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Visiting Churchill College, Cambridge: Partly Modelled on MIT, Commemorating Sir Winston Churchill

Updated on October 22, 2020
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Main entrance of Churchill College, at Storey's Way, Cambridge
Main entrance of Churchill College, at Storey's Way, Cambridge | Source
Young Cedrus libani outside Churchill College, Cambridge
Young Cedrus libani outside Churchill College, Cambridge | Source
College arms at Churchill College's and King's College's boathouse
College arms at Churchill College's and King's College's boathouse | Source
Sir John Cockcroft, 1951
Sir John Cockcroft, 1951 | Source
Map location of Cambridgeshire districts
Map location of Cambridgeshire districts | Source

A college of monumental proportions

Churchill College, situated off Storey's Way, Cambridge, is among the largest of the University of Cambridge's Colleges.

Some history

It was known that Sir Winston Churchill was impressed by the scientific scholarship of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, when he retired as Prime Minister, exploratory moves were made for such an institution to be founded in Great Britain in his honour. It was eventually decided for a college to be established as a constituent college of Cambridge University, with a special proviso for the emphasis on scientific and technological studies and provision for a large proportion of postgraduate students among the college's junior members. Churchill College, Cambridge was thus founded in 1958, with the first students arriving in 1960. The Mastership of the College is a Crown appointment.

Some features

The striking, college buildings were mainly completed by 1968, the responsibility of architect Richard Shepherd. Regarding its gateway, with monumental brick columns, which face the Storey's Way entrance, architect Tim Rawle has noted that it is 'a simplified version of the traditional gatehouse with a very strong two-dimensional feel to it' (1). (I can certainly testify to the cavernous feeling given by the gatehouse as one enters.)

There are several residential courts. Central buildings include the Dining Hall, the largest in Cambridge, with capacity for 420 diners. The Churchill Archives Centre house the papers of Sir Winston Churchill himself; also, those of Lady Thatcher, of turbojet pionner Sir Frank Whittle, and of certain other prominent people. Mr Rawle further comments about the greater whole that 'the ingenious layout of a court-within-courts-within-a-campus, and the quality of the buildings, conveys a strong feeling of community spirit and academic prowess' (2).

A chapel is situated in the far western area of Churchill College's site. The College grounds are the largest of all the Cambridge Colleges: it at times can seem like a university in itself, such is its scale.

Several Nobel prizewinners have been associated with the College, including physicist Sir John Cockcroft, who served as Master of the College from 1959 until 1967.

The immense architectural variety which exists among the Cambridge Colleges generally is certainly true also of its modern ones. It may be said that Churchill College is as monumental, expansive and 'open' as Clare Hall (founded 1965) is intimate and reduced in scale (although this might not be the most apt comparison because Clare Hall is a graduate college, while Churchill has a large proportion of undergraduates as well as graduates).


(1) Tim Rawle, Cambridge Architecture, London Trefoil Books, 1985, p. 175.

(2) Rawle, op. cit., p, 157.

Also worth visiting

In Cambridge itself, among its ancient Colleges are King's, Clare, Trinity, and St. John's. The oldest college is Peterhouse, dating from 1284, where William Brewster studied, who sailed on the Mayflower.

Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, Madingley (distance: 7.9 kilometres) honours American war dead from World War Two.

Ely (distance: 26 kilometres); its Medieval Cathedral looms over the surrounding Fenland as a conspicuous landmark, and is sometimes known as the 'Ship of the Fens'; The Oliver Cromwell House, associated with England's 17th century Lord Protector, is a museum.


How to get there

United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Rail services link Cambridge with London's Liverpool Street and St Pancras railroad stations. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada


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