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Visit to Christ's College, Cambridge

                                                  Aldersgate Ward Club. Visit to Christ’s College, Cambridge


On 26th June members of the Ward Club travelled to Cambridge to spend an enjoyable day visiting Christ’s College, alma mater of the Master.


Following our arrival and coffee in the Buttery we were welcomed by College Development Director, Catherine Twilley who, together with the Master, gave a short introductory history of the College. Christ's College, we were informed, was first established as God’s House in 1437 by William Byngham, a London parish priest, for training grammar school masters. Shortly after receiving its Royal Licence from Henry VI in 1446 the original site of the college was sold to enable the enlargement of King’s College. God's House then moved to its present site in 1448 where, after receiving a substantial endowment from Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII, it was re-founded as Christ’s College in 1505.


Lady Margaret Beaufort is recognised as the foundress of the College and our next stop, the College Hall, dating from the 16th century and restored in 1875-1879 by George Gilbert Scott the younger, is adorned with her 16th century portrait and a magnificent full achievement of the Beaufort coat of arms flanked by mythical yales. Here we were able to view the Hall’s fine stained-glass window panels but disappointingly many of the portraits of the distinguished alumni of the College including John Milton, William Paley, Darwin, Ralph Cudworth, and Sir Arthur Shipley, that would otherwise have adorned the Hall had been removed. In their place was displayed an exhibition of contemporary images produced by students of the College to “re-imagine Lady Margaret for our times” and mark the 40th anniversary of the admission of women to the College as students.


From the Hall we progressed through the arch in the Fellows’ Building into the Fellows’ Garden where Head Gardener Sergio Ballarin gave a guided tour of the gardens first laid out in 1825 “to display the individual beauty of trees, shrubs and plants in a state of nature”. Here we viewed the magnificent  Plantanus x hispanica. This enormous tree is thought to be more than 200 years old. We also visited Milton’s tree, a mulberry tree supposedly planted in the year of the famous poet’s birth and the tree that he reportedly sat underneath as he composed Lycidas. The Master then guided us to the Malcolm Bowie Bathing Pool said to be the oldest outdoor swimming pool in England, dating from the mid 17th century. Here the Master told the story of one of the College fellows, Christopher Round, whose ghost is said to haunt the garden. Christopher Round and his colleague, Philip Collier, were both courting Lady Mary Clifford and one night when seemingly drunk, Collier fell onto the College swimming pool. Round was consumed with jealousy and dislike for his love-rival so instead of helping him he grabbed the long pole with a heavy iron hook at the end, which was used for reaching things in the water and for raising the gate of the sluice “A gleam of moonlight through the trees struck upon Collier’s upturned face, and his eyes fixed themselves on mine as I stood with the pole outstretched.  At that instant I let the pole drop.  The heavy hooked end struck him on the left temple.  His head fell back and he disappeared.” Within a short-time Lady Mary was also dead and Round lived out his remaining days alone, full of regret and remorse. To this day his ghost, wearing a beaver hat, is regularly seen to walk in sorrow around the garden.


From the gardens we then progressed back to the First Court, past the wisteria clad Masters Lodge, to the 16th century College Chapel where Win Eyles gave a brief talk on the history of the Chapel and recounted, with the aid of her wedding album of photographs and a very impressive special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, that memorable day when she and the Master celebrated their marriage within the Chapel’s ancient and hallowed walls. A fine luncheon was then served in the Old Combination Room with the Master delivering the College Grace, Exhilarator omnium Christe etc… in Latin.


Following luncheon, the afternoon was spent in the Old Library, originally dating from the 16th century and extended between 1895 and 1897 under the guidance of architect George Frederick Bodley, the leading advocate of Gothic Revivalism in the late 19th century. The Old Library is home to over 50,000 items including books, manuscripts and incunabula dating from the 11th to the 21st centuries and includes a number of unique collections associated with famous or generous past members of the College including John Milton, Charles Darwin, Charles Lesingham Smith, William Robertson Smith and W. H. D. Rouse. The College Librarian, John Wagstaff, gave us an introduction to the collections and selected several treasures from the collection for our viewing. These included first editions of works by John Milton, letters of Charles Darwin and the “Irish Stew” copy of the Aurora Australis printed in Antarctica during Sir Earnest Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition of 1907-09. We then received an introduction from this year’s Graduate Trainee Librarian, Ruth Long, to the summer exhibition she has curated entitled “Here be Dragons! Mapping Lands Near and Far” that showcases some of the many diverse maps and plans from the College collections. 


To close what by general agreement was an enjoyable, entertaining and enlightening visit to Christ’s afternoon tea and cake was then served in the Buttery after which, suitably refreshed and sustained, we left for home.

Peter Pursglove


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