Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Colleges of the University of Cambridge

Corpus Christi College

Inside the New Court facing the Chapel
Full name The College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary in Cambridge
Founders The Guild of Corpus Christi,
The Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Established 1352
Previously named Informal: Bene’t College (this seems to have died out in the 1820s)
Admittance Men and women
Master Stuart Laing
Undergraduates 250
Graduates 209
Sister college Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Location Trumpington Street (map)
Corpus Christi heraldic shield
The college has no motto but there is a toast used at many events,

Floreat Antiqua Domus
(Latin, "May the old house flourish")

College website
Boat Club website

Corpus Christi College (full name: The College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary, often shortened to simply "Corpus") is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. It is notable as the only college founded by Cambridge townspeople[1]: it was established in 1352 by the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary.[2] It is the second smallest of the traditional colleges of the university (after Peterhouse), and the smallest in terms of undergraduate student intake.

Corpus Christi is among the wealthiest colleges at Cambridge University: with an endowment of £172,218,402 it is ranked as the fifth richest college, and the third richest in terms of fixed assets per student, due to its wealth and small student population.[3]



Plague victims blessed by a priest
The Black Death was a devastating event that killed much of the population.


The guild of Corpus Christi was founded in Cambridge in 1349 by William Horwode, Henry de Tangmere, and John Hardy[4] in response to the Black Death.[5] They determined to found a new college in the University of Cambridge, the eighth in the University's history.[4] Later the same year the new guild merged with an older guild, the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which had been decimated by the Plague.[4] The united guilds acquired land in the centre of town[4] and their patron, the Duke of Lancaster,[4] applied to King Edward III for a licence to found a new college, which was granted in 1352.[6]

Construction began immediately of a single modest court near the parish church and in 1356 it was ready to house the Master and two fellows.[6] The college's statutes were drawn up in 1356.[7] The united guild merged its identity with the new college, which acquired all the guild's lands, ceremonies, and revenues.[4][5] The grandest of these was the annual Corpus Christi procession: a parade through the streets to Magdalene Bridge, the host carried by a priest and several of the college's treasures carried by the Master and fellows, before returning for an extravagant dinner. The parade continued until the English Reformation, when the Master, William Sowode, put a stop to it in 1535.[4] The college continues to have a grand dinner on the feast day of Corpus Christi, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.

The newly constructed court could house 22 fellows and students. The statutes laid down the rules governing the behaviour of fellows only. Students were not part of the foundation at this stage and would not come within the scope of the statutes for another 200 years.

Medieval Period

In its early centuries, the college was relatively poor[2] and so could not construct new buildings; thus Old Court has survived to the present day. It had no chapel, so the members worshipped in St Bene't's Church next door.[5] For many years, particularly during the Reformation when Catholic references were discouraged, Corpus was known as St Bene't's. By 1376 it possessed 55 books, and many more would be donated or bequeathed over the succeeding centuries, including, most significantly, those donated in the 16th century by Archbishop Matthew Parker, who is celebrated by the college as its greatest benefactor.[2]

Old Court
The back of Old Court, built in 1356, seen from the Old Cavendish Lab.

During the Peasants Revolt in 1381, the college was sacked by a mob of townspeople (and apparently some students[1]) led by the mayor [2] which, according to the college, carried away its charter to be burned and plate while gutting the rest of the college buildings.[8] Corpus was the only University college, although by no mean the only University building, to be attacked.[8] The revolt, which ironically took place during the Corpus Christi week, focused on the college as centre of discontent due to its rigid collection of "candle rents".[9] The college claimed £80 (roughly £50,000 in modern terms) in damages.[5]

In 1460 during the Wars of the Roses, the college paid for armaments including artillery and arrows, and protective clothing to defend the college's treasures from a "tempestuous riot".[5]

Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk and her sister Lady Eleanor Botelar née Talbot, who was jilted by Edward IV, endowed the college with scholarships in the 1460s and financed repairs to the college buildings.[4] As a monument a 'talbot', the heraldic supporter of the Talbot family, was placed on the gable of Old Court and can still be seen today. At the same time the Master, Thomas Cosyn, built the college's first chapel and a passageway between Old Court and St Bene't's Church.[7] Over the next few centuries, garret rooms were added in Old Court increasing student numbers.[4]


Portrait of Archbishop Matthew Parker
Archbishop Matthew Parker, the college's greatest benefactor

Although spared the worst of the religious tumult that the Reformation brought to England,[5] the college produced adherents and indeed martyrs to both traditions. Notable are William Sowode who cancelled the Corpus Christi procession, St Richard Reynolds who was martyred by Henry VIII and Thomas Dusgate and George Wishart who were both burned as Protestants.[5][7] It was during this time that Matthew Parker became Master. He donated his unrivalled library to the college, much silver plate and its symbol, the pelican. In order to ensure the safety of his collection Parker inserted into the terms of his endowment one which stated that if any more than a certain number of books were lost, the rest of the collection would pass first to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and then (in the advent of any more losses) to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Every few years, representatives from both of those colleges ceremonially inspect the collection for any losses.[7] Parker placed a similar condition on the silver that he bequeathed to the college and these stipulations are part of the reason that Corpus Christi College retains to this day the entirety of the library and the silver collection, as they were unable to sell off (or melt down) the less valuable parts of either collection without losing both. So assiduous was Archbishop Parker in his acquisition of books and manuscripts he earned himself the epithet of "Nosey Parker", bringing about a phrase still used today.[10] Parker was forced to resign as Master in 1553 by the accession of Mary I but was elected Archbishop of Canterbury upon the succession of Elizabeth I.

Portrait of Christopher Marlowe
The portrait supposedly of Christopher Marlowe found during renovations of the Masters Lodge

The playwright Christopher Marlowe is perhaps the college's most-celebrated son, having matriculated to Corpus in 1580. Although little is known about his time there, it is often believed that it was during his study for his MA that he began his work as a spy, a claim based on only a single cryptic statement by the Privy Council.[11] In 1953 during renovation of the Master's Lodge a portrait of a man "in the 21st year of his age" was discovered. As the painting is dated 1585, the year Marlowe was 21, it has been claimed as a portrait of the playwright himself.

As the number of students rose a bigger chapel became necessary. In 1578 Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, who had already endowed several scholarships to the college, donated £200 (roughly £30,000 now) for the construction of a new chapel.[7] This sum was not nearly great enough to build a chapel, and despite the efforts of the Master and fellows, the project outran estimates and nearly bankrupted the college. The college sold all of its silver, apart from the gifts from Parker, and the building work was not completed until 1662. Other contributors included Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake.[7]

Due to disputed appointments to the Mastership, Elizabeth I imposed the appointment of John Jegon as Master in 1590.[2] The college did not appoint its own Master for some time. Although not the college's choice, Jegon extricated the college from its financial difficulties by instituting fellow commoners, who would stay for one or two years and were never technically members of the University. Their parents were required to pay with a silver cup or tankard, which would then be melted down.

The next notable Master was Henry Butts, who was also Vice Chancellor of the University. When the plague returned to the city and the rest of the University had fled, Butts stayed at his post and tried to limit the pestilence while staying alone in the college. He was unrewarded for his bravery and this experience seems to have had a terrible effect on him. In 1632, when Butts failed to turn up to deliver the University Sermon on Easter Day, he was found to have hanged himself.[2][7]

Jacobean period

Corpus maintains an impressive collection of silver as it was the only college not to sell its silverware in support of either side during the Civil War.[2] That, and its unrivalled collection of manuscripts and massive collection of rare wines and ports, fuels rumours that it is Cambridge's richest college per student. This is a moot point, since these assets cannot be sold and most cannot be valued.[5]

Unlike other Oxbridge colleges, the college managed to remain neutral during the Civil War. This was due to the ministration of Richard Love who was Master throughout the Civil War and the Commonwealth. According to college legend, the silver plate was distributed to the fellows to keep it from being requisitioned by the warring factions.[2][7] When the fighting finished the plate was returned and melted down to pay for repairs. Twelve college heads were removed from their posts, but Love and three others were retained. The college also escaped the worst excesses of the puritan Commonwealth. When William Dowsing inspected the college he found "nothing to amend".[7] St Bene't's Church was not so lucky and indeed there was much disturbance in the fellowship as many were forced out and reinstated as circumstances changed through the period.[7]

Age of Enlightenment

The New Court
New Court.

In 1688 the college was attacked once again by a mob, this time with an anti-Catholic bent. They made for the rooms of the bursar, Clement Scott, whom they suspected of popery. He hid himself from the mob so they destroyed his books and papers.[7]

The college continued to grow throughout the 18th Century and did produce several distinguished scholars and clergymen including the so called Benedictine Antiquaries, a dozen or so men all well known for antiquarian research including figures like Richard Gough, Brock Rand and William Stukeley.[2][7]

In the 1740s Archbishop Thomas Herring left £1000 for the rebuilding of the college and this led to several abortive attempts to start construction. In 1770 Dr Matthias Mawson, former Master and Bishop of Ely, bequeathed £3000 to defray the costs of demolishing and rebuilding the college but this was not enough. It was not until 1822 when £55,000 had accrued in the rebuilding fund that efforts started. William Wilkins, who had recently completed major works at Downing, King's, and Trinity, was appointed architect and the New Court was completed in 1827 in a neo-gothic style.[2] This involved the demolition of several buildings, including the Elizabethan chapel. The chapel currently standing in New Court is part of the 19th Century construction. Completion of a new, larger court allowed for many more students and numbers increased from 48 to 100.

Victorian Period

The New Court seen from Trumpington Street.

During the 19th Century the college became associated with the Evangelical religious movement. In the 1860s its popularity grew so great that it became the third largest college in Cambridge. Corpus was always strongly clerical as, at the time, all the fellows had to be in Holy Orders of the Church of England. For many years the majority of the college's graduates went on to be clergymen. The University around the college was changing quickly, with the repeal of the Test Acts and Catholic emancipation allowing Catholics to join the University for the first time. The syllabus also broadened and the fellow commoners faded away. In 1882, there was a momentous change in Corpus; fellows were allowed to marry. This meant that being an academic fellow could be a lifelong career rather than a stop gap between study and becoming a country parson. Consequently, the demographics of the college fellowship changed significantly during this time. The first married fellow was Prof Edward Byles Cowell who was the first professor of Sanskrit. Later in the century the college fell on hard times and the number of undergraduates dropped to fewer than 50. It was around this time that the infamous 'Chess Club' was founded. Despite their impeccant name they became notorious for hard drinking and partying. They were outlawed in the 1980s for their activities and there has been a blanket ban on all "drinking societies" since.

Edwardian Period

Colonel Robert Caldwell was made Master in 1906 and was the first ever layman to be appointed to the post.[2] He changed the policy of the college with regard to admittance of fellows and undergraduates encouraging men from other colleges and outside Cambridge to become fellows. The college was no longer chiefly training men for the clergy.[2] Student numbers increased significantly and a new undergraduate Library named after one of the Burgesses for the University, Geoffrey Butler[2] was completed. The college also began construction of its sports grounds in west Cambridge in 1939.

World War II

The War Memorial plaques in the college Chapel. Note that the WWII plaque has more names than the First

During World War Two, the Master was Sir Will Spens, who was also Regional Commissioner for the Eastern Region: had Hitler invaded, he would have been in charge of running Eastern England. This has led to a persistent rumour of a network of tunnels under the college excavated for this purpose. While there are extensive wine cellars, there is no evidence of such tunnels.[12] While there were fewer undergraduates, the space was taken by cadets and officers taking short courses. Due to the increase in student numbers in the 1930s, Corpus is one of the few British institutions to have lost more members in the Second World War than in the First. Their names are inscribed in the Chapel.

Corpus owns The Eagle Pub, which is managed by Greene King. Watson and Crick are said to have refreshed themselves in this pub while studying the structure of DNA in the nearby Cavendish Laboratory. Upon making the discovery in 1952, they are said to have walked into the pub and declared, "We have found the secret of life".[13] A blue plaque on the front of the pub commemorates the event. The Eagle is also well known as a haunt for RAF officers in World War Two; renovations revealed hundreds of signatures, drawings and messages written, or even burnt, onto the walls and ceilings.[14]

Modern Period

During the 1960s central heating was extended across the entire college campus. Women were also allowed to join the college Chapel Choir and dine in hall. In 1963 the college's first bar was opened in New Court.[2] In 2008 it moved to Library Court and the old bar was converted into a post room, staffroom and a graduate student commonroom.

In 1962, the college approved the conversion of the Leckhampton site to allow for more accommodation for fellows and postgraduate students.[2] Further properties were purchased adjacent to the site and a new building, the George Thomson building, named in honour of a former Master, was completed in 1964.

In 1983 women were first admitted as undergraduates.[2] They had been able to become research students and Fellows for a few years before this. This made Corpus the penultimate college, the last being Magdalene, to admit women as students. In the same year, the college completed building work in Botolph Court, adding further undergraduate accommodation. Similar renovation work was completed in Bene't Court above the Eagle pub in the 1990s along with the creation of the Robert Beldam building.

In recent years, the College has spearheaded the Northern Ireland Initiative[15] and also has strong links with New Zealand, taking a student on a full scholarship from the country each year, paid for by the Worshipful Company of Girdlers.[16] The current President is the historian and Cold War scholar Professor Christopher Andrew. He also chairs the 'Cambridge Intelligence Seminar' which convenes regularly in rooms. In July 2011, Corpus was 12th in the Tompkins Table with a score of 65.88% (24.50% firsts).[17]

The current college visitor is the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge,[18] Lord Sainsbury of Turville.[19]

In 2008 the college completed the renovation of an adjacent bank building and other college buildings to create Library Court, the third court within the main college campus.

Life in College

Corpus Christi Main Hall
The Main Hall of the college, which is a part of New Court.

Most of the undergraduates, who refer to themselves as Corpuscles,[20] live in or very near the main college campus, at most a few minutes walk away. Unlike most other colleges there is a dedicated accommodation site for graduates in Leckhampton.

As with all Cambridge colleges, Corpus has its own student unions (combination rooms) for both undergraduates and graduates, the JCR and MCR respectively. Confusingly, the JCR (Junior Combination Room) is also the name for the entire student body 'en masse' (including the graduates) and the name of the student common room as well.[21] On November 14, 2010, the JCR and MCR student bodies disaffiliated from CUSU, after holding a College-wide ballot in which 71% of undergraduates and 86% of postgraduates that voted were in favour of disaffiliation.[22] The JCR president for the year 2011-2012 is James Black.[23] In 2008 the college bar was relocated from New Court to an underground position in the newly built Library Court. It hosts regular themed parties known in Corpus slang as a slack,[24] e.g. Hallowe'en slack. Like most of the other colleges Corpus owns a punt. Named Prudence, she can only be used by members of the MCR with the permission of the 'Admiral of the Punt'.[25]

Corpus hosts a biennial May Ball on the Friday of May Week.[26] At previous balls The Automatic (2009) and The Sunshine Underground (2007) have performed. The 2011 May Ball was held on Friday 24 June and the theme was "Distant Shores".[1]

Every year Corpus competes with its sister college in Oxford, also called Corpus Christi, in the Corpus Challenge.[27] Both colleges compete in many sports including football, rugby, hockey and rowing races as well as darts, table tennis and pool. Winning an individual sport accrues a set amount of points with the totals deciding the overall winners. The location of 'The Challenge' alternates between the colleges every year. In 2011, it was held in Oxford, Cambridge retaining the cup, winning 125-50.

Corpus Christi May Ball 2009
New Court during Corpus's 2009 May Ball, "The Grand Tour".

The Corpus Playroom is a student theatre, opened in 1979 and was, until 2001, run solely by the students of Corpus Christi.[28] In 2011 the ADC Theatre took over the management of the Playroom, working alongside the college and the Fletcher Players, the college drama society, named after the Corpus alumnus and playwright, John Fletcher. It has an important place in the drama landscape of Cambridge, being the only other permanent student venue apart from the ADC. Several notable performers and directors have played there including Emma Thompson, Hugh Bonneville, Sam Mendes and Stephen Fry, who is the Playroom's patron.[28] The Playroom is currently undergoing a fund-raising campaign to renovate and expand its facilities.[2]

Dramatically, each spring a duck chooses to lay her eggs in a flower pot in Old Court some 200m from the River Cam.[29] When the ducklings hatch and are ready to leave for the water one of the porters must stop traffic on Trumpington Street to allow the duck and her offspring to cross.[3] The porters from St Catharine's across the road open the gates of their college and take over the responsibility of getting them to the river from there.[29]

College ghosts

The Taylor Library and the Corpus Clock on the eastern corner of the college.

The College is said to be haunted by a number of ghosts. Most famous, and feared, is the terrifying apparition of Henry Butts, hero of the plague of 1630, who hanged himself with his garters in the then Master's Lodge on Easter Sunday, 1632.[5] Butts' ghost was subject to an attempted (and purportedly unsuccessful) exorcism by three students in 1904.[2] The last sighting of Butts was in 1967 as a half length figure of a man in the passage between New Court and Old Court.

Another is that of Elizabeth Spencer and her young lover (both died in 1667). Elizabeth was the daughter of the then Master, John Spencer and apart from the Master's wife, the only woman in college. One of the students, James Betts, became enamoured with her and they regularly had tea together. On one such occasion her father interrupted them and she bungled Betts into a wardrobe. She then went away for some time leaving him in the cupboard, which only opened from the outside. When she came back to the cupboard she discovered he had asphyxiated. Elizabeth, in a fit of grief, committed suicide, throwing herself from the roof of Old Court. Their ghosts are said to walk on Christmas Eve.[5][30][31]

There have been few sightings of either apparition since the early 20th Century. This may have been because the Master in the 1930s, Sir Will Spens, let it be known that anyone complaining of a ghost would be sent down.[30]


The corner of Old Court. In the background is the Old Cavendish Lab.

Old Court

Built in the 1350s, Old Court contains some of Cambridge's oldest buildings, and retains many of its original features, such as sills and jambs used to hold oil-soaked linen in the days prior to the arrival of glass. The court is the oldest continually inhabited courtyard in the country (a claim disputed by Merton College, Oxford, which says the same of its Mob Quad). It is possibly built from the core of an even older building. Four sided, it typifies the model of construction of the colleges in Oxford or Cambridge.[1] A passageway connects Old Court to Bene't Street. Due to its age the rooms are large and contain antique furniture but lack basic facilities and plumbing. In 1919 the ivy was removed from Old Court and a roughcast rendering was put in its place, followed by a major restoration in 1952 paid for by donations from old members.

During the Summer months students are permitted to sit on the lawn in Old Court and garden parties may be held whereas, like other Oxbridge colleges, normally only fellows are allowed to walk on the lawns.[32] There is a large plaque, on the northern wall, dedicated to Christopher Marlowe and John Fletcher, both famous playwrights who studied at Corpus.[33] Standing inside Old Court one can see the tower of St Bene't's Church, the oldest building in Cambridge, and the Old Cavendish Laboratory where the structure of DNA was solved by Watson and Crick [34] and groundbreaking work on the structure of the atom was conducted by J. J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford.[35]

St Bene't's Church with its Saxon tower viewed from Bene't Street. To the right, one can see the passage leading into Corpus.

St Bene't's Church

The adjacent St Bene't's Church served as the college's chapel until 1579[36] when one was built specifically for the purpose. The college remains the patron.[7] The tower of St Bene't's is the oldest building in Cambridge dating back to before the Norman Conquest.[37] It is also notable for being the birthplace of the practice of ringing the changes, which was started by Fabian Stedman, a parish clerk, in 1670.[37]

It is connected to the college by a blocked up passage which now comprises one of the Old Court rooms.[38] It ends in a hollow pillar in St Bene't's Church which contains a spiral staircase and portholes from which one could view the church,[38] and specifically the Side Altar. The staircase continues further to a bathroom with a bath set at what appears to be coffin level in the adjacent graveyard.[38]

New Court

New Court (completed 1827) was designed by William Wilkins, who is buried in the vaults of the college chapel. Although he went on to design the curtain wall in front of King's College, Cambridge and the National Gallery in London, he considered Corpus to be his favourite work and requested to be buried in the Chapel. A plaque commemorating him is in the entrance to the Parker Library within the court.[39] This court also housed the Butler Library, the college's student library, directly below the Parker Library. Upon completion of the building works in 2008, it relocated to the new Library Court and was renamed the Taylor Library after the project's main benefactor John Taylor. Many of the more precious volumes in the Parker Library are now protected in vaults in what used to be the Butler Library.[40] New Court was built to symbolise the harmony between the mind, body and soul with the Parker Library on the right representing the mind, the Hall and kitchens on the left representing the body and the Chapel in the centre representing the soul.[39]

The Chapel

The interior of the college chapel viewed from the west door facing the altar

The current chapel is the third the college has had and was completed in 1827 along with the rest of New Court. It was also designed by William Wilkins, but includes some Medieval glass and features, including the fellows' stalls, of the older Elizabethan Chapel, which was demolished in the construction of New Court. The first four stained glass windows date to around 1500 and come from the Abbey of Mariawald in Germany which had been dissolved by Napoleon.[41] Some of the pews and the pulpit of the Elizabethan chapel can now be found in St Andrew's Church, Thurning, Norfolk.[42] Hanging on the South wall is a depiction of the Madonna and Child by 17th Century artist Elisabetta Sirani.[41] The Chapel also features an icon which is unusual for Oxbridge colleges. The depiction of the Christ Pantocrator was painted for the college by a Greek Orthodox monk and is used as a focus of meditation.[41]

The Chapel was extended in the late 19th Century to make room for increasing student numbers and the chancel dates from this time. The ceiling, which had been a stone fan ribbed vault like the ceiling of the college gatehouse, was replaced by the painted wooden ceiling still in place today.

Services are held daily and there are sung services three times a week: Evensong on a Wednesday evening and on Sunday Holy Communion in the morning and Evensong in the evening. The Chapel choir is made up of students from both Corpus and other colleges in the University. They have released several CDs and tour regularly, previously visiting New York and Italy.[43]

The current organ was built by Noel Mander MBE in 1968 and the casework was designed by Stephen Dykes Bower.[44] The previous organ was donated to Methodist College Belfast on their centenary in 1968.[45]

The Parker Library
A view along the Wilkins Room in the Parker Library

The Parker Library

The collection was begun in 1376 and much improved by a bequest from Matthew Parker, the college's Master between 1544 and 1553, who as Archbishop of Canterbury formed a fine collection of manuscripts from the libraries of dissolved monasteries. It is one of the finest and most important collections of medieval manuscripts in the world. The building was completed in 1827 in the construction of Wilkin's New Court. Currently the collection comprises over 600 manuscripts, around 480 of which were given by Parker, who also donated around 1000 printed volumes.[46]

Its most famous possession is the Canterbury Gospels, probably brought to England by St Augustine, when he was sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the people of Britain in 598AD. The Gospels are still used in the enthronement of the Archbishops of Canterbury today and are transported to and from Canterbury by the Master and college representatives.[47] It also contains the principal manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, works by Matthew Paris and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, to name only a few.

In a joint venture between the college, the University Library and Stanford University in the United States of America the entire collection was digitised[48] and is now available on the internet.[4] Completed in 2010, the process involved the digitisation of over 200,000 separate pages.[48]

Library Court

Corpus Clock
The Chronophage with its distinctive face and grasshopper.
Library Court

In 2005, the lease of the bank adjacent to Corpus expired and the college reclaimed it to begin construction of Library Court. Due to be completed in 2007, the project overran due to archaeological finds and issues removing the bank vault.

Library Court was completed in January 2008 and houses the college's student centre which includes the college bar, JCR and the Taylor Library along with new college offices. The Taylor Library was largely funded by and named after Dr John Taylor, a former graduate of the college, inventor of the cordless kettle[49] and former Chairman of Strix Ltd, an electric kettle thermostat manufacturer.[50][51]

While the outer facade of the bank building facing onto Trumpington Street, designed by architect Horace Francis,[49] is Grade II listed, the interior was not. The inside was gutted and a modern library built inside. The other rooms including the bar, student rooms, fellows rooms and student centre were remodelled within the existing building. Facing onto Library Court from the Taylor Library is a large window decorated by an engraving by Lida Kindersley.[49] The project was designed by Wright & Wright Architects of London.[52] The building has received several awards including the 2009 Royal Institute of British Architects Award in the East .[53]

On 19 September 2008, physicist Stephen Hawking unveiled a new clock called the Chronophage, which means "Time Eater". It is situated facing onto the corner of King's Parade and Trumpington where the old entrance to the bank used to be. The clock is unusual not only because of its design but also because it is only accurate once every 5 minutes.[54] The clock was conceived, designed and paid for by Taylor and donated to his alma mater. The clock is neon lit at night.


Leckhampton House
Leckhampton House viewed from the gardens

Leckhampton is the graduate campus. It is situated about a mile west of the main college site, just outside the city centre and is set off Grange Road. Here there are playing fields, 9½ acres (38,000 m²) of gardens and an open air swimming pool. It is known by students of the college as "Leckers".

Other College Buildings and Gardens

There are several outlying college properties. These include Bene't Street Hostel, above The Eagle, Newnham House, located near to Newnham College[55] and Botolph Court which is said to be built on top of a 17th century plague pit and slowly sinking into it.

The Bursars garden including the Mulberry tree and the North wall of the Chapel.

The Robert Beldam Building, adjacent to Bene't Street Hostel, is a modern accommodation block completed in the 1990s. It includes the McCrum Lecture Theatre.[56] Additionally, the college owns two houses (Nos 6 & 8) in Trumpington Street, known in the college as "T" Street, which are almost directly opposite the University Engineering Department. Between Trumpington Street and Library Court are a series of terraced houses, also designed by Wilkins, owned by the college. All have been reclaimed by the college for use as student rooms or part of the Library except for the block used by the Trumpington Street Medical Practice. The doors leading from Trumpington Street have been sealed and the buildings can only be entered through Library Court.[49]

There are two main gardens in the main college campus. The Bursar's Garden and the Master's Garden, the latter being the private garden of the Master and his family attached to the Master's Lodge. The Bursar's garden is a small garden situated between New Court, the Chapel and Old Court. Students are allowed to sit there throughout the Easter term at certain times of day. It is notable for the Mulberry tree which was given to the college by King James I as part of his abortive attempt to found a silk industry in England. There is a door leading out onto Free School Lane accessible through the Bursar's Garden.

Coat of arms

The college's coat of arms consists of a quartered shield featuring a pelican on a red background in the top left and bottom right corners and three white lilies on a blue background in the top right and bottom left corners.[57]


The coat of arms was created by Robert Cooke, Clarencieux King of Arms in 1570 on the request of the Master, Archbishop Matthew Parker. It was through this that Parker introduced the college to its symbol, the mythical pelican which has the body of a swan and the head of an eagle.

Two Corpus scarves
Two Corpus scarves. On the left is the normal scarf and on the right is the Chapel scarf

The pelican was believed in Medieval times to live in trees and lay three eggs. When they hatch the pelican quarrels with and inadvertently kills them. The mother pelican then plucks out her own breast spilling her blood on them, restoring them to life.[57][58] This became a potent symbol for Christ feeding his followers spiritually with his body and blood. It was often associated with the Corpus Christi cult during the Middle Ages but not with the Cambridge guild until the creation of the arms in the 16th Century.

The white lilies on a blue background are an ancient symbol of the Virgin Mary. The two symbols therefore incorporate the two constituent guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary.[57]

Although the college officially has no motto, the college toast, Floreat Antiqua Domus (i.e. "May the old house flourish") is often used as such. The nickname 'Old House' has historically been used to refer to the whole college, but most usually to designate the main college buildings, as opposed to outlying places.[59]

The College colours used on scarves, ties, and various sports' kits are two white stripes on a magenta background. The Boat Club use maroon, rather than the magenta shade of pink, for their strips and oar blades. The other sports teams use maroon or sometimes a lighter pink.[60] The Chapel scarf, worn by the choir or chapel wardens, is a dark maroon background with two white stripes on either side of a navy blue stripe running down the middle.

In Films, Books and TV

  • In Porterhouse Blue and Grantchester Grind by Tom Sharpe, the Head Porter, Skullion, is reputed to be based on Albert Jaggard, the Head Porter of Corpus during the 1960s and 1970s.[61] The college is mentioned several times throughout the books including a scene where the Senior Tutor wakes after having "dined in Corpus" the night before with such a bad hangover he becomes convinced he is insane.[62][63] Corpus also appeared in the television adaptation of Porterhouse Blue.
  • In Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke when Lascelles and Drawlight are discussing Jonathan Strange, he is described as the man who "when an undergraduate at Cambridge, frightened a cat belonging to the Master of Corpus Christi".[64]
  • In, The Black Death: The Intimate Story of a Village in Crisis 1345-1350, which is a fictionalised account of the trials of the village of Walsham during the plague by Prof John Hatcher, himself a fellow of Corpus, Hatcher makes regular reference to the guild of Corpus Christi in Cambridge.[65]
  • In Engleby by Sebastian Faulks there are several references to Corpus. At one point Engleby is talking about acquiring opium that he bought "from a boy who got it from a Modern History fellow in Corpus Christi".[66]
  • In the 2009 Indian film Paa the front of Corpus, and in particular the Chronophage clock, feature prominently in one of the songs, Mudi Mudi, which was also released as a stand-alone song.
  • Part of Corpus and its outer buildings appear briefly in For The Sake of Elena, an episode of the BBC adaptation of the Inspector Lynley Mysteries based on the books by Elizabeth George. Lynley walks past the college and down Botolph Lane to get to the police station in Cambridge which is in fact part of Pembroke College, Cambridge
  • Several of the college buildings briefly appear in the Doctor Who episode Shada with Tom Baker as the Doctor.[67] The show was never broadcast and the episode became the subject of some controversy when it was cancelled by the BBC. It was released on video in 1992.
  • In the novel, The Night Climbers, by Ivo Stourton, himself a graduate of the college, Stourton refers to Corpus Christi on several occasions.[68]
  • The Parker Library, and more often documents from it, make an appearance in several TV documentaries, particularly in those dealing with the Anglo-Saxons and the Medieval period. Notable amongst these are David Starkey's Monarchy and David Dimbleby's Seven Ages of Britain. Most recently, Christopher de Hamel, the Donnelly Fellow Librarian, appeared on the BBC 4 series The Beauty of Books.[69]
  • The front of the college chapel appears on the cover of Andrew Douglas's book, The King's Codebreaker the first in the Thomas Hill trilogy about an Oxford academic working for the King during the English Civil War in 1643. The use of the college as the cover is unusual given that the college is not in Oxford, neither was the facade of the Chapel built until the 1820s.[70]
  • The college features prominently in the second episode of Guilty Pleasures, a two part documentary presented by Cambridge academic Michael C Scott on the subject of luxury. Several shots included the Wilkins Room of the Parker Library, the front of the Chapel and Old Court. Scott also discusses the foundation of the college, with the help of the Duke of Lancaster, as an example of the nature of luxury changing in the Middle Ages.
  • New Court and the Chapel, as viewed from the main gate, feature in the British Government's GREAT Campaign to promote the UK abroad.[71] The College Chapel is pictured under the caption "Knowledge is Great Britain" and above the bottom half of a Union flag.[72]

College Grace

Formal dinners are held in the college's hall on Friday and Sunday. Before the meal starts, a gong is sounded and the attendees stand as the fellows and their guests come in from the Old Combination Room to sit at High Table. The following Latin grace is then said:

Latin English
Preface on Sundays and Feast Day (Before Dinner) Mensae caelestis participes faciat nos Rex gloriae aeternae 'May the King of eternal glory make us partakers of the heavenly table'
Ante Prandium (Before Dinner) Benedic, Domine, nobis et donis tuis, quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi, et concede ut illis salubriter nutriti, tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus, per Christum Dominum nostrum. (response - Amen) 'Bless, O Lord, us and thy gifts, which we are about to take of thy generosity; and grant that we, healthily nourished by them, may be strong to render the thanks due to thee; through Christ our Lord (Response - Amen)'
Post Prandium (After Dinner) Laus Deo per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum (response - Deo Gracias) Praise to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (response - Thanks be to God)

Notable alumni

Sir Nicholas Bacon Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in the court of Elizabeth I, attended Corpus Christi College in 1524.
Thomas Cavendish, explorer and privateer, attended Corpus Christi College in 1575 without completing his degree.
John Fletcher, influential playwright and contemporary of Shakespeare, attended Corpus Christi College in 1591.
William Stukeley, antiquarian, attended Corpus Christi College in 1708.
John Cowper Powys, novelist and philosopher, attended Corpus Christi College in 1891.
Christopher Isherwood, influential novelist, attended Corpus Christi College in 1925 without completing his degree.
E. P. Thompson, historian, writer, activist, attended Corpus Christi College in 1942
Colin Blakemore, neurobiologist, attended Corpus Christi College in 1962
Hugh Bonneville, TV and filmactor, attended Corpus Christi College in 1981
Name Birth Death Career
St Richard Reynolds c1492 1535 Catholic martyr
Matthew Parker 1504 1575 Archbishop of Canterbury (1559–1575), Master of Corpus (1544–1553), Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (1545, 1548)
Sir Nicholas Bacon 1509 1579 Politician and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal
George Wishart 1513 1546 Scottish reformer and Protestant martyr
John Jewel 1522 1571 Bishop of Salisbury; leader in the English Reformation
Robert Browne 1540 1630 English congregationalist and separatist
Francis Kett 1547 1589 Free-thinker; burned for heresy at Norwich
Sir Thomas Cavendish 1555 1592 Navigator
Robert Greene 1558 1592 Author, playwright, and wit
John Greenwood 1593 Puritan and Separatist
Christopher Marlowe 1564 1593 Dramatist, poet, translator
Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork 1566 1643 English Courtier and Lord Treasurer of Ireland
Benjamin Carier 1566 1614 Chaplain to King James I, Fellow of Chelsea College and convert to Catholicism
John Robinson 1575 1625 English Dissenter and pastor to the Pilgrim Fathers
John Fletcher 1579 1625 Playwright
Sir John Wildman 1621 1693 English soldier and politician
Thomas Tenison 1636 1715 Archbishop of Canterbury (1694–1715)
Samuel Wesley 1662 1735 Poet and writer, father of John Wesley and Charles Wesley
Stephen Hales FRS 1677 1761 Physiologist, chemist and inventor
William Stukeley FRS FRCP FSA 1687 1765 Antiquarian and biographer of Sir Isaac Newton
Richard Rigby 1722 1788 Paymaster of the Forces (1768–1784)
The Rt Hon Frederick Augustus Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol 1730 1803 Bishop of Cloyne (1767–1768) and Bishop of Derry (1768–1803)
Richard Gough 1735 1809 Antiquarian
Sir William Ashburnham, 5th Baronet 1739 1823 MP for Hastings (1761–1774)
George Capel-Coninsby 1757 1839 5th Earl of Essex and Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire (1802–1827), MP for Lostwithiel (1781–1784), Okehampton (1785–1790), Radnor (1794–1799) and Westminster (1779–1780)
William St Julien Arabin 1791 1841 British jurist
Joseph Blakesley 1808 1885 Clergyman and author
John James Stewart Perowne 1823 1904 Theologian
George Evans Moule 1828 1912 English clergyman and first Bishop of Mid-China (1880–1907)
Frederick Barff 1840 1886 Chemist and co-inventor of the Bower-Barff process
The Rt Hon Sir Horace Avory 1851 1935 English Judge and the prosecution against Oscar Wilde
William Henry Dines FRS 1855 1927 English meteorologist
Sydney Copeman K.St.J FRS FRCP 1862 1947 British medical doctor and civil servant
Albert Harland 1869 1957 Conservative MP for Sheffield Ecclesall (1923–1929)
John Cowper Powys 1872 1963 Writer, lecturer, philosopher
Llewelyn Powys 1884 1939 Writer
Sir Wilfred Marcus Askwith KCMG 1890 1962 Bishop of Blackburn (1942–1954) and Bishop of Gloucester (1954–1962)
Captain Henry Macintosh 1892 1918 British athlete, 1912 Olympic gold medal winner and World War One soldier
Captain Sir B.H. Liddell Hart 1895 1970 Military historian
Boris Ord 1897 1961 Composer and Director of Music and Choirmaster at Kings College, Cambridge
Edward Upward 1903 2009 Novelist
Christopher Isherwood 1904 1986 Novelist
Sheldon Dick 1906 1950 American publisher, photographer, filmmaker and literary agent
Edward Richard Assheton Curzon, 6th Earl Howe CBE 1908 1984 Conservative politician
Sir Desmond Lee 1908 1993 Classical scholar
Dudley Senanayake 1911 1973 Prime Minister of Ceylon (1952–1953, 1960, 1965–1970)
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme 1913 2004 Medical pioneer
Nigel Clive Cosby Trench, 7th Baron Ashtown KCMG 1916 2010 Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (1969–1971) and to Portugal (1974–1976)
John Chadwick 1920 1998 Classicist and decipherer of Linear B
Robin Coombs 1921 2006 Immunologist
T. E. Utley CBE 1921 1988 English journalist and author
Sir Alan Cook 1922 2004 Professor of Geophysics and President of the Royal Astronomical Society (1977)
Sir Campbell Adamson 1922 2000 Director General of the CBI (1969–1976)
Sir Colin St John Wilson RA 1922 2007 British architect
E.P. Thompson 1924 1993 Historian, socialist, peace campaigner
Michael William McCrum CBE 1924 2005 English academic and Headmaster of Eton College (1970–1980)
Alistair Macdonald 1925 1999 Labour MP for Chislehurst (1966–1970)
Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Boyson 1925 Conservative MP for Brent North (1974–1997), Minister of State for Northern Ireland (1984–1986), Minister of State for the Environment (1986–1987)
Eric Sams 1926 2004 Musicologist and Shakespearean scholar
Prof Christopher Hooley FRS 1928 British mathematician
Sir John Michael Gorst 1929 Conservative MP for Hendon North (1970–1997)
The Very Rev Sir Michael Mayne KCVO 1929 2006 Dean of Westminster Abbey (1986–1996)
David Blow 1931 2004 Chemist and inventor of Xray Crystallography
John C. Taylor 1933 Inventor, entrepreneur, horologist and philanthropist
General Sir David Ramsbotham, Baron Ramsbotham GCB CBE 1934 2004 Soldier and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons (1995–2001)
General Sir Jeremy Blacker KCB CBE 1939 Master-General of the Ordnance (1991–1995)
Sir Alan Wilson 1939 Scientist, Master of Corpus (2006–2007)
Sir Anthony Bottoms 1939 Wolfson Professor of Criminology at Cambridge (1984–2006)
Michael Steed 1940 Psephologist and Liberal politician
Stewart Sutherland, Baron Sutherland of Houndwood KT FRSE FBA FKC 1941 Academic and public servant
John Elliot Lewis 1942 Headmaster of Eton College (1994–2002)
Sir Richard Armstrong CBE 1943 British conductor and musician
Sir Mark Elder CBE 1947 Current Conductor and Musical Director of the Halle Orchestra
Neil Hamilton 1947 Disgraced Conservative MP for Tatton (1983–1997)
Karol Sikora FRCR FRCP 1948 Controversial oncologist and Chief of the World Health Organisation cancer programme (1997–1999)
Admiral Sir James Burnell-Nugent KCB CBE ADC 1949 Commander-in-Chief Fleet (2005–2007)
Sir Stephen Lamport KCVO DL 1951 Private Secretary to HRH Prince of Wales (1996–2002)
The Rt Hon Sir Terence Etherton 1951 British Judge of the Court of Appeal
The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP 1953 Conservative MP for Horsham (1997-), Conservative MP for North Warwickshire (1983–1992), current Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, Financial Secretary to the Treasury (1990–1992) and Chairman of the Conservative Party (1999–2001)
Robert McCrum 1953 Writer and editor
Anthony R. M. Little 1954 Headmaster of Eton College (2002–present)
Tom Utley c1954 English journalist
Peter Luff MP 1955 Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire (1997-), MP for Worcester (1992–1997), current Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology
The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP 1956 Conservative MP for North Shropshire (1997-), current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Scott H. MacKenzie 1958 Historian
Madeleine Bunting Author, editor, and journalist
Bernard Jenkin MP 1959 Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex (1997–present), MP for Colchester North (1992–1997)
Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi 1956 Foreign Minister, Government of Pakistan (2008–2011)
Makhdoom Ali Khan 1954 Barrister, Attorney General of Pakistan (2001–2007)
Simon Heffer 1960 Journalist
Andrew J. Watson 1961 Bishop of Aston (2008-)
David Gibbins 1962 Novelist and archaeologist
Marty Natalegawa 1963 Foreign Minister, Government of Indonesia (2009-)
Hugh Bonneville 1963 English Actor
Philip Jeyaretnam 1964 Singaporean lawyer and writer
Keith James 1980 Chemist
Ivo Stourton 1982 Author


The sundial in Old Court.
Dining Hall
The Dining Hall seen from Old Court.
Terraced Houses
The terraced houses between New Court and the Taylor Library. The houses serve as accommodations and offices, and the doors are sealed from the inside.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Corpus Christi Website - Corpus Christi: What's in a Name?". Corpus Christi College. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Corpus Christi Website - History". Corpus Christi College. 
  3. ^ "Archived – Old, Rich, Landed, Loaded". Varsity. The Independent Cambridge Student Newspaper since 1947. pp 6-7. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lamb, John (1831). Master's history of the College of Corpus Christi and the blessed Virgin Mary in the University of Cambridge : with additional matter and a continuation to the present time.. Cambridge University Press. OCLC 13664738. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Rackham, Oliver (2002). Treasures of Silver at Corpus Christi College. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052181880X. 
  6. ^ a b "600th Anniversary Celebrations of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge". History Today. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Roach, J. P. C. (1953). "The colleges and halls: Corpus Christi". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely 3: The City and University of Cambridge: pp 371–376. 
  8. ^ a b Oman, Charles (1906). The Great Revolt of 1381. Clarendon Press. ISBN 1853670456. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Biographies - Matthew Parker". Corpus Christi College. 
  11. ^ "Biographies - Christopher Marlowe". Corpus Christi College. 
  12. ^ "Corpus Christi Website - Wine Cellarst". Corpus Christi College. 
  13. ^ Noble, Ivan (27 February 2003). "BBC News Website". BBC News Website. 
  14. ^ "Cambridge Pub Guide". Cambridge Pubs. 
  15. ^ "Corpus Christi website - Northern Ireland Initiative". Corpus Christi College. 
  16. ^ "Girdlers' Company". Worshipful Company of Girdlers. 
  17. ^ "Tomkins Table 2011". London: Independent Newspaper website. 18 July 2011. 
  18. ^ "Corpus Christi College Statutes". Corpus Christi College. 
  19. ^ "Role of the Chancellor". University of Cambridge. 
  20. ^ "Glossary". Corpus Christi College. 
  21. ^ "CorpusJCR Freshers:Glossary". Corpus Christi College JCR. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "JCR Election Results: 2011". Corpus Christi College Cambridge JCR. 
  24. ^ "Freshers"Glossary". Corpus Christi College JCR. 
  25. ^ "Prudence the Punt". Corpus Christi College MCR. 
  26. ^ "Garden Parties and May Ball". Corpus Christi College. 
  27. ^ "CorpusJCR - Challenge info". Corpus Christi College JCR. 
  28. ^ a b "The Corpus Playroom - General Information". The Corpus Playroom. 
  29. ^ a b "Ducks go quackers for Corpus Christi". University of Cambridge. 
  30. ^ a b "Corpus Christi Website -Corpus Ghost". Corpus Christi College. 
  31. ^ Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2000). The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits (2nd ed.). Checkmark books. ISBN 978-0816040865. 
  32. ^ "Corpus Christi Website - Old Court History". Corpus Christi College. 
  33. ^ "Corpus Christi Website - Marlowe and Fletcher plaque". Corpus Christi College. 
  34. ^ "DNA: 50 Year of the Double Helix". MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. 
  35. ^ "History of the Cavendish". Dept of Physic, University of Cambridge. 
  36. ^ "Corpus Christi Website - St Bene't's Church". Corpus Christi College. 
  37. ^ a b "St Bene't's Church Website-St Bene't's Church". St Bene't's Church. 
  38. ^ a b c "Corpus Christi Website - St Bene't's Church Pillar". St Bene't's Church. 
  39. ^ a b "Corpus Christi Website - New Court". Corpus Christi College. 
  40. ^ "Alumni Article". Corpus Christi College. 
  41. ^ a b c "Corpus Christi Website - Chapel". Corpus Christi College. 
  42. ^ Knott, Simon, St Andrew, Thurning dated July 2006 at, accessed 16 July 2008
  43. ^ "Corpus Christi Website - Chapel Choir". Corpus Christi College. 
  44. ^ "Corpus Christi Website - Chapel Choir - The Organ". Corpus Christi College. 
  45. ^ "Methodist College Belfast - History". Methodist College Belfast. 
  46. ^ "Corpus Christi Website - Parker Library". Corpus Christi College. 
  47. ^ "Corpus Christi Website - Parker Library Collections". Corpus Christi College. 
  48. ^ a b "University of Cambridge website". University of Cambridge. 
  49. ^ a b c d "Wright and Wright's Cambridge University Corpus Christi College Campus". 
  50. ^ "Annual Report 2001-2002" (PDF). Manx Electric Authority. 
  51. ^ "History of STRIX". STRIX Ltd. 
  52. ^ "World Buildings Directory - Taylor Library". World Buildings Directory. 
  53. ^ "East winners 2009". Royal Institute of British Architects. 
  54. ^ Bannerman, Lucy (19 September 2008). "Cambridge reveals the time-eater, Chronophage, devourer of hours". The Times Newspaper. 
  55. ^ "Corpus Christi Website - Student Accommodation". Corpus Christi College. 
  56. ^ "Corpus Christi Website McCrum Theatre". Corpus Christi College. 
  57. ^ a b c "Corpus Christi Website - College Crest". Corpus Christi College. 
  58. ^ Physiologus, MSS 22 and 53, Parker Library
  59. ^ "The Main College ("Old House")". Corpus Christi College MCR. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  60. ^ "CCCCBC page on British Rowing". British Rowing. 
  61. ^ Utley, Tom (5 June 2009). "What pathetic wimps students must be if we have to hide their exam results". London: Daily Mail Onling. 
  62. ^ Sharpe, Tom (2002). Porterhouse Blue. Arrow Books. ISBN 0 09 943546 2. 
  63. ^ Sharpe, Tom (2004). Grantchester Grind. Arrow Books. ISBN 0 0994 6654 6. 
  64. ^ Clarke, Susanna (2005). Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Bloomsbury Publishing plc. ISBN 0 7475 7988 1. 
  65. ^ Hatcher, John (2009). The Black Death: The Intimate Story of a Village in Crisis 1345-1350. Phoenix. ISBN 978 0 7538 2307 1. 
  66. ^ Faulks, Sebastian (2007). Engleby. Hutchinson. ISBN 9780091794507. 
  67. ^
  68. ^ Stourton, Ivo (2007). The Night Climbers. Transworld Publishers. ISBN 9780385611343. 
  69. ^
  70. ^
  71. ^
  72. ^

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Spencer, John (1630-1693)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

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