The City of Cambridge is, of course, world-renowned for its university. The first college was recorded at Peterhouse. This was founded in 1284, some years after the recorded founding of the university itself in 1209. So there was a 75-year gap between the foundation of the university and the opening of the first college. The city now boasts 31 colleges, with Robinson being the newest, founded in 1977 by David Robinson. Mr Robinson also gave a substantial donation to the Rosie Maternity Hospital, which was opened in 1983 and named after his mother, Rosie.
There are so many places to visit which make Cambridge unique, especially for its compact size. It would take quite a while to visit everything in this historic city! Many stories from around the city abound. For example, there’s the wooden chair leg held in the right hand of the statue of Henry the VIII. The statue dates to 1615 and is located above the main entrance of Trinity College. Originally the king reputedly held a golden orb and sword! Then there are the famous alumni of Trinity college, the ‘Cambridge Four’ (although there was later a fifth), who the KGB recruited in the 1930s. They were Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt.
We have the wonderful King’s College Choir and the world-famous Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings on Christmas Eve (at which the mayor gets to read a lesson!). We also have the renowned Gentlemen of St John’s singers.
Corpus Christi is the only college which the townspeople of Cambridge founded. It was established in 1352 and is definitely worth a visit when we are once again able to do so.
Another famous name associated with Cambridge is Sir Christopher Wren. He designed both the new chapel at Emmanuel College in 1677 and the chapel at Pembroke College. Then there are, of course, Sir Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing, but perhaps you may not know such other former residents as Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, John Cleese, Lily Cole, and James Cracknell OBE, to name but a few!
Cambridge before the university
But we must not forget that the town of Cambridge existed long before the university. Reputedly the Danes founded it around 875AD as a fortified town, due to its location on the edge of the then unassailable fens. A wide ditch probably surrounded the town. In Roman times, people knew it simply as The Great Bridge, as it was the last river crossing before Kings Lynn.
The oldest building in the city is St Bene’t’s Church, which dates somewhere between 1000–1015. You will find this at the top of Bene’t Street and it is well worth a visit. So too is the famous ‘Round Church’, which dates back to 1130.
In 1207, King John granted the town a royal charter to elect a mayor from the ranks of the bailiffs. You can see this in the Guildhall on the Market Square. The first mayor recorded was Hervey Fitzeustace, who served in the year 1213. The mayoralty itself therefore has a very long and sometimes colourful history. The mayoral chain has its own history. Col Walter Harding presented it to the city in 1890. It displays the arms of all the 20 colleges of Cambridge in existence at that time and has been worn by every Mayor of Cambridge ever since.
Explaining Cambridge’s Coat of Arms
There has been a market in Cambridge since the middle ages, although at one time there were buildings situated in the middle of what is now the marketplace. These were removed following a fire in 1849. At one time, well before the draining of the fens, boats or barges would sail up to Cambridge from King’s Lynn. They brought fish, wine, salt and other goods to landing stages all along the river, hence the Cambridge Coat of Arms, granted to the town by Elizabeth I in 1575, displays ships and sea horses to reflect the original wealth of the town. Hobson’s Conduit brought fresh water to the fountain in the centre of the market. This watercourse was completed in 1614 and you can still see it running along Trumpington Street in the city.
A modern city too
But the City of Cambridge is not all about history. It is also right up to date, being the home of a great many very well-known blue-chip companies, whose expertise spans the world and can be found in almost every mobile phone. We are home also to world-renowned genetic scientists who are at the forefront of searching for solutions to current world issues. They are also looking to the stars from the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory on the very edge of our city, and have made their first detection of a supernova. We are most definitely not just a wonderful historic city, but a bang up-to-date one as well.
WORDS Cllr Russ McPherson
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