Saturday, September 20th 2014
Today we paid a visit to the university city of Cambridge. We had no special goal in mind but wandered around taking photos, though I did make a couple of purchases, as I shall explain later. The weather was rather dull as you will see from the photos below.
Today this building accommodates a branch of Lloyds Bank but was designed by the celebrated Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse and was built between 1889 and 1891 for a company called Foster, whose name still appears embossed above the doorway. A little more about the building and the Fosters will be found on this Victorian Web page.
The first Holy Trinity was a wooden structure with a thatched roof and it burnt down in 1174. A more durable stone church was started in 1189 but was modified and added to several times during the ensuing centuries until 1887, when a stone chancel was completed. In front of the church is a cycle rack, quite a small one by Cambridge standards. The town is flat and the bicycle seems to be the preferred mode of transport for citizens, especially students belonging to the various colleges.
Another Trinity is Trinity College, founded by good old bad old Henry VIII in 1546. The college buildings were cobbled together from pre-existing ones and some are therefore older than the college’s foundation date. The main gate, for example dates from 1490. There is a little mystery attached to the statue of the founder on the gate’s façade. The standing figure originally held a sword and an orb, symbols of royalty, but at some point the sword was stolen and replaced with a chair leg. The usual version of the story has it that the substitution was effected as a student prank in the 19th (some say the 18th) century. An article in Varsity, however, posits a different explanation for the chair leg. Which, I wonder, is the true version?
This decorative motif of a pair of angels appears on the corner of a nearby building though I do not know its date. Throughout its history, the university has been in a close – some might say unhealthy – relationship with the established church and religious nomenclature and symbolism abound.
There are no doubt apocryphal stories of tourists wandering around Cambridge with puzzled looks on the faces trying to find the famed “university” and not being able to locate it among all these colleges. That’s a bit like someone wandering among sheep trying to find a thing called the herd. The sheep are the herd and the colleges are, collectively, the university. Distributed systems were invented long before computers came upon the scene.
Passing along St John’s Street, I took some photos of this building that I think is part of St John’s College, though I don’t know which part or any details of its history. It is decorated with statues in niches of people important in the history of the university. This one, for example, is John Fisher (1469-1535), Catholic bishop and theologian and sometime Chancellor of the university. Though generally held in high esteem, Fisher managed to fall foul of Henry VIII (a not altogether difficult thing to do) and was consequently beheaded on Tower Hill on June 22nd 1535. He was later declared a martyr and canonised by the Catholic Church.
The way into a college is usually through the gate, often style The Great Gate, which leads into a quadrangle or court. Colleges are private property and therefore can admit or exclude members of the public as they see fit. Today, St John’s College was closed to visitors but I managed to sneak a picture through the gate.
This is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is also known as the Round Church. I expect you can see why. It was originally built in 1130 and owes its shape to the fact that its designers , the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre, took their inspiration from the church of the same name in Jerusalem. As usual there have been some alterations and additions through the years. English Heritage awarded it a Grade I listing in 1950.
We paused on Magdalene Bridge to take a photo showing Cambridge as many people think of it, a place where folk idle away the sunny weather sailing up and down the river on punts, flat-keeled boats propelled by pushing with a pole against the river bed. (“Magdalene”, incidentally, is pronounced “Maudlin” in Cambridge, for reasons best known to those who say it thus.) Cambridge and its river are cited as a rare example of a town giving its name to the river, rather than the other way about. The river was originally known as the Granta and is in fact still called that above the town. The Anglo-Saxons called the town Grantebrycge, after the river, but in the fullness of time, this became simplified to Cambridge and, by reverse etymology, the river changed its name to the Cam.
Trinity Street is known for the beautiful old buildings that line it. Many of them are listed though this particular example is not. I don’t know its history but I think it’s a pretty fine piece of work.
Feeling peckish, we went down to King’s Parade where, situated in an alley, is the entrance to the Rainbow Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant. It is very good and very well known, so you need to choose the time of your visit carefully in order to be sure of getting a table. The menu is imaginative with recipes from all over the world and continually changes. It’s hard to make up your mind but whatever you choose, you know it’s vegetarian or even vegan.
Also in King’s Parade is a shop called Nomads. What’s particular about it? It sells a lot of different things but, in particular, silver jewellery! I am drawn to silver jewellery like a pin to a magnet (I am not called SilverTiger for nothing!) and so, of course, I had to go in a take a look. Almost the first thing I saw was a lion! Not a real lion, naturally, but a silver ring with a lion on it.
I tried it on and it fitted and that was that, really. I obviously had to buy it. Lions are not quite on the same level as tigers but they come close, along with leopards, panthers, cheetahs, jaguars and so on, not forgetting the domestic moggy. So now I have a tiger on one hand and a lion on the other.
You can’t go to Cambridge and not take a photo of the Corpus Clock. It is famous but also interesting. It is called the Corpus Clock because it belongs to Corpus Christi College and occupies a window in the college’s Taylor Library. It was unveiled in 2008 by an eminent person well known for his interest in time, Stephen Hawking. The feature that everyone’s notices (while trying to work out how to tell the time from the clock) is the creature that sits on top of it. Is this a grasshopper? (That would be appropriate because the clock uses a grasshopper escapement.) Or is it a locust? (That would be appropriate too as the idea here is of a valuable resource, time, being eaten up.) Whatever inspired its design, the creature has been dubbed the Chronophage (meaning “time eater”). Acting as the escapement, it rocks and releases the cogs of the wheel one by one. This is Cambridge, so of course, there has to be a religious motto in Latin: mundus transit et concupiscentia eius (“the world passeth away, and the lust thereof”, 1 John 2:17, Vulgate version).
Cambridge already had a Corn Exchange when in 1868 a new one was built. I don’t know whether corn was ever traded here but assume that other business was also transacted. These days, the old Corn Exchange is a concert venue and sometimes used, I believe, to hold university examinations. Two reliefs on the outside certainly fit the putative theme of the building, showing the cultivating and harvesting of corn.
There is plenty of sculpture in Cambridge, of course, much of it ancient. There are also some modern pieces, such as this one by Michael Ayrton and called Talos. The description reads
Legendary man of bronze
was guardian of Minoan Crete
the first civilization
If you click on the image you will see views from 7 different angles.
Cambridge of course has a market, which has been going since the Middle Ages. Nor does it run on only one day a week but every day from Monday to Saturday. It sells a wide range of goods and I was here tempted into my second purchase of the day, a new handbag. (Click to see a wide angle version of the picture.)
Near the market is a memorial to the South African War, 1899-1902, and the men of Cambridgeshire who fought and died as members of the Suffolk Regiment.
On a happier note, we discovered a sculpture in Fisher Square. This somewhat abstract design has been carved on a glacial boulder formed of granite. It is entitled Between the Lines and the sculptor was Peter Randall-Page. Click on the image to see a slideshow of the sculpture from 4 angles. I managed only four because photography was rendered difficult, as it often is in public, by people using the topology of the setting to practice their skateboarding techniques. Pictures had to be taken as skaters shot out of frame and before they came back in. A bit like nature photography but in reverse, I suppose.
Like all ancient cities, Cambridge presents a complex picture to the visitor and does not reveal its secrets at the first glance. Every time we go there, we discover new things and new aspects of familiar things.