Pembroke College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.

The college has over six hundred students and fellows, and is the third oldest college of the university. Physically, it is one of the university's larger colleges, with buildings from almost every century since its founding, as well as extensive and immaculately maintained gardens. The college is a financially well-to-do institution, and has a level of academic performance among the highest of all the Cambridge colleges. Not only is Pembroke College home to the first chapel designed by Sir Christopher Wren, but it is also one of the Cambridge colleges to have educated a British prime minister, William Pitt the Younger. The college library, one of the finest in the university, with a Victorian neo-gothic clock tower, is endowed with an original copy of the first encyclopaedia to contain printed diagrams. The college's current master, Sir Richard Dearlove, was previously the head of the United Kingdom's Secret Intelligence Service.


On Christmas Eve 1347, Edward III granted Marie de St Pol, widow of the Earl of Pembroke, the licence for the foundation of a new educational establishment in the young university at Cambridge. The Hall of Valence Mary, as it was originally known, was thus founded to house a body of students and fellows.

The statutes were notable in that they both gave preference to students born in France who had already studied elsewhere in England, and that they required students to report fellow students if they indulged in excessive drinking or visited disreputable houses.

The college was later renamed Pembroke Hall, and finally became Pembroke College in 1856.


The first buildings comprised a single court (now called Old Court) containing all the component parts of a college — chapel, hall, kitchen and buttery, master's lodgings, students' rooms — and the statutes provided for a manciple, a cook, a barber and a laundress. Both the founding of the college and the building of the city's first college Chapel (1355) required the grant of a papal bull.

The original court was the university's smallest at only 95 feet by 55 feet, but was enlarged to its current size in the nineteenth century by demolishing the south range.

The college's gatehouse, however, is original and is the oldest in Cambridge. The Hall was rebuilt in 1875–6 by Alfred Waterhouse after he had declared the medieval Hall unsafe.

The original Chapel now forms the Old Library and has a striking seventeenth century plaster ceiling, designed by Henry Doogood, showing birds flying overhead. Around the Civil War, one of Pembroke's fellows and Chaplain to the future Charles I, Matthew Wren, was imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell. On his release after eighteen years he fulfilled a promise by hiring his nephew Christopher Wren to build a great Chapel in his former college. The resulting Chapel was consecrated on St Matthew's Day, 1665, and the eastern end was extended by George Gilbert Scott in 1880, when it was consecrated on the Feast of the Annunciation.

An increase in membership over the last 150 years saw a corresponding increase in building activity. As well as the Hall, Waterhouse built a new range of rooms, Red Buildings (1871–2), in French Renaissance style, designed a new Master's Lodge on the site of Paschal Yard (1873, later to become N staircase), pulled down the old Lodge and the south range of Old Court to open a vista to the Chapel, and finally built a new Library (1877-8) in the continental Gothic style.

Waterhouse was dismissed as architect in 1878 and succeeded by George Gilbert Scott, who, after extending the Chapel, provided additional accommodation with the construction of New Court in 1881, with letters on a series of shields along the string course above the first floor spelling out the Psalm text "Nisi Dominus aedificat domum…" ("Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but vain that build it").

Building work continued into the 20th century with W. D. Caröe as architect. He added Pitt Building (M staircase) between Ivy Court and Waterhouse's Lodge, and extended New Court with the construction of O staircase on the other side of the Lodge. He linked his two buildings with an arched stone screen, Caröe Bridge, along Pembroke Street in a late Baroque style, the principal function of which was to act as a bridge by which undergraduates might cross the Master's forecourt at first-floor level from Pitt Building to New Court without leaving the College or trespassing in what was then the Fellows' Garden.

In 1926, as the Fellows had become increasingly disenchanted with Waterhouse's Hall, Maurice Webb was brought in to remove the open roof, put in a flat ceiling and add two storeys of sets above. The wall between the Hall and the Fellows' Parlour was taken down, and the latter made into a High Table dais. A new Senior Parlour was then created on the ground floor of Hitcham Building. The remodelling work was completed in 1949 when Murrary Easton replaced the Gothic tracery of the windows with a simpler design in the style of the medieval Hall.

In 1933 Maurice Webb built a new Master's Lodge in the south-east corner of the College gardens, on land acquired from Peterhouse in 1861. Following the war, further accommodation was created with the construction in 1957 of Orchard Building, so called because it stands on part of the Foundress's orchard. Finally, in a move to accommodate the majority of junior members on the College site rather than in hostels in the town, in the 1990s Eric Parry designed a new range of buildings on the site of the Master's Lodge, with a new Lodge at the west end. "Foundress Court" was opened in 1997 in celebration of the College's 650th Anniversary. In 2001 the Library was extended to the east and modified internally.

Pembroke's enclosed grounds also house some particularly well-kept gardens, sporting a huge array of carefully selected vegetation. Highlights include "The Orchard" (a patch of semi-wild ground in the centre of the college), an impressive row of Plane Trees and an immaculately kept bowling green, re-turfed in 1996, which is reputed to be among the oldest in continual use in Europe.

Famous alumni of Pembroke College

See also Category:Alumni of Pembroke College, Cambridge

Pembroke today

Pembroke College has both graduate and undergraduate students, termed Valencians, after the College's original name. The undergraduate student body is represented by the Junior Parlour Committee (JPC). The graduate community is represented by the Graduate Parlour Committee (GPC). Pembroke is unusual in having its recreational rooms named as "parlours" rather than the more standard "combination room". There are many clubs and societies organised by the students of the college, such as the college's dramatic society the Pembroke Players, which has been made famous by alumni such as Peter Cook, Eric Idle, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Clive James and Bill Oddie and is now in its 50th year.

International Programmes

Pembroke is the only Cambridge college to have a programme for international students to spend a semester (mid-January to mid-June) in Cambridge. The Semester Abroad Scheme is a highly competitive programme open to academically outstanding juniors who wish to follow a regular Cambridge degree course as fully matriculated members of the University. There are around thirty places each year.

The Pembroke-King’s Programme (PKP) is a summer programme which offers international students an exceptional opportunity to experience Cambridge student life over eight weeks, the length of a regular undergraduate term. Living in Pembroke or King’s Colleges, students choose three classes from the around thirty to forty on offer, including courses in the arts, social sciences, humanities and sciences. Courses are taught in the main by Cambridge-affiliated faculty and are academically 'Cambridge' in style, content and standard. Trips are made to locales such as Edinburgh, Scotland, and the programme has a series of formal halls, which are described as "three-course candlelit meals" serving "interesting" fare in Pembroke's historic dining hall. The Pembroke-King's Programme is also the programme for which the prestigious Thouron Prize is awarded, fully supporting nine American undergraduates from Harvard, Yale, and UPenn.

Pembroke also works with the University of California, Irvine to host the annual 4 week-long University of California Summer Sessions and Japanese universities to provide academic programmes specifically tailored for their students.


Although the canteen food is affectionately known as "Trough," this is not necessarily an accurate description and catering at Pembroke is generally thought to be quite good. In particular, catering manager David Harwood received the Cambridge Catering Award in 2005 for his "outstanding quality and affordable prices". In 2007 the UK's first Vegan 'tapas' bar was opened, and in spring 2008 the students voted (by a large majority) for Pembroke to serve only free-range chicken (it will be the first UK college to do so). Also, since October 2008, freshly prepared sushi as well as a weekly taco bar is available. Pembroke is Cambridge's 2nd Fairtrade College (after St Catharine's), and is also committed to serving local produce and sustainable fish where possible.

Institutions named after the college

Pembroke College, the former women's college at Brown University in the United States, was named for the principal building on the women's campus, Pembroke Hall, which was itself named in honor of the Pembroke College (Cambridge) alumnus Roger Williams, a co-founder of Rhode Island.

In 1981, a decade after the merger of Pembroke College into Brown University, the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women was named in honour of Pembroke College and the history of women's efforts to gain access to higher education.



11 photos

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated 34 media and removed 2 media
    about 6 years ago via
  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator