Trinity College, Cambridge

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Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College heraldic shield
Full name The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity
Motto Virtus vera nobilitas
Virtue is true Nobility
Named after The Holy Trinity
Previous names King’s Hall and Michaelhouse (until merged in 1546)
Established 1546
Sister College(s) Christ Church
Master The Lord Rees of Ludlow
Location Trinity Street
Undergraduates 660
Postgraduates 430
Homepage Boat Club
The Great Gate
The Great Gate
Great Court with fountain
Great Court with fountain

Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. Trinity is larger than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 660 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 160 Fellows. It is also the wealthiest Oxbridge college by far with an estimated financial endowment of approx. £700 million in addition to which, Trinity's land is insured for approx. £266.5 million (this does not include all fixed assets). Trinity considers itself to be "a world-leading academic institution with an outstanding record of education, learning and research" , and on a per-student basis, is one of the best-endowed educational institutions in the world.

The college is a major landowner, including holdings in the port of Felixstowe, and the Cambridge Science Park. Trinity has a very strong academic tradition, with members having won thirty-one Nobel Prizes (more than most countries, with the exception of the United States, Germany, and France, and not counting the United Kingdom), five Fields Medals (mathematics), one Abel Prize (mathematics) and two Templeton Prizes (religion). Trinity has many distinguished alumni – the most notable being Sir Isaac Newton.

Trinity has many college societies, and its rowing club is the First and Third Trinity Boat Club. The Boat Club's May Ball is the largest and most traditional of Cambridge's May Balls.

The first formalized version of the rules of football, known as the Cambridge Rules, was drawn up by Cambridge student representatives of leading public schools at Trinity College in 1848 .


Close-up of Great Gate with statue of Henry VIII
Close-up of Great Gate with statue of Henry VIII

The college was founded by Henry VIII in 1546, from the merger of two existing colleges: Michaelhouse (founded by Hervey de Stanton in 1324), and King’s Hall (established by Edward II in 1317 and refounded by Edward III in 1337).

At the time, Henry had been wiping out and seizing church lands from abbeys and monasteries. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge, being both religious institutions and quite rich, expected to be next in line. The king duly passed an Act of Parliament that allowed him to suppress (and confiscate the property of) any college he wished.

The universities used their contacts to plead with his sixth wife, Catherine Parr. The queen persuaded her husband not to close them down, but to create a new college. The king did not want to use royal funds, so he instead combined two colleges ( King’s Hall and Michaelhouse) and seven hostels (Physwick (formerly part of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge), Gregory’s, Ovyng’s, Catherine’s, Garratt, Margaret’s, and Tyler’s) to form Trinity. This, combined with lands confiscated from the Church, caused Trinity to be the richest and biggest college.

Most of the college’s major buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries. Thomas Nevile, who became Master of Trinity in 1593, rebuilt and re-designed much of the college. This work included the enlargement and completion of Great Court, and the construction of Nevile’s Court between Great Court and the river Cam. Nevile’s Court was completed in the late 17th century when the Wren Library, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was built.

In the 20th century, Trinity College and King’s College were for decades the main recruiting grounds for the Cambridge Apostles, an elite, intellectual secret society.

Buildings and Grounds

King’s Hostel (1377-1416, various architects)
Located to the north of Great Court, behind the Clock Tower, this is (along with the King’s Gate), the sole remaining building from King’s Hall.
Great Gate
The Great Gate is the main entrance to the college, leading to the Great Court. A statue of the college founder, Henry VIII, stands in a niche above the doorway. In his hand he holds a table leg instead of the original sword and myths abound as to how the switch was carried out and by whom. In 1704, the University’s first astronomical observatory was built on top of the gatehouse. Beneath the founder's statue are the coats of arms of Edward III, the founder of King's Hall, and his five sons of who survived to maturity, as well as William of Hatfield, who died as an infant.
Great Court (principally 1599-1608, various architects)
The brainchild of Thomas Nevile, who demolished several existing buildings on this site, including almost the entirety of the former college of Michaelhouse. The sole remaining building of Michaelhouse was replaced by the current Kitchens (designed by James Essex) in 1770-1775. See 360° panorama of Great Court from the BBC.
A view across Nevile's Court towards the Wren Library
A view across Nevile's Court towards the Wren Library
Nevile’s Court (1614, unknown architect)
Located between Great Court and the river, this court was created by a bequest by the college’s master, Thomas Nevile, originally ⅔ of its current length and without the Wren Library. The appearance of the upper floor was remodelled slightly 2 centuries later.
Bishop’s Hostel (1671, Robert Minchin)
A detached building to the south-west of Great Court, and named after John Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. Additional buildings were built in 1878 by Arthur Blomfield.
Wren Library (1676-1695, Christopher Wren)
Located at the west end of Nevile’s Court, the Wren is one of Cambridge’s most famous and well-endowed libraries. Among its notable possessions are two of Shakespeare’s First Folios, a 14th-century manuscript of The Vision of Piers Plowman, and letters written by Sir Isaac Newton. Below the building are the pleasant Wren Library Cloisters, where students may enjoy a fine view of the Great Hall in front of them, and the river and Backs directly behind.
New Court (or King’s Court; 1825, William Watkins)
Located to the south of Nevile’s Court, and built in Tudor-Gothic style, this court is notable for the large tree in the centre. Many other “New Courts” in the colleges were built at this time to accommodate the new influx of students.
Whewell’s Courts (1860 & 1868, Anthony Salvin)
Located across the street from Great Court, these two courts were entirely paid for by William Whewell, the then master of the college. The north range was later remodelled by W.D. Caroe. Note: Whewell is pronounced “Hugh-well”.
Angel Court (1957-1959, H. C. Husband)
Located between Great Court and Trinity Street.
Wolfson Building (1968-1972, Architects Co-Partnership)
Located to the south of Whewell’s Court, on top of a podium above shops, this building resembles a brick-clad ziggurat, and is used exclusively for first-year accommodation. As of the academic year 2005-06, it is being renovated.
Blue Boar Court (1989, MacCormac Jamieson Prichard and Wright)
Located to the south of the Wolfson Building, on top of podium a floor up from ground level, and including the upper floors of several surrounding Georgian buildings on Trinity, Green and Sidney Street.
Burrell’s Field (1995, MacCormac Jamieson Prichard )
Located on a site to the west of the main College buildings, opposite the Cambridge University Library.

There are also College rooms above shops in Bridge Street and Jesus Lane, behind Whewell’s Court.

Fellows’ Garden 
Located on the west side of Queens Road, opposite the drive that leads to the Backs.
Master’s Garden 
Located behind the Masters’ Lodge.
Old Fields 
Located on the western side of Grange Road, next to Burrell’s Field, with sports (badminton, etc) facilities.
New Fields


King’s Gate with clock tower in Great Court
King’s Gate with clock tower in Great Court

The Great Court Run

The Great Court Run is an attempt to run round the perimeter of Great Court (approximately 367 metres), in the 43 seconds during the clock striking twelve. Students traditionally attempt to complete the circuit on the day of the Matriculation Dinner. It is a rather difficult challenge and the only people believed to have actually completed the run in time are Lord Burghley in 1927 and Sebastian Coe when he beat Steve Cram in a charity race in October 1988. Today the challenge is only open to freshers, many of whom compete in fancy dress.

Open-Air Concerts

One Sunday each June (the exact date depends on the university term), the College Choir perform a short concert immediately after the clock strikes noon. Known as Singing from the Towers, half of the choir sings from the top of Great Gate, while the other half sings from the top of the Clock Tower (approximately 60 metres away), giving a strong antiphonal effect. Midway through the concert, a brass band performs from the top of Queen’s Tower. Later that same day, the College Choir gives a second open-air concert, known as Singing on the River, where they perform madrigals (and arrangements of popular songs) from a raft of punts on the river.


Another tradition relates to a duck (known as the Mallard), which resides in the rafters of the Great Hall. Students occasionally move the duck from one rafter to another (without permission from the college), having been photographed with the mallard as proof. This is considered difficult and access to the Hall outside meal-times is prohibited. In addition, the rafters are high so it has not been attempted for several years. During the Easter term of 2005, several pigeons entered the Hall through the windows in the pinnacle, and one knocked the Mallard off its rafter. It was found intact on the floor, and revealed to not be made out of wood as previously believed. It is currently held by the College catering staff. It is unknown whether it will be reinstated.

Bicycles and chair legs

For many years it was the custom for students to place a bicycle high in branches of the tree in the centre of New Court. Usually invisible except in winter, when the leaves had fallen, such bicycles tended to remain for several years before being removed by the authorities. The students then inserted another bicycle. Similarly, the sceptre held by the statue of Henry VIII mounted above the medieval Great Gate was replaced with a chair leg as a prank many years ago. It has remained there to this day: when in the 1980s students exchanged the chair leg for a bicycle pump, the College replaced the chair leg.

College Rivalry

The college remains a great rival of St John’s who are their main competitor in sports and academia (John’s is also built right next door to Trinity). This has given rise to a number of anecdotes and myths. It is often cited as the reason why the courts of Trinity generally have no J staircases, despite including other letters in alphabetical order. Burrell’s Field has a J staircase but New, Great, Whewell’s, Nevile’s and Blue Boar Courts skip the letter. The reason is more one of tradition and the absence of the letter J in the Roman alphabet. There are also two small muzzle-loading cannons on the bowling green pointing in the direction of John’s, though this orientation may be coincidental.

Minor Traditions

Trinity College undergraduate gowns are dark blue, as opposed to the black favoured by most other Cambridge colleges. The porters always wear black bowler hats – most other college porters do not. As with other Cambridge colleges, the grass in courtyards are generally out-of-bound for everyone except the fellows. Only one of two meadows on “the Backs” (riverside area behind the college) are accessible to students. Other lawns are accessible to graduates in formal gowns.

Scholarships and Prizes

The Scholars, together with the Master and Fellows, make up the Foundation of the College.

Research Scholars receive funding for graduate studies. They are given first preference in the assignment of college rooms.

The Senior Scholars consist of those who attain a degree with First Class honours or higher in the first or penultimate part of an undergraduate tripos, but also, those who obtain an extremely good First in their first year. For example in the Mathematics tripos a result in the top ten would be required to gain this position early. The college pays them a stipend of £250 a year and also allows them to choose rooms directly following the research scholars.

The Junior Scholars are precisely those who are not senior scholars but still obtained a first in the 1st year. Their stipend is £175/year. They are given preference in the room ballot over 2nd years who are not scholars.

These scholarships are tenable for the academic year following that in which the result was achieved. The room choices affected are always those after the year of the scholarship since said choices take place during it. If a scholarship is awarded but the student does not continue at Trinity then only a quarter of the stipend is given. However all students who achieve a first are awarded an additional £200 prize upon announcement of the results.

For completeness, we note that rooms are chosen in the order; Research Scholars, Senior Scholars, Non-Scholar 3rd Years, External Research Students, Junior Scholars, Non-Scholar 2nd Years and then 1st Years (although some better quality accommodation is reserved for 1st years).

All final year undergraduates who achieve first-class honours in their final exams are offered full financial support for proceeding with a Master’s degree. Other support is available for PhD degrees. The College also offers a number of other bursaries and studentships open to external applicants. The highly regarded right to walk on the grass in the college courts is exclusive to Fellows of the college and their guests. Scholars do however have the right to walk on Scholar’s Lawn, but only in full academic dress.

Trinity in Camberwell

Trinity College has a long-standing relationship with the Parish of St George’s, Camberwell, in South London. Students from the College have helped to run holiday schemes for children from the parish since 1966. The relationship was formalized in 1979 with the establishment of Trinity in Camberwell as a registered charity ( Charity Commission no. 279447) which exists ‘to provide, promote, assist and encourage the advancement of education and relief of need and other charitable objects for the benefit of the community in the Parish of St George’s, Camberwell, and the neighbourhood thereof.’


Many apocryphal stories have been told about the college’s wealth. Trinity is sometimes suggested to be the second, third or fourth wealthiest landowner in the UK (or in England) - after the Crown Estate, the National Trust and the Church of England. (A variant of this legend is repeated in the Tom Sharpe novel Porterhouse Blue.) This story is frequently repeated by tour guides. In 2005, Trinity's annual rental income from its properties was reported to be £20 million plus. In comparison, the National Trust's rental income in 2004-5 was around £25 million. (See Trinity College's riches)

A second legend is that it is possible to walk from Cambridge to Oxford on land solely owned by Trinity. Several varieties of this legend exist - others refer to the combined land of Trinity College, Cambridge and Trinity College, Oxford, or of Trinity College, Cambridge and Christ Church, Oxford. All are most certainly false.

Trinity has a tradition of maintaining extensive wine cellars beneath Great Court and Whewell's Court, the size and value of which is the subject of rumour .

Trinity also lays claim to the invention of an English, less sweet, version of crème brûlée sometimes known as “Trinity burnt cream” , although the college catering department refers to it as "Trinity Creme Brulee."

Notable alumni

Trinity Nobel Prize winners

  • 1904 Lord Rayleigh (Physics)
  • 1906 J. J. Thomson (Physics)
  • 1908 Lord Rutherford (Chemistry)
  • 1915 William Bragg (Physics)
  • 1915 Lawrence Bragg (Physics)
  • 1917 Charles Glover Barkla (Physics)
  • 1922 Niels Bohr (Physics)
  • 1922 Francis Aston (Chemistry)
  • 1922 Archibald V. Hill (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1925 Sir Austen Chamberlain (Peace)
  • 1928 Owen Willans Richardson (Physics)
  • 1929 Sir Frederick Hopkins (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1932 Edgar Douglas Adrian (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1936 Sir Henry Dale (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1937 George Paget Thomson (Physics)
  • 1950 Bertrand Russell (Literature)
  • 1951 Ernest Walton (Physics)
  • 1952 Richard Synge (Chemistry)
  • 1962 John Kendrew (Chemistry)
  • 1963 Alan Lloyd Hodgkin (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1963 Andrew Huxley (Physiology or Medicine)
  • 1973 Brian David Josephson (Physics)
  • 1974 Martin Ryle (Physics)
  • 1977 James Meade (Economic Sciences)
  • 1978 Pyotr Kapitsa (Physics)
  • 1980 Walter Gilbert (Chemistry)
  • 1982 Aaron Klug (Chemistry)
  • 1983 Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (Physics)
  • 1996 James Mirrlees (Economic Sciences)
  • 1998 John Pople (Chemistry)
  • 1998 Amartya Sen (Economics)

College Officials

List of Masters

The head of Trinity College is the Master. The first Master was John Redman who was appointed in 1546. The role is a Royal appointment and in the past was sometimes made by the Monarch as a favour to an important person. Nowadays the Fellows of the College, and to a lesser extent the Government, choose the new Master and the Royal role is only nominal. A complete list of the Masters of Trinity is below.

  • John Redman 1546-1551
  • William Bill 1551-1553
  • John Christopherson 1553-1558
  • William Bill 1558-1561
  • Robert Beaumont 1561-1567
  • John Whitgift 1567-1577
  • John Still 1577-1593
  • Thomas Nevile 1593-1615
  • John Richardson 1615-1625
  • Leonard Mawe 1625-1629
  • Samuel Brooke 1629-1631
  • Thomas Comber 1631-1645
  • Thomas Hill 1645-1653
  • John Arrowsmith 1653-1659
  • John Wilkins 1659-1660
  • Henry Ferne 1660-1662
  • John Pearson 1662-1672
  • Isaac Barrow 1672-1677
  • John North 1677-1683
  • John Montagu 1683-1699
  • Richard Bentley 1700-1742
  • Robert Smith 1742-1768
  • John Hinchcliffe 1768-1789
  • Thomas Postlethwaite 1789-1798
  • William Lort Mansel 1798-1820
  • Christopher Wordsworth 1820-1841
  • William Whewell 1841-1866
  • William Hepworth Thompson 1866-1886
  • Henry Montagu Butler 1886-1918
  • Sir Joseph John Thomson 1918-1940
  • George Macaulay Trevelyan 1940-1951
  • Edgar Douglas Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian 1951-1965
  • Richard Austen Butler, Baron Butler of Saffron Walden 1965-1978
  • Sir Alan Hodgkin 1978-1984
  • Sir Andrew Huxley 1984-1990
  • Sir Michael Atiyah 1990-1997
  • Amartya Sen 1998-2004
  • Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow 2004-present

List of Deans of Chapel

  • Harry Williams -1969
  • John Robinson 1969-1983
  • John Bowker 1984-1991
  • Arnold Browne 1991-2006
  • Michael Banner 2006-present
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