One of England’s most famous historic cities, and home to countless colleges that form one large university, is the city of Cambridge, on the banks of the River Cam…
Status: City of Cambridge District, Cambridgeshire, City, England
Eating & Sleeping: Travelodge Cambridge Newmarket, Cafe Nero
Attractions: King’s College, King’s College Chapel, King’s College Courtyard, Bridge of Sighs, River Cam, St John’s College, Great St Mary’s Church, Market Square, Gonville & Caius College, Punting on the Cam, All Saints Churchyard, Memorial Cross All Saints, St Michael’s Church, Senate House, Old Schools, Pitt Building, Corpus Christi College, Corpus Clock, Mathematical Bridge, Edward the Martyr Church, Cambridge Guildhall, King’s Parade etc
Our exploration of the city began on perhaps Cambridge’s most famous street, “King’s Parade”.
On the West Side (left) stands the King’s College Screen, the main entrance to the College, alongside the Gatehouse. Before these were built however in the late 1820’s, this side of the street looked very similar to the other, containing a long row of shops which had to be demolished.
The East Side (right) has retained it’s historic charm, and I think this shot is one of my favourites from our travels around England. The well known landmark of a British Pillar Box (Queen Victoria Version) overlooks the traditional cobbles and stunning Georgian Buildings on the far side of the street. To complete the picture you have the tower of “Great St Mary’s Church” in the background, next to the shorter, turreted tower of “Gonville & Caius College”. More on those later however!
So this is the aforementioned King’s College Screen, designed by William Wilkins (1778 – 1839, English Architect from Cambridge) and completed in 1828. He deliberately designed the screen and the surrounding walls to match the medieval Kings College Chapel…
…just to the right of the screen. The Chapel has to be Cambridge’s most famous landmark, and aside from various medieval Churches dotted around the city, it is also one of its oldest buildings.
The history of the Chapel is closely linked to the development of King’s College itself, founded in 1441 by King Henry VI. Construction of the Chapel followed in 1446, however work on both the Chapel and the College slowed to almost a halt when the King focused his resources on the War of the Roses which broke out in 1455. It wouldn’t be until 1508 when King Henry VII took on his Uncle’s project, and finished building work. His son, King Henry VIII then completed the Chapels interior by 1544.
The original courtyard for the College was begun by Henry VI, and lies to the North of the Chapel, around which a small cluster of buildings would make up the College for the next few centuries.
This was later seen as inadequate, and new plans called for a brand new courtyard with the Chapel forming one side. This was finally realised, albeit in two stages.
The Western side is marked by the Gibbs Building (left) from 1731, named after the architect who finally tried to complete the courtyard once planned by Henry VI centuries earlier, James Gibbs (1682 – 1754, Scottish Architect from Aberdeen). He had planned to build three such buildings around the square, but lack of funding caused the project to stall.
It would be Mr Wilkins who fully enclosed the Courtyard in the 1820’s with the Screen to the East, and the new Library block to the South.
The centre of the Courtyard is marked by a large stone fountain erected in 1879, surmounted by a statue of King Henry VI, in recognition of his creation of the College.
Continuing past King’s College Chapel, we spotted what is known as the “Old Schools”. This was the original Courtyard of the Kings College Henry VI started, however over the years it has been significantly rebuilt, and now forms one large building.
The East Range, shown above in magnificent white, was created by Stephen Wright between 1754 – 1758 in Georgian Times. Behind it, are further ranges to the West and South by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878, Architect from Buckinghamshire) circa the 1860’s. These sections incorporate the original 15th century Gatehouse from the colleges formation.
The North Range was added in 1837, by Charles Robert Cockerell (1788 – 1863, Architect from London) and is known as the Cockerell Building.
The Green outside is called the Senate House Lawn. On it stands a large Bronze Urn, which is a replica of the Warwick Vase, crafted by Sir Edward Thomson and given as a gift in 1842.
The original Vase was discovered in 1771 in Tivoli, at Hadrian’s Villa, in multiple fragments. It was later fully restored, and after a stint on the lawn at Warwick Castle, it is now part of the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.
The Green is named after the Senate House, located to the right of the Old Schools. A stunning neoclassical building, it was completed in 1730 to house meetings of the University Senate, the overall governing body of the University of Cambridge.
The architect for the building was our old friend James Gibbs, and it appears he didn’t have much luck with this project either. Much like the Gibbs Building in King’s College, this was meant to be just one side of a larger courtyard, but again the project stalled and only one building was finished.
In 1926 the Senate powers were transferred to the Regent House, which consists of members from all departments of the University. Today it is the main site used for the Degree Ceremonies across the 31 different colleges that form the University.
To the right of Senate House is the North East range of Tree Court at “Gonville & Caius College”, designed by Alfred Waterhouse (1830 – 1905, English Architect from Liverpool) in the 1870’s. The College is the fourth oldest at the University, founded in 1348.
Again to the right of Gonville & Caius is the Church of St Mary the Great, Cambridges most important Church. Aside from being the local Parish Church, it is also the University Church, where official sermons are held. It is also stipulated that all University Officers must live within 20 miles of the Church itself.
The Church has been owned by the University since 1342 when a now defunct College named King’s Hall was given it by the Crown. King’s was merged with various other areas of the University by King Henry VIII, and became Trinity College in 1342. The College built the present building between 1478 – 1519 (Tower added 1608), although a Church was first recorded here back in 1205. Aside from clerical functions, it was also used for University Meetings, which were later transferred to Senate House upon it’s completion.
Leaving King’s Parade behind us, we took a walk up Trinity Street, down the side of Gonville & Caius College, which features a stunning row of stone gargoyles at the top of the building.
Looking back you can see King’s Parade in the background, and to the left is St Michael’s Church, a small medieval Church built in the 1320’s. It was built by Hervey de Stanton (1260 – 1327, English Chancellor) to serve a new College he created called “Michaelhouse”, although this later became part of Trinity College. The Church originally had an impressive spire, however it was removed in 1818, and the tower was made flat.
Continuing North away from King’s Parade, we approached Trinity College, which remains Cambridge Universities largest and wealthiest constituent component.
In the distance the Tower of St John’s College Chapel filled in the skyline.
Just round the corner is the main entrance to Trinity College, marked by the large red brick Gatehouse completed in 1535. I mentioned earlier that it was King Henry VIII who was responsible for the amalgamation of colleges which created Trinity College, and a statue of him stands in a recess above the main archways on the gate.
To the right of the Gate is Trinity College Chapel, the main entrance of which is marked by a Clock Tower within the college courtyard.
Opposite Trinity College stands a large open space, marked by a tall memorial stone cross. This was once the accompanying Churchyard to All Saints Church, a medieval building which was demolished in 1865 as the road was widened.
A new Church bearing the same name was built over on Jesus Street, as it was thought the original was both far too small for the growing congregation, and in the way for further development in the area.
Just round the corner, before we passed through the Gatehouse to St John’s College, we stopped to admire the “Old Divinity School” which bounds the edge of the old Churchyard. This beautiful building was designed by Basil Champneys (1842 – 1935, English Architect from London) and almost perfectly matches the brickwork used on the adjacent St John’s College.
The building is used for lectures on Theology, the study of the divine, and was built close to what is the centre of the University, in between the various colleges. Its predecessor, the original Divinity School from the early 15th century is now part of the Old Schools next to King’s College, and when it was built was also at the centre of the much smaller University.
Directly opposite the Divinity School is the aforementioned main gate into St John’s College, which along with the First Courtyard directly behind it, dates from 1516. Not all of the colleges are accessible to the public, however St John’s is, allowing visitors to explore the stunning courtyards, as well as the famous Bridge of Sighs…
Moving through the Gatehouse, we passed through the First Courtyard, and into the Second Courtyard. This was built 70 years after the First, and was finally completed in 1602, to plans by Ralph Symons, who worked on various different colleges in the city.
Behind the Court is the ornately detailed tower of St John’s College Chapel, created by Sir George Gilbert Scott on the site of an old Medieval Chapel in the late 1860’s. Scott’s design was minus the main tower, including only a small fleche (spire) on the roof. It was only when Henry Hoare, a former student of the College, offered to finance a large tower did Scott change his designs, and it was eventually completed as seen today.
The most famous landmark within the complex that makes up St John’s is the Bridge of Sighs, named after its counterpart in Venice, Italy.
Designed by Henry Hutchinson (1800 – 1831, English Architect from Derbyshire) the bridge was completed in the year of his death, 1831. It crosses the River Cam, and connects the smaller Third Court with the “New Court” on the far side. It is one of the most beautiful structures in the entire city, and was a favourite of Queen Victorias when she visited.
We also witnessed a well known pastime in Cambridge, the sport of Punting. A punt is a long wooden boat with a flat bottom. A punter stands at one end, and pushes a long pole against the riverbed, to propel it forwards. A lot of the Cambridge Colleges have their own private punts, and the public can also hire them from local companies.
Punting is also popular in Oxford, although with one small difference. In Cambridge punters stand on the “Till” at the back of the boat, whereas in Oxford they stand inside the boat itself, at the other end.
Cambridge is a wonderful city, and everywhere you look there are buildings dating back centuries. The shopping streets are a wonderful mixture of architectural styles. Just take the scene above, on Trinity Street between Trinity and Gonville & Caius Colleges.
The centre building is “14 Trinity Street”, a beautiful old timber structure from the late 16th century. To the right of that is a complete contrast, an old Red Brick shop from 1783.
So many styles exist side by side, that Cambridge is honestly just a joy to explore.
By now King’s College was open to visitors, so we took the opportunity to visit the famous King’s College Chapel.
Inside the detail is just incredible, with a fantastic fan vaulted ceiling from 1515, 80 feet above us, stretching the length of the Chapel.
Henry VIII was famously married six times, and it was after his second to Anne Boleyn that he celebrated by creating the “Rood Screen” in the early 1530’s. It separates the Chancel from the Nave, and also supports the Chapels Organ.
Exiting the Chapel, we crossed the main College Green at the rear of the Chapel/Gibbs Building to the River Cam, and then over the “King’s Bridge” from 1818.
The Cam is the main navigation through Cambridge, and runs for a total of 43 miles from its source near Debden in Essex, to the Great Ouse near Ely.
It also offers one of Cambridge’s most well known views, of the River with the Chapel in the background. It was an episode of Doctor Who starring Tom Baker that first inspired me to visit Cambridge, as they were punting down this section of the river past the Chapel.
To the left of the Chapel you can see Clare College, founded in 1326, second only to Peterhouse from 1284. The main part we could see is the South Range of the College from 1642.
Moving back to King’s Parade from King’s College, we cut through to the old Market Square, located behind Great St Marys Church.
Originally the square was much smaller, containing various buildings. Many of these were destroyed in a fire in 1849, opening up the square.
The Cambridge Market is still held daily, with the first held by the Saxons around the 10th century.
From the Market Place we took a wander through some of the side streets, and eventually came out on “Bene’t Street”, which has a number of buildings of interest.
The first is the Church of St Bene’t, one of Cambridge’s most well preserved medieval Churches. Much of what we see today dates back to the 10th century, including the Tower, Chancel and the Nave. St Bene’ts also has the distinction of being the oldest Church in the entire county, and until 1579 it was used as the College Chapel for Corpus Christi College, the main buildings of which lie behind the Church.
Bounding the Eastern edge of the Churchyard is a large three storey building called “Friar House”, which makes up Number 13 Bene’t Street, as well as Numbers 1, 2 and 2a Free School Lane, which runs directly in front of it.
It is a bit more modern than the Church, but still hails from the 17th Century, and features an impressive timber frame.
The North end of the Churchyard, on the far side of the road is showcased by the Eagle inn, opened in 1667 as the “Eagle and Child”. Owned by Corpus Christi College, the building is notable for the Bar to the rear, which still features graffiti by RAF Airmen who were stationed here in WWII.
It is also notable for a historic announcement on the 28th February, 1953. Francis Crick (1916 – 2004, British Scientist) & James Watson (Born 1928, American Scientist), who worked in the Cavendish Laboratory and frequented the pub, announced to the world their discovery of DNA as genetic code.
Further up on the street was our next stop. On the left is the cities Guildhall from 1939 by Charles Cowles-Voysey (1889 – 1981), where the city council continue to meet. The Guildhall replaces its predecessor, formed out of two older buildings that once stood here, the old Shire Hall, and a Town Hall from 1782. It is an enormous construction, and takes up almost an entire block, reaching from here all the way to bound the South end of the Market Square. It then stretches back around the block to meet the far side of the building to the right.
This is the old Public Library, built in 1884 by G MacDonell as an extension to the new former Town Hall of 1862 behind it. Both parts of the building are now inhabited by restaurants.
Just up “Peas Hill” road, which runs up the side of the Guildhall, we came across another of the cities many Churches, called “St Edward, King & Martyr”. Named after Edward the Martyr (962 – 978, one of England’s shortest reigning Monarchs) the Church is closely associated with Trinity Hall College, as their original Church, St John Zachary, was knocked down to make way for King’s College.
Back on King’s Parade, we headed South, away from King’s College, towards the “Pitt Building”. This takes the form of the tall square tower in the background, completed in the early 1830’s to house the Cambridge University Press’s new Steam Presses. It was named after William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806, UK Prime Minister) who had attended Pembroke College here in Cambridge in his youth. Today the building is used as a Conference Centre, as the University Press use outside contractors to produce their books.
On the left is Corpus Christi College, founded in 1352. It is named after the Festival Corpus Christi, which celebrates the body/blood of Christ in the Holy Communion.
The building on the corner on the left was built in 1866 as the “London County & Westminster Bank”, which later became NatWest. In 2005 the lease expired, and Corpus Christi took it over for use as the new Taylor Library. The green sheet over the door covers the usual position of the “Corpus Clock”, a stunning Gold fronted clock which was unfortunately away for maintenance. Instead of hands, the mechanical Clock opens up slats around the main face to show the time, on three different rings representing the Hours, Minutes and Seconds, with a metal Locust atop it which moves as the seconds tick past.
Just past the Former NatWest is the College “New Buildings”, a series of Offices/Student Rooms built in 1826.
We were bound for the Mathematical Bridge, a wooden bridge which crosses the River Cam a bit further downstream past the Pitt Building. En route we passed the main entrance to St Catharine’s College, founded in 1473.
This is the “Main Court”, built around the late 17th Century. The North Range (right) is made up of the College Chapel of 1694, and the College Hall of 1675, whilst the South Range (left) was completed by 1681.
The final part of the Courtyard, the West Range (centre) connected the other two ranges in 1687. The Courtyard backs onto Queens College, which has a friendly rivalry with St Catharines after the Main Court relegated part of Queens to a back alley.
So this was our final stop, the Mathematical Bridge. It looks fairly recent, as though it were a piece of modern art or something. This is far from the case however, as it was actually designed by William Etheridge (1709 – 1776, English Architect from Suffolk) in the 1740’s. This isn’t the original bridge, which has been rebuilt twice since, most recently in 1905, but to the same designs as the first. It connects the Queens College Conference Centre to the left, with the College’s Cloister Court to the right.
Cambridge is a fantastic city, and certainly ranks very highly in the places we have visited so far. There is such an array of history and old buildings and it has an atmosphere we have only ever encountered once before, in Oxford. Being primarily a university city, it is a great place of learning, a place that has so far bred 14 Prime Ministers of the UK, as well as nearly 100 Nobel Prize Winners.
Cambridge is well connected to the rest of the country, with the M11 Motorway starting just North of the city, heading South to the M25 around London, or North to the A1 heading past Peterborough to the North East, then Scotland.
The local train station is the busiest station in the East of England, with services running West to Birmingham, South to London, East to Norwich and South West towards Ipswich in Suffolk etc.
The city even has its own airport, although as of 2016 there are no longer any scheduled passenger flights leaving it. It is still used by a number of flying schools, as well as private planes.
So if you find yourself in England’s East, a trip to Cambridge would certainly enhance your trip!