings and fire, and in the 15th century, more colleges were founded. The founders live on today, immortalized in the college names and heraldry.
Cambridge was at the centre of the English Reformation; in the early days it was even dubbed “Little Germany”. Hugh Latimer, who preached Lutheranism from the pulpits of St Edward's Church and Great St Mary's, would later be burnt at the stake in Oxford. Just as these two churches remain, so does much else from the era – a 1574 map has much in common with the street plan of today.
“Students do not wear clerical clothes, but new fashioned gowns of blue, green, red or mixed colours; they have fair roses upon their shoes, wear long, frizzled hair upon the head … and long Merchants' Ruffs about the neck, with fair feminine cuffs at the wrist.” Such was the damning disapprobation of Puritanism!
In 1640, Cambridge returned Oliver Cromwell to Parliament. Though staunchly on the Parliamentarian side in the English Civil War, the town was never a battleground.
The year 1667 saw a 27 year-old take the chair of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics – Isaac Newton still is, arguably, the university's greatest mind to date. The following century, however, saw a curriculum too heavily dependent on mathematics, resulting in dwindling student numbers. This was reversed only in the 19th century: in 1800, 150 freshers “came up” (began studies); by 1870, this figure had risen to 800.
The change was not solely quantitative. A series of reforms changed the university into the one we see now. For the first time, centralised university faculties rather than the colleges took responsibility for teaching. This brought a wave of new faculty buildings, such as the Cavendish Laboratories. In the 1820s, rowing, cricket and other sports became student pursuits. And – most controversial of all – Girton College, the first college for women, was founded in 1869 (though kept three miles from the city centre). Women didn't achieve full university membership until 1947, however, and all-male colleges only began admitting them in the 70s. Today, there are two all-women undergraduate colleges, the rest being co-educational.
The railway arrived, resisted by the university authorities, and this spelt the end for the riverside wharves. The river empty, punting became and remains a popular afternoon pastime. And in the late 19th century, the University finally relinquished many of its municipal powers, such as licensing, to the council.
Over the 20th century, town and gown have learned to live and work together. In 1951, King George VI granted Cambridge city status, something it already was in all but name. Its suburbs sprawled out to the villages of Trumpington, Girton and Cherry Hinton, and the M11 motorway linked it to London. The university now has 35 colleges, the newest being Robinson, founded in 1977. Future historians will look back at 20th-century Cambridge and see an era of enormous scientific discovery – over 50 Nobel Prize winners come from the university, most of them scientists. Industry has harnessed this genius with the arrival of hi-tech companies, such as Phillips, Arm and Microsoft, to the area, reflected in a programme of confident modern architecture.
This cohabitation of science and enterprise is embraced by both city and university and, at the dawn of the 21st century, Cambridge is well-placed to face future unknowns, as it has done so often before...
Photo by: JP Oakar