Downing College, Cambridge

Downing College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.


The college was founded in 1800 under the will of Sir George Downing, 3rd Baronet with the wealth left by his grandfather, Sir George Downing, who served both Cromwell and Charles II and built 10 Downing Street (a door formerly from Number 10 is in use in the college). He died in 1749, and as he had no direct issue (he was legally separated from his wife), the family fortune was left to his cousin, Sir Jacob Downing, if he died without heir, to three cousins in succession. If they all died without issue, the estates were to be used to found a college at Cambridge called Downing.

The Founder died in 1749 and Sir Jacob in 1764. As the other named heirs had also died, the college should have come into existence then but Sir Jacob's widow, Margaret, refused to give up the estates and the various relatives who were Sir George's legal heirs had to take costly and prolonged action in the Court of Chancery to compel her to do so. She died in 1778 but her second husband and the son of her sister continued to resist the heirs-at-law's action until 1800 when the Court decided in favour of Sir George's will and George III granted Downing a Royal Charter.

The architect William Wilkins was tasked by the trustees of the Downing estate, who included the Master of Clare College and St John's College and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, to design the plan for the college. Wilkins, a disciple of the neo-classical architectural style, designed the first wholly campus-based college plan in the world based on a magnificent entrance on Downing Street reaching back to form the largest quadrangle in Cambridge, extending to Lensfield Road. But this was not to be.

The estate was much reduced by the suit in Chancery, and the grand plans failed. Much of the north side of what was then the "Pembroke Leys" was sold to the University and is now home to scientific buildings ("The Downing Site"). In fact, only limited East and West ranges were initially built, with the plans for a library and chapel on the south face of the college shelved.

The third side of the square was only completed in the 1950s with the building of the college chapel. Where the fourth side would have been is now a large paddock (known simply as "The Paddock"), with many trees. Though not fully enclosed, the court formed before the Downing college is perhaps largest in Cambridge or Oxford (a title contested with Trinity College's Great Court).

The college is renowned for its strong Legal and Medical tradition, the former subject being built up by the late Professor Clive Parry, his pupil and successor John Hopkins (now an emeritus fellow) and the current Director of Studies in Law and Senior Tutor, Graham Virgo. Legal notables who have been honorary fellows of the college include the late Sir John Smith, the pre-eminent criminal lawyer of his generation, the first solicitor to be appointed to the Court of Appeal, Sir Lawrence Collins and Sir Robert Jennings, former President of the International Court of Justice.

Downing students remain prominent in the University world; in the past few years Cambridge Union Presidents, Blues captains, Law and Economic Society Presidents and more have hailed from the college.

The college is also strong in the sports field, with its men's rugby team resident in the upper echelons of Division 1. The newly re-established women's rugby team won cuppers in 2007. The boat club is successful too, with the Women's first boat gaining Headship of the river in the 2004 Lent Bumps and retaining it in 2005.

Masters of Downing

The Masters of Downing College include:

Notable alumni

See also: Alumni of Downing College, Cambridge

Name Birth Death Career
Michael Apted 1941 Director
Michael Atherton 1968 England cricket player
Martin Baker 1967 Master of Music, Westminster Cathedral
Richard Barbrook Lecturer at University of Westminster
Quentin Blake 1932 Author and illustrator
John Blofeld 1913 1987 Taoist and Buddhist author
Giles Brindley Psychologist
Antony Roy Clark 1956 Educationalist
John Cleese 1939 Actor
Geoffrey Cox 1960 British politician
Lawrence Collins 1941 Judge
Terrance Dicks 1935 Author
Arnold Goodman 1913 1995 Lawyer
Hari Singh Gour 1870 1949 Lawyer and Jurist
Nick Griffin 1959 British politician
Andy Hamilton 1954 Comedian, director
Hildebrand Wolfe Hervey 1887 1970 Marine biologist
Philip Hobsbaum 1932 2005 Poet
David Holbrook 1923 Poet, author, critic
Jan Hruska 1975 Co-founder of Sophos
Howard Jacobson 1942 Novelist
John R. F. Jeffreys 1941 Mathematician, WWII codebreaker at Bletchley park
Gareth John Jones Barrister, politician, writer
Stan Kelly-Bootle 1929 Pioneer computer scientist
Clive King 1924 Author
F. R. Leavis 1895 1978 Famous for his practical criticism, compared to New Critics
David Lister 1930 Origami historian
Ed Mayo Economist
Wilfrid Mellers 1914 Music critic and composer
Michael Neubert 1933 British politician
Thandie Newton 1972 Actress
Trevor Nunn 1940 Theatre and film director
Iain Overton 1973 Documentary maker
Justin Pollard 1968 Historian, writer
Brian Redhead 1929 1994 Author, journalist, broadcaster
Annie Vernon 1982 World rowing champion
William Philip Schreiner 1857 1919 Prime Minister of the Cape Colony during the South African War
Michael Winner 1935 Film director and producer, restaurant critic
Jim Wallace 1954 Former Deputy First Minister of the Scottish Executive


See also Fellows of Downing College, Cambridge

External links

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