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 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.
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.
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”.