St John's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. The college's alumni include nine Nobel Prize winners, six Prime Ministers, three archbishops, at least two princes, and three Saints.

The full formal name of the college is "The Master, Fellows and Scholars of the College of St John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge". The college was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort. In constitutional terms, the college is an eleemosynary corporation established by Charter dated 9 April 1511. The aims of the College, as specified by its Statutes, are the promotion of education, religion, learning and research. The college is a charity under English law, being an exempt charity under the terms of Schedule 2 of the Charities Act 1993.

St John's College is well-known for its choir, for its members' participation in a wide variety of inter-collegiate sporting competitions, and for its yearly May Ball.

In 2011 the College celebrated its quincentenary, an event marked by a visit of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.


The College was founded on the site of the 13th century Hospital of St John in Cambridge at the suggestion of Saint John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and chaplain to Lady Margaret. However, Lady Margaret died without having mentioned the foundation of St John's in her will, and it was largely the work of Fisher that ensured that the college was founded. He had to obtain the approval of King Henry VIII of England, the Pope through the intermediary Polydore Vergil, and the Bishop of Ely to suppress the religious hospital and convert it to a college. The college received its charter on April 9, 1511. Further complications arose in obtaining money from the estate of Lady Margaret to pay for the foundation and it was not until October 22, 1512 that a codicil was obtained in the court of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In November 1512 the Court of Chancery allowed Lady Margaret's executors to pay for the foundation of the college from her estates. When Lady Margaret's executors took over they found most of the old Hospital buildings beyond repair, but repaired and incorporated the Chapel into the new college. A kitchen and hall were added, and an imposing gate tower was constructed for the College Treasury. The doors were to be closed each day at dusk, sealing the monastic community from the outside world.

Over the course of the following five hundred years, the College expanded westwards towards the River Cam, and now has eleven courts, the most of any Oxford or Cambridge College. The first three courts are arranged in enfilade.

Buildings and grounds

St John's College Choir has a tradition of religious music and has sung the daily services in the College Chapel since the 1670s. The services follow the cathedral tradition of the Church of England, Evensong being sung during Term six days a week and Sung Eucharist on Sunday mornings. The Choir is currently directed by Mr Andrew Nethsingha, who has previously been Director of Music at Gloucester and Truro Cathedrals. The boys of the choir are all educated at the St John's College School. During university vacations the choir carries out engagements elsewhere. Recent tours have taken it to places including the Netherlands, the USA and France. The choir has made a large number of recordings.

The Choir has an extensive discography dating back to the 1950s, when it was signed to the Decca/Argo label under George Guest. More recently, the Choir has completed a sequence of recordings of English 20th century choral for Naxos, which sold over 200,000 copies. The Choir now records with Hyperion Records, and has released four discs to date with the label: one of the music of Mendelssohn, a collection of music for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, Christmas at St John's, a recording of the choral and vocal music of Jongen and Peeters and most recently, a collection of the music of Bairstow. The Choir has received invitations to perform throughout the world, recently touring in France, Austria, the Netherlands, Estonia, Hungary and America.

The men of the choir, or choral scholars, also form their own close harmony group, The Gentlemen of St John's. Their repertoire spans the 15th century through to the modern day, and concert tours have taken them to Europe, the USA and Japan. They provide a mixture of classical a capella music and folksongs, as well as covers of recently chart hits and light-hearted entertainment.


The College motto is souvent me souvient, supplied by Lady Margaret Beaufort, and written in Mediaeval French. It is inscribed over gates, lintels and within tympana throughout the college, functioning as a triple pun. It means 'I often remember', 'think of me often' and, when spoken (exploiting the homonym souvent me sous vient), 'I often pass beneath it' (referring to the inscriptions). The college shares its motto with Christ's College, Cambridge and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

College Grace

The College Grace is customarily said before and after dinner in Hall. The reading of Grace before dinner (ante prandium) is usually the duty of a Scholar of the College; Grace after dinner (post prandium) is said by the President or the Senior Fellow dining. The Graces used in St John's have been in continuous use for some centuries and it is known that the Ante Prandium is based upon mediaeval monastic models. The Grace is said shortly after the fellows enter the Hall, signalled by the sounding of a Gong, and accompanied by the ringing of the College's Grace Bell. The Ante Prandium is read after the Fellows have entered, the Post Prandium after they have finished dining:

Traditions and Legends
Eating Swan

Fellows of St John’s College are the only people outside the Royal Family legally allowed to eat unmarked mute swans. Swan traps were originally built into the walls of the college alongside the river, but these are no longer used. The Crown (the British monarch) retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but the Queen only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries. This ownership is shared with the Vintners' and Dyers' Companies, who were granted rights of ownership by the Crown in the fifteenth century, and was extended to the College via ancient Royalist ties.

College Ghosts

According to popular legend, St John's College is inhabited by a number of ghosts. In 1706, four fellows exorcised some ghosts from a house opposite the College by the simple method of threatening to fire their pistols at the positions the moans and groans were coming from. Second court is apparently still haunted by the ghost of the former undergraduate, James Wood. Wood was so poor that he could not afford to light his room, and would often do his work in the well-lit stairway.

New Court's Clock Tower

New Court's central cupola has four blank clock-faces. These are subject to various apocryphal explanations. One legend maintains that a statute limiting the number of chiming clocks in Cambridge rendered the addition of a mechanism illegal. No such limitation is known to exist. More likely explanations include Hutchinson's fear that the installation of a clockface would spoil the building's symmetry, and that the college's financial situation in the early nineteenth century made completion impossible.

Other legends explaining the absence of clockfaces claim that St John's College and its neighbour, Trinity College, were engaged in a race to build the final (or tallest) clocktower in Cambridge. Supposedly, whichever was finished first (or was tallest) would be permitted to house the 'final' chiming clock in Cambridge. Trinity's Tower was finished first (or, in another version of the same story, was made taller overnight by the addition of a wooden cupola), and its clock was allowed to remain.

In truth, the completion of New Court and Trinity's Clock (which is in King Edward's Tower) was separated by nearly two centuries. Trinity's famous double-striking was installed in the seventeenth century by its then-Master, Richard Bentley, a former student of St John's, who dictated that the clock chime once for Trinity, and once for his alma mater, St John's.

The College Shield and Arms

St John's College and Christ's College, Cambridge both bear the arms of the Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, mother of Henry VII. These arms are recorded in the College of Arms as being borne by right, and are described as: Quarterly: 1 and 4 azure three fleurs-de-lis gold (France, Modern); 2 and 3 gules three lions passant gardant or (England); all within a border compony silver and azure. In addition, both foundations use the Beaufort crest, an eagle displayed arising out of a coronet of roses and fleurs-de-lis all gold, but their title to this is more doubtful. When displayed in their full achievement, the arms are flanked by mythical yales.

College life

The buildings of St John's College include the Chapel, the Hall, two libraries, a bar, and common rooms for fellows, graduates and undergraduates. There are also extensive gardens, lawns, a neighbouring sportsground, College School and boat-house. On-site accommodation is provided for all undergraduate and most graduate students. This is generally spacious, and some undergraduate rooms comprise 'sets' of living and sleeping rooms. Members of the College can choose to dine either in the Hall, where silver service three-course meals are served, or in the buttery, where food can be purchased from a cafeteria-style buffet. College Catering is organised by Michelin Star Chef Bill Brogan, overseer of the intercollegiate Stewards' Cup.

The College maintains an extensive library, which supplements the university libraries. Most undergraduate supervisions are carried out in the college, though for some specialist subjects undergraduates may be sent to tutors in other colleges. The college owns its own punts which may be borrowed by students, dons and staff.

The college has two official combination rooms for junior members, which represent the interests of students in college and are responsible for social aspects of college life. Undergraduates are members of the Junior Combination Room (JCR). Graduate students have membership to the JCR, but also belong to the Samuel Butler Room, which is the name of the Middle Combination Room (MCR) of St John's College.

The fleet of punts is kept in a purpose-built punt pool behind the Cripps Building. The School of Pythagoras is now used as a drama space. It predates the College proper, and is said to be the oldest building continuously in use by a university in Britain. It was originally the private house of the Merton Family. In addition to its Nobel prize winners, St John's traditionally ranked highly in the Tompkins Table of undergraduate degree results, though its rating has fallen over the past four years.

Sports and activities

The college has a rich sporting history, enjoying much success in most of the major sports on offer in cambridge.The Red Boys, St John's College Rugby Club, have won the Division One League title for the last nine years in a row and the cuppers trophy for the last six making it one of the most successful collegiate sports teams in Cambridge's history. The rugby club has produced several notable alumni including current RFU executive Francis Baron, former Newcastle and England fly-half and current RFU Director of Elite Rugby Rob Andrew, and Battlestar Galactica actor Jamie Bamber. The women's team (Red Girls) has also experienced success last year, securing the inter collegiate cup on the same day that the red boys won the double for the fifth year in a row. The college rowing club, the Lady Margaret Boat Club (LMBC), is the oldest in the University, and was founded in 1825. Despite many gruesome rumours concerning the name of the club, it was merely the most successful of the many boat clubs established in the College in the 19th century. In a similar fashion the traditional rival of the LMBC, the Boat Club of Trinity College, is known as 'First and Third' in a reference to its formation from two original clubs.

Scholarships and prizes

Every year the college awards scholarships to a handful of graduate students under the Benefactors' Scholarships Scheme. The scholarships include the Craik Scholarship, the J.C. Hall Scholarship, the Luisa Aldobrandini Studentship Competition, the Paskin Scholarship and the Pelling Scholarship. Competition for these scholarships is very fierce as students from any country reading for any graduate degree—not only members of the college—can apply. There is also the famous Adams Prize in mathematics, named after the mathematican (and alumnus of St John's) John Couch Adams for his discovery of Neptune - it is an annual competition and can be awarded to any mathematician resident in the UK, with an age limit of under 40.

May Ball

St John's hosts a large and typically spectacular May Ball, which is traditionally held on the Tuesday of May Week. In recent years, tickets have only been available to Johnians and their guests. Highlights include an extravagant fireworks display and a variety of musical acts - in 2008 including Dizzee Rascal and Lesley Garrett.

List of previous May Ball Acts
St John's and the abolition of the British slave trade

Several of St John's graduates were deeply involved in the efforts to abolish the British Slave Trade which culminated in the Act of 1807. In particular, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Thomas Gisborne and Thomas Babington were active in the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and other abolitionist efforts.

As part of the commemoration of the bicentenary of the 1807 Act, and as a representative of one of the Ivy League universities offering American historical perspective on the Triangular Trade, President Ruth J. Simmons of Brown University (herself a direct descendant of American slaves) gave a public lecture at St John's College entitled "Hidden in Plain Sight: Slavery and Justice in Rhode Island" on February 16, 2007. St John's College hosted some of the key events relating to the commemoration, including an academic conference and a Gospel Mass in the College Chapel with the London Adventist Chorale.

Notable alumni

See also Category:Alumni of St John's College, Cambridge. See also Category:Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge. A more extensive list is located on the St John's website

The following is a list of notable people educated at St John's College, Cambridge. When available, years of attendance are provided as indicated in the College Register or in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Over 1000 former members of St John's College appear in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Students of St John's were the most heavily featured in Varsity's 2008 and 2009 lists of the hundred most influential people in Cambridge.

Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
  • Frederick John Robinson, 1st Earl of Ripon, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1827–1828
  • George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1852–1855
  • Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1855–1858, and 1859–1865
  • Roger Ascham, tutor of Elizabeth I and advisor to Edward VI and Mary I
  • Sir Francis Bell, Prime Minister of New Zealand
  • John Cheke, scholar, statesman and tutor of Edward VI
  • William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I of England
  • Michael Clark, Conservative Member of Parliament
  • Thomas Clarkson, abolitionist (1760–1846)
  • Nigel Dodds, Democratic Unionist Party MP, MLA
  • Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Baron Fairfax of Cameron, English Civil War General and Commander-in-Chief
  • Richard Hill of Hawkstone, diplomatist, statesman and public servant (1655–1727)
  • Suematsu Kencho, Japanese Minister of Communication and the Interior, statesman, journalist and historian
  • Sir Thomas Legg, senior civil servant
  • Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl of Harrowby, politician
  • Sir Michael Scholar, former Permanent Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, now President of St John's College, Oxford
  • Manmohan Singh, Current Prime Minister of India (2004–), Honorary Fellow. (See also: Dr Manmohan Singh Scholarship)
  • Robert Stewart, 1st Viscount Castlereagh, politician
  • Malcolm Moss, Conservative Member of Parliament for North East Cambridgeshire (1987-) (Parliamentary Under-Secretary Northern Ireland Office 1994-1997)
  • Sarah Teather, MP for Brent East, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesman
  • George William Frederick Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon, English diplomat and statesman
  • Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, notable English statesman during the reign of Charles I
  • William Wilberforce, Member of Parliament, abolitionist
  • Professor Walter Woon, former Nominated Member of Parliament, Solicitor-General and Attorney-General of Singapore
  • John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln (1621–41), Lord Chancellor (1621–25), Archbishop of York (1641–50)
Nobel Prize Winners
  • Sir Edward Appleton, winner of the Nobel prize for Physics, for discovering the Appleton layer
  • Sir John Cockcroft KCB, Nobel prize-winning physicist, who first split the atom
  • Allan Cormack, Nobel laureate in Medicine or Physiology for the invention of the CAT scan
  • Paul Dirac, Nobel laureate in Physics and one of the founders of Quantum Mechanics
  • Sir Nevill Francis Mott, awarded Nobel prize for Physics for work on the behaviour of electrons in magnetic solids
  • Abdus Salam, Nobel laureate in Physics, for unifying the electromagnetic force and the weak force
  • Frederick Sanger, molecular biologist and one of only four double Nobel Prize winners
  • Maurice Wilkins, awarded Nobel prize for Medicine or Physiology with Watson and Crick for discovering the structure of DNA
Science, mathematics, and technology
  • John Couch Adams, mathematician and discoverer of Neptune
  • George Barnard, statistician known for his work on the foundations of statistics
  • John Browne, Baron Browne of Madingley, FRS; former Chief Executive of BP
  • Sir David Cox, prominent statistician
  • Sir Samuel Curran, physicist, inventor of the scintillation counter and proportional counter, and founder of Stratclyde University
  • John Dee, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, geographer, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I
  • Fearon Fallows, astronomer
  • Thomas Fink, physicist and author
  • Johannes de Villiers Graaff, economist
  • William Gilbert, physician and natural philosopher, discoverer of the Earth's magnetic field and inventor of the word 'electricity'
  • William Gregor, discoverer of titanium
  • William D. Hamilton, evolutionary biologist who formalised the concept of Kin selection
  • David Harvey, Marxist geographer, social scientist
  • William Heberden, British physician, who gave the first clinical description (1768) of angina pectoris and demonstrated that chicken pox was different from smallpox
  • John Herschel, mathematician and astronomer
  • W. E. Hick, pioneer of cognitive science and discoverer of Hick's law
  • Robert Hinde, Professor of Zoology, and former Master of St. Johns
  • Sir Fred Hoyle, pioneering but controversial cosmologist who first used the term 'Big Bang'
  • Sir Harold Jeffreys, applied mathematician and geophysicist
  • Joseph Larmor, mathematician and physicist
  • Louis Leakey, archaeologist and naturalist credited with the discovery of Homo habilis
  • Professor John Marrack, immunologist
  • Alfred Marshall, economist
  • Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine
  • Sir Roger Penrose, mathematical physicist and philosopher
  • Cedric Price, architect
  • Vikram Sarabhai, father of the Indian space programme
  • James Joseph Sylvester, mathematician
  • Brook Taylor, mathematician
  • Sir Maurice Wilkes, one of the founding fathers of modern computer science, and inventor of the first stored program digital computer
Arts and Literature
  • Sir Thomas Wyatt 1503-1542, courtier and poet
  • Samuel Butler, author
  • William Wordsworth, poet
  • Patrick Brontë, curate, father of the Brontë sisters
  • Robert Greene, arguably the first professional English author of plays, poems and novels
  • Thomas Nashe, pamphleteer, satirist & playwright
  • Robert Herrick, poet
  • Louis Cha, famous Chinese novelist and newspaper editor
  • Frederic Raphael, screenwriter, novelist and journalist
  • Sir Cecil Beaton, photographer
  • Herbert Howells, English composer (college organist)
  • Geoffrey Paterson, conductor (college organist).
  • Tom Rob Smith, award nominee author of Soviet-era novels; erstwhile writer for Channel 5's defunct soap opera Family Affairs
  • Noah Charney, best-selling author and professor of art history
  • Paul Sussman, author, archaeologist and journalist
  • Douglas Adams, author
  • Jennifer Egan, 2011 Pulitzer Prize
  • Peter Carnley, Archbishop of Perth 1981-2005, Primate of Australia 2000-2005
  • Frederick Donald Coggan, Baron Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury 1974-1980
  • W. Owen Chadwick, church historian
  • D'Ewes Coke, clergyman and colliery master
  • Saint John Fisher, martyr (Fellow and Founder)
  • Saint Richard Gwyn, martyr
  • Edmund Hickeringill, churchman
  • Saint Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel
  • William Jowett, missionary
  • Edward Stillingfleet, British theologian and scholar
  • Verne Timms, Reverend of Greendale Church 1963-98
  • Rob Andrew, England rugby footballer
  • Ab Banerjee, an entrepreneur who helped established the Dr Manmohan Singh Scholarship
  • Chris Brasher, Olympic gold medallist runner, founder of the London Marathon
  • Mike Brearley, cricketer, England Captain
  • Logie Bruce Lockhart, Scotland rugby footballer
  • Damon Buffini, head of private equity firm Permira
  • Andrew Carwood, Director of Music St Paul's Cathedral (2007), tenor and conductor
  • William George Constable, art historian
  • Kikuchi Dairoku, first Japanese graduate of Cambridge University
  • Paul Dempsey (presenter), TV Presenter
  • Hugh Dennis, Actor/ Comedian
  • Fra' Matthew Festing, Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
  • Andrew Gant, chorister and composer
  • Charles Sydney Gibbes, English tutor of Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia
  • Andrew Gilligan, controversial journalist
  • George Guest, Welsh choral conductor, college organist 1951-1991
  • William Hawkins, jurist and serjeant-at-law
  • Peter Hennessy English historian of government
  • Sir Harry Hinsley, historian and World War II codebreaker
  • Sir Derek Jacobi, actor
  • Edward Latymer, founder of both Latymer Upper School and The Latymer School
  • Donald MacAlister, physician and academic
  • Tshilidzi Marwala, academic and businessman
  • G. R. S. Mead
  • Dr Jonathan Miller, physician, theatre and opera director and television presenter
  • Sir Peter Noble, Principal of King's College London 1952-1968
  • John Scott, LVO, English organist, organ scholar 1974-78, organist of St Paul's 1990-2004
  • Prof Stephen Sykes, theologian, former Dean of St John's and Bishop of Ely, and principal of St John's College, Durham
  • Frank Thistlethwaite, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (1961–1980)
  • Kenneth Thomson, of Canada's wealthiest family and Thomson Corp. (information services)
  • Henry Wace (1853–1947), England international footballer and expert on bankruptcy law.
  • Sid Waddell, darts commentator
  • Professor Glanville Williams, Q.C. LL.D. F.B.A. described in 1997 by the New York Times, as the greatest lawyer of the 20th century
St John's College Royal Medal Winners

Three Royal Medals, known also as the Queen’s Medals, are awarded annually by the Sovereign upon the recommendation of the Council of the Royal Society, “two for the most important contributions to the advancement of Natural Knowledge (one in the physical and one in the biological sciences) and the other for distinguished contributions in the applied sciences”. The first Royal Medal was awarded in 1826 and previous recipients include thirty-eight Johnians.

Masters of St John's College

Dates for masters up to 13 Dec. 1952 are taken from

Many of the later dates are taken from the college magazine, The Eagle

In popular culture

The video of High Hopes, one of Pink Floyd last songs, contains numerous scenes set in the St Johns College.


2 photos

Building Activity

  • removed a media
    about 6 years ago via