Cambridge – Selwyn College

In Cambridge for the day. I left northernreader in Heffers bookshop and walked across to Selwyn College. Some of my earliest memories are of staying with Granny and Granddad – Joan and Len Hoskison  – who kept 23 Grange Road as a College hostel. I remember the noise as undergrads returned from hall. You can read more about those days in my mum’s book – Backstairs Cambridge, by Jane Barham (long out of print, but copies are available). Here is 23 Grange Road.15 years later I started at Selwyn, and my room was I15. A few weeks later I met a beautiful young lady who lived on H staircase – and the rest, as they say, is history. Cripp’s Court has been refurbished since then – it’s in better condition that I am.

I crossed the road and entered through the Porters’ Lodge. The Greek over the gate is 1 Corinthians 16.13b “Quit ye like men, be strong” in the Authorised Version – “play the man, be strong”. Julie came to College in the third or fourth year after women had been admitted – she often muses on the fact it was 1 woman to 6 men in Cambridge in those days, so why did she end up with me?

The College was founded in memory of Bishop George August Selwyn, first bishop of New Zealand, later Bishop of Lichfield. He died in 1878 and the first buildings were ready for the first undergraduates in 1882 – imagine how long it would take these days! Julie and I were present for the Centenary Garden Party in 1982. The foundation charter specified that the college should “make provision for those who intend to serve as missionaries overseas and… educate the sons of clergymen”. The chapel was built in 1895 before the dining hall (in 1909), and Chapel attendance was compulsory for students from the College’s foundation until 1935. I was a Baptist when I went to Cambridge, and it was here I learned to appreciate Anglican services, especially Choral Evensong. The choir was good in our day (too good for me to sing with), now it is excellent – have a look at the college website for their recordings (and much more information).

Julie and I graduated in 1983, and haven’t been back very much since then. They were very generous with financial help when I was training for the Anglican priesthood, and I will never forget being invited to preach one Sunday evening, a good 15 years ago now. With the Reverend Professor Owen Chadwick, and Canon John Sweet – both now of blessed memory – in the congregation, I did wonder whether I had anything useful to say! We also made our mark on College history when my dad went to do his MPhil (and then PhD) in the mid 80s. It was the first time a father had followed his son through the college and when Hannah was born she was the first child of two Selwynites, whose grandfather was a current member of the College (that will take a lot of beating).

The grass of Old Court is looking parched. I walked across to the Hall, and explained to a young lady in the cafeteria that I had been in College in the past (actually long before she was even born). Old Court was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield, best Gothic Revival style. I seem to remember I was one of those fined when sprouts were thrown at a Christmas Dinner and the portrait of George Augustus Selwyn had to be cleaned. There is also a lovely portrait of Owen Chadwick, Master in our day – an amazing man, wonderful scholar, and a man for whom people mattered. At our MA ceremonies, Owen was acting as Vice Chancellor, conferring degrees. As his procession left the Senate House he caught sight of my granddad in the gallery. He stopped and doffed his hat. Whenever he bumped into one of my parents in Cambridge, he would always ask after us.

I walked past the Master’s Lodge and went into Chapel. It does not feel as if anything has changed. The posters are of a better quality than we could manage in 1980 (I was one of the technical ones – I had a typewriter), but there are still gowns hanging by the door.

The Chapel was consecrated on St Etheldreda’s Day in 1895. Apparently “by then the stalls were completed as seats, and included the impish carved heads of Lord Morley, Lord Salisbury, Sir William Harcourt, and other politicians prominent in the general election of 1895” – website – can’t say I’ve ever noticed. We used to call the eagle “Horace”.

There is an Upper Chapel at the North East corner where weekday services used to take place. I remember looking down on the statues. The east end was intended to have a reredos.  Nikolaus Pevsner suggested that the altar and Kempe’s window be linked by an ascending Christ, with black floating figures on the white wall. He recommended a Swedish artist, Karin Jonzen, for the work – obituary. The figures were dedicated by the Bishop of Ely on the eve of Ascension Day 1958.


There was a plan to fit stained glass in all the windows, but the money ran out. The ones that were installed are rather nice.

Lots of memories – gratitude to Chapel, and to Richard Hunt, our Chaplain in 1980. He actually introduced me to Julie – so I have a lot to thank (blame) him for!

There is a new sundial in Old Court, on D staircase, but I do wonder about a sundial so complicated it needs detailed instructions.

I had a wander round the gardens. I don’t remember them being this lovely in our day. They’ll be even lovelier once it rains.


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2 Responses to Cambridge – Selwyn College

  1. Elizabeth Jack says:

    Fascinating! Sounds as if was a great wander down memory lane

  2. Anthony Davies says:

    Stumbled across this to my reminiscent pleasure (Nat. Sci. 1983)
    I remember your Father reasonably well, I had theologian friends including Richard Hunt. Your account confused me at first, I recognized your surname but didn’t realize that you had preceded him! My late Father (Nat. Sci. 1943) and I comprise one of the conventional Father-Son Selwyn lineages, I wonder if it’s known how many there are? I suppose my only chance of besting you in the records is if one of my kids attends, they are now 1.5 and 3 years old…
    I hope you and yours are surviving and even thriving in the New World!

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