A Tale Of Two Colleges. 23rd June

Fort St George, Cambridge

When in a University city such as Oxford or Cambridge we feel we should visit a college or two. With a lot to choose from we chose two which couldn’t be more different from each other.

The choir

First was the tourist attraction of Kings College. I wanted to visit the college as it is where a chorister kicks off Christmas Eve singing Once in Royal Davey Daddies City. To be honest I hadn’t come across this until Mick came into my life, now every year either the TV or radio are on for us to listen. The chapel is also quite a visual treat.

The way in

Entrance is best booked in advance, if you can book a week in advance you’ll get £1 off your ticket. The entrance is down Senate House Passage which leads to the north door of the chapel.

Just look at that!

As soon as you walk in the ceiling and stained glass grab your eyes. I love fan vaulting so I was always going to enjoy our visit. A sit down was needed to appreciate the pleasing structure way over head. One area caught the eye, a very smiley sun just off symmetry, a helium balloon that someone had lost grip of. I wonder how long it will take for it to loose it’s attraction to the ceiling?

King Henry VI laid the foundation stone in 1444, King’s one of his two ‘royal and religious’ foundations, the other being Eton. Both the school and college were to admit a maximum of 70 scholars drawn from poor backgrounds, boys from Eton were guaranteed entry to Kings. From his original plans only the chapel was ever built and that took almost a century. Subsequent Kings took on the college, it’s building paused during the Wars of the Roses.

Lots of light and detail everywhere

The anti-chapel is overwhelmingly carved. Half crowns stand out from the walls, back lit. Tudor heraldic emblems fill every space left around the stained glass windows.

The west window

The dark oak screen which houses the organ was a gift from Henry VIII and bears his and Anne Boleyn’s initials. It’s not as elaborate as many choir screens, but not many date back to this time. He also commissioned the stained glass windows for the north, south and east sides of the chapel, split in two with Old Testament at the top and new Testament below. Sitting looking up at them there is a lot of bright blue sky.

You get big choirs in Cambridge

The choir stalls line the sides, seats going on forever, no wonder the choir is famed.


Below the East window stands The Adoration of the Magi, painted by Rubens in 1634. During my A level Art I studied Rubens, I think the best essay I ever wrote at school was about his portrayal of naturally curved women.

Dodgems at Dawn

You then get the chance to walk around some of the outside areas. Today the Front Court was off bounds as the May Ball was being cleared away. It appears that this years thing is bumper cars, we came across them elsewhere in Cambridge today too. The gatehouse and screen, separate the college from the city’s streets and it’s people, the architecture ornate and delicate dates from the 1820s.

Flower meadow

Behind the court lies the Back Lawn, the majority grass. Don’t stand on it whatever you do! Then directly in front of Kings Chapel the grass has been sewn with wild flowers, a sea of waist high daisies with paths leading down to the River Cam. Very pretty and tasty for the bees.

As we crossed over the Bridge we looked back, the whole place shouted MONEY at us. We’d done THE tourist college with it’s spectacular ceiling and old masters, and Keep of the grass signs, now it was time for something very different.

Murray Edwards College

On the north west side of the city, up Huntington Road lies Murray Edwards College. Originally founded as New Hall in 1954, the first year had just 16 women students in buildings on Silver Street, it set out to try and address the low number of women undergraduates at Cambridge University . It was able to relocate to Huntington Road when the Darwin family donated their home The Orchard. The college buildings were opened in 1964 with the capacity for 300 students. In 2005 the college was renamed after it’s first President Dame Rosemary Murray and Ros and Steve Edwards who made a large donation to the college.

Fountain Court

Architects Chamberlain, Powell and Bon had designed the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates in London, they were chosen along with the builders WC French who had built the original motorway bridges on the M1. See, I told you it was completely different.

The Dome

The dining hall known as The Dome is made up of precast concrete, 4 inches thick, flanged so that they overlap each other with glass panels in between. The dome soars high above the first floor, your eye naturally pulled to it’s centre. Four staircases spiral down to the ground and lower floors, one in each corner.

More of the Fountain Court

Large wooden glazed doors invite you into rooms where the texture of the concrete has either been left ruff almost like the sea bed, or polished smooth. Cream brickwork on curved walls surrounds the Fountain Court with its blue lined troughs of water and of course it’s fountains.

Long glazed corridors with large windows, many open today for fresh air create open walkways from parts of the college to the next. For me this was reminiscent of parts of York University and parts of the house my Dad built as our family home.

The Porter was very friendly, gave us both a sticker for the Women’s Art Collection along with a big white folder with details of where we could go and the artworks held within the college and it’s 14 acres of gardens, and yes we’d be allowed to walk on the grass!

The collection is formed of modern and contemporary art by women, the largest of it’s kind in Europe. It was founded in 1986 and has expanded since then with donations and loans from artists. The college houses more than 500 works, including pieces by Barbara Hepworth, Tracy Emin, Rebecca Fortnum to name just a few. Every corner you turn there is another work, at the bases of staircases sculptures sit.

As we left we turned round, numerous potted plants sitting on the front steps a black cat lurking in there somewhere, we decided that we preferred it here to Kings. More inclusive, relaxed, warm, arty, airy, grass between your toes friendly. Well worth a visit and it’s free! Thank you Bridget for pointing us in the colleges direction.

Todays Menu

We now walked back into the city, one last thing on the list of essential things to do in Cambridge to tick off the list, Jack’s Gelato!

That’s better!

The queue was far shorter late afternoon and it was just the right length to have made the very hard decision of which flavour to have. To save any bickering between us we both chose Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt. Mick had a standard waffle cone, I paid the extra for a gluten free one, a rare thing! We sat down on the wall outside King’s College our backs turned towards the money and enjoyed our well earned chilled medication.

0 locks, 1 walked over twice, 0 miles, 7 miles walked, 2 colleges, 513 years apart, 1 spectacular ceiling, 1 mesmerising ceiling, 1 organ screen, 1 walkway of roses, 1 Ruben, 2 Tracy Emin and a Barbara Hepworth, £11, £0, 2 chilled medications well deserved.