Trinity College

Trinity College has long been the leading British college for mathematics. As one approaches the Great Gate from Trinity Street, the lawn on the right (north) side was once Isaac Newton's private garden and his chemical laboratory was adjacent to the Chapel. His rooms were to the right of the Gate, on the first (UK) (= second (US)) floor, adjacent to the Chapel, with two windows facing out on the lawn. In 1954, an apple tree was planted there, propagated from the tree at the Cambridge Botanic Garden, which is directly descended from the tree at Woolsthorpe Manor, traditionally associated with Newton. At some stage, there was a graft and the next cutting was taken from a different part of the tree, so the Trinity tree is a different type of apple than the original!! As you enter, you can buy a copy of Trevelyan's History and guide to the College at the Porter's Lodge on the right. You then come into the Great Court, the largest enclosed quadrangle in Europe, familiar from the film Chariots of Fire (which had to be filmed in a mock-up of the Court). Now go to the right to enter the Antechapel, where the famous Roubiliac statue of Newton stands. See THIS LINK
And from my pillow, looking forth by light
Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold
The antechapel where the statue stood
Of Newton with his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.

The statue of Newton was presented by Elizmar Smith, sister of the Master Robert Smith and the only woman buried here. The plinth reads: Newton -- qui genus humanum ingenio superavit. Nearby is Isaac Barrow, Newton's teacher and predecessor as Lucasian Professor.

Though Barrow went on to bigger things--he became Chaplain to the King, a bishop (?? -- not mentioned in the [2]) and then Master of Trinity College in 1672 -- he had no formal post after this resignation.

There are also statues of Francis Bacon and William Whewell.

The first stained glass window to the left in the Chapel includes Newton with his apple, Cotes with a telescope beside Newton, and Barrow below Cotes.

A tablet just to the left of the door to the Chapel records that this window was donated by George Peacock, among others. Whewell is buried in the Antechapel.

Roger Cotes (1682-1716), editor of the second edition of the Principia and first Plumian Professor till his early death, was buried in Trinity Chapel whose reconstruction he had supervised. There is a monumental plaque on the south wall of the Antechapel, but I (and others) have not been able to find the actual burial site.

Richard Bentley, the Master who sponsored the second edition of the Principia, is also buried here. There are numerous wall-plaques in the Antechapel including ones to: J. Frank Adams; F. G. Aston (physicist); Rouse Ball; Besicovitch; A. H. F. Boughey ("as skilled in mathematics as in the two classical languages"); W. L. Bragg; Cayley; W. C. D. Dampier (historian of science); G. H. Darwin; Davenport; Eddington; O. R. Frisch (physicist); Glaisher; Hardy; Thomas Jones (1756-1807, an unknown mathematician, but Tutor of Trinity); Kapitza; Littlewood; G. E. Moore (the philosopher); Ramanujan; Russell; Rutherford; Martin Ryle (Astronomer Royal); James Stuart (1843-1913, first Professor of Mechanism and Applied Mathematics); G. I. Taylor; H. M. Taylor (1842-1927, another Tutor of Trinity, a minor mathematician best remembered for developing scientific Braille after his blindness and also Mayor of Cambridge); J. J. Thomson; Whewell; Whitehead; Wittgenstein. A book of all the Latin inscriptions, with English translations, was produced in 1990 by James Clackson and can be purchased here. Trevelyan's Guide to the College mentions the following other notable Trinity men: Airy, W. H. Bragg, De Morgan, Galton, Jeans, J. C. Maxwell, Rayleigh, Robert Smith (later a Master of Trinity and founder of Smith's Prizes), Cuthbert Tunstall and John Wilkins, but I didn't find memorials to them -- certainly some had only a brief connection with Trinity. Barnes, Clifford, Forsyth, Peacock, Ramanujan, Fox Talbot and Whittaker were also at Trinity. John Dee was an original Fellow.

Cotes's observatory was built over the Great Gate, but was demolished in 1797. The bridge over the Cam in the grounds of Trinity has cycloidal arches. In Trinity Antechapel, one can buy a very nice postcard of an 1815 watercolour of this bridge. There is a plaque to Hardy in the Bowling Green, but this is in the Fellows' Garden and is not accessible unless you are with a Fellow.

Trinity Library was designed by Wren, who was persuaded to do it for free by Barrow in 1675. SupposedlyBarrow was so annoyed at the University's hesitancy about building a theatre or hall, that he announced that he was planning a fine building for Trinity. After the meeting, he laid out the groundplan and then he got Wren to produce designs -- even for the furniture. It cost about 15.000. Wren also added the balustraded terrace at the east side of the courtyard. One of the statues on the Library roof represents Mathematics--the one on the north end with a globe; another is Physics --probably that adjacent to Mathematics. The Library contains many busts, including: Bacon, Barrow, Cotes, Newton (by Roubiliac), and a portrait of Barrow. At the south end is a somewhat garish stained glass window showing Fame (or Cantabrigia) presenting Newton to George III, with Francis Bacon watching. Newton's private library is in the last alcove on the west side and the libraries of Cotes and Robert Smith are also here. In one of the exhibit cases are Newton's copy of the Principia, annotated for the second edition, and his pocket account book from his student days. There is a bust of J. J. Thomson on the staircase. Newton used the arcade from the Library door to the Hall to measure the speed of sound.

See also the following: Airy, Atiyah, Babbage, Ball, W. L. Bragg, Clifford, De Morgan, Eddington, Galton, Hardy, Littlewood, J. C. Maxwell, Newton, Rayleigh, Fox Talbot and Thomson in Cambridge individuals.

St John's College

The Antechapel has plaques to William Henry Besant (1828-1917, an 'ardent promoter of mathematical science'), Francis Puryer White (a long serving Secretary and Editor of the London Mathematical Society), William Gilbert (1540-1603, author of De Magnete), John Ambrose Fleming (Honorary Fellow, inventor of the diode). About 1765, an Observatory was built over the west gateway of the Second Court, paid for by a Mr Dunthorne, who also presented instruments. It remained until 1859. William Ludlam published observations made here. In the far northwest of St John's College stands the 'School of Pythagoras', perhaps so called because it was once the geometry lecture hall -- other writers say the origin of the name is unknown. Built as a private house about 1200, it is the oldest house in the county (or city), but there is little original left. The old bridge of 1696-1712 is sometimes called 'Wren's bridge', but his connection seems to be distant -- either an initial design was prepared in Wren's office or it was based on suggestions made by Wren.

Wordsworth was a student at St John's, and lived just to the north of Trinity so he could see the Antechapel as he describes it in the poem quoted above. His rooms, F2 of the First Court of St John's, are no more -- they were incorporated into the kitchens in 1893--but there is a memorial window on Back Lane between Trinity and St John's. In St John's, one can see the sign for Wordsworth's Room.

The gate of the Old Schools has a number of statues, including Henry Lucas (of the Lucasian chair) at the top right and Tunstall below him. (This gate is a bit out of the way - it faces onto Trinity Lane and I only located it in September 1991.)

St John's is the second most mathematical college after Trinity, but does not have a convenient history available. See the following: J. C. Adams, Baker, Billingsley, Briggs, Burnside, Cockcroft, Colenso, Comrie, Dee, Dirac, Frost, Gilbert, Hartree, Herschel, Inman, Larmor, Ludlam, Mordell, Parsons, Piaggio, Sylvester, Taylor, Wood in Cambridge individuals.

Gonville and Caius College

The college is generally just called 'Caius', which is pronounced as his English name Kees or Keyes or Keys, but written in the Latinized form.

It has had a number of important mathematicians and physicists, mostly over the last century and a half -- see the following: Briggs, Bromhead, Chadwick, Ferrars, Fisher, Green, Hawking, Murphy, Needham, Venn, Wollaston, Woodhouse, Wright in Cambridge individuals -- and two Cavendish Professors: Edwards and Mott.

William Harvey was also a student, graduating in 1597. It has recently installed very handsome stained glass windows in the hall commemorating Chadwick, Fisher, Green, Venn and other distinguished scientist members. The new booklet on the college shows the Venn and Fisher windows, but the colours are a bit dark.

Sir Sam Edwards, Cavendish Professor, is the current President of the College (as of 1993). Caius is buried in the Chapel.

King's College

A short history of the College has recently appeared which mentions the following: Oughtred; Arthur Berry; H. W. Richmond; Percival Frost (author of Curve Tracing); Karl Pearson; W. H. Macaulay (an applied mathematician); W. E. Johnson (who became a logician); Dillwyn Knox (who worked on cryptography in both wars, being Turing's first supervisor even before the Second War broke out); Keynes; Blackett; Frank Ramsey (of Ramsey Theory). See also R. S. Ball, Philip Hall, Richardson and Turing in Cambridge individuals.

In 1689, King William's nomination of a liberal Provost was rejected and then the King nominated Isaac Newton, who was also rejected. In the early 18C, King's consulted with Wren and his student Hawksmoor about buildings for the present courtyard. Hawksmoor produced designs and two models for buildings made at Wren's establishment, so presumably reflecting Wren's ideas. The buildings were not built, but the models are still at King's.

Queen's College

The Old Court has an extraordinarily complex sun- and moon- dial, dating from 1642 and restored in 1733. Erasmus spent several years here teaching Greek and living in the top of the turret in Cloister Court. The College has a 1960 Erasmus Building. Beyond the Cloister Court is the 'Mathematical Bridge'. It is often said to have been designed by Newton and to have originally had no nails or bolts -- the present ones being added after someone had taken it apart the original to see how it was made and then being unable to reconstruct it. Both stories are demonstrably false since the college has the original 1748 model of the bridge, designed by W. Etheridge. However a local booklet asserts the original bridge was assembled without nails or bolts and the present bridge is a 1902 replacement.

See: Cavendish, E. A. Maxwell, Reynolds and Wallis in Cambridge individuals.

References (show)

  1. Wordsworth, William. Prelude, III, 58-63.
  2. Dictionary of National Biography