Tripos, Tennis and Tatler: The Pastimes of an Eighteenth-Century Undergraduate


Fellow Commoner from R. Harraden’s Costume of the Various Orders in the University of Cambridge, 1805

This is a guest post by the Archive’s summer intern this year, Kate Foxton.

One of the treasures of the archive is the diary of fellow commoner Spencer Penrice for the year 1736-1737. Born in August 1719 to a wealthy landed family from Hertfordshire, Spencer was admitted to Trinity Hall on the 29th June 1736. His father, Sir Henry Penrice, was a judge of the High Court of Admiralty and ex-fellow of the college. The status of fellow commoner was reserved for wealthy, often noble, students who were charged higher fees and not required to proceed to a degree. Following in his father’s footsteps, Spencer began his first term at Trinity Hall on the 18th October when, after travelling up from the family’s seat at Offley, he was greeted by fellow and Regius Professor of Law, Dr Dickins, and dined with him at the Rose Inn. From this point on, the diary meticulously records daily student life in hourly increments.  Although its tone is ‘more of dutiful record than self-conscious introspection’[i] it nevertheless provides a fascinating insight into the social, academic and religious life of a fellow commoner in the early eighteenth century.

The College Community

What is apparent from Spencer’s diary is the existence of a rich and active social life within the college. He is never short of company when he takes time away from his studies to breakfast, dine in commons, take tea in his room or walk in the gardens. He often stays in his friend’s chambers late into the evening playing piquet, whist, brag or quadrille. He attends debates in the Hall (Nov 22nd, ‘Gibbon kept the Act, & Grimes & Strahan opposed him’) and is involved with the college Music Club, recalling a memorable meeting on April 27th when ‘we had some French Horns’. More active pursuits include tennis or, in the summer months, bowls at Queens Bowling Green and swims in the ‘Sophs Pool’. Occasionally he seeks a little respite from his enthusiastic companions, noting on the 3rd May that ‘Northey came into my Room, & staid till 5 ½ so I walked in the garden to get rid of him’. Although the majority of Spencer’s social and academic life is centred within the college, he participates in a wider community of undergraduates. On May 29th he attends a debate for ‘for the Restoration of K: Charles 2nd’ at Trinity College and notes that one speaker ‘was as vehement against Cromwell as Tully against Cataline & he praised Charles ye 2nd as much as he praised Caesar’.Penrice 1 edited

Penrice 1 edited

THPP/PEN p. 311-312, debate at Trinity College.

A man about town

Spectacles in the town provided exciting distractions from study. On March 13th, Spencer watches bull baiting in Parker’s Piece; on the 15th he notes, somewhat ominously, that he went ‘to the Castle Hill to see the Prisoners hang’d but was too late’. On Jan 13th he recalls seeing a display of Wax Anatomy at the ‘Faulcon’. This fascinates him, and he describes each of the five figures displayed in precise detail, including the figure of ‘a woman just growing big & the situation of the womb’. Such displays were common across Europe in this period, and showmen often took wax cabinets on the road.[ii] It is striking that these models, clearly of interest as scientific teaching tools as well as spectacles, are not confined to the environs of the university but displayed in an Inn and accessible to a more general public.

Penrice 6

THPP/PEN p. 224, wax anatomy at ‘The Faulcon.’

The Life of a lounger?

Fellow commoners had a reputation for being ‘loungers’ who spent their time hunting, dancing and wiling away the afternoons in coffee houses rather than applying themselves to serious study.[iii] The life of a ‘lounger’ is depicted in a humorous poem of 1751 from The Student or Oxford and Cambridge Monthly Miscellany II:

I rise about nine, get to breakfast by ten

Blow a tune on my Flute, or perhaps make a Bow;

Read a play till eleven, or cock my lac’d hat,

Then step to my Neighb’rs till Dinner to chat.

Dinner over, to Tom’s or to Clapham’s I go

The news of the town so impatient to know;

From the coffee-house then to Tennis away,

And at six I post back to my college, to pray:

I sup before eight, and secure from all duns,

Undauntedly march to the Mitre or Tuns….

The phenomenon of the ‘lounger’ appears in a letter of 1767 from undergraduate Framingham Willis to Thomas Kerrich, a student coming up to Cambridge for his first term.[iv] Willis warns Kerrich to beware the ‘interruption of Loungers’ who ‘take a pleasure in ruining two hours in a morning by idle chit-chat’. There are certainly shades of this leisurely, privileged lifestyle in Spencer’s journal.  Feb 17th is more than a little reminiscent of the poem:

 I breakfasted with Strahan. At 7 ½ went to Chappel. At 8 read Vinny. At 10 went to Lectures. At 11 read Vinny.  At 12 drest. At 12 ½ went to dinner. At 1 read part of a play in Gibbon’s Room.  At 2 writ a letter to Lee. At 3 Howard & Spence came & drank tea with me. At 5 they went away & I went to Lectures. At 6 went to Chappel. At 6 ½ set my things to rights, & went to the Coffee house. At 8 Brown, Brand, Sir J Cust, Powlett, & Colebrooke came & play’d at Hands here, & staid till 12 ½, & then I went to bed.

Coffee houses were established spaces of socialization in England by this period. There were at least eight or nine in existence around Cambridge by the mid-18th century and Spencer frequents them with satisfying regularity. Recent archaeological findings suggest that the ‘Claphams’ mentioned above was situated on All Saints Passage, although the earliest surviving record is the victualling licence afforded to William Clapham in 1748 so perhaps a little late for Spencer.[v] Indeed, Spencer names a coffee house only once – Paris’s. At the coffee house Spencer picks up the ‘news of the town’. This varies from the political (22nd May, ‘everybody will be entitled to the Benefits of the Insolvent Debtors Bill’) to the botanical (June 3rd, ‘a famous plant has blown & bears fruit in Holland’) to the supernatural (June 1st, ‘a woman bewitched at Bristol’) to the purely salacious (June 26th, ‘a man the very morning before he was married to a great Fortune, had the misfortune to have a letter from her to desire to be excused’). On one occasion, the coffee house itself becomes a stage for scandal when ‘one of the girls’ at Paris’s ‘ran after Colebrooke with a knife, & threw a pair of Bellows at him’.


Penrice 5

THPP/PEN p. 245-246, scandal at the Coffee House.

Although he certainly lives a privileged lifestyle as a fellow commoner, it seems unduly harsh to dub Penrice a ‘lounger’. He undertakes courses in mathematics, classics and astronomy but focuses the majority of his time on law. He takes his academic commitments seriously, reading Vinny’s Legal Commentaries and undertaking mathematical problems daily, and his attendance at lectures are as regular as his afternoon trips to the coffee house. A typical day more closely resembles Nov 11th:

‘I went to chapel breakfasted with Colebrooke. I studied Vinny from 9 to 10 then went to lectures till 12 and afterwards compared Wood’s Institutes with Parry’s. Dressed for dinner. Afterwards I took a little walk & came in & read a little of Corvinus till Sir J:Cust & Pilk Hale came, they staid till 4, then I went to Logick, & from thence to Puffendorf, & then to chapel & supper, & from thence to the Coffee house. I came home about 8 read Vinny till 9, when I could hardly keep my Eyes open, so I studied mathematics till 10, then went to bed’.

Indeed, Spencer seems to suffer just as much from the irritating interruptions of ‘Loungers’ as Willis, noting on Nov 24th that he went to his room ‘with an intent to study, but Colebrooke came & took me to his Room where I read part of a play’. Although his academic life sounds just as strenuous as any undergraduate today, Tripos sounds a lot more fun in the 18th century. Spencer notes on March 24th : ‘at 1 went to the Tripos, we were let in to the schools a little before 2, The 2 moderators spoke witty speeches, & verses were thrown about’. Unlike today, Tripos was not examined through a written examination but through oral disputation.

Penrice 2

THPP/PEN p. 271, March 24th, Tripos

Tragically, Spencer died of small-pox on 6th January 1739, aged just 20 years old. We shall never know how serious his academic ambitions were, or whether he would have pursued a career in the college as his father had before him. The poignant family memorial in Great Offley Church describes him as ‘a youth of great virtues. And expectations’.

[i] Howes, Graham, ‘Eighteenth Century-Student Life – The Diary of Spencer Penrice’.

[ii] Maerker Anna, ‘Anatomizing the Trade: Designing and Marketing Anatomical Models as Medical Technologies, ca.1700-1900’ Technology and Culture, 54:3 (2013).

[iii] Stubbings, Franks, Bedders, Bulldogs & Bedells: A Cambridge Glossary Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1991) pp.47-48.

[iv] Venn, John, Early Collegiate Life (1913) pp.241-252.

[v] Cressford, Craig; Hall, Andy; Herring, Vicki; Newman, Richard, ‘”to Clapham’s I go”: a mid to late 18th-century Cambridge coffeehouse assemblage’ Post-Medieval Archaeology, 51:2 (2017).




Fit for a Queen? Boaistuau’s Histoires tragiques

The Old Library at Trinity Hall holds a very special French Renaissance book (H*.VI.68): Pierre Boaistuau, Histoires tragiques, extraictes de quelques fameux autheurs, Italiens & Latins, mises en françois […] Dediées à Tresillustre & Treschrestienne, Elizabet de Lenclastre, par la grace de Dieu Royne d’Angleterre (Paris: s.n., 1559)

Translated (with abridgements) from the Italian Matteo Bandello’s Novelle of 1554, Pierre Boaistuau’s Histoires tragiques fast became a bestseller after they appeared in 1559. In France they inaugurated an important subgenre of short narrative fiction, marked by sensational tales of forbidden love, the vicissitudes of fortune and vivid expressions of extreme pathos.

Over the subsequent fifty or so years a number of French writers, such as François de Belleforest, Vérité Habanc, Jacques Yver and François de Rosset all wrote ‘histoires tragiques’ for an enthusiastic market. In England especially, the Histoires tragiques enjoyed an illustrious afterlife: via some combination of Arthur Brooke’s verse adaptation and William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure, one of Bandello-Boaistuau’s tales eventually became the source of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

title page

H*.VI.68 (title page)

The Trinity Hall copy may mark an important staging post in Boaistuau’s English career. It is an exceptionally rare variant edition, especially dedicated to Elizabeth I and with certain disobliging references to English royalty removed. Only one other example of this variant survives (at the Folger Library, Washington). Unlike the relatively plain Folger volume, Trinity Hall’s is housed in an elegant-looking calf binding, centrally stamped with an oval gilt medallion featuring the profile of Henri II of France.

How did it reach England? We know that Boaistuau left France for England some time in 1559-1560. We also know that on arriving at the English court Boaistuau presented Elizabeth with a sumptuous manuscript version of another text, the Histoires prodigieuses, now held in the Wellcome Library, London (western MS 136). The Boaistuau scholar Stephen Bamforth, who first unearthed the Wellcome manuscript, has recently suggested that the Trinity Hall Histoires tragiques may have been a further gift to Elizabeth. His suggestion gains force from the presence in Cambridge of a third Boaistuau volume clearly intended for the Queen, the Institution du royaume chrestien (1560). Elegantly decorated with coloured initials and the English royal arms, this volume is now in Emmanuel College Special Collections (S16.4.12).


Binding, front, by Claude Picques and Etienne Delaune

Bamforth’s thesis of a royal presentation copy is certainly appealing. In the absence of the elaborate manuscript or decorative work that are features of the Wellcome and Emmanuel volumes, much depends on what we make of the Trinity Hall binding. Bamforth finds it ‘superb’. The gold ‘semé’ pattern and central gilt medallion undoubtedly convey an impression of luxury. Medal-stamped bindings had become fashionable in the late 1550s, an Italian feature that first reached the Parisian market via Lyon earlier that decade. The sense of a high-status object is enhanced by the identity of the binder, Claude Picques, whose profile of Henri II was designed by the prestigious engraver Etienne Delaune. Picques declares himself ‘royal binder’ (ligator Reg[is]) in the colophon to a Psalter also dated 1559, and certainly moved in distinguished circles: in 1568 his daughter is reported as having been treated for plague by no less than the royal physician Ambroise Paré. Though different in design, the bindings on the other Boaistuau volumes at the Wellcome and Emmanuel can probably also be attributed to Picques.

And yet some doubts remain. As Bamforth points out, the text itself is noticeably messy for a presentation volume. Even by the relatively lax standards of the period, it shows signs of hurried composition (in the multiple misspellings of ‘Lancaster’ as ‘Lenclastre’ or ‘l’enclastre’, for example). Furthermore, the binding itself, though attractive, is not rare: Anthony Hobson lists several variants of the Henri II medallion design, with as many as 47 examples still surviving. Despite its luxury appearance, it seems more likely to have been destined for trade bindings than for presentation copies. This is certainly the view of the book historian Eugénie Droz who (in a short article not cited by Bamforth) reports that whereas she could find no examples of such bindings belonging to Picques’ French royal patrons, she did locate one whose owner records having paid the binder the measly sum of ‘6 sous, 3 deniers’: hardly a suitable gift for a queen. Finally, there is a problem of chronology: the dedication to Elizabeth is dated 20th October 1559; Henri II had died on 10th July that year, from an injury received during a jousting accident. Why would Boaistuau have presented the new Queen of England with a book bearing the face of French king three months dead?


Inscription on rear flyleaf

Whether or not the volume ever passed through Elizabeth’s hands, it eventually made it to Trinity Hall. A donation inscription on the rear flyleaf suggests that its early donor was indeed French, and even seems to have shared Boaistuau’s questionable grasp of the orthography of English place names: ‘Aula Stae Trinitatis. Au college ou salle de la Trinité a Cambrige [sic].’ Could this inscription be in Boaistuau’s hand, or that of his secretary? If so, what had Trinity Hall done to deserve such a boon?

This is a guest post by Dr Tim Chesters, Clare College, Cambridge.


Stephen Bamforth, ‘Boaistuau, ses Histoires tragiques, et l’Angleterre’ in Les Histoires tragiques du XVIe siècle. Pierre Boaistuau et ses émules, ed. by Jean-Claude Arnould (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018), pp. 25-37

Eugénie Droz, ‘Les reliures à la médaille d’Henri II’, in Les Trésors des bibliothèques de France, vol. 4 (Paris: G. Van Oest, 1931), pp. 16-23

Eugénie Droz, ‘Prix d’une reliure à la médaille Henri II’, Humanisme et Renaissance 2.2 (1935), 175-76

Anthony Hobson, Humanists and Bookbinders: The Origins and Diffusion of the Humanistic Bookbinding 1459-1559 With a Census of Historiated Plaquette and Medallion Bindings of the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)


Two important archive items added to Cambridge Digital Library

Two important manuscripts from the College archives have recently been added to our growing collection on the Cambridge Digital Library.

Parker register

The Parker register

The first is our copy of the Parker Register (THAR/7/1/13; James MS 29), a list of the books and manuscripts owned by Matthew Parker (1504-1575), and passed to the keeping of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Parker was Master of Corpus Christi from 1544 to 1553, and then Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 until his death in 1575. His books came to Corpus Christi under an indenture dated 1569 between Parker, Thomas Aldrich (Master of Corpus), John Caius (Master of Gonville and Caius) and Henry Harvey (Master of Trinity Hall).

These three colleges were chosen because they had close links to Norwich where Parker was born. Each College has a copy of the Register (they differ only slightly from each other) to serve as check lists for the annual audit (revived since 2004) of Parker’s books. If Corpus failed to take care of the books then they would pass first to Gonville and Caius and then to Trinity Hall if Caius was negligent. Luckily for Corpus, they have lost very little of Parker’s collection!

Our second archive item is The Master’s Statute Book (THAR/1/6; James MS20), which is really a collection of manuscripts which have been later bound together. The documents date from the 14th to the 18th century.

The Master's Statute book

The Master’s Statute book

They include William Bateman’s (c1298-1355) founding statutes for Trinity Hall which laid down the rules for discipline and administration of the College. Instructions were also provided for the management of the library such as the chaining of books. When the College built a library 240 years after Bateman’s death, his instructions were carried out and it was created as a chained library. A list of books that Bateman donated to the library is appended to the statutes. These include 30 volumes of civil law, 33 of canon law, and 29 of theology.

Unfortunately, unlike the benefaction of Matthew Parker, most of Bateman’s books have long since disappeared. Bateman’s arms: sable, a crescent ermine, his paternal arms, with a bordure engrailed argent, are included on page 21. These were adapted as the arms of Trinity Hall. It also includes a list of benefactions to the College.

These documents provide valuable insight into the history of Trinity Hall.


Cambridge, Corpus Christi College. (2019). MS 575: The Parker Register. Parker on the Web
Dale, A.W.W. (ed.) (1911). Warren’s Book . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.), pp 44-49.
Dickins, Bruce, (1972) ’The Making of the Parker Library’ (Sandars Lecture for 1968-9, 25 April 1969) Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 19-34
James, M. R. (1907). A descriptive catalogue of the manuscripts in the library of Trinity Hall. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Page, R.I., (1981) The Parker Register and Matthew Parker’s Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 1-11:


Medieval manuscripts go online in digitisation project


Trinity Hall has begun the exciting task of digitising some of its most important and beautiful medieval manuscripts.  This is part of the Library’s commitment to the preservation of these manuscripts, and to sharing them with anyone who would like to do research on them.

The first five selected manuscripts were given to the College by Robert Hare (d. 1611) and date from the 12th to the 15th century. They were obtained from the monasteries dissolved by Henry VIII.

Digitised manuscripts

Ms 1. History of St Augustine’s abbey. Thomas of Elmham’s (1364-c1427) history of St Augustine’s Abbey contains elaborate chronological tables and facsimiles of many lost Anglo-Saxon charters. It contains two magnificent full page illustrations

Ms 2. Ralph of Flavigny on Leviticus. This is one of the earliest copies of an important commentary on Leviticus. It contains illuminations by the artist known as the ‘Simon Master’.

Ms 3. Doctrinale ecclesie contra blasfemias Wiclef. This manuscript contains a letter from Thomas Netter of Walden (c. 1374-1430) to Pope Martin V, and his Doctrinale antiquitatum fidei, a work against the heresies of John Wycliffe.

Ms 12. De consolatione philosophiae. This early French translation of Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy is full of lively coloured illustrations. There is an interesting mix of religious and secular depictions of suffering.

MS 17. Contra Lollardorum. There are only three copies of Twelve Lollard Heresies in known existence. The Trinity Hall copy is the presentation copy made for Richard II in 1395 and has beautiful illuminations.

We are grateful to the generosity of alumni who paid for the digitisation, and for the advice and expertise of Professor Nigel Morgan and the staff at Cambridge University Library’s Digital Content Unit. We hope that many of our most important medieval manuscripts and early printed books will be added to the Cambridge Digital Library on an ongoing basis.



Hidden Histories in the College Archives – A new Master’s Lodge for the Hidden Hall

One of the big tasks over this summer in the College archives has been to sort and catalogue a collection of late 19th century to early 21st century building plans that had been transferred to the College archives from the Bursar’s office and Maintenance departments. Among this collection I came across a set of architects’ plans from 1970 for a new Master’s Lodge, comprising a semi-subterranean construction with a grass roof, set in the Fellows’ Garden.  This radical design would have completely changed the College’s physical environment, and I was keen to find out more about the background to the plans.

Masters Lodge Clean

THAR/4/1/5/9 Building plan for a new Master’s Lodge, Gasson and Meunier Architects, 1970

In The Hidden Hall: Portrait of a Cambridge College (2004) John Pollard wrote about building projects that were never implemented, one of which was a set of plans for a new Master’s Lodge and library commissioned in 1970 from Cambridge architects Barry Gasson and John Meunier. The building would straddle, or partially replace, the long wall between the Fellows’ Garden and Latham Lawn. It seemed that this second set of plans I had found for a semi-subterranean lodge was created by the same architects, as an alternative to those discovered by Dr Pollard.

So, what was the story behind these plans? A study of the Governing Body minutes from 1969 and 1970 reveals heated discussions about the development of the central site to meet the changing needs of the College. The undergraduate library was housed it what is now the Graham Storey Room, and a solution was required for its expansion, with the idea that building a new Master’s Lodge in the College grounds would allow for the current lodge to be refurbished as fellows’ accommodation. On the appropriateness of the architects’ designs, the minutes record that Graham Storey quoted Professor Pevsner’s verdict in support of the claim that “any building of any kind involving the destruction of the medieval crunch [sic] wall, the copper beech and the herbaceous border was an inadmissible sacrifice that no need could justify”, and the decision to abandon the project altogether was passed by 20 votes to 4, with 4 abstentions.

No mention is made in the minutes, however, of these alternative plans in the Fellows’ Garden from the same architects, the impact of which would have been quite different. The construction would involve a gradual incline on the area equivalent to the current lawn, and turfed so that it could be walked on. The view from the gate in Latham Court onto the garden would hardly change, although one would be aware of a wall rising along the north side of the incline, and the lawn itself gradually rising in height until it met that of the long wall near to the river. The herbaceous borders on the long wall between the garden and Latham Lawn and current Master’s Lodge frontage would remain, with further planting incorporated into borders on the inclined lawn.

Although the Lodge is single storey and compact, the drawings demonstrate modern architecture in its simplest and most elegant form. Barry Gasson and John Meunier operated from the Department of Architecture at 1 Scroope Terrace, where they were teaching at the time. Later on they became best known for their outstanding design for the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, built in 1983 with Brigitte Andreson as the third partner in the practice. Architectural historian Gavin Stamp described the building in The Independent, 22 November 1998, as “a truly innovative but undemonstrative building widely and rightly praised for the beauty and sensitivity of its housing of Sir William Burrell’s collection of art and antiquities”.

Seeing the proposed Master’s Lodge plans in the College archives has left me with a strong image of what might have been an extraordinary and exciting ‘intervention’ in the College landscape, that worked with rather than against the College’s other buildings, leaving the tranquillity of the gardens undisturbed.

The building plan collections are now available for study in the archive, and interested researchers can access the catalogue on Janus, the online search facility for all the University’s archives.

Anna Crutchley

College Archivist (Maternity Cover 2018)

Matriculation photographs: Reflections of Change

This is a guest post by Lucy Holland

If one were to visit the home of any Cambridge student or alumni, it is almost certain that hung proudly on a wall is their matriculation photograph. The tradition of taking a photograph to mark the day of matriculation dates back to late 1800s, when photography was emerging as a more accessible and popular medium. Since then, every college has adopted the practice as a way of recording their new intake of students.

At Trinity Hall the archive houses a complete collection of undergraduate matriculation photographs for every year since 1869. This summer I have been undertaking a digitisation project to index the entire collection. My focus has been on inputting the names of all students present in each photograph into the central University archive database Janus. This will make it possible for researchers, alumni or their relatives to more easily locate individuals in the photographs. Along the way the project has resulted in some unexpected surprises, as well as provided a chance to reflect on the changes Trinity Hall has undergone over the last 150 years.

What is Matriculation?

Matriculation, derived from the Latin word ‘matricula’ meaning ‘register’, is the process which marks the formal admission of a student into the University body.[1] Our earliest record of the process at Cambridge University survives from 1544 in the form of matriculation registers compiled by the university central clerk. It was only from 1724 that students had to sign their own name in the register.[2] Fundamentally the process remains unchanged, with incoming students to this day signing a declaration form. However, now part of the tradition is for students to have a large group photograph with their peers.

A Timeless Tradition

Like any Cambridge tradition, there are many aspects of matriculation photography that has remained the same. The very earliest matriculation photograph, dated to 1869, is believed to be one of the first taken of a Cambridge undergraduate cohort.


The matriculation photograph from 1869 is the oldest in Trinity Hall’s archive, and likely one of the earliest taken in Cambridge. Note the inclusion of future master Henry Latham third from the left, one of the few photos taken of him.

It features a small group of men dressed with their best hats and canes – noticeably without gowns – casually arranged on chairs on Latham Lawn. Despite its age, it remains as recognisable as a matriculation photograph as those taken presently. The reasons for this are two-fold.

Firstly, the decoration and design of the paperboard mount used to display matriculation photographs remains almost entirely unchanged. The mount which houses the photograph for the 1869 admission of undergraduates features hand painted crests for Trinity Hall and university at the top, together with the college’s name, the year and the type of cohort handwritten in calligraphy. Below the photograph is a list of names of individuals as appear in the photograph, again handwritten. While today the mounts are printed, the style is exactly replicated down to the style of calligraphy and placement of the crests.

Secondly, with these photographs taken within college grounds the setting is always a recognisable corner of the college. There is no portion of Trinity Hall which has not over the years served as the backdrop for a matriculation photograph. Front Court, Latham Lawn, the Master’s Lodge, the Gatehouse Building, the Old Library, and the Latham building in particular have all featured at some point. It is uncertain who made the decision of where to locate the photograph, but it is a testament to the timeless beauty of Trinity Hall that so many of its buildings have set the scene for these commemorative photographs.

Reflections of Change

Cataloguing this wide range of photographs has also brought to light many of the changes that Trinity Hall has undergone throughout the past 150 years.

Most noticeably, these photographs can reveal trends in undergraduate numbers. The average number of students admitted in the 1860s was 50, rising to 67 by the 1890s. This was supplemented under Henry Latham’s mastership (1888-1902) by an increase in the number of students from overseas, including students from New Zealand, Australia Japan, and India.[3] Undergraduate numbers remained more or less the same until the war years of 1914-1918, when the college became almost entirely empty of students. In the immediate years that followed, when over 250 ex-servicemen and new undergraduates arrived at Trinity Hall, changes to college life were acutely felt and can be traced through the matriculation photographs. In the 1919 matriculation photograph a group of students can be seen wearing their military dress, including famous alumni and novelist and playwright J.B Priestley.


Taken in the Fellow’s Garden in May 1919, this photograph shows all the first year men who had arrived to Trinity Hall the previous October.


This photograph features all the men who returned to Trinity Hall following the end of World War I. Novelist and playwright J.B. Priestley is amongst this cohort.

Between 1920-39 cohort sizes increased as Trinity Hall underwent expansion of student numbers to an average of 87 students. The majority of these students were to read arts subjects such as Law and English, though there was a slight increase in the uptake of Natural Sciences.[4] It also became mandatory from the late 1920s for gowns to be worn in the matriculation photograph, and have remained a familiar fixture to this day.


The 1935 matriculation photograph is one of the first where undergraduates are wearing gowns, a tradition which continues to this day.

From the 1950s, student numbers continued to increase, averaging around one hundred students. A trend also emerged at this time for students to hold an identifying card with their number on it, ensuring that they could be easily identified on the list of names. The system was later changed in the 1980s to arranging students alphabetically.

The 1970s is perhaps the most significant decade of change for the matriculation photograph. It became tradition during this time for the Master, and later the Senior Tutor, to participate by sitting front and centre amongst the students. But perhaps most monumental is the 1977 photograph which is the first to feature women, this being the year when the first cohort of female undergraduates were admitted to Trinity Hall.

It is being able to chart changes such as these, that has made this digitisation project so rewarding and also incredibly valuable. Each of the college’s matriculation photographs is a vibrant and unique historical artefact that has much to tell us about life at Trinity Hall.

[1] K. Taylor, Central Cambridge: A Guide to the University and Colleges (Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 106.

[2] H.E. Peek and C.P Hall, Archives of The University of Cambridge (Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp.30-31.

[3] C. Crawley, Trinity Hall: The History of a Cambridge College, 1350-1975 (Cambridge University Press, 1976), p. 180.

[4] C. Crawley, Trinity Hall: The History of a Cambridge College, 1350-1975 (Cambridge University Press, 1976), p. 211.

Our copy of Novellae Constitutiones featured on World’s Rarest books blog

IMG_0652_inside pagesTrinity Hall’s Old Library is one of the partners of Preserving the World’s Rarest Books. The blog for the project features our copy of a Greek text Novellae Constitutiones which was printed by Charlotte Guillard, one of the few women printers of the sixteenth century to work under her own name. You can read more on its fascinating history here.