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Christ's College, Cambridge

Christ's College, Cambridge

Christ's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. The college includes the Master, the Fellows of the College, and about 450 undergraduate and 170 graduate students.[3] The college was founded by William Byngham in 1437 as God's House. In 1505, the college was granted a new royal charter, was given a substantial endowment by Lady Margaret Beaufort, and changed its name to Christ's College, becoming the twelfth of the Cambridge colleges to be founded in its current form. The college is renowned for educating some of Cambridge's most famous alumni, including Charles Darwin and John Milton.

Within Cambridge, Christ's has a reputation for highest academic standards and strong tutorial support. It has averaged 1st place on the Tompkins Table from 1980–2006 and third place from 2006 to 2013, returning to first place in 2018 and 2019.

Christ's College
University of Cambridge
Christs shield.png
Arms of Christ's College, being the arms of the foundress Lady Margaret Beaufort
Blazon: Royal arms of England a bordure componée azure and argent
LocationSt Andrew's Street (map [41] )
Coordinates52°12′23″N 0°07′21″E [42]
MottoSouvent me Souvient (Old French)
Motto in EnglishI often remember
  • William Byngham (1437)
  • Henry VI (nominal, 1448)
Established1437; refounded 1505
Named forJesus Christ
Previous namesGod's House (1437–1505)
Sister colleges
  • Wadham College, Oxford
  • Branford College, Yale
  • Adams House, Harvard[2]
MasterJane Stapleton
Endowment£95.5m(as of 30 June 2017)[4] Consolidated assets: £189.4m [5]
Websitewww.christs.cam.ac.uk [43]
JCRwww.thejcr.co.uk [44]
MCRwww.christsmcr.co.uk [45]
Boat clubchristsbc.soc.srcf.net/wp/ [46]
Christ's College, Cambridge is located in Central Cambridge
Christ's College, Cambridge
Location in Central Cambridge
Christ's College, Cambridge is located in Cambridge
Christ's College, Cambridge
Location in Cambridge


Lady Margaret Beaufort, Christ's College Library

Lady Margaret Beaufort, Christ's College Library

Christ's College was founded by William Byngham in 1437 as God's House, on land which was soon after sold to enable the enlargement of King's College.[6] Byngham obtained the first royal licence for God's House in July 1439.[7] The college was founded to provide for the lack of grammar-school masters in England at the time,[8] and the college has been described as "the first secondary-school training college on record".[9] The original site of Godshouse was surrendered in 1443 to King's College, and currently about three quarters of King's College Chapel stands on the original site of God's House.[10]

After the original royal licence of 1439, three more licences, two in 1442 and one in 1446, were granted before in 1448 God's House received the charter upon which the college was in fact founded.[11] In this charter, King Henry VI was named as the founder, and in the same year the college moved to its current site.[12]

In 1505, the college was endowed by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, and was given the name Christ's College, perhaps at the suggestion of her confessor, the Bishop John Fisher.[13] The expansion in the population of the college in the seventeenth century led to the building, in the 1640s, of the Fellows' Building in what is now Second Court.[13]


The chapel, with a viewing window from the Master's Lodge

The chapel, with a viewing window from the Master's Lodge

The Great Gate on St Andrew's Street.

The Great Gate on St Andrew's Street.

The original 15th/16th century college buildings now form part of First Court, including the chapel, Master's Lodge and Great Gate tower. The gate itself is disproportionate: the bottom has been cut off to accommodate a rise in street level, which can also be seen in the steps leading down to the foot of L staircase in the gate tower. The college hall, originally built at the very start of the 16th century, was restored in 1875–1879 by George Gilbert Scott the younger. The lawn of First Court is famously round, and a wisteria sprawls up the front of the Master's lodge.

Second Court is fully built up on only three sides, one of which is formed by the 1640s Fellows' Building. The fourth side backs onto the Master's garden.

The Stevenson Building in Third Court was designed by J. J. Stevenson in the 1880s and was extended in 1905 as part of the College's Quadcentenary. In 1947 Professor Albert Richardson designed a new cupola for the Stevenson building, and a second building, the neo-Georgian Chancellor's Building (W staircase, now known as The Blyth Building), completed in 1950. Third Court's Memorial Building (Y staircase), a twin of the Chancellor's building, also by Richardson, was completed in 1953 at a cost of £80,000.[14] Third Court is also noted for its display of irises in May and June, a gift to the college in 1946.[15]

The controversial tiered concrete New Court (often dubbed "the Typewriter") was designed in the Modernist style by Sir Denys Lasdun in 1966–70, and was described as "superb" in Lasdun's obituary in the Guardian.[16] Design critic Hugh Pearman comments "Lasdun had big trouble relating to the street at the overhanging rear".[17] It appears very distinctively in aerial photographs, forming part of the northern boundary of the college.

An assortment of neighbouring buildings have been absorbed into the college, of which the most notable is the Todd Building, previously Cambridge's County Hall.[18]

Through an arch in the Fellows' Building is the Fellows' Garden. It includes two mulberry trees, of which the older was planted in 1608, the same year as Milton's birth. Both trees have toppled sideways, the younger tree in the Great Storm of 1987, and are now earthed up round the trunks, but continue to fruit every year.[19]

Swimming Pool

Christ's College is one of only 5 colleges in Oxford or Cambridge to have its own swimming pool. It is fed by water from Hobson's Conduit. Recently refurbished, it is now known as the 'Malcolm Bowie Bathing Pool', and is thought to be the oldest outdoor swimming pool in the UK, dating from the mid 17th century.[20] The other four swimming pools within colleges belong to Girton College (indoor pool), Corpus Christi College (outdoor pool), Emmanuel College (outdoor pool) and Clare Hall (indoor pool).

Plan of College

ChristsCollege Overhead.jpg
Christ's College, Cambridge, from above
Great Gate
First Court
Master's Lodge
Second Court
Fellows' Building
Third Court
Memorial Building
Stevenson Building
Blyth Building
Todd Building
Four Staircase
New Court (Yusuf Hamied Centre)
Fellows' Garden

Academic profile

With a deserved reputation even within Cambridge for the highest academic standards, Christ's came first in the Tompkins Table's twentieth anniversary aggregate table,[21] and between 2001 and 2007, it had a mean position of third.[22] Academic excellence continues at Christ's, with 91% of students in 2013 gaining a first class degree or an upper second (II.i). This is significantly higher than the University average of 70%.[23][24]

Christ's is noted for educating two of Cambridge's most famous alumni, the poet John Milton and the naturalist Charles Darwin, who, during the celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the University, were both placed at the foreground as two of the four most iconic individuals in the University's history.[25][26][27] The college has also educated Nobel Laureates including Martin Evans, James Meade, Alexander R. Todd, Baron Todd and Duncan Haldane.[28][29] It is the University's 6th largest producer of Nobel Prize winners.

Some of the college's other famous alumni include comedians Sacha Baron Cohen, John Oliver and Andy Parsons, Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma, South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts, historian Simon Schama, theologian William Paley and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Professor in Pediatric Oncology Michael Whitehead, husband of Canadian author Louise Penny, completed both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree at Christ’s College.[30] Her fictional character French native speaker Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is said in her first book Still Life to have learned English while an undergraduate at Christ’s College[31], where according to A Great Reckoning he read for a degree in History.

Student life

Christ's College Boat Club's boathouse on the River Cam

Christ's College Boat Club's boathouse on the River Cam

The Junior Combination Room (JCR), represents the undergraduate students. It organises social and welfare events, and negotiates on the students' behalf on important issues. The JCR has a standing committee and a common room for all the students. The JCR's counterpart, the Middle Combination Room (MCR) represents the graduate students of the College, and has its own bar. The MCR organises regular Graduate Halls. A Garden Party is held by both the JCR and the MCR every June in the Fellows' Garden. The Senior Combination Room (SCR) is composed solely of fellows of the College and holds two feasts each year.

The Acting Chaplain of the college is Michael Dormandy.

Other societies in Christ's include:

  • The Marguerites Club, one of the oldest surviving College societies, reformed in 1899 by Gilbert Jessop the then captain of CUCC. It is believed to have originally formed some ten years earlier, but was soon disbanded. Originally the society was confined to captains and secretaries or those with colours in three sports. Nowadays it is also known as a drinking society, as well as a club recognising sporting excellence. The name originated from the club's original blazer, which was navy blue in colour with the Foundress's 'rebus' or badge, signifying her name, embroidered on the pocket.

  • Christ's College Boat Club, the oldest college sports club still active, having been founded in 1830. Like many other Cambridge Colleges, Christ's has its own boathouse on the banks of the Cam.

  • Christ's College Rugby Football Club, founded in 1875 by Alfred Cort Haddon,[32] who is considered the father of modern anthropology. In the 1960 Varsity Match, eight of the starting Cambridge team were students at Christ's and all of the side's points were scored by Christ's players.[33] The CCRFC is nicknamed "The Brown Rings" after the brown and white hoops featured on the match kit.

  • Christ's College Association Football Club, which prides itself on having won the inter-collegiate Cuppers competition more times than any other.

  • Christ's Films, which uses the theatre to screen new films weekly

  • Christ's Amateur Dramatic Society

  • Christ's College Medical Society

  • Christ's Politics Society

  • Christ's College Music Society, founded 1710.

  • Christ's College Chapel Choir

May Ball

Christ's, like most other Cambridge Colleges, also hosts a biennial May Ball in the time after undergraduate examinations which is by students commonly known as May Week. A separate society called "Christ's College May Ball Committee" is set up every two years to organise and direct this event. In 2010, Two Door Cinema Club headlined the entertainment. The May Ball in June 2012 featured a Rio de Janeiro carnival theme. The previous May Ball, named "L'Esprit Nouveau", was held on 15 June 2010 and featured a 1920s Parisian theme.

The May Ball on Tuesday 17 June 2014 was hailed as one of the best May Balls of the year, coming close to perfection.[34] It was themed "The Emerald City".


The College Grace is normally said before any dinner held in the Formal Hall of the College. Though the student body rises for the recitation of the Grace, Christ's is one of the only Colleges in Cambridge where the students do not rise when the Fellows enter and leave the Dining Hall. This is said to be the result of a historical conflict between the Students and Fellows at Christ's, who were on opposite sides during the English Civil War. The words of the Grace are as follows:

Exhilarator omnium Christe**Sine quo nihil suave, nihil jucundum est:
Benedic, quaesumus,
cibo et potui servorum tuorum,
Quae jam ad alimoniam corporis apparavisti;
et concede ut istis muneribus tuis ad laudem tuam utamur
gratisque animis fruamur;
utque quemadmodum corpus nostrum
cibis corporalibus fovetur,
ita mens nostra spirituali verbi tui
*nutrimento pascatur**Per te Dominum nostrum,*Amen.
Christ, the gladdener of all, Without whom nothing is sweet, nothing pleasant:
Bless, we beseech you,
the food and drink of your servants,
Which you have now provided for the nourishment of the body;
And grant that we may use these gifts of yours for your praise,
And enjoy them with grateful minds;
And that, just as our body
is nourished by bodily foods,
So our mind may feed
on the spiritual nourishment of your Word. Through you, our Lord, Amen.

Notable people

Proctors of God's House

  • 1439–1451 William Byngham

  • 1451–1458 John Hurt

  • 1458–1464 William Fallan

  • 1464–1477 William Basset

  • 1477–1490 Ralph Barton

  • 1490–1505 John Sickling

Masters of Christ's

Notable alumni

HRH Prince Ra'ad bin Zeid Al-Hussein1936Iraqi Prince
HRH Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein1964UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
William Ames15761633Reformed Theologian
Thomas Baines16221680Physician, original Fellow of Royal Society
Richard Bancroft15441610Archbishop of Canterbury, Organiser of James I Bible
Jasmine Birtles1962British financial and business commentator, television presenter, author and journalist
Jagdish Chandra Bose18581937Indian physicist
C. Delisle Burns18791942Atheist and secularist writer and lecturer
Brian Cantor1948Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford and previously Vice-Chancellor of the University of York
Sir Anthony Caro19242013Sculptor
Randolph Carter18741932Explorer
Sacha Baron Cohen1971Comedian
John Cook19181984Prolific Anglo-American composer and organist
Miles Corbet1594/51662Regicide
Frederick Cornwallis17131783Archbishop of Canterbury
John Cornwell1940British author and journalist
John James Cowperthwaite19162006Credited with policies allowing Hong Kong's economic boom in the 1960s
John Cridland1961Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry
Charles Darwin18091882British naturalist
Patrick Arthur Devlin, Baron Devlin19051992Jurist, Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
Colin Dexter19302017Novelist
Jill Duff1972Bishop-designate of Lancaster
George Dwyer19081987Archbishop of Birmingham; Council Father of the Second Vatican Council
James Chuter Ede18821965Home Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons
Sir Martin Evans1941Biochemist, Nobel laureate in medicine
Dee Ferris1973British Painter
John Finch16261682Ambassador, original Fellow of Royal Society
Noel Gay18981954Composer
Nina Gold1964BAFTA-winning casting director
Edmund Grindal15191583Archbishop of Canterbury
Alfred Cort Haddon18551940Father of modern anthropology
Duncan Haldane1951Physicist, Nobel laureate in physics
Yusuf Hamied1936Chemist and industrialist
Natalie Haynes1974Writer and broadcaster and a former comedian.
John Healey1960British politician
Derry Irvine, Baron Irvine of Lairg1940Lord Chancellor
Phillip King1934Sculptor
David Knowles18961974Historian
David Konstant1930Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds
John Kotelawala18971980Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
John Lelandc 15061552Father of English history
Tony Lewis1938England and Glamorgan cricket captain; writer and broadcaster
Michael Liebreich1963Clean energy expert, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance
Richard Luce1936Lord Chamberlain
Michael Lynch1965Founder of Autonomy Systems
Allama Mashriqi18831963Founder of the Khaksar Tehreek
Peter Mathieson1959Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh
David Mellor1949British politician
Sir Walter Mildmay1589Founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Miles Millarc 1967Hollywood screenwriter and producer
John Milton16081674English poet
Helen Mort1985Poet
Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma19001979British Admiral of the Fleet and statesman
Thomas Nelson, Jr.17381789Governor of Virginia; signer of the American Declaration of Independence
Davidson Nicol19241994Sierra Leonean academic, diplomat, physician, and writer
John Oliver1977British political comedian
J. Robert Oppenheimer19041967American theoretical physicist and 'father of the atomic bomb'
Andy Parsons1967English comedian and writer
William Paley17431805English theologian and philosopher
Steve Palmer1968Professional football player
John Peile18381910Philologist
William Perkins15581602Leading Puritan Theologian of the Elizabethan Era
Sir John Plumb19112001British historian
Thomas Plume16301704English clergyman, founder of the University's Plumian Chair of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy
Roy Porter19462002British historian
Beilby Porteus17311809Bishop of Chester and Bishop of London, leading reformer and abolitionist
Peter Rawlinson, Baron Rawlinson of Ewell19192006Attorney General for England and Wales
Forrest Reid18751948Cambridge apostle, novelist, literary critic
Austin Robinson18971993British Economist and economic historian
Thomas Robinson, 2nd Baron Grantham17381786British Foreign Secretary
David Say19392006Bishop of Rochester
Simon Schama1945British historian, author, and television presenter
Sir Nicholas Serota1946Director of the Tate Gallery
Walter William Skeat18351912Philologist
Jan Smuts18701950Prime Minister of South Africa, Field Marshal, and Commonwealth statesman
C. P. Snow, Baron Snow19051980British novelist and philosopher
John Soothill19252004Paediatric immunologist
F. Gordon A. Stone19252011British chemist
Szeming Sze19081998Chinese Diplomat, WHO co-founder
Nicholas Tarling19312017Historian
Sir Jeffrey Tate1943Conductor
Henry Teonge16201690Naval chaplain and diarist
Andrew Turnbull, Baron Turnbull1945Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service
Richard Whiteley19432005British television presenter
Rowan Williams1950British theologian, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
Sir Christopher Zeeman19252016British mathematician


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