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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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As part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the admission of women to College, the Archive put on an exhibition examining the history of women and their relationship with Trinity Hall since it’s foundation until now. Since few people were able to see the exhibition in all its glory, I’ve been disseminating sections of it for a wider audience. The recent article for Front Court from the Archive focused on female tradespeople and merchants; here we will be looking at what went on below the staircases in the world of female servants and staff.

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Trinity Hall Staff, c.1930s. THPH/3/1930

The Laundress or Launderer was one of the original servant positions, dating back to the medieval foundations of the colleges. Traditionally, all servants of the medieval colleges were male, except for the laundress. Male launderers were hard to come by, so the position was often filled by a woman. However, certain safeguards were put in place to minimise contact between the laundress and the fellows, who were required to remain celibate. Most colleges required the laundress to live in town and be handed the linen at the college gates.  Some colleges, such as King’s College, went even further and stipulated in their statutes that only elderly or unattractive women could be hired as the laundress. The laundress was generally amongst the highest paid of college servants, but this was most likely to cover their living expenses in town, because female servants were not allowed to live in College like the male servants. The Trinity Hall foundation statutes made no provision for a laundress, but there was certainly a laundress working for the College by the 17th century.

The other positions traditionally held by women in colleges were bedmakers and cleaners. It is unclear precisely when the College began hiring female cleaners and bedmakers, but the account books that have survived demonstrate the College was regularly employing women to clean the Hall and other rooms around College, polish the silver, and perform various other duties around College by at least the 18th century. From the trial papers of Philip Nichols, it also appears there were female bedmakers by the mid 18th century. Philip Nichols was a fellow at Trinity Hall from 1723-30 who was caught stealing books from several libraries around Cambridge, including St John’s and the University Library. His bedmaker, Elizabeth Richardson, testified that she witnessed him leaving his room with a large bag and return with it full under his gown.

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Elizabeth Richardson’s testimony against Philip Nicholls, 1731. THGB/4/1/8/3

By at least the mid 19th century, staircases were being worked on by husband and wife teams of gyps and bedmakers. The wives cleaned the rooms and the gyps were the students’ and fellows’ personal servants. Gyps brought the students’ morning teas to their rooms and did everything for them except clean their shoes. There was a bootman for that. In 1950, bedmakers and cleaners in College made a shilling and ninepence per hour, and the minimum wage for women was set to £1 less per week compared to their male counterparts, who made £4.15 (or £4 per week if lunch was provided). One pound less per week does not sound like much money, but £1 in 1950 is the equivalent of about £23 today.

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Steward’s Order Book detailing the responsibilities of bedmakers, 1843-50. THAR/5/4/3

The first kitchen manageress was Mrs Leggett from 1920 to 1934. When Mrs Leggett was the manageress she enjoyed a high status in the kitchen, having her own waiter, crockery, and wine in the cellars. One of the main duties of the kitchen manageress was to entertain fellows’ wives and entertain parents when they came up. The manageress was also responsible for the menus, bookings, and purchasing of goods for the kitchens. During wartime, she was also responsible for rationing. According to Don Tarrant, College Butler from 1925 to 1973, Mrs Leggett was a fearsome woman, who even told fellows what to do. Mrs Leggett was succeeded as manageress by Miss Wain (1934-45) and Miss Mackenzie (1945-53). According to the Report on the Sub-Committee of Stewards and Bursars on the wages of College servants, the Kitchen Manager/ Manageress was one of the best paid servant positions in College.

Sara Rhodes holds the distinction of not only being Trinity Hall’s first female Butler but also being the first in Cambridge. She first started working for the College in 1986 as a part-time waitress, helping out with evening meals. She left for a time, but came back in 1997, when she was appointed as College Butler, and she has been here ever since. Kim Brown became the first female porter in 2003 and is also still working for the College. Today there are women working in nearly every department of the College, and they make up just over half of the workforce at Trinity Hall.

References

Cobban, Alan. English University Life in the Middle Ages (London: UCL Press, 1999).

Duckenfield, Bridget. College Cloisters- Married Bachelors (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013).

Trinity Hall Staff Recollections: 1925-2002 (Cambridge: University Printing Services, 2002).

 

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