Cambridge University is an institution that conjures up a wide range of feelings in people. To me, its colleges, the older ones especially, are incredibly aesthetically pleasing and inspiring places that are steeped in fascinating history. These colleges make up a prestigious university that, from my observations, anyone from any background has a chance to experience, as access is purely on merit. Anyone who can satisfy the entrance requirements is equally respected. My observations have taken place while watching my state-educated son’s journey through his application to Cambridge and his life as an undergraduate student here.
As we currently do term time drop-offs and collections for my son and a few ‘missing you’ visits per year, we are very privileged to spend a lot of time in Cambridge. Nearly all of this time is spent walking around the different colleges, with an aim to visit them all during my son’s time there. In this post I’m going to share my experiences at two of these colleges.
King’s College, located between the River Cam and King’s Parade, founded in 1441 by Henry VI, is arguably the best known college in Cambridge. The picture below shows the end of King’s College chapel as seen from King’s Parade.
King’s college chapel was completed in 1544 during the reign of Henry VIII and is an example of late Gothic English architecture. The chapel has the world’s largest fan vault ceiling (see below). I have long held a desire to lie on the floor of the chapel and just absorb the majesty of that ceiling, I am happy to say that on my last visit to Cambridge I did just that and it was as good as I imagined it would be!
Two centuries ago, William Wordsworth eloquently wrote about the impression that the ceiling made on him in the poem, ‘Inside of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge’,
These lofty pillars, spread that branching roof
Self-poised, and scooped into ten thousand cells,
Where light and shade repose, where music dwells
In addition to the amazing ceiling, there are over twenty stained glass windows in the chapel allowing light to flood in, and the icing on the cake comes in the form of the Rubens’ painting, ‘Adoration of the Magi’ above the altar. The below stained glass window is at the end of the chapel where you come in and it looks out towards the Cam.
Just a short distance down the road from King’s college, Pembroke College is to be found. As you walk this short distance there are many other attractions along the way, the most bizarre of which is ‘the guitar playing man in the bin’ who sings and plays guitar surprisingly well considering his cramped performing conditions!
Pembroke College was founded in 1347 and is the University’s third oldest college. Pembroke is one of six Cambridge Colleges so far to have educated a British prime minister; William Pitt the younger studied at Pembroke and later went on to became the youngest prime minister in 1783 at the age of 24.
The college is entered via a gatehouse on Trumpington Street.
Pembroke’s current chapel has the distinction of being the first to be designed by Sir Christopher Wren and was consecrated in 1665.
The grounds at Pembroke are made up of several courts; the old court (below) features the dining hall and the chapel and it gives a good view of the library, with the Victorian neo-gothic clock tower.
My favourite court is ‘new court’ because of the stone used in the buildings there. During the warmer months there are many beautiful flowers in this area of the college and on my last visit, without even trying, I saw three different types of butterfly all fluttering around the colourful blooms.
We all have the chance to contribute significantly to the world. In my opinion a person lives a great life if they spend every day trying to maximise the quality of their personal actions, and if they contribute as positively as they possibly can towards others. In addition to this, our communal life is clearly made better by the contribution of people with exceptional talent. Even though there are many routes via which these types of people may become as great as they are able, Cambridge University with its atmosphere of majesty, grandeur and beauty has nurtured many such people.
In King’s College’s case past students have included; the novelist E.M. Forster, the mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, the novelist Zadie Smith, the economist John Maynard Keynes and the poet Rupert Brooke. Pembroke, in addition to William Pitt the younger, has past students including; the comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor, politician Jo Cox, poet Ted Hughes and novelist Tom Sharpe.
Currently, many of the country’s highly able students are amazingly fortunate to live their term time lives in the wonderful surroundings of all that Cambridge University has to offer. We wait and see how our lives will benefit from this latest generation of talented young people.