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Visiting Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge: Founded in 1966, with buildings by Sir Denys Lasdun

Updated on January 28, 2015
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge | Source
Fitzwilliam College North Lodge
Fitzwilliam College North Lodge | Source
Main Hall in summer, Fitzwilliam College
Main Hall in summer, Fitzwilliam College | Source

Already mature and distinguished

Although various properties have been added in later years, whether by building or by the purchase of adjoining real estate, the original College buildings date from 1960-63, the work of Sir Denys Lasdun (1914-2001)(1).

While the College's Royal Charter of Incorporation dates from 1966, the College's origins are found in a society for 'non-collegiate' students founded in 1869, to provide facilities for qualified students unable to afford College fees. This was later known as Fitzwilliam Hall, and subsequently Fitzwilliam House. By 1946, Fitzwilliam House had become the fifth largest student body within the University of Cambridge. When Fitzwilliam House opted to become a full College of the University, it thus gave its name to Fitzwilliam College. The original name 'Fitzwilliam' was derived from the fact that Fitzwilliam Hall was situated close to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Trumpington Street.

Much has been written about the design of the nucleus of buildings by Sir Denys Lasdun. C R Benstead has somewhat grudgingly conceded that 'its buildings repeat the essentials, if not the design, of the old-fashioned college, condemned to the 'modern idiom' though they are' (2). The residential ranges are said by Tim Rawle to suffer from 'repetitiveness' (3).

Personally I do find the combination of the exposed concrete floor slabs, the brown, engineering bricks and the floor to ceiling slit windows — occurring at seemingly irregular intervals — to be rather intriguing. There is something very ordered and clean about the design, in my humble opinion.

The dining hall has a undulating roof canopy, with clerestory windows. The adjacent Fellow's Parlour (as it is called) has a triangular concrete roof which seems to continue the theme of the residential ranges' exposed concrete floor slabs.

Another range of buildings known as New Court was opened in 1986, the design of Richard MacCormac. In 1998 the College acquired The Grove, a Regency manor house dating from 1813.

What is now the North Lodge on Huntingdon Road was previously the main entrance; today, the main entrance and porter's lodge, at Gatehouse Court, dating from 2003, is on Storey's Way (not far from Churchill College).

Alumnae of the College have included: Queen Sofía of Spain (1938-); Sara Thornton (1962-), Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police; and many others.

Alumni of the College have included: Lee Kuan Yew (1923-), former Prime Minister of Singapore; Sir Charles Scott Sherrington (1857-1932), Nobel Prizewinning neuroscientist; Joseph Stiglitz (1943-), Nobel Prizewinning economist; Albert Szent-Györgyi (1893-1986), Nobel Prizewinning physiologist and discoverer of Vitamin C; and many others.

At the time of writing, the Master of Fitzwilliam College is Nicola Padfield (1955-), noted barrister and academic. In 2013 the current Master replaced in that office Professor Robert Lethbridge (1947-), French scholar (4). Interestingly, prior to 1966, the head of Fitzwilliam House was known as the Censor.

January 28, 2015


(1) Other works by Sir Denys Lasdun include the National Theatre, London and the University of East Anglia, Norwich.

(2) C R Benstead, Portrait of Cambridge, London: Robert Hale Limited, 1978, p. 199

(3) Tim Rawle, Cambridge Architecture, London, Trefoil Books, 1985, p. 150.

(4) Many years ago I recall hearing Dr Lethbridge lecture at around the time that I was working on my French research thesis. A past Master of Fitzwilliam College was Sir James Clarke Holt (1922-2014), historian, whose The University of Reading: the first fifty years, Reading: Reading University Press, 1977, I have used to profit during the writing of some of these hubpages about Reading University (where I studied for a number of years).

Map location of Cambridgeshire districts
Map location of Cambridgeshire districts | Source

Also worth seeing

The numerous visitor attractions in Cambridge include Senate House and King's College Chapel and the most photogenic Backs along the Cam River, where several of the older Colleges, including Trinity's Wren Library and St. John's 'Bridge of Sighs', are situated. The tower of the University Library is an imposing landmark. Examples of interesting ecclesiastical architecture include Great St. Mary's (the University Church) and the Round Church. Churchill College, built on a gigantic scale — and close to Fitzwilliam College — was founded as a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill.

Ely (distance: 26 kilometres) has a striking, Medieval cathedral often known as the Ship of the Fens.


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. For up to date information, you are advised to 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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