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Pembroke College, Cambridge

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Background Information

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Colleges of the University of Cambridge

Pembroke College

Pembroke College Cambridge.JPG
Founder Marie de St Pol, Countess of Pembroke
Established 1347
Previously named Marie Valence Hall (1347-?)
Pembroke Hall (?–1856)
Admission Men and women
Master Sir Richard Dearlove
Undergraduates 442
Graduates 264
Sister college Queen's College, Oxford
Location Trumpington Street ( map)
Pembroke College heraldic shield
College website
Boat Club website
The Trumpington Street Façade with the College Chapel on the right, the first building to be built by Sir Christopher Wren
The Gatehouse is the oldest in Cambridge, dating from the 14th century
The College gardens in Library Court
The Croquet Lawn in New Court, designed by George Gilbert Scott
Pembroke College at night

Pembroke College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.

The college has over seven hundred students and fellows, and is the third oldest college of the university. Physically, it is one of the university's larger colleges, with buildings from almost every century since its founding, as well as extensive and immaculately maintained gardens. The college is a financially well-to-do institution, with an endowment of £53.3 million as of 2012, which places it around the middle in the list of the university colleges. Pembroke has a level of academic performance among the highest of all the Cambridge colleges, with an average rank of 6.7 out of 29 in the unofficial Tompkins Table.

Pembroke College is home to the first chapel designed by Sir Christopher Wren and is also one of the Cambridge colleges to have educated a British prime minister, William Pitt the Younger. The college library, one of the finest in the university, with a Victorian neo-gothic clock tower, is endowed with an original copy of the first encyclopaedia to contain printed diagrams. The college's current master, Sir Richard Dearlove, was previously the head of the United Kingdom's Secret Intelligence Service.


On Christmas Eve 1347, Edward III granted Marie de St Pol, widow of the Earl of Pembroke, the licence for the foundation of a new educational establishment in the young university at Cambridge. The Hall of Valence Mary, as it was originally known, was thus founded to house a body of students and fellows.

The statutes were notable in that they both gave preference to students born in France who had already studied elsewhere in England, and that they required students to report fellow students if they indulged in excessive drinking or visited disreputable houses.

The college was later renamed Pembroke Hall, and finally became Pembroke College in 1856.


The first buildings comprised a single court (now called Old Court) containing all the component parts of a college — chapel, hall, kitchen and buttery, master's lodgings, students' rooms — and the statutes provided for a manciple, a cook, a barber and a laundress. Both the founding of the college and the building of the city's first college Chapel (1355) required the grant of a papal bull.

The original court was the university's smallest at only 95 feet (29 m) by 55 feet (17 m), but was enlarged to its current size in the nineteenth century by demolishing the south range.

The college's gatehouse, however, is original and is the oldest in Cambridge. The Hall was rebuilt in 1875–6 by Alfred Waterhouse after he had declared the medieval Hall unsafe.

Cambridge University, Pembroke College from Trumpington Street, with Wren's chapel to the right

The original Chapel now forms the Old Library and has a striking seventeenth century plaster ceiling, designed by Henry Doogood, showing birds flying overhead. Around the Civil War, one of Pembroke's fellows and Chaplain to the future Charles I, Matthew Wren, was imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell. On his release after eighteen years he fulfilled a promise by hiring his nephew Christopher Wren to build a great Chapel in his former college. The resulting Chapel was consecrated on St Matthew's Day, 1665, and the eastern end was extended by George Gilbert Scott in 1880, when it was consecrated on the Feast of the Annunciation.

An increase in membership over the last 150 years saw a corresponding increase in building activity. As well as the Hall, Waterhouse built a new range of rooms, Red Buildings (1871–2), in French Renaissance style, designed a new Master's Lodge on the site of Paschal Yard (1873, later to become N staircase), pulled down the old Lodge and the south range of Old Court to open a vista to the Chapel, and finally built a new Library (1877–8) in the continental Gothic style.

Waterhouse was dismissed as architect in 1878 and succeeded by George Gilbert Scott, who, after extending the Chapel, provided additional accommodation with the construction of New Court in 1881, with letters on a series of shields along the string course above the first floor spelling out the Psalm text "Nisi Dominus aedificat domum…" ("Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but vain that build it").

Building work continued into the 20th century with W. D. Caröe as architect. He added Pitt Building (M staircase) between Ivy Court and Waterhouse's Lodge, and extended New Court with the construction of O staircase on the other side of the Lodge. He linked his two buildings with an arched stone screen, Caröe Bridge, along Pembroke Street in a late Baroque style, the principal function of which was to act as a bridge by which undergraduates might cross the Master's forecourt at first-floor level from Pitt Building to New Court without leaving the College or trespassing in what was then the Fellows' Garden.

In 1926, as the Fellows had become increasingly disenchanted with Waterhouse's Hall, Maurice Webb was brought in to remove the open roof, put in a flat ceiling and add two storeys of sets above. The wall between the Hall and the Fellows' Parlour was taken down, and the latter made into a High Table dais. A new Senior Parlour was then created on the ground floor of Hitcham Building. The remodelling work was completed in 1949 when Murrary Easton replaced the Gothic tracery of the windows with a simpler design in the style of the medieval Hall.

In 1933 Maurice Webb built a new Master's Lodge in the south-east corner of the College gardens, on land acquired from Peterhouse in 1861. Following the war, further accommodation was created with the construction in 1957 of Orchard Building, so called because it stands on part of the Foundress's orchard. Finally, in a move to accommodate the majority of junior members on the College site rather than in hostels in the town, in the 1990s Eric Parry designed a new range of buildings on the site of the Master's Lodge, with a new Lodge at the west end. "Foundress Court" was opened in 1997 in celebration of the College's 650th Anniversary. In 2001 the Library was extended to the east and modified internally.

Pembroke's enclosed grounds also house some particularly well-kept gardens, sporting a huge array of carefully selected vegetation. Highlights include "The Orchard" (a patch of semi-wild ground in the centre of the college), an impressive row of Plane Trees and an immaculately kept bowling green, re-turfed in 1996, which is reputed to be among the oldest in continual use in Europe.

Pembroke today

Pembroke College has both graduate and undergraduate students, termed Valencians, after the College's original name. The undergraduate student body is represented by the Junior Parlour Committee (JPC). The graduate community is represented by the Graduate Parlour Committee (GPC). Pembroke is unusual in having its recreational rooms named as "parlours" rather than the more standard "combination room". There are many clubs and societies organised by the students of the college, such as the college's dramatic society the Pembroke Players, which has been made famous by alumni such as Peter Cook, Eric Idle, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Clive James and Bill Oddie and is now in its 50th year.

International programmes

Pembroke is the only Cambridge college to have an International Programmes Department, providing opportunities for international students to spend a semester (mid-January to mid-June), or part of the summer, in Cambridge.

The Semester Abroad Scheme is a highly competitive programme open to academically outstanding students who wish to follow a regular Cambridge degree course as fully matriculated members of the University. There are around thirty places each year.

In the summer there are three prestigious and dynamic programmes on offer: the Pembroke-King's Programme, the International Security and Intelligence Programme, and the Pembroke College-National Academy of Writing Summer Programme.

The Pembroke-King’s Programme (PKP) offers international students an exceptional opportunity to experience Cambridge student life over eight weeks, the length of a regular undergraduate term. Living in Pembroke or King’s Colleges, students choose three courses from the around forty-five on offer, including courses in the arts, social sciences, business and management, humanities and sciences. Courses are academically 'Cambridge' in style, content and standard. Trips are made to locales such as Edinburgh, Scotland, and the programme has a series of formal halls, which are described as "three-course candlelit meals" serving "interesting" fare in Pembroke's historic dining hall. The Pembroke-King's Programme is also the programme for which the prestigious Thouron Prize is awarded, fully supporting nine American undergraduates from Harvard, Yale, and UPenn.

The International Security and Intelligence Programme, co-chaired by Sir Richard Dearlove, former Head of the British Secret Intelligence Service and current Master of Pembroke College, and Professor Christopher Andrew, Emeritus Professor of Modern and Contemporary History and founder of the Intelligence Seminar at the University of Cambridge, offers a unique opportunity to work with leading practitioners and academics from the security and intelligence communities in an exploration of the ‘craft of intelligence’.

The Pembroke College-National Academy of Writing Summer Programme offers a unique opportunity for those with a commitment to developing their writing to meet and work with leading practitioners, over three intense weeks. This programme explores aspects of effective narrative writing, from the generation of ideas to methodologies for editing and is designed for those with at least some, and possibly quite an extensive, background in creative writing who are looking for inspiration from a course which is above all about the practice and art of writing.

Pembroke also works with a number of Japanese universities to provide academic programmes specifically designed for their students.


Although the food in Hall is affectionately known as "Trough," this is not necessarily an accurate description and catering at Pembroke is generally thought to be quite good. In particular, catering manager David Harwood received the Cambridge Catering Award in 2005 for his "outstanding quality and affordable prices". In 2007 the UK's first Vegan 'tapas' bar was opened, and in spring 2008 the students voted (by a large majority) for Pembroke to serve only free-range chicken (it will be the first UK college to do so). Also, since October 2008, freshly prepared sushi is available, as well as high quality soup, cheeses and cured meats. Pembroke is Cambridge's 2nd Fairtrade College (after St Catharine's), and is also committed to serving local produce and sustainable fish where possible.

Notable alumni of Pembroke College

William Pitt the Younger, the youngest ever British Prime Minister and alumnus of the College
Sir George Gabriel Stokes, Lucasian Professor, a mathematician and physicist at the College who made important contributions to fluid dynamics
Abba Eban, Israeli Foreign Minister and VP of the United Nations General Assembly, who studied Arabic and Hebrew as a Fellow at the College
Edmund Spenser, a famous English poet best known for his epic poem 'The Faerie Queene'
The statue of Roger Williams at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island


Name Born Died Occupation
Lancelot Andrewes 1555 1626 Master, Dean of Westminster, Bishop of Chichester, Ely, Winchester
C.F. Andrews 1871 1940 Author and supporter of Indian Independence
David Armitage Bannerman 1886 1979 Ornithologist
John Bradford 1510 1550 Fellow, prebendary of St. Paul's, Martyr
Clive Betts 1950 British politician
Tim Brooke-Taylor 1940 Comedian
William Burkitt 1650 1703 New Testament commentator, Vicar & Lecturer of Dedham, Essex
Roger Bushell 1910 1944 Leader of "The Great Escape"
"RAB" Butler 1902 1982 British politician
Peter Cook 1937 1995 Comedian
Maurice Dobb 1900 1976 Economist
Ray Dolby 1933 Inventor
Timothy Dudley-Smith 1926 Hymnwriter and clergyman of the Church of England
Abba Eban 1915 2002 Statesman
Edward James Eliot 1758 1797 British politician
William Eliot 1767 1845 British politician
Archibald Fargus 1878 1963 Cricketer, scholar, clergyman
Femi Fani-Kayode 1960 Former Nigerian Minister of Culture and Tourism
William Fowler 1911 1995 Nobel prize winner
Arthur Gilligan 1894 1976 England cricket captain
Alexander Grantham 1899 1978 Governor of Hong Kong
Thomas Gray 1716 1771 Poet
Stephen Greenblatt 1943 Literary critic, pioneer of New Historicism
Rupert Gwynne 1871 1924 MP for Eastbourne 1910–1924.
Naomie Harris 1976 Actress
Tom Harrisson 1911 1976 Ornithologist, anthropologist, soldier, co-founder of Mass-Observation Project
Samuel Harsnett 1561 1631 Master, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, later Archbishop of York and theological writer
Oliver Heald 1954 British politician
Ted Hughes 1930 1998 Poet
Eric Idle 1943 Entertainer, comedian, member of Monty Python
Koyata Iwasaki 1879 1945 4th President of the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu
Clive James 1939 Novelist
Atma Jayaram 1915 1990 Former Director of the Indian Intelligence Bureau
Peter Jeffrey 1929 1999 Actor
Humphrey Jennings 1907 1950 Film-maker
Bryan Keith-Lucas 1912 1996 Political scientist
Emma Johnson 1966 Clarinetist
Robert Macfarlane 1976 Writer
David MacMyn 1903 1978 Rugby union international (Scotland and Lions) player and administrator
Sir Henry James Sumner Maine 1822 1888 Jurist and Historian
Peter May 1929 1994 Cricketer
D. H. Mellor 1938 Philosopher
Tom Morris 1964 Theatre director and producer
David Munrow 1942 1976 Musician, composer, music historian
Richard Murdoch 1907 1990 Actor, comedian
Bill Oddie 1941 Comedian, Ornithologist
William Pitt 1759 1806 British politician
Rodney Porter 1917 1985 Biochemist
George Maxwell Richards 1931 President of Trinidad and Tobago
Nicholas Ridley c.1502 1555 Bishop of London, Martyr
Edmund Grindal c.1519 1571 Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop of York, Bishop of London
Michael Rowan-Robinson Astronomer
Martin Rowson 1959 Cartoonist
Hugh Ruttledge 1884 1961 Mountaineer
Tom Sharpe 1928 Novelist
Indra Sinha 1950 Novelist
Christopher Smart 1722 1771 Poet, hymnist, journalist, actor
Chris Smith 1951 British politician
Edmund Spenser 1552 1599 Poet
George Gabriel Stokes 1819 1903 Mathematician, physicist
John Sulston 1942 Chemist, Nobel prize winner
Peter Taylor, Baron Taylor of Gosforth 1930 1997 Lord Chief Justice
Peter Taylor Journalist
Karan Thapar 1955 Writer, Journalist, Broadcaster, Editor
William Turner 1508 1568 Physician
P. K. van der Byl 1923 1999 Rhodesian politician
Lawrence Wager 1904 1965 Geologist, explorer and mountaineer
Wavell Wakefield, 1st Baron Wakefield of Kendal 1898 1983 Rugby player
Yorick Wilks 1939 Computer Scientist
Roger Williams 1603 1683 Statesman, Theologian, founder of Rhode Island
George Crichton Wells 1914 1999 Dermatologist, first described Well's syndrome

Institutions named after the college

Pembroke College, the former women's college at Brown University in the United States, was named for the principal building on the women's campus, Pembroke Hall, which was itself named in honour of the Pembroke College (Cambridge) alumnus Roger Williams, a co-founder of Rhode Island.

In 1981, a decade after the merger of Pembroke College into Brown University, the Pembroke Centre for Teaching and Research on Women was named in honour of Pembroke College and the history of women's efforts to gain access to higher education.


A panorama of Old Court showing the college's dining Hall, library and chapel.
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