Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A Stroll Through Newnham College


I recently found myself in a part of Cambridge where I seldom venture; not because it's remote or inaccessible but just because I have no reason to be there. However I knew there was something very special to see, as I used to go there many, many years ago. Soon I was making my way along Newnham Walk towards an impressive entrance.


Not many tourists find their way here either, even though it's less than ten minutes walk from Queens' College which is very firmly on their itineraries. So if you're ever on Silver Street bridge just wander away from the city, cross Queens Road and go along Sidgwick Avenue to Newnham College.


On the sunny July afternoon when I visited there were a few elderly ladies making landscape paintings but no other visitors at all. This time of year, after the exams have finished but while the gardens are still at their best, is the ideal time to inspect all the college gardens. Kings Parade was seething with tourist groups but here there were none.


Now, how is it that I used to come here to one of the leading ladies' colleges in the University of Cambridge? No, it's not what you're thinking (unfortunately), it's simply that my mother worked here, cleaning the students' rooms, for a while and as a schoolboy I sometimes came with her in the holidays. 


Her boss was a sour-faced old spinster whose only satisfaction in life seemed to be ensuring that the young ladies in her care had as miserable a time as she undoubtedly had. She would have been even more grumpy had she known how many muddy footprints my mother removed from the windowsills every morning!


But, like those nocturnal visitors, we digress. Newnham was founded in 1872 as a house where women who wished to attend University lectures could reside. These women were not members of the University and could only attend at the discretion of the lecturer. One of those who championed the rights of these young women was Henry Sidgwick of Trinity College who went on to be co-founder and long-time benefactor of the college.  


Land was purchased and buildings erected as the new college expanded. Luckily the architect Basil Chamneys was employed at the outset in 1875 and continued to design further developments for the next thirty-five years. This gives the various buildings a wonderful unity.


Basil Champneys designed buildings in an array of different styles but for Newnham employed what was known as "Queen Anne revival". In other hands this style often became a bizarre parody of itself but at Newnham everything is light, poised and tasteful.


The more central colleges have quite cramped sites but here there are huge lawns and spacious gardens to wander in. The only areas where one is not allowed to intrude are those left for wildlife; an innovation not seen elsewhere.


A recent comment on my post about the Sidney Sussex gardens mentioned the great minds who had wandered there through the ages. So here's a list, in no particular order, of the more notable alumnae of Newnham: the primatologist Jane Goodall; the actresses Eleanor Bron, Miriam Margolyes and Emma Thompson; historians Mary Beard and Lisa Jardine; researcher into DNA, Rosalind Franklin; the Suffragettes Clara Rackham and Frances Parker; the feminist writer Germaine Greer; poets Sylvia Plath, Marianne Morris and Elaine Feinstein, mathematician Phillipa Fawcett; broadcasters Joan Bakewell and Claire Balding; political activist Pat Arrowsmith; Rabbi Julia Neuberger; authors Margaret Drabble, Ali Smith, A S Byatt, Josephine Bell and Iris Murdoch; politicians Dianne Abbot, Anne Mallallieu and Patricia Hewitt; Olympic rowing medallist Anna Watkins; Under Secretary-General of the UN Margaret Anstee, (to name but a few!)



Take care.




20 comments:

  1. Very nice looking place, with some interesting architecture.

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  2. I always thought Christ's had the prettiest grounds...in a previous life I was accepted at St Catharine's to do Natural Sciences. Missed my grades by a mile!

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  3. What a grand place to visit and walk around, and on such a beautiful sunlit blue-sky day!

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  4. It is a beautiful place and the gardens are lovely. I like your story about you and your Mum and muddy footprints.
    MB

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  5. I think if I were given the chance, I would just stay in school forever if it were this one! What a Beautiful place to get an education. And thank you so much for uploading pictures big enough to give us a good view when we click to expand! I have really, really enjoyed seeing this place.

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  6. Whenever we visit a city we like to wander around, go left here, take a right there and let's see where we end up. The best way to find unexpected and wonderful things.
    These houses are beautiful!

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  7. That's a great looking building and I love the ivy growing on the walls.

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  8. What impressive buildings!

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  9. How beautiful. I definitely want to go off the beaten path when I'm on holidays from now on. I saw too many "tourist attractions"and were crushed by too many crowds on my last holiday. Hopefully I will remember this beauty when I'm in England next.

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  10. Really beautiful buildings, I like a lot this wonderful place. It is strange that rarely or hardly ever will go further away from my hometown. My visit at the Eastern Helsinki is pretty strange.
    I liked your story of your mother and muddy footprints and severe rector.
    Hugs

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  11. Such beautiful buildings! I went to New College (as it was called then) - but it is a modern building. I much prefer these old ones.

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  12. I love the wonderful symmetry of the red building. What a lovely place to stroll.

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  13. Stunning architecture. I bet your mother discovered a lot more than jus muddy footprints on the windowsills. How kind of her not to tattle!

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  14. Another magnificent, slightly whimsical, mixture of history, geography and personal history! Impressive architecture and alumnae list! I spotted at least one person who should have had the Nobel prize, but died too soon (and maybe was cheated too).

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  15. I've heard of Newnham College but have never seen photos of it before,it looks a very pleasant place and well worth a visit. It certainly has an illustrious list of former students.

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  16. another wonderful series of images of these beautiful buildings.

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  17. It is amazing that it is not on the tourist's itinerary but then it makes it good for the locals. It is a magnificent building and beautiful gardens. What a wonderful place to study.The list of famous names is staggering too. I loved the story about your mother.

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  18. Delightful. Makes me want to visit and have a cup of tea in this lovely scenery.

    It's hard to imagine a time when women couldn't attend school!

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  19. John, your photographs make this gorgeous part of the university come to life, and your storytelling does the breathing and the heart pumping for it! Wonderful! (And that is surely an impressive alumnae listing.)

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  20. Your images make me really want to visit this place

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