Monday, 27 April 2020

Back To College

No, lockdown has not been lifted, neither am I starting a distance-learning course. But, with a lack of anything much to blog about, I thought I'd take you on a brief jog around some of the colleges of Cambridge University which we've visited over the years on "By Stargoose And Hanglands". Most of the colleges are open to wander around for most of the year (in normal times) though they are always closed from about now till sometime in June as students are sitting their exams. Just a few of the most visited colleges make a small charge to look around. There are in all 31 colleges that form the University; we'll pop into just 14 of them....

 Christ's College

Christ's stands right in the city centre and has some of the nicest gardens to wander around, but despite this it's not visited by the hordes of tourists who descend on King's, Trinity and St John's. It was originally founded in 1437 as God's House, then re-founded in 1505 as Christ's College. It's by no means unique in being founded twice; it usually happened when a small establishment was given money to allow it to increase in size, or when the original set-up had run out of money.
Famous alumni: John Milton, Charles Darwin.

 Corpus Christi College

Not to be confused with Christ's (or indeed Jesus) College, Corpus Christi is one of the smaller, but also one of the wealthier, colleges. It's well worth looking around as it has the oldest courtyard of any of the colleges. Its library contains a priceless collection of Medieval manuscripts.
Famous alumni: Christopher Marlowe (dramatist), Archbishop Matthew Parker.

 Downing College

Downing was founded in 1800 to promote the study of Law and Medicine. It has a very different feel from the central colleges being set out around large lawns and mostly built in a classical style. It has the reputation of being the most ecologically conscious of all the Cambridge colleges.
Famous alumni: Sir Robert Jennings (President of the International Court of Justice) and the comedian John Cleese.

 Emmanuel College

Emmanuel was founded in 1584, originally to train Protestant preachers. It's just a few minutes walk from the city centre and has interesting buildings and glorious gardens, but unaccountably gets very few tourists (Sssshh! Don't tell anyone). 
Famous alumni: John Harvard (founder of Harvard University), Sir Richard Attenborough (actor and film-maker).

 Jesus College

It's full name is "The College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge" but takes its modern name from the Jesus Chapel, around which it was founded from 1496. Despite its old name ending "near Cambridge" it's fairly central, the city having grown out to surround it, but it still has extensive grounds and feels like it's in the countryside.
Famous alumni: Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (poet).

 King's College

This is what people picture (minus the ducks perhaps) when they think of Cambridge University. King's College Chapel is huge and far too big to serve the College. It's also one of the great buildings of England and a truly awe-inspiring space in which to stand. Of course you won't be standing there alone, though it's very seldom crowded and doesn't detract from the splendour at all. Don't under any circumstances leave Cambridge without visiting!
Famous alumni: John Maynard Keynes (economist), Alan Turing (computer scientist), Robert Walpole (first British Prime Minister) and novelists E M Forster and Zadie Smith.

 Newnham College

The idea of women being admitted to Cambridge University took a long time to come about and Newnham, a college for female students, was part of that process, being established in 1871. It's only 10 minutes walk from the touristy part of Cambridge but not on the average tourist's radar though it's actually one of the most beautiful colleges with great gardens.
Famous alumnae: Rosalind Franklin (physicist), Dame Iris Murdoch (novelist), Sylvia Plath (poet).


The oldest (1284) and the smallest of the Cambridge colleges. It has a large area of parkland and gardens, which most visitors never find, and a wonderful show of daffodils in early Spring. Like many of the colleges there's very little to tell you that you are allowed to wander around, but nothing to tell you you can't.
Famous alumni: Charles Babbage (computing pioneer), Sir Frank Whittle (inventor of the jet engine), Thomas Gray (poet), Michael Portillo (politician and TV presenter).

 Pembroke College

Like almost all Cambridge colleges, Pembroke has increased in size over the centuries since its founding, which in the case of Pembroke was in 1347, hence there is a wide variety of architectural styles. A pleasant place for a wander, quite close to the main area for tourists but not that much visited.
Famous alumni: Pitt The Younger (youngest ever British Prime Minister), Ted Hughes (poet), Edmund Spenser (Elizabethan poet).

 Queens' College

Dating from 1448, Queens' is one of the group of older colleges to be found right in the centre of Cambridge. It may not have such grandiose buildings as nearby King's but its courtyards have a quirky charm and it always seems rather more laid back than some of its neighbours.
Famous alumni: Erasmus (theologian), T H White (author), Stephen Fry (comedian, actor, writer) and Michael Foale (astronaut).

 Selwyn College

The college was founded in 1878 to commemmorate the life of George Selwyn, who was the first Bishop of New Zealand. It's situated a little way from the centre, close to Newnham College.
Famous alumni: Malcolm Muggeridge (journalist), John Selwyn Gummer (politician).

 Sidney Sussex College

Go Travel round the town, my friend, whichever way you please,
From Downing up to Trinity, from Peterhouse to Caius; (pronounced Keys)
Then seek a little College just besides a busy street,
Its name is Sidney Sussex, and you'll find it Bad to Beat'
(E H Griffiths 'A Song of Sidney Sussex', 1900)

It's still beside a busy street today, just across the road from Sainsburys supermarket, but I'd bet that for every thousand townspeople who've been there to shop for groceries only one or two will have looked around Sidney Sussex College. Which is a pity because it's full of history and with an unexpected garden, tucked in among the bustling city streets.
Famous alumni: Oliver Cromwell, many of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.

 St John's College

One of the biggest colleges with a proud history going back to 1511. It's a glorious place with much to see, though it does attract many visitors. As a result you're perhaps not as free to wander where you like here and you'll find yourself guided through on a designated route between the buildings. Having said that you will see all its major attractions - of which there are many.
Famous alumni: William Wordsworth (poet), Ben Johnson (playwright), John Herschel (astronomer), Thomas Hobbes (philosopher), Frederick Sanger (biochemist), William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Thomas Babington (anti-slavery campaigners).

Trinity College

The last college we'll visit is also on the main tourist trail, though it seems to absorb them a little more easily than neighbouring St John's. It is the largest college in either Oxford or Cambridge Universities and it has produced an incredible number of influential people such as...
Sir Isaac Newton (scientist), Ralph Vaughn Williams (composer), Alfred Lord Tennyson and Lord Byron (poets), Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein (philosophers), William Thakeray, A A Milne and Vladimir Nabokov (writers) as well as twelve Prime Ministers and thirty-four Nobel Prize winners.

Thus concludes our wander around some of the colleges of Cambridge University. If you want to find out more there are posts on all of the above on the blog and you can read them, should you so desire, by clicking on the Cambridge University tag just below.

Take care.


  1. Beautiful pictures! Thanks for the walk through England. 😊

    Look at the windows of the red building at Newnham College. Incredible! There are more windows than there are people in all the world.

  2. Lovely to have a tour. I suspect my planned trip in June will be postponed, sadly.

  3. Wow! This is an excellent post! It must have taken a lot of time to put this together for us! Lovely pictures and so much great information. I can explore this for hours. Thanks so much!

  4. I agree and also thank you for a really wonderful post about these colleges...this virtual tour was very inclusive, and if I'd walked it it would be exhausting. I especially enjoyed knowing who had graduated from each one...what a diverse group which didn't seem to have much in common, so I wonder how young people choose which one to attend based on their interests.

    1. To put it very simply: the colleges are where students live, socialise and receive small-group supervision, while the individual subjects are taught across the many colleges by the schools, faculties and departments. So a student will chose a college according to how far it is from where they'll receive their lectures, what social facilities and sports clubs are available and so on. Two colleges are women-only and some smaller colleges are for mature students only.

  5. Apart from being overwhelmed by the learning that has taken place there over the centuries John - that wisteria blows me away.

  6. I was there twice a great place to vidit

  7. Wow such beautiful colleges!!I have never seen so many old buildings in my life!
    I think England has a great history of making historical Places
    I think of all the students that were graduated there..they must had been very proud!

    and what alife living there!Just like some Harry Potter!

    Very well done taking all this Pictures and thanx for sharing!


  8. I have wanted to visit there since seeing it so many times on the Morse shows. I think he went to St John's in the show? There is so much history in the whole place. Thanks for the tour!

    1. Not having a TV I've never seen Morse but I think it was based in Oxford rather than Cambridge.

    2. I think you are right! Oops!

  9. Thanks John for this tour and not only did I "go" to a few colleges, but also learned something about the individuals who actually went there and learned a lot more during their time spent.

  10. Thank you.
    Beautiful buildings and some impressive alumnae.

  11. Wish I could do the same with Oxford but I have only ever been to one which was the Clarendon Laboratories, Think I have been to a couple in Cambridge setting equipment up. Is the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer the same who was martyred in Oxford

    1. Yes, it wasn't advisable to be too clever or prominent in those days.

  12. It certainly looks a worthwhile area to have a wander if you're there at the right time, lots of interest.

  13. What beautiful buildings! Thanks for the college tour.

  14. I didn’t count but that seems like a lot of colleges for one area. I was waiting for you to tell which college and what course you are taking. I’m guessing ... history!

  15. I love these posts...boy, oh, boy do you have some beautiful colleges! I want to come back later and look at these again. Have did it in bits and pieces and that does not do the post justice nor the time you took to get it together.

  16. Thank you! That was a marvelous tour!

  17. If those walls and hall could talk...

    The blooms on Christ’s College are gorgeous!

  18. A lot of fascinating architecture!

  19. Thank you for that wonderful wander around Cambridge's Colleges.

  20. Hi John - a stunning tour to cheer the soul, on a wet, but absolutely necessary damp, morning ... the plants will love it ... gorgeous photos all of them, particularly the wisteria - take care - Hilary

  21. How wonderful your photos are and how wonderful the Wisteria on Christ's College is and how lucky the ducks at King's College are to wander along the backs. I've visited Kings and Trinity but none of the others you feature, they are all so different and interesting:)

  22. There really is something about these grand old buildings that conveys the spirit of learning at its very best.

  23. Thanks for the "higher ed" tour. Impressive names of the alumni who attended these institutions.

  24. Wow, what an awesome trek from college to college. Such beautiful buildings. And the landscaping is gorgeous! Thank you. Enjoy your evening, hugs, Edna B.

  25. A lovely tour of these colleges. I had no idea there were so many that are all part of Cambridge University. Beautiful buildings to spend time in, listening, learning, contemplating, experimenting, etc.

    PS-- I gave my twin brother a link to your blog because he has been fantasizing about moving to England. He has been reading and looking at your photos and loves what you have shared.

  26. Beautiful photos John, but the one of the ducks and Kings College is brilliant.

  27. I really enjoyed all your pictures and the good information. There is such a variety of styles – it must be quite something to visit them all. In my house in Georgia I have a diploma from Cambridge but I never checked which college. I spent a year in England to perfect my English language. I think the course was given to foreign students, it was called “Proficiency in English” and you could follow it in any college in England, but not the final exams, oral and written. I guess that's where I learnt how to speak English a bit better, but unfortunately I still have my French accent. I would love to go back and visit all those you showed us.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).