Exhibition captions

Case 1 | Case 2 | Case 3 | Case 4 | Case 5 | Case 6 | Case 7 | Case 8 | Case 9 | Case 10 | Case 11

Case 1 Origins: true or false?

In common with many ancient institutions, the University of Cambridge has its foundation myths. However, historian Roger of Wendover (d. 1236) provides a more reliable, near contemporary account of events. In 1209, in the aftermath of the hanging of three scholars for the murder of a local woman, the University of Oxford went into voluntary suspension and its scholars dispersed to Paris, Reading and Cambridge. Cambridge was no centre of studies, but its group included a local man, John Grim, possibly as their leader, who had held the office of Master of the Schools. He and several others were simply coming home, temporarily as they thought …

Top shelf – False

Spurious bulls of popes Honorius I, 624/5 and Sergius I, 699

The Church claimed authority over scholars as clerks in holy orders. In the early centuries the Bishop of Ely confirmed university elections and undertook ‘visitations’ to investigate administrative and theological probity. Allegedly proving its independence from ecclesiastical control and continued existence from at least the seventh century, the university produced this document in an appeal to Pope Martin V against interference in 1430. The resulting Barnwell Process exempted the university thereafter from archiepiscopal and episcopal jurisdiction.

UA Luard 115

Order of service for the annual Commemoration of Benefactors with King Sigebert at the head, 1641

Sigebert, king of East Anglia ca 629-ca 634, is reputed by Bede to have introduced Christianity into his kingdom and founded a school for boys to be taught reading and writing in Latin. He is here credited with founding or restoring the university, with the assistance of St Felix, in 630. Despite the list’s extension over the next three centuries to reflect benefactions after 1641, chiefly of endowed professorships, Sigebert retained his place at its head until 1914.

UA Collect.Admin.43, pp. 22-3

Edmund Carter
The history of the University of Cambridge: from its original, to the year 1753
London: printed for the author, and sold by the booksellers at Cambridge; Mr Fletcher at Oxford, and Mr Davis and Mr Woodyer, 1753

The oldest of all inter-university contests was the lying match. Carter’s account claimed that Cambridge pre-dated Oxford by nearly three centuries. Sigebert was only restoring the institution after the depredations of Saxon invaders. It was originally founded by a Spanish prince, Cantaber, governor under King Arthur. The subscribers to the publication, some of whose names are on the left-hand page, doubtless welcomed the victory. The majority had Cambridge connections.

Cam.d.753.1, p. 1

Bottom shelf – True

Great Survey of the demesne manors of the Bishop of Ely, 1251

Cambridge was not a cathedral town and from 1109 was subject to the Bishop of Ely, 17 miles to the north. By 1251 the wealthy bishop owned lands in the Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Several early masters in the university, such as John of Foxton and Adam of Horningsea, are found as witnesses in diocesan charters, hinting at the local connections which drew the scholars here in 1209.

EDR G3/27, f. 1r

William Camden (1551-1623)
Britannia, sive Florentissimorum regnorum Angliæ, Scotiæ, Hiberniæ, et insularum adiacentium ex intima antiquitate chorographica descriptio
Londini: impensis Georgii Bishop & Iohannis Norton, M.DC.VII. [1607]

Settled by Romans, Saxons and Danes, by 1209 Cambridge, or Grantebrycge as it was known, was a thriving market town of mayor and burgesses, enjoying three major annual trading fairs and well-placed between fertile shire, fenland and the sea beyond. William Kip’s map of Cambridgeshire (derived from Christopher Saxton’s map of 1576) clearly depicts the waterways and bridging points across the county which were vitally important to communications and the transporting of goods.

R.8.26, p. 356


Case 2 A self-governing community

Statutes on the election and authority of the chancellor, compiled in the fifteenth century

As corporate head of the university, the chancellor was to be elected by senior members, resolutely maintain the constitution enacted in common, hear lawsuits affecting members and appoint a deputy, a vice-chancellor, if absent. Among other statutes in this compilation are those regulating further officials, lectures, examinations, degrees and the academical calendar. Modified as organisational needs required, the medieval statutes were a living tradition supplemented by custom. Note the volume’s carrying chain for ceremonial occasions.

UA Junior Proctor’s Book, Collect.Admin.2, ff. 56v-57r

Diary entry of Joseph Romilly (1791-1864), university registrary, welcoming the investigations of a Royal Commission, 4 May 1850

From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, progressive opinion inside and outside the university debated the educational needs of an industrialising society. A combination of Royal Commissions and modernising committees, in which Romilly participated, overhauled university structure, study and finance and promulgated new statutes. The Council was established as chief executive body and the General Board of Studies made responsible for a broader curriculum, higher examination standards and new lectureships, while the Financial Board managed the university’s assets.

MS Add.6826, p. 76

Annual meeting minutes of the English Faculty, incorporating students as voting members, 9 November 1972

Increased social and political liberalism combined with student unrest to further democratise university governance from the late 1960s. The English Faculty Board, its membership previously confined to academics, was the first to incorporate student representatives. Such a move was subsequently recommended across the university by the Devlin Committee Report (referred to in point 4.b) commissioned in the wake of a student occupation of the Old Schools in February 1972.

UA ENGL 2/10/2

Voting paper on changes to governance, including an increase in the number of external members on the Council, 2008

A postal ballot may be held on motions for decision (known as ‘graces’) put to the Regent House by the Council in cases where a sufficient number of members object, or in elections. Graces for ballot may also be initiated by the Regent House. Flysheets stating the pros and cons of the grace accompany the ballot paper. The proposal here to elect four rather than two external members, out of a total membership of 24, was carried.

UA Votes 9


Case 3 Furnished with officers

Proctors’ indenture accounting for the contents of the University Chest at the annual transfer of office, 1363

This is the earliest surviving of the university accounts. Thomas de Byngham and John de Kent list money to the value of £32 12s 3 ¾d; an alabaster cup placed as a pledge; four books of canon law and one of Lombard’s Sentences; vestments and silk cloths; and muniments, including 33 royal charters, the university’s defence against any threat to its rights and privileges. Until 1570 the proctors were the chief financial officers of the university.

UA CUR 1.2.1

Grace Book compiled by the registrary, 1589-1620

Governing body decisions were recorded in a series of Grace Books from 1454 onwards. On the left is James I’s requirement in 1613 that all graduating as master or doctor subscribe to the three Articles of Religion of the Church of England. This stipulation was extended to all graduands from 1616 and only abolished in 1871. Beneath is a list of those graduating in the higher faculties of theology and medicine.

UA Grace Book Epsilon, p. 194

Votes for university members of Parliament, 1790

From 1604, Cambridge and Oxford each elected two MPs. Court patronage and political affiliation influenced university appointments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The votes cast in 1790 have been sorted into bundles by candidate: William Pitt, Lord Euston and Laurence Dundas. Tory William Pitt (1759-1806), MA of Pembroke College, represented the university for 22 years from 1784; for 19 of them as prime minister. The university franchise was abolished in 1948.


Notes on university business for the guidance of the vice-chancellor, compiled 1895-1910

The notes were begun by Augustus Austen Leigh (1840-1905), vice-chancellor from 1893 to 1895. Note the range of activity - academic, religious and financial -  undertaken by the vice-chancellor throughout the year and the references to committee work, the forum for college and university cooperation. Austen Leigh was reforming provost of King’s College from 1889, having earlier been tutor, dean and vice-provost.

UA O.II.258, p. 23

Officers and honorands at an honorary degree Congregation, 5 June 1980

The marshal leads the procession to a ceremony in the Senate House. The (visible) honorands, in scarlet doctoral robes, are politician Simone Veil, philosopher Karl Popper and composer Pierre Boulez. Next come the senior proctor, carrying the statutes as badge of office, university constables and other officers, and senior academics. Honorary degrees have been conferred for over 500 years. As the university’s highest accolade, they are nowadays awarded to persons renowned in academia, the arts, and public affairs.

UA Phot.134


Case 4 A collegiate university of men and women

First statutes of Trinity College, 1552

Henry VIII founded Trinity College in 1546 by the merger of two existing colleges, King’s Hall and Michaelhouse, with Physick Hostel. The statutes prescribed a master, 50 fellows and a student body made up of 60 scholars supported by endowments, several scholar-servants (or sizars) and up to 54 fee-paying pensioners. Chapter VI (shown here) inaugurated a tutorial system. Fellows took responsibility for students’ academic and moral progress, teaching them Greek, for instance, and ensuring they settle their bills.

EDR C 5/5/1, pp. 16-17

Cook’s accounts for expenditure at Queens’ College, December 1632

Colleges are where students live, eat and socialise. By the 1630s Queens’ College, founded 1446-8, numbered around 200 fellows and students who came together daily in Hall to dine. Great college celebrations centred on Christmas. December’s expenses mainly covered fish and meat, but also bread, coal, and laundry. On the Wednesday and Friday after Christmas Day, they also included 5s spent on musicians. 

Queens’ College QCV 25

Plan of proposed buildings at Cavendish College, 1874

From the 1860s calls for cheaper access to university avoiding college fees prompted the setting up of student hostels, such as Fitzwilliam and Selwyn Halls. Cavendish was another, founded in 1873 by the County College Association. This aerial view shows the ambitious construction proposed for its 10 acre site on Hills Road. Dogged by financial difficulties, however, only a small part was completed. Following closure in 1892 the site was purchased by a teacher training institution, Homerton College.

UA College VII.1


Case 5 A collegiate university of men and women

Memorial of more than 8500 names calling for students from Girton and Newnham Colleges to be formally admitted to examinations and degrees, 1880; with opposition ‘arguments’ at the vote in 1897

In the 1870s women were permitted to attend lectures and sit examinations, but only at the discretion of individual academics. The informal success of a few showed they could compete with men in tripos examinations. In 1881 women won the formal right to sit examinations, but not to proceed to the degrees conferred on the results. Further memorials in 1887 and university-wide votes in 1897 and 1921 also failed to provide a remedy. Assorted missiles assailed voters outside the Senate House in 1897, launched by excitable and conservative undergraduates.

UA Synd.II.31, MS Doc.812

Students on the Course on Development, 1975-6

This one-year course was originally designed, at the behest of the Colonial Office, for graduates going into the diplomatic service. From the 1950s, to reflect the recruitment of more local staff and moves towards colonial self-government, the course broadened its clientele and its content, incorporating subjects such as development economics. In 1975-6 students attended from Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malawi, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand and Turkey.

UA CDEV 13/2

Press statement and brochures for Bridget’s, the hostel for students with severe disabilities, 1989 and 2000

Founded by Professor Margaret Spufford, Bridget’s opened in October 1991. It provided 24-hour care to enable up to seven students to study in higher education institutions across Cambridge. The hostel was in a converted former nurses’ home on the Old Addenbrooke’s site. In its first decade, 1991-2001, 35 students lived at Bridget’s. It closed in 2003, largely in consequence of moves towards the integrated housing of all students in college or university accommodation.

UA BRID 19, 30


Case 6 Resident in the town of Cambridge

Proceedings in the Piepowder Court at Sturbridge Fair, 8 September 1568

Summary justice was dispensed at the fair, a vast, month-long trading event on Sturbridge Common every September. The proctors erected a booth from which they patrolled to detect breaches of law, such as selling unwholesome goods. These are the earliest surviving records of the court, inscribed by the registrary. On the left is a list of court officials; on the right, summaries of the cases heard. One litigant has transported his goods all the way from Newark-upon-Trent.

UA Comm.Ct.V.5, ff. 55v-56r

Plague bill recording total mortality in Cambridge, 10-17 July 1666

Plague deaths by parish were published weekly during a visitation. Even at its height in July 1666 the colleges escaped infection, because the habit was for most scholars to disperse to their homes for the duration. University and town worked together in plague years, the 1590s, 1620s and 1630s being particularly ill-favoured, to contain the disease’s spread and treat its victims. This was a period of rapid population increase in town and university.

UA T.X.21.28

Spinning-House committals of Jane Bird and Eliza Cooper as alleged prostitutes, 1846-8

Most of the public order side of proctorial business had ended before 1800, but the imprisonment and prosecution of alleged prostitutes continued until the late nineteenth century, despite the establishment of an efficient police force. Bird and Cooper were repeat offenders. Bird occasionally received longer sentences because of violent behaviour. The university’s prison, the Spinning-House, was on St Andrew’s Street, on the current site of local government offices.

UA T.VIII.2, entries 671-2


Case 7 Students at play

Rules governing dress, 1588

In the sixteenth century an increasing proportion of students came from wealthy backgrounds. More ostentatious dress, a mark of social status, was condemned as unscholarly. These orders, issued at the chancellor’s command, prescribed not only academical dress of cap and gown, but also hair length, doublet and hose. There were to be no ‘longe locks’, no silk or velvet jackets, and no stockings of ‘venetian fashion’. Dress was to be in plain black cloth.

UA Collect.Admin.8, pp. 555-6

T.H. Thornton and R.W. Sanderson of Trinity College and W. Colbeck and O. Phillipps of Emmanuel College expelled for cheating, 27 December 1870

This is a record of questioning at the Forum Domesticum, a disciplinary tribunal comprising the vice-chancellor and college heads. Thornton et al. were accused of paying Henry Wheaton, an apprentice at the university printing house, for advance sight of that term’s examination papers. They were found guilty and expelled; in the parlance of the day, ‘rusticated’ or ‘sent down’.

UA Misc.Collect.45, pp. 130-1

Student activism inside the Old Schools and on the Senate House lawn, 1969

Several hundred students occupied the Old Schools, 29-31 January 1969, in solidarity with their peers at the LSE, demanding the democratisation of university governance. Similar demonstrations occurred at York and Essex Universities. They also demanded a central student union. On 1 May 1969 gowns were burned in front of the Senate House in protest against examinations, and tussles had with officials over the extinguishing hose. The Student Representative Council was established in 1969 and renamed Cambridge Student Union in 1970.

UA O.V.121

First Boat Race challenge, 12 March 1829

Rowing is second only to cricket as the oldest inter-university sports event. Within three months of its foundation the Boat Club had challenged Oxford to a race during the Easter vacation. The first race was held at Henley-on-Thames and Oxford were clear winners. Thereafter Boat Races took place at Westminster, but by 1845 they had moved six miles upstream to Putney. Excepting only the war years, the race has been an annual event since 1856.


Poster for a Musical Society concert, 7 March 1882

Cambridge University Musical Society (known as CUMS) was established in 1843 for the study and performance of choral, orchestral and chamber music. Women were members from early on. This poster dates from the conductorship of Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), who raised performance standards, organised joint oratorio performances with city societies and invited internationally renowned composers to be guest conductors. He encouraged the staging of dramatic productions and began the tradition of performing new works to national critical acclaim.

UA SOC.XV.11.8

Record of peal rung by the Guild of Change Ringers, 18 June 1904

Founded in 1879 the guild has predominantly practised method change ringing rather than call change ringing. A common feature of nineteenth and early twentieth-century clubs was the participation of senior members alongside undergraduates. Bell-ringer A.H.F. Boughey (1849-1936) was curate of Great St Mary’s, 1909-13, and fellow of Trinity College, 1874-1936. His college rooms were long a resounding centre for the practice of campanology. Since at least 1957 the principal practice and service ringing tower has been at St Andrew the Great.

UA SOC.84.10.2

Crystal Palace stage set by Malcolm Burgess (1926-1978) for the Footlights May Week revue ‘A flash in the Cam’, June 1951

Act Two opened with the song ‘It’s 1851’, written by Julian Slade (1930-2006), undergraduate at Trinity College. Before comedy turned satirical in the late 1950s, the annual revue comprised original songs and sketches rather more burlesque or music hall in influence, with elaborate sets and costumes. For the last 125 years, the Footlights has been a nursery for comic talent: from Jack Hulbert in the 1910s to current stars Mitchell and Webb.

UA FOOT 2/6/2

Motion, speakers and vote at a Union Society debate, 18 February 1965

High-profile, public figures regularly participate in student debates. On this occasion, African-American writer James Baldwin and conservative academic William F. Buckley Jr. spoke on either side, as the highlight of an evening which was recorded by BBC Television. The Union Society has been debating since 1815. Alfred Waterhouse designed its premises in 1866, including debating chamber, library and bar. Many recent politicians honed their public-speaking skills as student members of the Union.

Union Society debate register, 1957-65


Case 8 Students at work

Compilation of set texts in logic by Aristotle, Porphyry, Boethius and Gilbert of Poitiers, ca 1260

The logical treatises of Aristotle were the core of the syllabus in the medieval arts faculty, with commentaries by the other writers. Logic dominated the first two years of study, thereafter complemented by speculative grammar, realist natural philosophy and metaphysics. Illumination of such workaday compilations is unusual. Perhaps they were purchased by richer students or their teachers. The subject of the historiated initial - a man chopping wood - may be derived from the title of the text: Boethius’ Liber de divisione.

Pembroke College MS.193, f. 39r

Questions disputed in the theology, philosophy, civil law and medicine schools, with the names of disputants, 1581-3

Verbal disputations formed part of the exercises for degrees up to the nineteenth century. These rare survivals of propositions for debate in the superior faculties begin, top left, with Theology: 1. ‘The authority of sacred scripture is greater than that of the Church’ and 2. ‘The English Church is the true Christian Church’. Master Nichols is named as the candidate.

UA Misc.Collect.10, pp. 12-13

Pvb. Terentii Afri Comoediae sex
Cantabrigiae: Ex officina Iohannis Legatt, 1589

Several statutes in the late fifteenth century signalled a move away from logic as the foundation study and towards ‘libri humanistici’, thereafter specified as ‘Terence’. In the new learning of the English renaissance, the Roman comedian Publius Terentius Afer was reputed a cornucopia of the nice points of Latin grammar for use in persuasive discourse. The first Terence lecturer, Caius Auberinus, was appointed in 1496 and the humanities lecture room long known as the School of Terence.


Cambridge problems, being a collection of printed questions proposed to the candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Arts at the general examinations, from the year 1801 to the year 1810 inclusive

Cambridge: Printed by F. Hodson for J. Deighton, 1810

Examination paper for the Mathematical Tripos, 1808

Written examinations developed from oral tests which had traditionally followed disputations. The tests, conducted in the Senate House from the mid-eighteenth century, became the primary means to rank candidates by merit as deserving honours or ordinary degrees. Questions were based on Newtonian mathematics and physics. These early printed papers were collected to aid later students, hence the annotations. The term ‘tripos’ derives from the three-legged stool on which the senior BA sat in the fifteenth century to dispute with undergraduates.

Cam.c.810.15, pp. 136-7

The order of the wooden spoon
Harmsworth London Magazine, vol. VIII, February-July 1902

Until 1910 Mathematical Tripos examiners listed honours graduates in continuous order of merit, divided into three classes: wranglers, senior optimes and junior optimes. Tremendous prestige attached to being senior wrangler (head of the list) and notoriety to the man at the bottom. He was dubbed, and received from his friends, the wooden spoon. The wooden wedge, inspired by Hensleigh Wedgwood, last in 1824, was awarded to the candidate in the same position in the Classical Tripos. By 1902 roughly 45% of students in all disciplines graduated with honours.

L996.c.45.8, p. 329

Attendance of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) at botany lectures, 1831

Preparing as he thought for life as a clergyman, Darwin’s formal studies for the ordinary BA at Christ’s 1828-31, embraced elementary mathematics, theology and classics. His growing passion for natural history, however, prompted attendance at lectures given by John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), Professor of Botany. Lectures were supplemented by practical classes in plant recognition and dissection, and by field trips. Henslow became Darwin’s scientific mentor, ultimately proposing him as naturalist for the ‘Beagle’ voyage, 1831-6.

UA O.XIV.261, f. 11v

Debate at the launch of the Social and Political Sciences Tripos, reported in The 1/- Paper, 6 June 1969

The development of sociology was a marked feature of academic change in the 1960s. The tripos mingled sociology, relatively new to Cambridge, with the disciplines of politics, psychology and anthropology which had been taught as part of the Historical, Natural Sciences and Archaeology and Anthropology Triposes since the late nineteenth century. Students campaigning for change in examinations, curriculum and university governance established The 1/- Paper in 1968.

Cam.a., [pp. 2-3]


Case 9 Teachers and researchers

List of the books, chiefly medical, of Thomas Lorkin (ca 1528-1591), Regius Professor of Physic, compiled at his death

An inventory of possessions was made in the process of proving Lorkin’s will in the Vice-Chancellor’s Court. Lorkin owned over 600 books, one of the largest private libraries in England, the vast majority medical. He had obtained continental titles to keep abreast of developments, including works by Paracelsus (1493-1541) who pioneered the use of chemicals in medicine. Having regularly loaned books to colleagues, he bequeathed them all to the University Library with the same educational intention.

UA VC Probate, Inventory of T. Lorkin 1591, f. 22

Lectures on optics by Isaac Newton (1642-1727), his first as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, 1669/70

Isaac Newton’s teaching skills were perhaps small; it was said that ‘so few went to hear Him, & fewer yt understood him, yt oftimes he did…for want of Hearers, read to ye Walls’.  Nonetheless pearls beyond price were on offer to his pupils.  In this autograph fair copy of his optical lectures is the demonstration of the fundamental Experimentum crucis on the constituents of white light, showing that there was a limit to prismatic dispersion.

MS Add.4002, pp. 50-1

Daniel Waterland (1683-1740)
Advice to a young student with a method of study for the first four years
London: John Crownfield; sold by Cornelius Crownfield, 1730

Waterland was master of Magdalene College from 1714-40 and a respected tutor. His reading scheme was conceived for the collegiate rather than university curriculum, embracing a broader range of subjects than those examined for a degree, including philosophy and classical literature. Among preferred authors were Xenophon, Caesar, Cicero and Sallust. He also explained how to read and take notes and prescribed rules of conduct, such as twice-daily attendance at chapel and avoidance of ale-houses and idleness.

Cam.c.730.3, pp. 8-9

Letter from the Duke of Devonshire (1808-1891), chancellor, offering to fund the Cavendish Laboratory, 1870

From the mid-nineteenth century it was recognised that laboratory provision must be made for research and teaching in natural sciences. By 1870 a price had been put on the building, apparatus and professor needed to supply the lack in experimental physics, but no source of funding identified. The Duke’s munificence underwrote an increase in numbers of staff and students, including, from 1894, the first ‘advanced students’, forerunners of today’s graduate students.

UA VCCorr.I.1/2

Paper of J.J. Thomson (1856-1940) on the discovery of the electron, 1899

Fin de siècle theoretical physicists did not necessarily accept the existence of the sub-atomic particles of today’s scientific landscape. Wilhelm Röntgen (1845-1923) had used ‘cathode rays’ to produce the X-rays he discovered; but what was the constituent of the cathode rays? At the Cavendish Laboratory Thomson pioneered revolutionary techniques to establish that they were composed of negatively charged sub-atomic ‘corpuscles’, soon to be called electrons, some 1/2000th the mass of a hydrogen atom.

MS Add.7654 PD13

William Bateson (1861-1926) coins the term ‘genetics’ in a letter to Adam Sedgwick (1854-1913), 18 April 1905

The mechanism of inheritance, central to natural selection, had eluded Charles Darwin. A Moravian monk studying the inherited characteristics of pea plants, Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), made this discovery in 1865 but was justifiably concerned about disseminating his important findings, which were not known generally in his lifetime. William Bateson brought Mendel’s work to the wider attention of scientists in the early twentieth century, coining this commonly used term to describe the field.

MS Add.8634 G5p

Minutes of a Moral Science Club meeting, 23 February 1939

Ideas are honed in debate. The club was established in 1878 as a philosophical discussion group for senior and junior members. From his arrival in Cambridge in 1911 until his death, a dominant figure was the analytic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). On the 23rd, he wrote on a blackboard for emphasis in opening a discussion on definitions and language usage which included fellow philosophers Richard Braithwaite and Alfred Cyril Ewing and graduate student Derek Prince.

UA Min.IX.44, p. 74


Case 10 The physical setting

Building contract of William Harward and William Bacon for the south range of the Schools, 25 June 1466

The two carpenters from Essex undertook to make the floor, roof, doors, windows and staircase of the new south range for £23 6s 8d plus £10 in hand. A new library room was on the first floor, its roof adorned with carved angels, and the Canon Law School on the ground. This was the third side of the Schools quadrangle to be built. Work had begun with the north range around 1347 and ended in 1475 with the completion of the east.

UA Luard 128

Plan (unexecuted) of Botanic Garden glasshouse, 1830

A formal physic garden was laid out in the 1760s on five acres east of Free School Lane, on what is now the New Museums Site. With the growth of the town, the garden was increasingly cramped for plant growing, experimentation and instructional buildings. In 1831, 38 acres were acquired off Trumpington Road as a more open site, spacious enough for an arboretum and a lake, with a modest glasshouse.


Richard Bankes Harraden
[Illustrations of the University of Cambridge ...]
[Cambridge, 1830?]

University Observatory, ca 1830

In 1828, just four years from completion of the Mead Building, George Airy (1801-1892) was elected Plumian Professor in the university, /ex officio/ observatory director, at around the time this view was taken showing the academical gentlemen about the grounds. However Airy, dynamic in Cambridge as he was to be at Greenwich, used that very ground for the location of the building of the Northumberland Telescope when this was presented in 1834.


G.B. Airy’s diagrams relating to the Northumberland telescope, 1833-41

In 1835 Professor Airy was appointed Astronomer Royal. During his last year in Cambridge Airy was heavily involved in the design, construction and housing of the telescope financed by the Duke of Northumberland using a glass objective by Robert-Aglae Cauchoix of Paris, one of the largest in existence. Airy was unable to hand the reins fully to his successor, James Challis, and continued his superintendence of the project from Greenwich.

MS RGO 6/157, f. 50r


G.B. Airy’s diagrams relating to the Northumberland telescope, 1833-41

In 1835 the Plumian Professor and Observatory Director, George Airy (1801-1892), was appointed Astronomer Royal.  When still in Cambridge Airy was heavily involved in the design, construction and housing of a telescope financed by the Duke of Northumberland using a glass objective by Robert-Aglae Cauchoix of Paris, one of the largest in existence. Airy was unable to hand the reins fully to his successor, James Challis, and continued his superintendence of the project from Greenwich.

MS RGO 6/157, f. 50r

Photograph of Lord Rutherford’s room in the Cavendish Laboratory, ca 1918

The Cavendish Laboratory for experimental physics opened in 1874, the first major development in the former Botanic Garden, on what became known as the New Museums Site. Cambridge experimental physics was pre-eminent in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) ‘disrupted’ the atomic nucleus here. His desk typically portrays an insouciant attitude to tidiness and the health and safety regulations that would worry us today.

MS Add.7653 PA336

Sculptural details for the Sedgwick Museum, outlined by Thomas G. Jackson (1835-1924), architect, in a letter to T. McKenny Hughes (1832-1917), Woodwardian Professor of Geology, 5 March 1902

This was the first of many buildings - museums, laboratories, libraries and offices - erected on the Downing Site acquired by the university from Downing College. The museum, completed in 1904, housed geological and archaeological collections transferred from the Cockerell Building in the town centre, and was a memorial to Adam Sedgwick (1787-1873), Hughes’ predecessor as Woodwardian Professor.

UA GEOL 9/40

Lecture theatre of the Chemical Laboratory, Lensfield Road, under construction, 1960s

A purpose-built Chemical Laboratory fronting Free School Lane, Downing and Pembroke Streets was built in 1888, on the centrally located New Museums Site. It was twice extended in the 1920s. Many science buildings have relocated away from the crowded city centre since the 1950s. In 1958 the Chemistry School moved to spacious accommodation on Lensfield Road, allowing for new staff, equipment and fields of study, including research in mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonancing.


Ordnance Survey maps of West Cambridge, 1998 and 2008

Comparison of the two maps reveals the extent of development in the last decade. In the upper right quarter, for example, the Whipple Laboratory (of Engineering) has been joined by the Computer Laboratory, Microsoft Research Laboratory and Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics. In the two yellow areas construction is underway, the smaller of the two being the new Centre for the Physics of Medicine. To its left and below, on Charles Babbage Road, are university residences, nursery and shops.

Prints from Ordnance Survey MasterMap® data, voluntarily deposited in the Map Department; scale 1: 2500


Case 11 Cambridge in the wider world

Teachers’ certificate examination paper, script and letter of Lt J.O.N. Vickers, prisoner of war in Germany, 1944

The university arranged lectures, set examinations and awarded certificates of competence for would-be teachers from 1878 onwards. It also inspected teacher training establishments outside Cambridge. Jon Vickers (1916-2008) of Queens’ College had graduated BA in 1938. He considered qualifying as a teacher while incarcerated, submitting scripts for criticism, but was discouraged, not least because of the impossibility of undertaking teaching practice! On release, he pursued a successful career in the trades union movement.

UA EDUC 19/119

Map showing examination centres in the United Kingdom and overseas, 1898-1902, included in the Local Examinations Syndicate 45th Annual Report, 1902

In 1858, its first year, the Local Examinations Syndicate tested 370 schoolboys in eight English cities. Questions were set in ‘modern subjects’, such as English language and literature, science and modern languages, alongside traditional classics. Within five years, girls had begun to participate and the number of local centres had doubled. Representations from Trinidad in 1862 saw examinations extended across the British Empire until, by 1892, Ceylon had nearly as many candidates as other overseas countries combined.


Syllabuses for lectures offered by the Board of Extra-Mural Studies, 1881, 1905, 1926; with photograph of James Stuart (1843-1913), Professor of Mechanism and Applied Mechanics, ca 1898

The Board evolved from local lectures for adults offered at centres across England from 1873 onwards, supplemented by an annual residential Summer Meeting in Cambridge and, over time, by vacation and summer courses. From the successful centres arose the university colleges of Sheffield, Liverpool and Nottingham, among others. James Stuart was the most prominent early activist for university extension. He was also liberal MP for, successively, Hackney, Hoxton and Sunderland.


Articles of Thomas Thomas (1553-1588) as university printer, with his bond for £200, 11 February 1585/6

Thomas Thomas MA had been a fellow of King’s College. His was the first Cambridge press since about 1524. In drawing up articles, the university sought to control Thomas’ activities and avoid financial risk. It would, for instance, licence publications, which must not include ‘any seditious booke’, but insisted he pay should any lawsuit ensue. Thomas printed around 20 books for the university, including the controversial puritan writings of William Whitaker (1547/8-1595), Regius Professor of Divinity.

UA Pr.B.2.2

Proposal of Lord Acton (1834-1902) for a new publication by Cambridge University Press, the Cambridge Modern History, 1896

Acton was Regius Professor of Modern History from 1895 to 1902. Cosmopolitan by birth and breeding, he accumulated an internationally renowned private library of 60,000 volumes, now in the University Library. His proposal was both practical and visionary. It outlined the multi-volume scale of the project and the primary sources newly available for research across Europe, while positing an international body of experts each contributing individual chapters. A clear critical success on publication, the series inspired a sequence of Cambridge histories.


Photographs of West Africa, taken by John William Scott Macfie (1879-1948), 1910-14

Macfie graduated BA from Gonville and Caius College in 1901, having studied medicine, and completed his training in Edinburgh. From 1910 to 1923 he worked for the West African Medical Service, chiefly in Nigeria and the Gold Coast, treating tropical diseases, including malaria and sleeping sickness. In more than 600 photographs, taken on successive tours, he recorded his work and the natural environment, and the customs and health of local people.

RCS Y3043C albums for tours 1-3

BA graduands subscribe to the Three Articles of Religion, 1631/2

The last stop before graduating, men signed up to the Articles by college. More than half were subsequently ordained. Several combined religion with education: John Harvard of Emmanuel endowed a college in Massachusetts in 1638 which thereafter took his name. His peer Samuel Winter was provost of Trinity College Dublin. John Bond of St Catharine’s was master of Trinity Hall and vice-chancellor. Roger Holmes and Thomas Johnson of Sidney Sussex were head master of Ripon and master at Oundle respectively.
UA Subscriptiones I, pp. 373-4