Thursday Doors

Thursday Doors at St John’s College, Cambridge

From 1971 – 1974 I was an undergraduate studying medical sciences at St John’s College, Cambridge. Last month, I visited some of my old haunts and (it goes without saying) I photographed some doors.

The main gate of St John’s College, Cambridge.

The college was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the grandmother of King Henry VIII, in 1511. Above the gate, her coat of arms depicts heraldic yales, mythical beasts (a formidable combination of an ibex with revolving horns and a wild boar with tusks). This is not the only college with links to the yale, for example, across the Atlantic there is a university of the same name.

A statue of Lady Margaret stands between two leaded windows. She was a fascinating woman who was depicted in Phillipa Gregory’s book “The White Queen”. She had been married three times by the time she was 15 (the first marriage was when she was just 6) and lived through the 30 turbulent years of the Wars of the Roses. She was the matriarch who founded the Tudor Dynasty when, at the age of 13, she gave birth to a son who became Henry VII. It’s all a bit Game of Thrones.

Modern doors of the School of Pythagoras

Within the grounds of St John’s College there is a much older building known as the School of Pythagoras. It was built in 1200, before Cambridge University was founded. I recall attending a demonstration/lecture of hypnosis there in 1972. The building now houses the college archives.

First Court, St John’s College. My rooms in my first year were on the top floor in the newer building in the very centre of this photograph. There was no door at the foot of the staircase. It was used as a prison during the Civil War.

The college chapel is on the north side of the court and the dining hall is on the west side. Queen Elizabeth the First rode into the dining hall on a horse during a state visit in 1564. As an undergrad, I had to wear a gown when taking meals in hall. Part of the D-Day Landings were planned in Second Court, and the treaty between England and France arranging the marriage of King Charles I to Queen Henrietta was signed here.

Famous alumni of St John’s include William Wordsworth (poet), William Wilberforce (abolitionist), John Dee (alchemist who first promoted the idea of the “British Empire” and the colonisation of North America), Thomas Fairfax (general of Parliamentary forces during the Civil War), Derek Jacobi (actor), Thomas Linacre (founder of the Royal College of Physicians), John Couch Adams (mathematician who predicted the existence of the planet Neptune from his calculations), Richard Penn (grandson of William Penn and lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania), John Herschel (astronomer who coined the word photography), Manmohan Singh (Head of State of India) and Cecil Beaton (celebrity photographer). One of my contemporaries was Douglas Adams, author of “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

New Court, St John’s College. It is popularly known as the “Wedding Cake”. It was built between 1826 and 1831 in the Victorian gothic style. The architect, Henry Hutchinson, was so proud of his building that he once dashed up a staircase to reprimand an undergraduate for spoiling its symmetry by sitting too near one of its windows.
The rear of New Court, covered with Virginia Creeper already turning red.
Door leading to rooms off the central staircase on New Court
The great gates of New Court opening out onto the “Backs”, lawns and gardens on the banks of the River Cam
Cobwebs in the glassless window beneath my rooms in Third Court, next to the Bridge of Sighs over the River Cam. This  ‘window-with-nothing-behind-it’ was designed as a way to connect the 17th century windowed library with the rest of Third Court.
Posing on the Bridge of Sighs, photograph courtesy of my daughter, Ruby Cross. Punts on the River Cam. Trinity College’s Wren Library and the Wren Bridge in the background.

By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.

6 replies on “Thursday Doors at St John’s College, Cambridge”

Fine photos, Ian, full of late summer light, and that sense of ‘a la recherche de temps perdus’. But can’t help but ponder on all the centuries of human thought and philosophising emanating from our universities, and wondering how on earth we are where we are, politically and environmentally speaking.

Liked by 1 person

Wonderful post Ian. With so much history and beautiful architecture to soak in I would have been in my glory just visiting this place for a day. I can’t imagine the sort of humbling emotions it must drum up to actually attend regular classes there.
I love the two shots you took looking out of the arched doorways. Nicely done.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s