Remember, Remember the first week of November: Purchases, Fellows and Post
The first week of November has been a significant date for Trinity Hall since its foundation 670 years ago, featuring important donations that gave the College the distinctive look we see today and our connections with the Gunpowder Plot.
The College’s first November was a rollercoaster of events. Planning these days is highly regulated and can seem to take a long time, especially in Cambridge where the council and colleges work closely together to ensure new buildings are in keeping with the historic centre.
But 670 years ago, when the centre was less crowded, it seems things could move at quite a pace and for Trinity Hall November 1350 this was certainly the case.
Within the first week of November in 1350, the purchase of land belonging to John de Brunne was ‘being completed’ for a sixpence a year. This brought the Southwest corner of the college by Clare, currently occupied by the Master’s Lodge, into college hands. This was just over a month from when the land for the original “Hall of Scholars” was acquired and two weeks before the King confirmed the Foundation of the College. On the same day, the town of Cambridge granted Trinity Hall use of a watercourse running from Milne Street to the Common Ditch. The College got into a disagreement with Kings College over the use of this watercourse 145 years later.
Former Master, Sir Nathanael Lloyd helped to create the College we know today. His donations were used to reface front court and add sash windows, giving the college its current look. In this week in 1740, he left the College £3,000 in his Will to remodel the Dining Hall completely and to extend the College to the Cam. The plans had been drawn up by the architects of Clare Chapel. However, Lloyd’s £3,000 pounds proved insufficient for the extension to the river.
William Warren, the Bursar from 1712 -1745, tells us that the former dining hall was “one of the most ancient buildings at present remaining in the University… roofed with old oak beams, very black and dismal from the Charcoal which is burnt in the middle of the Hall and over it an old awkward kind of Cupolo to let out the smoak”. Lloyd’s legacy allowed the College to build a lighter eighteenth century dining chamber, with a more modern fireplace. Its length was twice its width: you can recapture its proportions by walking ten paces from High Table so that the fireplace sits in the middle of the wall, where it was intended. By the 1890s, undergraduate numbers had grown beyond the capacity of the space, so the Dining Hall had to be increased in size. Lloyd’s eighteenth century reredos with its coupled Corinthian columns were moved further to the east, and a Tudor roof was substituted for the eighteenth century ceiling.
On this week in 1875 law alumnus and former fellow Alexander Cockburn became Lord Chief Justice. He always looked for the dramatic cases in his practice, at first, cases which arose from the 1832 Reform Act and then ones that hit the headlines. Elected to parliament in 1847, he defended Lord Palmerston in the ‘Don Pacifico’ case (a case about a British subject who claimed damages against the Greek government) and got his reward with a post as solicitor-general and a knighthood.
This week in 1884 was the death of former economics Fellow, Henry Fawcett. He was one of most prominent Fellows of Trinity Hall in the nineteenth century. He came from a modest home and was openly ambitious. Fawcett was determined to become Senior Wrangler, but, as Leslie Stephen his friend and colleague wrote, ‘In the Tripos, for, as I imagined, for the first and last time in his life, Fawcett’s nerve failed him. He could not sleep, though he got out of bed and ran round the College to exhaust himself.’
He began to campaign for parliament as soon as he graduated but in 1858, a shooting accident blinded him and he had to change his plan. He continued to campaign as a radical liberal but changed to economics where he wrote a successful textbook, “A Manual of political economy”, which went through eight editions. He could not have done it without his remarkable wife, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the first female economist and founder of British feminism. Their daughter ‘Pippa’ Fawcett of Newnham placed above the Senior Wrangler in the Mathematics Tripos of 1890 but could not claim the status because women were not allowed to take degrees. Henry Fawcett eventually gained a seat in parliament and rose to cabinet rank under Gladstone as Postmaster General, an office that he used to make post cheaper and more acceptable for poor customers.
And the College does have a connection to the Gunpowder Plot: alumnus Henry Howard was one of the judges at the trials of Guy Fawkes and Father Henry Garnet. Henry Howard was a ‘Regent Master’: a graduate who taught undergraduates. While undertaking his own studies in civil law, he may also have overseen the education of undergraduates in natural philosophy. He went on to become Chancellor of the University in 1612.
Thanks to Jonathan Steinberg and Archivist Alex Browne
- Top left – plan of the buildings in 1731 and the state of the site in 1350
- Top centre – Henry Fawcett
- Top right – the purchase of the land from John de Brunne
- Bottom left – Sir Nathanael Lloyd
- Bottom centre – Nathanael Lloyd’s Will
- Bottom right – Alexander Cockburn