Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

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Corpus Christi College (full name: The College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary, often shortened to simply " Corpus") is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. It is notable as the only college founded by Cambridge townspeople : it was established in 1352 by the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the second smallest of the traditional colleges of the university (after Peterhouse), and the smallest in terms of undergraduate student intake. Corpus Christi is among the wealthiest colleges at Cambridge University: with an endowment of £172,218,402 it is ranked as the fifth richest college, and the third richest in terms of fixed assets per student, due to its small student population.


The guild of Corpus Christi was founded in Cambridge in 1349 by William Horwode, Henry de Tangmere, and John Hardy in response to the Black Death. They determined to found a new college in the University of Cambridge, the eighth in the University's history. Later the same year the new guild merged with an older guild, the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which had been decimated by the Plague. The united guilds acquired land in the centre of town and their patron, the Duke of Lancaster, applied to King Edward III for a licence to found a new college, which was granted in 1352. Construction began immediately of a single modest court near the parish church and in 1356 it was ready to house the Master and two fellows. The college's statutes were drawn up in 1356. The united guild merged its identity with the new college, which acquired all the guild's lands, ceremonies, and revenues. The grandest of these was the annual Corpus Christi procession: a parade through the streets to Magdalene Bridge, the host carried by a priest and several of the college's treasures carried by the Master and fellows, before returning for an extravagant dinner. The parade continued until the English Reformation, when the Master, William Sowode, put a stop to it in 1535. The college continues to have a grand dinner on the feast day of Corpus Christi, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The newly constructed court could house 22 fellows and students. The statutes laid down the rules governing the behaviour of fellows only. Students were not part of the foundation at this stage and would not come within the scope of the statutes for another 200 years.

Medieval Period
In its early centuries, the college was relatively poor and so could not construct new buildings; thus Old Court has survived to the present day. It had no chapel, so the members worshipped in St Bene't's Church next door. For many years, particularly during the Reformation when Catholic references were discouraged, Corpus was known as St Bene't's. By 1376 it possessed 55 books, and many more would be donated or bequeathed over the succeeding centuries, including, most significantly, those donated in the 16th century by Archbishop Matthew Parker, who is celebrated by the college as its greatest benefactor. During the Peasants Revolt in 1381, the college was sacked by a mob of townspeople (and apparently some students ) led by the mayor which, according to the college, carried away its charter and plate. The college claimed £80 (roughly £50,000 in modern terms) in damages. In 1460 during the Wars of the Roses, the college paid for armaments including artillery and arrows, and protective clothing to defend the college's treasures from a "tempestuous riot". Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk and her sister Lady Eleanor Botelar née Talbot, who was jilted by Edward IV, endowed the college with scholarships in the 1460s and financed repairs to the college buildings. As a monument a 'talbot', the heraldic supporter of the Talbot family, was placed on the gable of Old Court and can still be seen today. At the same time the Master, Thomas Cosyn, built the college's first chapel and a passageway between Old Court and St Bene't's Church. Over the next few centuries, garret rooms were added in Old Court increasing student numbers.

Although spared the worst of the religious tumult that the Reformation brought to England, the college produced adherents and indeed martyrs to both traditions. Notable are William Sowode who cancelled the Corpus Christi procession, St Richard Reynolds who was martyred by Henry VIII and Thomas Dusgate and George Wishart who were both burned as Protestants. It was during this time that Matthew Parker became Master. He donated his unrivalled library to the college, much silver plate and its symbol, the pelican. In order to ensure the safety of his collection Parker inserted into the terms of his endowment one which stated that if any more than a certain number of books were lost, the rest of the collection would pass first to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and then (in the advent of any more losses) to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Every few years, representatives from both of those colleges ceremonially inspect the collection for any losses. Parker placed a similar condition on the silver that he bequeathed to the college and these stipulations are part of the reason that Corpus Christi College retains to this day the entirety of the library and the silver collection, as they were unable to sell off (or melt down) the less valuable parts of either collection without losing both. So assiduous was Archbishop Parker in his acquisition of books and manuscripts he earned himself the epithet of "Nosey Parker", bringing about a phrase still used today. Parker was forced to resign as Master in 1553 by the accession of Mary I but was elected Archbishop of Canterbury upon the succession of Elizabeth I. The playwright Christopher Marlowe is perhaps the college's most-celebrated son, having matriculated to Corpus in 1580. Although little is known about his time there, it is often believed that it was during his study for his MA that he began his work as a spy, a claim based on only a single cryptic statement by the Privy Council. In 1953 during renovation of the Master's Lodge a portrait of a man "in the 21st year of his age" was discovered. As the painting is dated 1585, the year Marlowe was 21, it has been claimed as a portrait of the playwright himself. As the number of students rose a bigger chapel became necessary. In 1578 Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, who had already endowed several scholarships to the college, donated £200 (roughly £30,000 now) for the construction of a new chapel. This sum was not nearly great enough to build a chapel, and despite the efforts of the Master and fellows, the project outran estimates and nearly bankrupted the college. The college sold all of its silver, apart from the gifts from Parker, and the building work was not completed until 1662. Other contributors included Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake. Due to disputed appointments to the Mastership, Elizabeth I imposed the appointment of John Jegon as Master in 1590. The college did not appoint its own Master for some time. Although not the college's choice, Jegon extricated the college from its financial difficulties by instituting fellow commoners, who would stay for one or two years and were never technically members of the University. Their parents were required to pay with a silver cup or tankard, which would then be melted down. The next notable Master was Henry Butts, who was also Vice Chancellor of the University. When the plague returned to the city and the rest of the University had fled, Butts stayed at his post and tried to limit the pestilence while staying alone in the college. He was unrewarded for his bravery and this experience seems to have had a terrible effect on him. In 1632, when Butts failed to turn up to deliver the University Sermon on Easter Day, he was found to have hanged himself.

Jacobean period
Corpus maintains an impressive collection of silver as it was the only college not to sell its silverware in support of either side during the Civil War. That, and its unrivalled collection of manuscripts and massive collection of rare wines and ports, fuels rumours that it is Cambridge's richest college per student. This is a moot point, since these assets cannot be sold and most cannot be valued. Unlike other Oxbridge colleges, the college managed to remain neutral during the Civil War. This was due to the ministration of Richard Love who was Master throughout the Civil War and the Commonwealth. According to college legend, the silver plate was distributed to the fellows to keep it from being requisitioned by the warring factions. When the fighting finished the plate was returned and melted down to pay for repairs. Twelve college heads were removed from their posts, but Love and three others were retained. The college also escaped the worst excesses of the puritan Commonwealth. When William Dowsing inspected the college he found "nothing to amend". St Bene't's Church was not so lucky and indeed there was much disturbance in the fellowship as many were forced out and reinstated as circumstances changed through the period.

Age of Enlightenment
In 1688 the college was attacked once again by a mob, this time with an anti-Catholic bent. They made for the rooms of the bursar, Clement Scott, whom they suspected of popery. He hid himself from the mob so they destroyed his books and papers. The college continued to grow throughout the 18th Century and did produce several distinguished scholars and clergymen including the so called Benedictine Antiquaries, a dozen or so men all well known for antiquarian research including figures like Richard Gough, Brock Rand and William Stukeley. In the 1740s Archbishop Thomas Herring left £1000 for the rebuilding of the college and this led to several abortive attempts to start construction. In 1770 Dr Matthias Mawson, former Master and Bishop of Ely, bequeathed £3000 to defray the costs of demolishing and rebuilding the college but this was not enough. It was not until 1822 when £55,000 had accrued in the rebuilding fund that efforts started. William Wilkins, who had recently completed major works at Downing, King's, and Trinity, was appointed architect and the New Court was completed in 1827 in a neo-gothic style. This involved the demolition of several buildings, including the Elizabethan chapel. The chapel currently standing in New Court is part of the 19th Century construction. Completion of a new, larger court allowed for many more students and numbers increased from 48 to 100.

Victorian Period
During the 19th Century the college became associated with the Evangelical religious movement. In the 1860s its popularity grew so great that it became the third largest college in Cambridge. Corpus was always strongly clerical as, at the time, all the Fellows had to be in Holy Orders of the Church of England. For many years the majority of the college's graduates went on to be clergymen. The University around the college was changing quickly, with the repeal of the Test Acts and Catholic emancipation allowing Catholics to join the University for the first time. The syllabus also broadened and the fellow commoners faded away. In 1882, there was a momentous change in Corpus; fellows were allowed to marry. This meant that being an academic fellow could be a lifelong career rather than a stop gap between study and becoming a country parson. Consequently, the demographics of the college fellowship changed significantly during this time. The first married fellow was Prof Edward Byles Cowell who was the first professor of Sanskrit. Later in the century the college fell on hard times and the number of undergraduates dropped to fewer than 50. It was around this time that the infamous 'Chess Club' was founded. Despite their impeccant name they became notorious for hard drinking and partying. They were outlawed in the 1980s for their activities and there has been a blanket ban on all "drinking societies" since.

Edwardian Period
Colonel Robert Caldwell was made Master in 1906 and was the first ever layman to be appointed to the post. He changed the policy of the college with regard to admittance of fellows and undergraduates encouraging men from other colleges and outside Cambridge to become fellows. The college was no longer chiefly training men for the clergy. Student numbers increased significantly and a new undergraduate Library named after one of the Burgesses for the University, Geoffrey Butler was completed. The college also began construction of its sports grounds in west Cambridge in 1939.

World War II
During World War Two, the Master was Sir Will Spens, who was also Regional Commissioner for the Eastern Region: had Hitler invaded, he would have been in charge of running Eastern England. This has led to a persistent rumour of a network of tunnels under the college excavated for this purpose. While there are extensive wine cellars, there is no evidence of such tunnels. While there were fewer undergraduates, the space was taken by cadets and officers taking short courses. Due to the increase in student numbers in the 1930s, Corpus is one of the few British institutions to have lost more members in the Second World War than in the First. Their names are inscribed in the Chapel. Corpus owns The Eagle Pub, which is managed by Greene King. Watson and Crick are said to have refreshed themselves in this pub while studying the structure of DNA in the nearby Cavendish Laboratory. Upon making the discovery in 1952, they are said to have walked into the pub and declared, "We have found the secret of life". A blue plaque on the front of the pub commemorates the event. The Eagle is also well known as a haunt for RAF officers in World War Two; renovations revealed hundreds of signatures, drawings and messages written, or even burnt, onto the walls and ceilings.

Modern Period
During the 1960s central heating was extended across the entire college campus. Women were also allowed to join the college Chapel Choir and dine in hall. In 1963 the college's first bar was opened in New Court. In 2008 it moved to Library Court and the old bar was converted into a post room, staffroom and a graduate student commonroom. In 1962, the college approved the conversion of the Leckhampton site to allow for more accommodation for fellows and postgraduate students. Further properties were purchased adjacent to the site and a new building, the George Thomson building, named in honour of a former Master, was completed in 1964. In 1983 women were first admitted as undergraduates. They had been able to become research students and Fellows for a few years before this. This made Corpus the penultimate college, the last being Magdalene, to admit women as students. In the same year, the college completed building work in Botolph Court, adding further undergraduate accommodation. Similar renovation work was completed in Bene't Court above the Eagle pub in the 1990s along with the creation of the Robert Beldam building. In recent years, the College has spearheaded the Northern Ireland Initiative and also has strong links with New Zealand, taking a student on a full scholarship from the country each year, paid for by the Worshipful Company of Girdlers. The current President is the historian and Cold War scholar Professor Christopher Andrew. He also chairs the 'Cambridge Intelligence Seminar' which convenes regularly in rooms. In July 2010, Corpus was 13th in the Tompkins Table with a score of 63.48% (21.60% firsts). The current college visitor is the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. In 2008 the college completed the renovation of an adjacent bank building and other college buildings to create Library Court, the third court within the main college campus.

Life in College
Most of the undergraduates, who refer to themselves as Corpuscles, live in or very near the main college campus, at most a few minutes walk away. Unlike most other colleges there is a dedicated accommodation site for graduates in Leckhampton. As with all Cambridge colleges, Corpus has its own student unions ( combination rooms) for both undergraduates and graduates, the JCR and MCR respectively. Confusingly, the JCR (Junior Combination Room) is also the name for the entire student body 'en masse' (including the graduates) and the name of the student common room as well. On November 14, 2010, the JCR and MCR student bodies disaffiliated from CUSU, after holding a College-wide ballot in which 71% of undergraduates and 86% of postgraduates that voted were in favour of disaffiliation. The JCR president for the year 2011-2012 is James Black. In 2008 the college bar was relocated from New Court to an underground position in the newly built Library Court. It hosts regular themed parties known in Corpus slang as a slack, e.g. Hallowe'en slack. Like most of the other colleges Corpus owns a punt. Named Prudence, she can only be used by members of the MCR with the permission of the 'Admiral of the Punt'. Corpus hosts a biennial May Ball on the Friday of May Week. At previous balls The Automatic (2009) and The Sunshine Underground (2007) have performed. The 2011 May Ball will be held on Friday 24th June and the theme is "Distant Shores". Every year Corpus competes with its sister college in Oxford, also called Corpus Christi, in the Corpus Challenge. Both colleges compete in many sports including football, rugby, hockey and rowing races as well as darts, table tennis and pool. Winning an individual sport accrues a set amount of points with the totals deciding the overall winners. The location of 'The Challenge' alternates between the colleges every year. In 2011, it was held in Oxford, Cambridge retaining the cup, winning 125-50. The Corpus Playroom is a student theatre, opened in 1979 and was, until 2001, run solely by the students of Corpus Christi. Since then it has been a joint venture between the college, the Cambridge Arts Theatre and the Fletcher Players, the college drama society, named after the Corpus alumnus and playwright, John Fletcher. It has an important place in the drama landscape of Cambridge, being the only other permanent student venue apart from the ADC. Several notable performers and directors have played there including Emma Thompson, Hugh Bonneville, Sam Mendes and Stephen Fry, who is the Playroom's patron. The Playroom is currently undergoing a fund-raising campaign to renovate and expand its facilities. Dramatically, each spring a duck chooses to lay her eggs in a flower pot in Old Court some 200m from the River Cam. When the ducklings hatch and are ready to leave for the water one of the porters must stop traffic on Trumpington Street to allow the duck and her offspring to cross. The porters from St Catharine's across the road open the gates of their college and take over the responsibility of getting them to the river from there.

College ghosts
The College is said to be haunted by a number of ghosts. Most famous, and feared, is the terrifying apparition of Henry Butts, hero of the plague of 1630, who hanged himself with his garters in the then Master's Lodge on Easter Sunday, 1632. Butts' ghost was subject to an attempted (and purportedly unsuccessful) exorcism by three students in 1904. The last sighting of Butts was in 1967 as a half length figure of a man in the passage between New Court and Old Court. Another is that of Elizabeth Spencer and her young lover (both died in 1667). Elizabeth was the daughter of the then Master, John Spencer and apart from the Master's wife, the only woman in college. One of the students, James Betts, became enamoured with her and they regularly had tea together. On one such occasion her father interrupted them and she bungled Betts into a wardrobe. She then went away for some time leaving him in the cupboard, which only opened from the outside. When she came back to the cupboard she discovered he had asphyxiated. Elizabeth, in a fit of grief, committed suicide, throwing herself from the roof of Old Court. Their ghosts are said to walk on Christmas Eve. There have been few sightings of either apparition since the early 20th Century. This may have been because the Master in the 1930s, Sir Will Spens, let it be known that anyone complaining of a ghost would be sent down


Old Court
Built in the 1350s, Old Court contains some of Cambridge's oldest buildings, and retains many of its original features, such as sills and jambs used to hold oil-soaked linen in the days prior to the arrival of glass. The court is the oldest continually inhabited courtyard in the country (a claim disputed by Merton College, Oxford, which says the same of its Mob Quad). It is possibly built from the core of an even older building. Four sided, it typifies the model of construction of the colleges in Oxford or Cambridge. A passageway connects Old Court to Bene't Street. Due to its age the rooms are large and contain antique furniture but lack basic facilities and plumbing. In 1919 the ivy was removed from Old Court and a roughcast rendering was put in its place, followed by a major restoration in 1952 paid for by donations from old members. During the Summer months students are permitted to sit on the lawn in Old Court and garden parties may be held whereas, like other Oxbridge colleges, normally only fellows are allowed to walk on the lawns. There is a large plaque, on the northern wall, dedicated to Christopher Marlowe and John Fletcher, both famous playwrights who studied at Corpus. Standing inside Old Court one can see the tower of St Bene't's Church, the oldest building in Cambridge, and the Old Cavendish Laboratory where DNA was discovered by Watson and Crick and groundbreaking work on the structure of the atom was conducted by J. J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford.

St Bene't's Church
The adjacent St Bene't's Church served as the college's chapel until 1579 when one was built specifically for the purpose. The college remains the patron. The tower of St Bene't's is the oldest building in Cambridge dating back to before the Norman Conquest. It is also notable for being the birthplace of the practice of ringing the changes, which was started by Fabian Stedman, a parish clerk, in 1670. It is connected to the college by a blocked up passage which now comprises one of the Old Court rooms. It ends in a hollow pillar in St Bene't's Church which contains a spiral staircase and portholes from which one could view the church, and specifically the Side Altar. The staircase continues further to a bathroom with a bath set at what appears to be coffin level in the adjacent graveyard.

New Court
New Court (completed 1827) was designed by William Wilkins, who is buried in the vaults of the college chapel. Although he went on to design the curtain wall in front of King's College, Cambridge and the National Gallery in London, he considered Corpus to be his favourite work and requested to be buried in the Chapel. A plaque commemorating him is in the entrance to the Parker Library within the court. This court also housed the Butler Library, the college's student library, directly below the Parker Library. Upon completion of the building works in 2008, it relocated to the new Library Court and was renamed the Taylor Library after the project's main benefactor John Taylor. Many of the more precious volumes in the Parker Library are now protected in vaults in what used to be the Butler Library. New Court was built to symbolise the harmony between the mind, body and soul with the Parker Library on the right representing the mind, the Hall and kitchens on the left representing the body and the Chapel in the centre representing the soul. The Chapel The current chapel is the third the college has had and was completed in 1827 along with the rest of New Court. It was also designed by William Wilkins, but includes some Medieval glass and features, including the fellows' stalls, of the older Elizabethan Chapel, which was demolished in the construction of New Court. The first four stained glass windows date to around 1500 and come from the Abbey of Mariawald in Germany which had been dissolved by Napoleon. Some of the pews and the pulpit of the Elizabethan chapel can now be found in St Andrew's Church, Thurning, Norfolk. Hanging on the South wall is a depiction of the Madonna and Child by 17th Century artist Elisabetta Sirani. The Chapel also features an icon which is unusual for Oxbridge colleges. The depiction of the Christ Pantocrator was painted for the college by a Greek Orthodox monk and is used as a focus of meditation. The Chapel was extended in the late 19th Century to make room for increasing student numbers and the chancel dates from this time. The ceiling, which had been a stone fan ribbed vault like the ceiling of the college gatehouse, was replaced by the painted wooden ceiling still in place today. Services are held daily and there are sung services three times a week: Evensong on a Wednesday evening and on Sunday Holy Communion in the morning and Evensong in the evening. The Chapel choir is made up of students from both Corpus and other colleges in the University. They have released several CDs and tour regularly, previously visiting New York and Italy. The current organ was built by Noel Mander MBE in 1968 and the casework was designed by Stephen Dykes Bower. The previous organ was donated to Methodist College Belfast on their centenary in 1968. The Parker Library The collection was begun in 1376 and much improved by a bequest from Matthew Parker, the college's Master between 1544 and 1553, who as Archbishop of Canterbury formed a fine collection of manuscripts from the libraries of dissolved monasteries. It is one of the finest and most important collections of medieval manuscripts in the world. The building was completed in 1827 in the construction of Wilkin's New Court. Currently the collection comprises over 600 manuscripts, around 480 of which were given by Parker, who also donated around 1000 printed volumes. Its most famous possession is the Canterbury Gospels, probably brought to England by St Augustine, when he was sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the people of Britain in 598AD. The Gospels are still used in the enthronement of the Archbishops of Canterbury today and are transported to and from Canterbury by the Master and college representatives. It also contains the principal manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, works by Matthew Paris and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, to name only a few. In a joint venture between the college, the University Library and Stanford University in the United States of America the entire collection was digitised and is now available on the internet. Completed in 2010, the process involved the digitisation of over 200,000 separate pages.

Library Court
In 2005, the lease of the bank adjacent to Corpus expired and the college reclaimed it to begin c College name The College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary in Cambridge Founders The Guild of Corpus Christi, The Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary Established 1352 Previously named Informal: Bene’t College (this seems to have died out in the 1820s) Admittance Men and women Master Stuart Laing Undergraduates 250 Graduates 209 Sister college Corpus Christi College, Oxford Location Trumpington Street ( map) The college has no motto but there is a toast used at many events, Floreat Antiqua Domus ( Latin, "May the old house flourish") College website Boat Club website

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