For the past two days I’ve been wandering the streets of Cambridge, admiring the old buildings of the University including the King’s College chapel, visiting museums and learning about the history of “town and gown.”
Cambridge University dates from the 13th century when a dispute in Oxford led some faculty and students to move to the city of Cambridge. The oldest college, Peterhouse, was founded in the year 1284 but teaching had begun in Cambridge in 1209. The University is the fourth oldest university in the world. There are 31 independent “colleges” within the University. Today about 20,000 students are enrolled, many of them pursuing graduate studies.
Travel writer Bill Bryson’s latest book is entitled The Road to Little Dribbling. It’s an update of the book that began his career twenty years ago, Notes from a Small Island. Both books are filled with witty observations of life in many of the cities and villages of Great Britain. His chapter on Cambridge includes this about the famous Cavendish laboratory which was the workplace of many scientists from 1874 to 1974:
“Somebody once observed to me that probably no small patch of earth has produced more revolutionary thinking than an area a few hundred yards across in the centre of Cambridge. Here you had Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, William Harvey, Charles Babbage, Alan Turing, John Maynard Keynes, Louis Leakey, Bertrand Russell and more than we could list here. Altogether ninety people from Cambridge have won Nobel prizes, more than any other institution in the world, and the greater portion of these – nearly one-third – came out of this anonymous building… where J.J. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897 [and] DNA was revealed by Francis Crick and James Watson …”
So here I am in the intellectual center of the universe!
Many of the buildings where students live and study were constructed centuries ago. These enormous, ancient structures are located throughout the town. Some colleges are obviously older and richer than others. Clearly there was a competition to build the grandest structures among them that must have gone on for centuries. All the colleges are behind high brick walls and gates. Some have the gates locked and don’t welcome visitors, some open their gates for a fee (a couple of which are quite expensive), and a few welcome visitors to their courtyards and chapels. There are large, ornate churches inside the walls of most of colleges.
Of these chapels the most famous is King’s College Chapel, known around the world for its choir and its architecture. The chapel is a late British gothic building, a long rectangle decorated in the “perpendicular” style known for large windows separated by narrow vertical stone walls supported by buttresses.
The ceiling is famous for its fan vaulting.
There are many beautiful stained-glass windows.
I have really enjoyed my three days in Cambridge. There’s much to see and do here. Tomorrow I move on to Lincoln, England, a city I’ve been to twice before that I really like. I’ll be there for a week. I may not post to the blog again before Monday.
In the meantime, here are a couple more pictures I like from Cambridge.
Read the history of King’s College Chapel by clicking here. It’s fascinating.
For more images and information about the colleges of Cambridge click here for a website that has both.
Wikipedia has a long article about the history of the university.