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The anchor point of the city and the second oldest establishment in the English speaking world

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The University in Cambridge is undoubtedly the anchor point of the city’s tourism, history and reputation – with good reason. The University is not only the second oldest establishment of its kind in the country, but in the whole of the English-speaking world. It is ranked in the top 5 of international league tables, employs some of the globe’s leading scholars in their fields, has 800 years of research under its belt and has come to be considered part of the English historic tradition that makes our country what it is. It’s no wonder that it is one of the most academically selective higher education institutions in the UK.

Did You Know?

2009 was Cambridge Universities 800th birthday and many events took place during the year in celebration!

Senate House light show to celebrate 800 years of the University
Photo © dumbledad (CC)
Yet with all this reputation that has fittingly built up for the University over the centuries, its origins are somewhat surprising. Some of you may have heard that it was begun at an existing school in 1209, by some disaffected scholars from Oxford University. However, the rest of the story goes that the disaffected professors had absconded from Oxford after that University went into voluntary suspension for a time. This was because two of the Oxford scholars had fallen into a dispute with the town there – namely that they were accused of the murder of a woman, and were hanged for the crime. Unfortunately for us, the details of the story have been lost with the years of history that separate us, but this grim tale does not seem to have affected Cambridge University’s standing in society at all. It is still traditionally the University of blue blood, the most recent royal to have graduated being our future King.

The famous view of King's Chapel from the Backs

Did You Know?

When the all-male colleges began to admit female students as well, Girton followed suit and admitted men through its doors. However, there are still three women’s colleges, Murray Edwards, Newham and Lucy Cavendish, that do not admit male students to this day. They are the only all-female colleges in the UK. Perhaps they are getting their own back for all those years women were not even allowed into the University.

Peterhouse College, the oldest of the 31 college's
There are 31 colleges at the University, the first being Peterhouse, founded in 1284. To name a few – Christ’s College was founded in 1448 by Henry VI, and it has housed such famous names as Milton and Darwin over the years. Trinity, the largest of the colleges, was founded by Henry VIII. Who could miss out King’s college, famous for its chapel and the music that comes from with in it, particularly on Christmas Eve, when television and radio broadcast its beautiful choir. Originally of course all the students were male, with the first college for women being Girton. Girton was founded by Emily Davies in 1869.

The gate of Christ's College, depicting mythical beasts called Yales, with a statue of Lady Margaret Beaufort (college founder) above
Nowadays some colleges have a bias towards certain subjects, like Churchill College’s bias towards engineering. This is because it was founded in 1958 as the national memorial to Winston Churchill, and still aims to reflect the great man’s own interests. Other colleges have more rumored biases, like King’s College leaning toward left-wing and Liberal political views. Still, over the years this establishment and its colleges has produced some of the most prominent scientists and mathematicians in Great Britain. It has also turned out 15 of our Prime Ministers, 82 Nobel Laureates and 8 Field Medals. Not bad for one university.
Visitor Information
Most Cambridge University College's are open to the public daily. Some allow FREE entry, while others make a small charge. Tel: 01223 337 733
Cambridge Tourist Information Centre, Peas Hill, Cambridge, CB2 3AD. Tel: 0871 226 8006

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