Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Day 36 - Cambridge, it's not just a University...

Cambridge Train Station
We managed to catch the express train to Cambridge from Kings Cross this morning, so our journey time averaged around 45 minutes each way.  First thing we did was purchase a map.  Unfortunately it doesn't include all the streets, but it does give an artist's representation of all the buildings and sites, which was helpful in some cases, but like Bath and London Cambridge has a lot of pathways and alleyways that aren't marked on the graphic map.  So, we went to the Tourist Information center and purchased a more street-detailed map.  Between the two, we managed to find our way without too much back tracking.

Cambridge Market Square with Great St. Mary's Church in the background
Our first stop was the Market Place.  Cambridge’s colourful and historic open air market sits in the heart of the City.  Stalls have been trading at the historic market square in the city centre since the middle ages. They sell a wide range of goods including books, music, films, clothes, jewellery, fresh food, second-hand bikes, plants, mobile phones and accessories, and much more.  I tried a fresh Strawberry/banana smoothie.  Refreshing.

King's College Gatehouse Building front
Our next stop was King's College.  Formally named The King's College of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas in Cambridge, the college lies on the River Cam and faces out onto King's Parade in the center of the city.

King's was founded in 1441 by Henry VI, soon after he had founded its sister college in Eton. However, the King's plans for the college were disrupted by the Wars of the Roses and resultant scarcity of funds, and his eventual deposition. Little progress was made on the project until in 1508 Henry VII began to take an interest in the college, most likely as a political move to legitimize his new position. The building of the college's chapel, begun in 1446, was finally finished in 1544 during the reign of Henry VIII.

King's College Chapel
In order to tour the college, you need to begin in the chapel.  King's College Chapel is regarded as one of the greatest examples of late Gothic English architecture. It has the world's largest fan-vault, and the chapel's stained-glass windows and wooden chancel screen are considered some of the finest from their era. The building is seen as emblematic of Cambridge. 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.

King's College Chapel West Window
The vaulted ceiling is visible in the picture above along with the Last Judgment pictured in the West Window, , which is by the Clayton and Bell company and dates from 1879.  The chapel itself was built in phases by a succession of Kings of England from 1446 to 1515, a period which spanned the Wars of the Roses. However, the chapel's large stained glass windows were not completed until 1531, and its early Renaissance rood screen was only erected in 1532-36.

King's College Chapel Rood Screen
This large, wooden screen, which separates the nave from the altar and supports the chapel organ, was erected in 1532-36 by King Henry VIII of England in celebration of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. The screen in an example of early Renaissance architecture, which is a striking contrast to the Perpendicular Gothic chapel.

Adoration of the Magi by Rubens serves as an altarpiece
In addition to the glorious twenty-six large stained glass windows, twenty-four of which date from the sixteenth century; Peter Paul Rubens' painting the Adoration of the Magi was gifted to the college by property millionaire Alfred E. Allnatt in 1961.  A generous gift considering he had purchased the painting just two years before for a world-record price.

Unfortunately, Ruben's painting was so big that the raised floor of the chapel's east end, required by the 1448 Founder's Will, would have to be lowered and leveled to prevent the baroque artwork obscuring the bottom of the Last Judgment window.

The Last Judgment West Window
After we left the chapel, we walked out into the college's front court.  The Front Court is architecturally mixed, with the Gothic or neo-Gothic  style of the Chapel, Gatehouse, Screen and Wilkins' Building contrasting with the classical style of the Gibbs' Building.

The Gibbs Building and front court
After the Chapel, Gibbs' is the second oldest building in College. When masons stopped working in 1461 they left a large block of stone in the Front Court. This stone was laid as the foundation stone for the Gibbs Buidling.

This building, named after its architect James Gibbs , was begun in 1724. It is constructed in White Portland Stone. It was the only part to be built of a large scheme that Gibbs designed, which was planned to include similar buildings on the south and east side of the front court. The Gibbs' Building now contains Fellows' rooms, the Tutorial Office and the Turing Room (student computer room).

Henry VI drew up detailed plans for a ‘great court’ enclosed on all four sides like most Oxford and Cambridge courts. Until 1828 the Chapel had rough stones jutting out of the eastern corner of the south wall, where the screen joins the Chapel now.  These stones were left so that they could join any buildings built along the eastern side of the court. As late as 1877 there were plans to build rooms where the screen is, but the plans never came to fruition. When it became obvious that the court was not going to be properly enclosed, the Chapel wall was finished.

The college gatehouse and the Wilkins' Building
The Porters' Lodge is the gatehouse for the College. Its fascinating architecture is a product of the neo-Gothic fashion of the 1830s. In daily College life, the Porters receive visitors, sort the College post, and manage the security of the College. Until 1963 the Head Porter lived in the Porter’s Lodge. He was expected to do gardening on top of his other duties, and often he was the College barber. Today the building contains offices.

The Wilkins' Building was completed in 1828. William Wilkins designed the screen, gatehouse, and the main part of the Wilkins' Building. The building work involved the controversial demolition of half the buildings in King's Parade.

King's College Dining Hall
The Wilkins' Building also contains the Hall, where in the past the gowned students would rise as the Fellows entered and walked the length of the Hall to the High Table. After a Latin Grace, intoned by a scholar, the Fellows would wine and dine, while the undergraduates would eat food of indifferent quality, served in the body of the Hall. Women were forbidden in Hall, even as servants, until 1958.  The Hall still forms a major part of day to day College life, serving as a dining room for both canteen meals and formal dinners.

I have so much more to share about Cambridge, including the successful result of our scavenger hunt for Dr. Who, but it's too much to cover in one day, so I'll add more snippets and photos interspersed throughout the following days.  Until then, I'll say good night.


  1. Cambridge sure does have a lot going for it. Even Harvard, founded in 1636 (according to Wikipedia), doesn't have the deep and formidable history that Cambridge has. What a wonderful place for young people and scholars to find common ground.

  2. No indeedy. In fact, the first benefactor of Harvard, John Harvard, for which the school is named, attended Emmanuel University at Cambridge where he earned his B.A. in 1632 and M.A. in 1635, and was subsequently ordained a dissenting minister before he married and sailed to America (supposedly on the Mayflower).

    He died of tuberculosis on 14 September 1638 (31 years old) and was buried at Charlestown's Phipps Street Burying Ground. In an oral will spoken to his wife, the childless Harvard bequeathed £780 (half of his monetary estate, with the remainder to his wife) as well as—and perhaps more importantly—his 320-volume scholar's library to help establish the university. It was subsequently ordered "that the Colledge agreed upon formerly to bee built at Cambridg shalbee called Harvard Colledge."

    So, Cambridge University (established in 1207) was over 400 years old by the time John Harvard bequeathed his library to the institution. When you realize that our country won't even be 300 years old until 2076, it sort of puts the difference in perspective. Even the town of Cambridge, MA was named after the English University, its original name being Newtowne.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.