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Visiting St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, England: a 1473 foundation with comtemporary spelling challenges

Updated on January 22, 2015
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
St Catharine's College, Cambridge, England.
St Catharine's College, Cambridge, England. | Source
 The front gate of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge with a Catharine Wheel
The front gate of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge with a Catharine Wheel | Source

Don't confuse with a certain Oxford College!

First of all, make sure you spell this Cambridge College's name correctly, because its Oxford namesake spells its name slightly differently. This College of Cambridge University is spelt 'St. Catharine's College'. The Oxford College, however, is spelt 'St. Catherine's College'. (The similarities in spelling belie marked differences between these Oxbridge Colleges: the Cambridge College was founded in 1473, and has historic, traditional architecture; the Oxford College was founded in 1963, and is housed in striking, modern architecture, and is in fact Oxford University's largest College.)

Historically there have also been more spelling complications regarding the name of this Cambridge College. For many years it was called Katharine Hall. At first, the College was strongly theological in emphasis, and very small; at one point its governing body numbered simply the Master and three Fellows. Its founder was Robert Woodlark, Provost of neighbouring King's College. (For the head of one College to be the Founder of another must have made for a complex division of interests and loyalties!) The name of the founder has even had its own complications: it has sometimes been recorded as Robert Wodelarke. The College is named for Saint Catherine of Alexandria; its popular name among students is 'Catz'.

Uniquely among the Cambridge Colleges, St. Catharine's has a three sided design to its Principal Court, which opens onto Trumpington Street. Principal Court, a significant portion of which was completed during the Mastership of Dr. John Eachard (1675-97)(1) dates from the 17th and 18th centuries. one of its designers was Robert Grumbold, who also worked on other Cambridge College buildings (2). Especially at its (now not so frequently used) Queens' Lane gateway, the Baroque style is seen (3). Classical pediments are also in evidence in the Court. At the Chapel, a large window — a 19th century addition by William Fawcett (4) — clearly evidences Gothic style. The gate at the Trumpington Street entrance — where interestingly a fourth elevation to enclose Principal Court had originally been planned (5) — dates from 1780, and includes some interesting wrought iron working incorporation a Catherine wheel motif.

The fact that the 17th and 18th century Principal Court is executed in red brick — a favoured medium for early 20th century British universities known as Redbrick Universities — has sometimes given rise to jocular comment in relation to St. Catharine's College, and other buildings in Cambridge which also use this material (6).

Distinguished alumnae of the College have included: Joanne Harris (1964-), writer; Jenni Russell, broadcaster and journalist, and many others.

Distinguished alumni of the College have included: Dr. John Addenbrooke (1680-1719) founder or the Cambridge Hospital which bears his name — Addenbrooke is buried in the College Chapel; Sir Peter Hall (1930-), founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company; and many others.

At the time of writing the current Master of St Catharine's College is distinguished biochemist Dame Jean Thomas (1942-).

January 22, 2015

Cambridgeshire map
Cambridgeshire map | Source


(1) See: Tim Rawle, Cambridge Architecture, London Trefoil Books, 1985, p. 126.

(2) Robert Grumbold was notably responsible for the picturesque and widely photographed Clare Bridge, over the Cam River.

(3) See also: C. R. Benstead, Portrait of Cambridge, London: Robert Hale, 1978, p. 105.

(4) William Fawcett was also responsible for the main building of what is now Hughes Hall, Cambridge, originally known as the Cambridge Women's Training College.

(5) A drawing by David Loggan, dating from 1688, shows a planned four-sided court. See: Tim Rawle, op. cit., p. 127.

(6) C. R. Benstead, op. cit., p. p. 105-106.

Also worth seeing

The numerous visitor attractions in Cambridge include Senate House and King's College Chapel and the 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, was founded as a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill.

Ely (distance: 26 kilometres) has an imposing, 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

St. Catharine's College, Cambridge
St. Catharine's College, Cambridge | Source


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