Peterhouse, Cambridge

Template:Oxbridge College Infobox Peterhouse is the oldest college in the University of Cambridge. It was founded in 1284 by Hugo de Balsham, Bishop of Ely. Peterhouse has (2001) approximately 250 undergraduates, 90 graduate students and 45 fellows, making it one of the smallest Colleges in the University of Cambridge.


The foundation of Peterhouse dates to 1280, when Hugo de Balsham, the Bishop of Ely, planned to start a college on land that is now part of St John's College. In 1284, he transferred to the present site with the purchase of two houses to accommodate a Master and fourteen "worthy but impoverished Fellows", and Peterhouse was founded. Balsham died in 1286, bequeathing a sum of money that was used to buy further land, on which a Hall was built that survives to this day.

In its early centuries, the College merely provided housing for the teaching fellows, who lived in College but taught elsewhere. It wasn't until the sixteenth century that students were first given accommodation in the College.

Peterhouse is the oldest Cambridge college
Peterhouse is the oldest Cambridge college


The dining hall is the only College building that survives from the thirteenth century. Heavily renovated in the late nineteenth century, it now contains an impressive oriel window. The stained glass, with pieces by William Morris, Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones, is a fine example of Pre-Raphaelite glass. The sixteenth-century fireplace now contains tiles, also by Morris.

The College chapel and library were built in 1628 when the Master Mathew Wren (Christopher Wren's uncle) demolished the College's original houses. The chapel can be interpreted as a statement of the religious and architectural ideals of the High Church party under Charles I. The Laudian Gothic style of the chapel welcomed new Renaissance details but incorporated them into a traditional Gothic building. The cloisters on each side date from the same period but their design was classicised in 1709-11, while an ornamental porch was removed in 1755. The chapel's Renaissance architecture contains a fine Pieta altarpiece and a striking ceiling of golden suns. The original stained glass was destroyed by Parliamentarian forces in 1643, with only the east window's crucifixion scene (based on Rubens' Le Coup de Lance) surviving, following its timely removal. The current side windows are by Max Ainmuller, and were added in 1855.

Old Court was added in the fifteenth century and classicised three centuries later. The Burrough's building (named after its architect, the Master of Caius) was built in around 1740. Later additions to the College include Gisbourne Court (1825), Fen Court (1939) and the William Stone Building (built by Leslie Martin, 1964).

Gisborne Court was built between 1825-6. The cost of building this new court was met with part of a benefaction of 1817 from the Rev. Francis Gisborne, a former Fellow. When the gift was announced to the Governing Body its size, 20,000, was so great that the Fellows took it at first as a practical joke. The court was built in white brick with stone dressings in a simple Tudor Gothic style from the designs of William Mclntosh Brookes.

Fen Court, an unusual building partially on stilts, was added between 1939-41 from designs by H. C. Hughes and his partner Peter Bicknell. In 1933 the same partnership had been responsible for the adjacent bath-house, known as the Birdwood Building. It was amongst the earliest buildings in Cambridge designed in the style of the Modem Movement pioneered by Walter Gropius at the Bauhaus. A symbol of the mood in autumn 1940 is provided by the carved panel by Anthony Foster over the entrance doorway. Bearing the inscription DE PROFUNDIS CLAMAVI MCMXL ("from the depths I cry out") it depicts St Peter saved in the midst of the sea.

The Master's Lodge is situated across Trumpington Street from the College, and was bequeathed to the College in 1726. It represents a fine example of a Queen Anne house.

The grounds behind the College have been known as the Deer Park since deer were brought there in the nineteenth century, but the last of the deer died in the 1930s.

Famous alumni of Peterhouse

Colleges of the University of Cambridge Arms of the University

Christ's | Churchill | Clare | Clare Hall | Corpus Christi | Darwin | Downing | Emmanuel | Fitzwilliam | Girton | Gonville and Caius | Homerton | Hughes Hall | Jesus | King's | Lucy Cavendish | Magdalene | New Hall | Newnham | Pembroke | Peterhouse | Queens' | Robinson | St Catharine's | St Edmund's | St John's | Selwyn | Sidney Sussex | Trinity | Trinity Hall | Wolfson


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