Churchill is situated on the outskirts of the town away from the traditional centre of old Cambridge, but close to the University’s main new development zone. Its 160,000 m² (42 acres) of grounds make it physically the largest of all the colleges.
Churchill was the first all-male college to decide to admit women, and was among three men's colleges to admit its first women students in 1972; Within 15 years all others had followed suit. The college has a reputation for relative informality compared to other Cambridge colleges and traditionally admits a larger proportion of its undergraduates from state schools.
Cambridge University Radio is broadcast from Churchill College.
In 1955, on holiday in Sicily soon after his resignation as Prime Minister, Winston Churchill discussed with Sir John Colville and Lord Cherwell the possibility of founding a new institution. Churchill had been impressed by MIT and wanted a British version, but the plans evolved into the more modest proposal of creating a science- and technology-based college within the University of Cambridge. Churchill wanted a mix of non-scientists to ensure a well rounded education and environment for scholars and fellows.
The first postgraduate students arrived in October 1960, and the first undergraduates a year later. Full College status was received in 1966.
The bias to science and engineering remains as policy to the current day, with the statutes requiring approximately 70% science and technology students amongst its undergraduate intake each year. The college statutes also stipulate that one third of junior members of the college should be advanced (postgraduate) students.
The dining hall is the largest in Cambridge and formals can cater for up to 420 guests.
In the centre of the college is the Churchill Archives Centre, opened in 1974 to provide a home to Sir Winston’s papers (and also more recently endowed with papers from former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock) alongside those of eminent scientists and engineers, including Rosalind Franklin and Sir Frank Whittle.
In 1992, the Møller Centre for Continuing Education was built on the Churchill site, designed by Henning Larsen.
At the farthest end of the college is the Chapel. The idea of having a religious building within a modern, scientifically-oriented, academic institution deeply annoyed some of the original fellows, reputedly leading to the resignation of Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick in protest. Eventually a compromise was found: the chapel was sited away from the other buildings, and funded and managed separately from the rest of the College itself, being tactfully referred to as “the Chapel at Churchill College”. The chimney of the heating system at the front of the college substitutes visually for the missing chapel tower.
According to the anecdote, Crick had agreed to become a fellow on the basis that no chapel be placed in Churchill. A donation was later made by Lord Beaumont of Whitley to Churchill College for the establishment of one, and the majority of fellows voted for it. Winston Churchill reputedly wrote to Crick, saying that no-one need enter the chapel except under free will so it need not be a problem. Crick, in short order, replied with a letter containing 10 guineas saying that if that were the case, here were 10 guineas for the establishment of a brothel.
Every week of the Michaelmas and Lent terms, Churchill is host to The Pav, a weekly music event unusual for Cambridge events in that it is free and open to all university members. (The name Pav originates from the pavilion buildings of the college where the event was originally held. Since 1992 the Pav has been held in the main bar area.) The college funds sports clubs and societies which provide entertainment for students. An example of this is the Churchill Regular Association for Poker, established in 2007 with help from the college, which organises weekly poker events open to all members of the college and guests from other colleges.
In the early years of the college’s foundation, the college held a ball in May Week, in common with many older colleges. However, more recently Churchill has held a Spring Ball every February. Past themes have included Great Ball of Fire (2008), Back in the Day (2007), Karishma (2006), Showdown (2005), Arabian Nights (2004), Hakuna Matata (2003) and Ocean Bound (2002). In 2007 the theme was Back In The Day, featuring the legendary TV presenter of Fun House, Pat Sharp.
During May Week the college Churchill College Junior Common Room organise a free garden party. Last year's garden party included performances from Man Like Me and Plaster of Paris.
Students of the College run Churchill Casino, a charitable casino organisation which provides professional casinos at various social events. Churchill Casino is frequently hired for Cambridge May Balls as well as balls at Oxford University and corporate events.
The college contains many examples of modern artwork including:
Mistry’s piece can be found at the front of college. Sir Anthony Caro’s Forum used to stand near it but it was removed before the start of the 2004-2005 academic year. In January 2007 its place was taken by Beast Alerted 1, a sculpture by British sculptor Lynn Chadwick.