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St Catharine's College, Cambridge

St Catharine's College
University of Cambridge
St Catharine's College (Main Court)
Main Court, St Catharine's College
St Catharine's College heraldic shield
Arms of St Catharine's College
Arms: Gules, a Catharine wheel Or.
Scarf colours: burgundy, with narrow pearl pink stripes
LocationTrumpington Street (map)
Full nameThe College or Hall of St Catharine the Virgin in the University of Cambridge
Latin nameAula sancte Katerine virginis infra Universitatem Cantabrigie
FounderRobert Woodlark
Established1473; 551 years ago (1473)
Named afterCatherine of Alexandria
Previous namesKatharine Hall (1473–1860)
Sister collegeWorcester College, Oxford
MasterSir John Benger
Undergraduates493 (2022-23)
Postgraduates296 (2022-23)
Endowment£113m (2020)
St Catharine's College, Cambridge is located in Central Cambridge
St Catharine's College, Cambridge
Location in Central Cambridge
St Catharine's College, Cambridge is located in Cambridge
St Catharine's College, Cambridge
Location in Cambridge

St Catharine's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge.[2] Founded in 1473 as Katharine Hall, it adopted its current name in 1860. The college is nicknamed "Catz". The college is located in the historic city-centre of Cambridge, and lies just south of King's College and across the street from Corpus Christi College. The college is notable for its open court (rather than closed quadrangle) that faces towards Trumpington Street.

Governance and community

St Catharine's college community consists of approximately 1000 Fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, and staff.[3] The college is led by a Master, and the college is run by a governing body comprising the official and professorial Fellows of the college, chaired by the Master. [4] The college has had 40 Masters since its foundation in 1473. The current Master, Sir John Benger took up office on 1 October 2023.[5]



Plan of the College in 1897, showing stages of development

Robert Woodlark, Provost of King's College, had begun preparations for the founding of a new college as early as 1459 when he bought tenements on which the new college could be built. The preparation cost him a great deal of his private fortune (he was suspected of diverting King's College funds), and he was forced to scale down the foundation to only three fellows. He stipulated that they must study theology and philosophy only. The college was established as "Lady Katharine Hall" in 1473. The college received its royal charter of incorporation in 1475 from Edward IV. Woodlark may have chosen the name in homage to the mother of Henry VI who was Catherine of Valois, although it is more likely that it was named as part of the Renaissance cult of Catherine of Alexandria, a patron saint of learning. The college was formally founded on St Catherine's day (25 November) 1473.[6] The Catharine wheel, a symbol of the saint's martyrdom, appears on the college arms.

St Catharine's, as seen from Trumpington Street

The initial foundation was not well-provided for. Woodlark was principally interested in the welfare of fellows and the college had no undergraduates for many years. By 1550, however, there was a number of junior students and the focus of the college changed to that of teaching undergraduates.

The Robinson vote

In 1861, the master, Henry Philpott became Bishop of Worcester, and stood down. Two of the five Fellows of the college stood for election: Charles Kirkby Robinson and Francis Jameson. Jameson voted for his rival; however, Robinson voted for himself and won the election. The episode brought the college into some disrepute for some years.[7] Robinson's long tenure as master only ended with his death in 1909.

Expansion and modern day

As the college entered the 17th century, it was still one of the smallest colleges in Cambridge. However, a series of prudent masters and generous benefactors were to change the fortunes of the college and expand its size. Rapid growth in the fellowship and undergraduate population made it necessary to expand the college, and short-lived additions were made in 1622. By 1630 the college began to demolish its existing buildings which were decaying, and started work on a new court. In 1637 the college came into possession of the George Inn (later the Bull Hotel) on Trumpington Street. Behind this Inn was a stables which was already famous for the practice of its manager, Thomas Hobson, not to allow a hirer to take any horse other than the one longest in the stable, leading to the expression "Hobson's choice", meaning "take it or leave it".[citation needed]

The period of 1675 to 1757 saw the redevelopment of the college's site into a large three-sided court, one of only six at Oxbridge colleges; the others are at Sidney Sussex, Jesus and Downing at Cambridge, and Trinity College and Worcester, St Catharine's sister college, at Oxford. Proposals for a range of buildings to complete the fourth side of the court have been made on many occasions.[8]

The College gates

The college was granted new statutes in 1860 and adopted its current name. In 1880, a movement to merge the college with King's College began. The two colleges were adjacent and it seemed a solution to King's need for more rooms and St Catharine's need for a more substantial financial basis. However, the Master (Charles Kirkby Robinson) was opposed and St Catharine's eventually refused.

In 1966 a major rebuilding project took place under the mastership of Professor E. E. Rich. This saw the creation of a new larger hall, new kitchens and an accommodation block shared between St Catharine's and King's College. Pressure on accommodation continued to grow, and in 1981 further accommodation was built at St Chad's on Grange Road, with further rooms added there in 1998. In 2013 the College completed the building of a new lecture theatre, college bar and JCR.[6]

In 1979, the membership of the college was broadened to welcome female students, and in 2006 the first woman was appointed as Master of the college, Dame Jean Thomas.

A history of the college was written by W. H. S. Jones in 1936.[9]

In 2015, St Catharine's became the first college in Cambridge to implement a gender-neutral dress code for formal hall.[10]

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, St Catharine's, in collaboration with Cambridge Women's Aid, allowed women who were escaping domestic abuse to stay in college accommodation. Between 27 April and 3 September, women and children were provided with accommodation for a combined 1,456 nights.[11]

Between September 2020 and August 2022, the facilities at the Trumpington Street site of St Catharine's were renovated as part of the "Central Spaces project".[12] A temporary hall was erected on the main court and named "Catzebo",[13] a portmanteau of "Catz" and "gazebo" for its tent-like appearance. The name was chosen by the Head Porter following an advisory student vote in which "Catzebo" was put forward by Robson Tebbutt, a student. The official opening for the newly built areas occurred in early October 2022, and the overall cost was stated to be around £16 million.[12]


St Catharine's College Boat Club in the May Bumps

Historically, St Catharine's has generally been placed in the top third of the Tompkins Table (the annual league table of Cambridge colleges), though its position tends to vary year on year. In 2014, its position slipped to 21st,[14] but rose to 13th in 2015 with more than 25% of students gaining First-class honours, and it has further risen to 10th in 2018 with more than 30% gaining a First.[15] The first time the college had been placed at the top of the Tompkins Table was in 2005. Between 1997 and 2010, the college averaged 9th of 29 colleges.

Student life

Chapel at the college

The college maintains a friendly rivalry with Queens' College after the construction of the main court of St Catharine's College on Cambridge's former High Street relegated one side of Queens' College into a back alley. A more modern rivalry with Robinson College resulted from the construction in the 1970s of a modern block of flats named St Chad's (in which the rooms are octagonal to resemble the wheel on the college crest) by the University Library.

The college has a strong reputation in hockey and racquet sports, in part due to its facilities for these sports including grass tennis courts and an astroturf hockey pitch. The football club is one of the largest sporting clubs at the college. In 2018 the first team were in the 2nd division and the second team were in the 4th division.[16] The team enjoyed its most dominant years in the late 1970s winning Cuppers 4 times consecutively from 1975 to 1978[17], although a recent merger with St Edmund's College Hockey Club (SECHC) saw them return to the winner's list in 2024.[18] St Catharine's College Boat Club, the college boat club, hosts the Cardinals Regatta each year, in which teams compete along a short course in fancy dress with an emphasis on bribery to secure victory. The college's Boat Club is moderately strong, with both Men's and Women's 1st boats generally residing in the middle of the 1st division of the May Bumps races.

The college hosts several other notable societies. The Shirley Society is the college literary society, the oldest in Cambridge; it hosts significant figures from the arts. The college-based girls' choir is the first of its kind in a UK university and is composed of girls aged 8–14 from local schools.

Notable alumni

Name Birth Death Career or notability
John Addenbrooke 1680 1719 Founder of Addenbrooke's Hospital
David Armand 1977 Actor, comedian and writer
David Armitage 1965 Professor of History at Harvard University
Herbert Rowse Armstrong 1870 1922 Only English solicitor to be hanged for murder
Richard Ayoade 1977 Performer
Harivansh Rai Bachchan 1907 2003 20th century Indian poet
Nathaniel Bacon 1640 1676 Revolutionary in Virginia
Geoffrey Barnes 1932 2010 Secretary for Security for Hong Kong, Commissioner of Independent Commission Against Corruption
Jonathan Bate 1958 Shakespeare scholar and Provost of Worcester College, Oxford
John Bayliss 1919 2008 Poet
Peter Boizot 1929 2018 Founder of Pizza Express
John Bond 1612 1676 Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Gp. Cpt. Leslie Bonnet 1902 1985 RAF officer, writer and originator of the Welsh Harlequin duck
Sir Arthur Bonsall 1917 2014 Head of GCHQ
John Braddocke 1656 1719 Cleric and theologian
John Bradford 1510 1555 Martyr of the English reformation
Sir Kenneth Bradshaw 1922 2007 Clerk of the House of Commons
Howard Brenton 1942 Playwright
Adam Buddle 1662 1715 After whom the Buddleia is named
Henry William Bunbury 1750 1811 Caricaturist
Francis Cammaerts DSO 1916 2006 Leading member of the French Special Operations Executive
Norman Carey 1934 2017 Founding director of research and development at Celltech
George Corrie 1793 1885 Master of Jesus College, Cambridge
Gervase Cowell[19] 1927 2000 Intelligence Officer
Martin Crimp 1956 Playwright
John Cutts 1661 1707 MP and army commander
Donald Davie 1922 1995 Poet
John Bacchus Dykes 1823 1876 Victorian hymn-writer
Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed 1905 1977 Fifth President of India
Richard Finn 1963 - Regent of Blackfriars, Oxford
Reg Gadney 1941 2018 Painter and writer
Anil Kumar Gain 1919 1978 Indian mathematician and statistician, FRS
Leo Genn 1905 1978 Actor, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Brian Gibson 1944 2004 Movie Director
Maurice Glasman 1961 Political scientist and Labour peer
Charles Wycliffe Goodwin 1817 1878 Egyptologist, bible scholar and judge of the British Supreme Court for China and Japan
Lilian Greenwood 1966 British Labour Party politician
Sir Peter Hall 1930 2017 Theatre and opera director, founder of the RSC
Sir Peter Hall 1932 2014 Urban planner and geographer
Rebecca Hall 1982 Film and stage actress
Leslie Halliwell 1929 1989 Film reviewer
David Harding 1961 - Hedge fund manager and founder for Winton Capital Management
Roger Harrabin 1955 Journalist and reporter
Joanne Harris 1964 Author
Sir Peter Hirsch 1925 - Materials scientist
Sir Robert Howe 1893 1981 Last British Governor-General of the Sudan
Rupert Jeffcoat 1970 Organist Coventry Cathedral
Roger Knight 1946 Cricketer
Emyr Jones Parry 1947 United Nations diplomat
Paul King 1978 - Director, The Mighty Boosh, Bunny and the Bull
Malcolm Lowry 1909 1957 Writer - Author of Under the Volcano, number 11 on the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th century).[20]
Sir Ian McKellen 1939 Actor
Bevil Mabey 1935 2010 Businessman and inventor
Roy MacLaren 1934 Canadian diplomat, politician and author
Nevil Maskelyne 1732 1811 Astronomer Royal; developed the Lunar distance model for measuring latitude
Ian Meakins 1956 Chief Executive of Wolseley plc
Ben Miller 1966 Writer, Actor and Comedian
Morien Morgan 1912 1978 Master of Downing College, Cambridge, known as "the father of Concorde"
Michael Morris 1936 Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons
George Nash 1989 Rowing World Champion and Olympic Medalist
Sir Foley Newns 1909 1998 Colonial administrator
Robin Nicholson 1934 Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government
Geoffrey Pattie 1936 Former Minister of State for Information and Technology
Jeremy Paxman 1950 Television journalist
Nicholas Penny 1949 Director of the National Gallery
Sam Pickering 1941 Professor of English at the University of Connecticut
Steve Punt 1962 Comedian
Tunku Abdul Rahman 1903 1990 First Prime Minister of Malaysia
John Ray 1627 1705 Naturalist
Sir Mark Rowley 1964 Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis
Sir Thomas Roberts 1658 1706 MP
Jenni Russell 1960 Journalist
Christopher Sargent 1906 1943 Bishop in Fukien, China
Thomas Sherlock 1678 1761 Theologian
James Shirley 1596 1666 Elizabethan poet and playwright
Arun Singh 1944 - Former Defence Minister of India
Donald Soper 1903 1998 Methodist minister and campaigner
John Strype 1643 1737 Historian
Noel Thompson 1957 - Television journalist
Sir Tim Waterstone 1939 Founder of Waterstones
Peter Wothers ? - Chemist
William Wotton 1666 1727 Historian
Hannah Yelland 1976 Film & stage actress
Terence Young 1915 1994 British film director - Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball

See also


  1. ^ University of Cambridge (6 March 2019). "Notice by the Editor". Cambridge University Reporter. 149 (Special No 5): 1. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  2. ^ Walker, Timea (2 February 2022). "St Catharine's College". Retrieved 2 November 2022.
  3. ^ "About us | St Catharine's College, Cambridge".
  4. ^ "Fellows | St Catharine's College, Cambridge".
  5. ^ "Sir John Benger elected 40th Master of St Catharine's | St Catharine's College, Cambridge".
  6. ^ a b "St Catharine's College Cambridge - History of St Catharine's College".
  7. ^ "History | St Catharine's College, Cambridge".
  8. ^[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Jones 1936.
  10. ^ "Cambridge college changes formal dress rules after campaign by transgender student". Archived from the original on 24 June 2015. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  11. ^ "Coronavirus: Cambridge college housed women escaping domestic abuse". BBC News. 14 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  12. ^ a b "Celebrating the completion of the Central Spaces project". 6 October 2022.
  13. ^ "St Catharine's opens new temporary hall and kitchen in Main Court". 18 December 2020. Retrieved 24 February 2022.
  14. ^ Garner, Richard (22 July 2014). "Tompkins Table 2014: Trinity College Cambridge produces record number of firsts". Archived from the original on 24 May 2022. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  15. ^ "Exclusive: Christ's and Pembroke victorious over Trinity in Tompkins Table". Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  16. ^ "Cambridge University Association Football League".
  17. ^ "Cambridge University Association Football Club - Mens League". Archived from the original on 13 March 2009. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Knightley, Phillip (16 May 2000). "Gervase Cowell". The Guardian.
  20. ^ "Modern Library 100 Best Novels". Modern Library. Retrieved 13 March 2008.

Further reading

  • Jones, W. H. S. (1936). A History of St Catharine's College: once Catharine Hall, Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jones, W. H. S. (1951). The Story of St Catharine's College, Cambridge. Cambridge: W. Heffer.
  • Rich, E. E., ed. (1973). St Catharine's College Cambridge 1473–1973: a volume of essays to commemorate the quincentenary of the foundation of the College. Cambridge: St Catharine's College. ISBN 0950310808.

52°12′10″N 0°07′01″E / 52.2028°N 0.1170°E / 52.2028; 0.1170 (St Catharine's College)

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St Catharine's College, Cambridge
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