Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Jewel on the Cam

View of Kings College from The Backs
This past weekend I was in Cambridge, visiting my Son, Chris and his partner. Chris is Director of Senate House Libraries, University of London, and you can follow his Blog here. I'm really glad that he lives in Cambridge, for if there is a more beautiful and historic City in the UK, then I'd like to see it. We spent Saturday and Sunday exploring (to be more accurate, Chris was showing me around) in muggy heat on the first day, and scorching sunshine on the second day. It is at times like this that I wish that I wasn't carrying so much weight. The photos on here were taken by Chris, except of course the ones with him in them, which were my contribution.
That's me, doing what I do best - looking

What a fantastic City Cambridge is. Though there had been small settlements in the area for thousands of years, it was the establishment of the University in 1209 that brought the place to prominence.

Cambridge is quite small - the 2001 Census records the population as 108,863 (including 22,153 students). I've never seen any place that packs so much interest and history into such a small area. The River Cam, which is a jewel within a jewel curves its way through the City, bringing delight to thousands, at any time of the year. When you walk through the City, it seems as if you're hearing every language on earth, and with camera shutters clicking somewhere every second, I wonder how many photographs we've all ended up in. I have no doubt that from my two days of walking around Cambridge, that Japan is full of photos of Chris and I, as we've inadvertently wandered into shot. Still' I'm sure that they can crop out the short, overweight one.

Cambridge gained its City Charter in 1951, even though it doesn't have a Cathedral, which is normally a prerequisite for city status. It's granted City status because of coming under the Church of England Diocese of Ely. Let's go for a walk around this Jewel on the Cam.

The Fitzwilliam Museum
Chris lives a short walk from the City centre, which means that everything is within easy reach. The narrow streets are not really made for today's traffic, and are thronged with pedestrians and what seems like millions of cyclists, constantly ringing their bells to announce their arrival.

After walking around a bit, it was time for a coffee (like Pooh Bear, it's always 11 O' clock for me). We went to the Fitzwilliam Museum, and as it was too warm for indoors, we sat outside in their cafe area. I've seen the inside before, and though it blows your mind away, that glory can wait for a cooler day.

The Museum owes its foundation to Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion who, in 1816, bequeathed to the University of Cambridge his works of art and library, together with funds to house them. His purpose was to further "the Increase of Learning and other great Objects of that Noble Foundation". The building was designed by George Basevi, who through an accidental death never saw it finished. It was completed by C.R. Cockerell and opened to the public in 1848.

In the view of the Standing Commission on Museums & Galleries, "The Fitzwilliam Museum is one of the greatest glories of the University of Cambridge. It is a museum of international stature, with unique collections most splendidly housed. Like the University itself, the Fitzwilliam Museum is part of the national heritage, but, much more, it is part of a living and continuing culture which it is our statutory duty to transmit". Click here to read more.

Chris and Peterhouse Library
Having enjoyed the coffee and stimulating conversation about the magnificence of the Fitz, it was time to move on. One of the delights of Cambridge is that you can be in the middle of a packed thoroughfare one moment, then turn down a side street, and there's no one there, and perfect peace.

We did that and came to the Peterhouse College Library. With Chris having started as a librarian on the front desk stamping books, and now risen to the level of Director in charge of a large staff team, budgets and collections, we couldn't resist this picture outside the Peterhouse College Library. If my love of books ever wanes, then a few moments talking with Chris would get my juices flowing again. The library is for members (called Petreans) only, so this was the closest we could get.

Peterhouse College is the oldest and the smallest Cambridge college that is still in existence today. It was founded in 1284, and as would be expected, many destined to be illustrious people attended Peterhouse. The college provides a long list of eminent Petreans, such as, Charles Babbage - who originated the concept of a programmable computer; Richard Baker - broadcaster; Henry Cavendish - discovered hydrogen and measured the Earth's density; Sir Christopher Cockerell - inventor of the hovercraft; Sir James Dewar - inventor of the thermos flask and cordite (I'll be forever grateful for the former); Lord Kelvin - developed the Kelvin scale of temperature measurement, and brought electric light to the College, which was second only to the Houses of Parliament; David Mitchell - comedian; Michael Portillo - politician and broadcaster; Sir Frank Whittle - developed jet propulsion.

Kings College Chapel
Right in the heart of the City lies Kings College, and the world famous Kings College Chapel.

It is an imposing building, and possibly the most photographed building in Cambridge.

This is me, doing what I do best, sitting. I still haven't been inside the Chapel for a number of reasons, which is nothing to do with the cost of entry.

Chris and I are determined that next time I'm down, we'll go to evensong on a Sunday, and hopefully hear the choir.

The Chapel building was started by Henry VI, with the foundation stone being laid in 1446. He was unable to see much being done, and it was only in around 1508 that the mantle was taken up again by Henry VII, who unfortunately died the following year. It was left to the reign of Henry VIII to complete the task in 1515.

If you can fight your way through people and bicycles, sitting on the wall facing the College and Chapel is worth doing. Because I've just learnt how to do it, I can't resist posting a clip from the Kings College Choir to salivate over, and to see something of the Chapel interior.

Amongst the crowds packing Cambridge, is an army of young people with small boards under their arms, trying so hard to entice tourists to take punt trips on the Cam.

As Stephen Fry says, "Be careful how you say, Punting on the Cam"
This kind of photograph epitomises for me the life of Cambridge, just as much as its historic and beautiful buildings.

In places the Cam can be a bottleneck, and great fun if you're standing on the river bank or on one of the bridges. There are the 'professional' punters, who are taking groups of people for a leisurely sail on the river, at about £45 a punt, and filling gullible tourist's heads with all manner of stories (to avoid legal action, let me say that I'm sure that the vast majority of Punters do not tell tall stories). There are also those who hire a punt for themselves, so that they can enjoy the thrill of punting down the river on a Sunday (or any other day) afternoon. From what I saw, they are less accomplished generally than the 'professional' ones, and their attempt to start going, or to keep going in a straight line is entertaining. However, it is a beautiful and restful sight, and obviously enjoyed by thousands every year. I certainly enjoyed the time Chris and I spent down by the river.

St John's College
On Sunday, with the sun beating down on the hottest day of the year, Chris and I decided to visit, to give it its full name, The College of St John the Evangelist, or St John's College.

Chris plans to write a blog on this College, so I'll happily leave it to his expertise, and put a link to it on a future blog of mine.

Without doubt, this is the finest set of buildings that I have seen. Its College Charter was granted in 1511, and unlike most other Colleges it has developed to straddle both sides of the River Cam. The Chapel, though small, is amazing, and the number of grassy courts (like the one in the picture above) gives an air of spaciousness.

The Bridge of Sighs
What a happy bunny I seem to be, and that's what I am. Normally I look like Jack Dee at his grumpiest, but here's a smile, and why not with such a backdrop?

The bridge is named after the famous one in Venice, but the only similarity between the two is that both have a roof on them. Oxford has a Bridge of Sighs as well, but that goes over a road.

Enough said. St John's is all yours Chris. I so enjoyed my few days in Cambridge. I was well fed; well looked after, and as ever, it was a delight to spend time with my Son, and to converse on a whole range of subjects. I always come away having being entertained, enlightened and enthralled.

In a strange way, this picture sums up my essence. Sitting on a park bench in one of the many lovely green spaces, cigar in hand, watching the world go by. I do that so well. Do enjoy these other photos.

Chris outside Peterhouse College

Kings College from The Backs

Enjoying a break
Lion guarding entrance to Fitzwilliam Museum
Spiral staircase in St John's College
Inside The Bridge of Sighs
One of St John's College gates

1 comment:

  1. Dad - what can I say about this post? Firstly, as Sir Humphrey would say, 'you deploy a powerful use of capitalisation when referring to your eldest familiar' - I love the way you employ the capital 'S' in Son. Beyond that, you have yet again shown your sheer journalistic talent. To compress q visit into this piece through such speed and accuracy of research must surely make you one of the best bloggers around. Less seriously, it was brilliant wasn't it? I so loved taking you through Cambridge and I agree with you about St John's - it is one of Britain's most extraordinary places - more anon. Thank you for a great weekend and for recording it so touchingly and so beautifully.