Goodness, but it is a pretty place.
“A goose flies by a chart the Royal Geographic Society could not improve.”
― Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Since work calls and my email list is truly daunting, you get what the internet loves of a busy Monday morning: animals.
So, as we’ve been recounting, a few weeks ago, itching to get out of the city for the first time since March, we hopped on a train up to my family’s old stomping grounds of Cambridge. We had a whole day of unexpected pleasant surprising, capping off with stumbling upon a fair on our way back to the station in the late afternoon. Alongside the usual food and festivities were a few tents or entertainments out of the ordinary.
You don’t run into this sort of thing everyday.
There were at least half a dozen birds of prey that could be viewed and even handled under careful supervision. Several owls and hawks were available and they were all striking!
Falconry has a long history in Britain, in fact the ruin of a royal hunting lodge is just up the street…
I’m sorry, was I saying something? Because I think my brain shorted out a bit at the cuteness…
Just a few shots leftover from our Cambridge adventure that were too good not to share.
This sign is simple, but I thought it one of my loveliest snaps of the day.
In case you missed my write up on the best places to eat (hint, it’s right here) this is the side entrance of The Anchor which is on Laundress Lane, across the street from the world’s most charming bike and rental shop.
If you go to Cambridge, you must eat at Fitzbillies. I insist. I might even drag you there myself.
It’s hard to overemphasize how much Henry VIII is omnipresent in Britain. He’s (understandably) most often remembered in pop culture for his marriages, but the truth is that those episodes were mostly short and crammed together into the back half of his reign. His most controversial wife, Anne Boleyn was only married to him for around three years while Anne of Cleves (lucky woman) was only wife number four for a matter of weeks. His marriage to Katherine of Aragon lasted for 20 years by comparison. He brought the Renaissance to England (largely kicking and screaming) and throughout his reign he enacted a number of laws and reforms that turned England from a feudal and medieval backwater that most of Europe sighed about, rolled their eyes at, or schemed to overpower, into a force to be reckoned with.
As a result, his mark is everywhere. The ruins of abbeys and monasteries dot the country, his effigy turns up in surprising places, the royal supremacy he developed still holds in theory, and his direct touch is stamped over the history. He might have been a thoroughly nasty fellow and a terribly bad person, but I think a decent argument can be made that at points he was a good or at least effective king and certainly one of the most influential in history. Make of that what you will.
The Senate House, a gorgeous piece of neoclassical architecture alongside the medieval and Victorian ones.
Lunch on the Cam.
“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”
― Mark Twain
I’m furious to report that the photos of the first room we entered on our way to the Haddon Library didn’t turn out at all. This room was dark, stuffed with shelves filled with books about ancient Babylon, first contact with the Zulu, Assyrian and Egyptian glossaries, and other fabulous finds. Some of the old tomes containing early maps were nearly as tall as me. And it turns out that the room had a slightly scandalous recent history.
The academic who was in charge of interacting with visitors told me the story of a recent department reshuffle when collections of libraries were combined and had to be moved from one location to another. Not only did they have to worry about the proper transfer of historically significant books, they also had to be sure that the order and classifications were preserved–putting a collection like this back together from scratch if it was scrambled was too daunting a task to be thought of! Luckily the professor in charge found a moving company that specializes in this and a disaster was avoided.
It didn’t seem like too many visitors were going to the Haddon Library through this entrance and the professor and librarian talked to me for nearly twenty minutes simply because I started asking questions about the massive books. It’s always a delight to me what you can learn about the workings of places and people if you just pull up a chair and are genuinely interested.
The Haddon Library itself looks like a Victorian Eccentric’s private room and it’s wonderful. It supports primarily Anthropology students and research. What I loved was the old card catalog still there and still in use. No school like old school. Literally in this case.
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero
My very idea of heaven is a library, but this is just ridiculous!
The building itself was designed by William Wilkins, who also designed the National Gallery.
Excuse me while I sit on my hands to keep from stroking the bindings inappropriately.
The Parker Library in Corpus Christi College houses one of the most impressive collection of medieval manuscripts in the world, one to make the eyes of a nerd like me absolutely pop out. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle, a 15th century Chaucer manuscript, a glossary from the 800s, and the Gospel of St. Augustine, which is considered the oldest book in Britain and is believed to have been brought to the country by St. Augustine of Canterbury when he first came to spread Christianity to the English. It’s the oldest illustrated gospel in the Western world, and is used at the enthronements of the Archbishops of Canterbury.
The library’s collection can really be attributed to the 16th century clergyman Matthew Parker. He served as the private chaplain of Queen Anne Boleyn and under Queen Elizabeth I became Archbishop of Canterbury. We owe his collection to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, after which the centuries old libraries that these institutions once houses were flung far and wide. Parker got permission to collect whatever books he found useful, and thank goodness. His collection includes a quarter of all known Anglo Saxon manuscripts today.
A letter written by Anne Boleyn to her father while she was serving as a lady-in-waiting at the French court.
For the open day, the library also included several pieces from the personal collection of Dr. John C. Taylor, who designed the Corpus Clock.
In other words, Jeff had to drag me away from this place…
“Time is an illusion.”
― Albert Einstein
Cambridge has a number of distinguished and distinguishing landmarks, most of which are medieval, early modern, or in some way dating from before the 20th century. The Corpus Clock, housed at the library of Corpus Cristi College, is unabashedly modern. Normally facing the street, for Open Days the wall was turned to allow library visitors to get an up close and personal look at and within it.
Invented and designed by Dr. John C. Taylor (who has an amazing collection of clocks which will also feature in tomorrow’s adventures), it is a strange and wonderful creation. The face is plated in pure gold and the design is a rippled effect, created by explosions within a vacuum. They symbolize the Big Bang, the impact of which set space and time into motion and exploded outward. At the top is a grasshopper-like creature that Dr. Taylor calls the “Chronophage,” meaning “time-eater” (which is apparently a pun since an 18th century horologist referred to a clock mechanism as a grasshopper).
It has no hands and tells time through concentric rings of lights to signify seconds, minutes, and hours. When the hour strikes, all the lights flash. And yet it is purposefully designed to appear irregular and sometimes be irregular; the pendulum appears to catch or the lights race and lag. The whole point is to be functional, but also show the somewhat threatening nature of time. The beast (which is apparently nicknamed both “Rosaline” and “Hopsy” by locals and students) swallows the seconds without ceasing, and if you look closely you may catch it blinking or moving its mouth unexpectedly. Time flies, it’s untrustworthy, it’s easily consumed or lost, and there’s no getting it back.
Pointing out the features of the gold plated exterior.
But look inside…
…and the almost science fiction quality is revealed!
I scrambled up another level in the library to get a less obstructed view because I found the clock unexpectedly delightful. I love seeing things cracked open and their inner workings revealed.
Budding videographer that I am (she laughed!), I snapped a short video of the clock’s function being presented. The speaker does a better job of explaining the lighting sequence than I could, plus you get to see the creature’s movement.
“Cambridge was a joy. Tediously. People reading books in a posh place. It was my fantasy. I loved it. I miss it still.”
– Zadie Smith
King’s College is the jewel in the Cambridge crown. It’s a glorious Early Modern architecture find with the imprint of the Tudors all over it, and the chief attraction is the chapel. The spires dominate the whole city and in good weather (which we had, because the weekend gods were kind) the composition just gleams.
When Mum was a student we could get into the chapel for free. So when I was on “study abroad,” and therefore dashing home on weekends with armfuls of friends in tow for home cooked meals and general Rodgers clan entertaining, we’d wander through it before trotting down to the Cam to be punted along the river by attractive male students in various degrees of shirtless-ness. Memories.
This visit was much more dignified. I adore the chapel for another reason: it’s choir. Come Christmas time, they dominate the both my iPod and Spotify and I wander around in a state of perpetual fuzzy holiday bliss.
That fan vaulted ceiling at one point was the wonder of Britain. Architecture nerd fact.
We took our time going over every nook and cranny of the chapel and I found many delightful elements I hadn’t noticed before.
Like the greyhound on the right, which looks like it’s judging us.
Afterwards we wandered down to the river a bit and circumnavigated the grounds. The weather has taken a sharp turn for the chilly this week but up until then, this summer and early fall have been absolutely glorious and the gardens have lasted much longer than usual.
“I feel very strongly indeed that a Cambridge education for our scientists should include some contact with the humanistic side.”
― William Lawrence Bragg
Christ’s College was founded as a proper college by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the formidable matriarch of the Tudor dynasty, in the 15th century. She gave birth to the eventual Henry VII at 13 (which is pretty horrifying), and then went on to successfully maneuver her way (to say nothing of her son’s) through the Wars of the Roses before settling into a bossy and busy old age. That’s a history to get behind.
As we poked out heads into the grounds, I realized that something was afoot. Unfortunately, though understandably, if you’re not a student or faculty member, you have to pay to view the Oxbridge colleges. Rates tend to be low and there are concessions for children, seniors, and external students, so I think they are well worth seeing if you get the chance. But! Far better to luck in on an Open Day when the fees are waived and the doors thrown open!
The beautiful Great Gate. Old university towns are brilliant for history and medievalist nerds like me, there’s symbolism and art and artifacts every which way you look. As the name might hint, many of these colleges have religious origins…although Christ’s has a nice little twist for fundamentalists.
Charlie D. himself graces the entry way! Darwin, Milton, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury are all famed alumni. As is Sacha Baron Cohen. The border between genius and madness, etc.
All the grounds are beautiful, and each college has its own peculiar flavor that is fun to get to know.
What’s really marvelous is how vast some of the grounds really are. From medieval or early modern buildings, most colleges now stretch to vast campuses that still retain their charm and personality in spite of modernization. Hidden behind stone walls, you’d never guess how much is there until you get a chance to sneak in!