You are here: > About Jesus College > History


From the Loggan view of the College c 1688

Jesus College, now one of the five or six largest and better endowed colleges in Cambridge, was until the later nineteenth century one of its smallest and poorest. Its origins lie in plans made in the last decade of the fifteenth century by a bishop of Ely, John Alcock, to convert a derelict nunnery on the eastern edge of Cambridge which had a huge, but largely ruinous, church into a college – a community – for graduate priests studying in the University. It took twenty years to bring these plans to fruition, and there were, until the 1560s, never more than six or seven such priests (Fellows). But there was also a free grammar school for the choristers or choirmen serving the College’s chapel as well as others from the town and surrounding villages. For the next three hundred years (1560 – 1860) Jesus College was, essentially, a seminary for Church of England clergy, and one much strengthened in 1671 by a major benefaction (the Rustat Trust). Until the end of the seventeenth century, there were also other students, though they rarely stayed long enough to obtain a degree (a qualification needed only by clergymen, schoolmasters and church lawyers).

The College’s nineteenth-century transformation was primarily due to the energy and enterprise of Henry Arthur Morgan, Tutor from 1863 to 1885 and Master from then until his death in 1912. He had been quick to recognise the growing demand for university education coming from the expanding Victorian professional and middle classes, to which Cambridge, like Oxford, was slowly and reluctantly responding by widening its curriculum and allowing more teaching posts to be held by married laymen rather than bachelor clergy. Seizing the opportunities presented by the College’s spacious grounds and its increasing wealth derived from railway developments and the town’s spread into the surrounding agricultural land where it had inherited substantial holdings from the nunnery, by 1871 he had quadrupled the number of students, and doubled the accommodation available for them. By 1881 there were seven times as many students as there had been twenty years earlier, many attracted by the College’s sporting renown.

Since the Second World War the College, like the University, has continued to grow, acquiring as high an academic, as it had previously had a sporting, reputation. It is now a community of more than 900 members – nearly 500 of them are undergraduates, and there are more than 250 graduate and research students, and over 80 Fellows from every Faculty and Department in the University, all supported by 90 or so other staff. Nearly all students, graduate and undergraduate, live in, or within a few hundred yards of, the College in what is, in effect, a ‘Jesuan village’ adjoining Cambridge’s ‘historic centre’.

Though for more than five centuries its members have occupied the same site and several of the same buildings, enjoyed the same legal identity and endowments, and employed the same academic terminology, Jesus College, like nearly all the older Cambridge colleges, as well as the University itself, has been through so many changes that sometimes only the thinnest of connecting threads seems to link one generation with another. Five different, but far from discrete, stages in its history can be identified, and are used as markers in the fuller, but still brief, account provided below for those wishing to know more. As in all histories of universities and colleges, it is the unusual events and the striking changes that secure most attention. But one must not forget that, generation after generation, the main preoccupation of most of those living in the College has been study and the pursuit of knowledge, essentially private activities which leave behind little evidence for an historian to analyse. There have always been students, more numerous at some times than at others, anxious to succeed in their studies and ready to spend long hours working at them – whether because they found them inherently interesting or challenging, or out of a sense of self-respect, or because academic success was vital if they were to make their way in the world. And there have been other, older, ones – Fellows – who have been determined to master some field of learning or to solve some intellectual problem. So the historical account given here is followed by some details of the famous writers, scholars, scientists and public figures who during these centuries have been members of the College. Other entries (indicated here by red links) provide more information on particular persons, and some suggestions are made for further reading.

The pre-Reformation College: 1496 to the start of the Elizabethan church settlement in 1559

The institution that Bishop Alcock planned should take over the site, the buildings and such property as the nuns of St Radegund’s priory had owned – for which he received royal authorisation in June 1496 – was of a sort familiar throughout late medieval England, one not confined to its two universities. Colleges were small residential communities of priests and other clerics who, in return for free board and lodging and sometimes a stipend, celebrated Masses and other services of psalms, hymns and prayers intended to benefit specific people – individuals or the members of families or guilds – by shortening the time their souls would otherwise have spent in Purgatory expiating a life-time’s sins. The Masses and other services were chanted, and so the colleges were known as chantry colleges, any chapels devoted solely to them as chantry chapels, and the endowments that supported those celebrating the services as chantries. At this new Cambridge college the services celebrated were for the king and other members of the royal family (in return for his agreeing to its establishment and the transfer to it of the nunnery’s property), for the bishop and his successors (under whose aegis it would function) and for those other people who founded chantries at it for themselves and/or other family members. In 1547, there were six such chantries, each with its own altar in the chapel. Celebrating church services was not a full-time occupation, so the priest members (Fellows) of such colleges often had other duties – teaching in schools, or running hospitals, almshouses and hostels for travellers, while in the two university towns they were usually expected to study for degrees in theology or canon and civil law, so as to qualify themselves for senior positions in the church (particularly as preachers) or government (and often both). So at this latest Cambridge college, the posts of school master and assistant (the usher) were separate appointments, while the religious needs of the church were given priority: only one of the Fellows was allowed to study civil and canon law rather than theology.

In the twenty years between Henry VII agreeing to Alcock’s plans (papal approval appears to have been given in 1504) and the placing of the College on a firm legal footing in 1516 when Bishop Nicholas West gave it its first statutes (its legal constitution), significant benefactions from several of the king’s, and his mother’s, closest counsellors – notably Sir Reginald and Lady (Katherine) Bray and Sir John Rysley – enabled what remained of the nunnery’s church and the other buildings surrounding its cloister to be adapted and rebuilt. The huge later twelfth-century Romanesque church was reduced to less than half its former size (allowing the cloisters to be enlarged), and given a Perpendicular make-over, to form the College’s chapel. This was re-dedicated to the Name of Jesus, a popular contemporary devotion which the pope had authorised the king’s mother (Lady Margaret Beaufort) to promote. A stately brick entrance tower containing living accommodation for both the Master of the College and the Master of the Grammar School, with an adjacent class room and dormitory for the school, had been built. So also had a fine new hall (on the site of the nuns’ refectory and kitchen), while sets of rooms for Fellows entered off staircases in the traditional Oxbridge style had been erected where the nuns’ chapter house and dormitory had previously stood. And a spacious library had been built on the second floor on the opposite side of the cloisters above other rooms. All these buildings were liberally decorated with Alcock’s rebus – a punning badge of a cock perched on an orb representing all the world.

Thus equipped, the new Jesus College “commonly so called”, but officially “the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St John the Evangelist and the Glorious Virgin St Radegund” (thus acknowledging the church’s original dedication and Alcock’s and the nunnery’s patron saint), functioned as a chantry college with academical functions for half a century, interrupted for four years, 1549 – 1553, when, under the young Protestant king, Edward VI, the traditional Catholic liturgy was replaced by the services in the first and second Books of Common Prayer of 1549 and 1552. Its six or seven priest Fellows were assisted in the singing of the chapel services by eight choristers or choirmen, who attended the grammar school, though choirmen might, if they had completed their schooling, study in the University for the first degree in Arts (the B.A.) But these were the only undergraduate members of the College; others might, however, as some senior graduates (most notably the future Archbishop Cranmer) certainly did, lodge in it, paying their own way. It was a small community. It is unlikely that during these years it ever had more than fifty residents, including the boys attending the school, other lodgers and the domestic staff: the cook, the barber, the laundry man and the porter.

Protestant seminary and finishing school: 1559 to the Rustat benefaction in 1671

With the accession of Elizabeth I in November 1558 it became clear that the English church and its liturgy was henceforth to be Protestant, though the change was not to be as radical as some hoped and not all links with the Catholic past were severed. The religious uncertainties and changes of the previous twenty years, coupled with the severe influenza pandemic of the last three or four, had, however, left an acute shortage of clergy, and still fewer who were enthusiastic Protestants. The pressing need, therefore, was for dedicated and well-educated clergy to implement the new church order. To help meet it the government decided to return to the policy for the two universities and their colleges that had briefly been pursued under Edward VI. Prayers for the dead being, in Protestant eyes, mere superstitions, such chantry endowments as still remained in colleges’ hands, together with those no longer needed to maintain the choristers and choirmen required for the late medieval Church’s elaborate services (those of the Book of Common Prayer called for only the simplest of chants, while a termly sermon commending a college’s benefactors replaced Masser and Offices for the Dead ) were to be used, like the rest of a college’s resources, for the support of undergraduate as well as graduate students. It was assumed that the graduate students (the Fellows) would be either ordinands or already ordained, and that the undergraduates (the Scholars) would form a pool from which future Fellows would be selected. Royal commissioners sent to Cambridge in 1559 to implement this policy decided that Jesus should maintain 16 Fellows (four to study law rather than theology, for the government needed well-educated civil servants and diplomats just as the Church needed well-educated clergy) and 15 Scholars. This was probably too many. The casualty was the grammar school which, to the dismay of the townspeople, faded away before being formally abolished in 1570. There were no longer choristers and choirmen needing schooling, and inflation had rendered the school’s endowment inadequate: in the 1560s the going rate for a grammar school master was twice what it had been in the 1510s.

So for the first time undergraduates became a significant element in the College, and the former school building adjoining the gate tower was converted into staircases to provide accommodation for them. In addition to the Scholars who received free board and lodging but no cash (though they could, and did, earn small sums by doing odd jobs in the College) there were two other, socially sharply distinguished, groups of undergraduates. One were the “sizars” – the poor students. Each Fellow was allowed to have one such student (the Master could have two) living in College, doing personal chores for him – lighting fires, serving at table and running errands – giving the lad the chance to study for a degree, something which he could not otherwise have afforded. This was the way in for bright, but poor, students. The Scholars were mostly chosen from among these sizars, freeing them from both the chores and the need at meal times to wait for what had been left over at the Fellows’ and Scholars’ tables. Most sizars eventually became Scholars — by the middle of the seventeenth century nearly all students hoping for a scholarship were, whatever their social status, were entering as sizars — and almost all Scholars obtained a degree and proceeded to ordination, not infrequently becoming Fellows.

The other group of undergraduates were the “pensioners” (or “commoners”), coming from better-off families and so able to pay for their keep and tuition. They usually ate at the Scholars’ table, though if their families were very grand they might eat (more expensively) with the Fellows and other graduates living in the College (hence the term “Fellow Commoners”). Not many pensioners sought a career in the Church (let alone as a school teacher) and so few became Scholars or stayed long enough to obtain a degree. After a few terms they would leave – perhaps to experience what Oxford had to offer, or to travel abroad or, quite frequently, to enter the Inns of Court in London (the “third university of the realm”) with or without the intention of becoming a practising lawyer. The Inns were better places to learn the skills needed for managing family estates and making the social contacts that would help young men to engage in public life and government service, nationally or locally. These pensioners, freed of the constraints of the University’s examinations, could spend their time in Cambridge in studies tailor-made for them by their tutor (who would have been chosen by their family, and may not have been a Fellow but one of the senior graduates – such as the future Archbishop Bancroft – living in the College). Their Cambridge experience was thus as much that of a finishing school as of a university. Almost all the famous names associated with the College during this period – including Sir Fulke Greville, poet and courtier, Sir Christopher Hatton, the royal secretary, Sir Richard Fanshaw, diplomat, poet and translator, Sir Robert Cotton, the antiquary, and Lord Chief Justice Bramston and Roger North, lawyer and polymath – where those of fellow commoners and pensioners. They kept to themselves and did not have much to do with their social inferiors, the sizars and Scholars. But whatever their category these students came predominantly from the eastern counties of England, from Yorkshire to Essex: until the mid-nineteenth century Cambridge was to remain essentially a provincial university. The number of pensioners was highest at Jesus in the four decades immediately before, and the one immediately after, the Civil War: the total number of residents in the College peaked at 90 in 1641. To accommodate them and theirt a new building in rose-coloured brick was erected between 1638 and 1641 on the side of the entrance court facing the gate tower, with help in cash and kind from former students and Fellows. It had a dozen sets of commodious rooms opening off two staircases: but undergraduates still lived two or three to a room under the eye of their tutor. (If they were so important as to have the Master as their tutor they may have lived in the Master’s Lodge.) It was to be the last new building in the College until the nineteenth century.

There rarely being, even during those peak decades, more than sixty undergraduates of all three categories at any one time, only three, or at the most four, of the sixteen Fellows would be acting as tutors – a role which made them responsible for the religious instruction and guidance of their pupils as well as for their secular studies (and finances). Theology was, for the University, a subject only for postgraduate study, but within the colleges tutors undertook a round of lecturing, catechising, sermons and prayers, and it was this, rather than the academic study of theology, that prepared future clergy for their parish work. The other Fellows studied for their M.A. and then for the degree of Bachelor (and, sometimes, Doctor) of Divinity, and may also have served as vicar or curate in a parish in the town or one of the villages within riding distance of it or, have helped a tutor by doing some teaching (or both) until some better paid church appointment came their way. And as the acute shortage of clergy of the 1560s and 1570s had, by the 1590s, largely been remedied, they had to wait longer. Only then, or when they married (events that unsurprisingly often coincided) did they cease to be Fellows. But residence in Cambridge was not insisted on, leave of absence being readily granted. Fellowships thus increasingly came to be seen as prizes, giving their holders opportunities to better their careers which were sometimes, but not often, academic or scholarly ones. The College remained an institution primarily of the Church, and indeed of the local diocese.

As such it was badly hit when the Civil War broke out in 1642. Under the influence of the bishop of Ely (Matthew Wren) and the Master (Richard Sterne) – the bishop appointed the Master and had a say in the choice of Fellows – the College had been in the forefront in Cambridge of the campaign inspired by Archbishop Laud to return the Church of England to more Catholic forms of worship, order and belief. This had enraged its Puritan members and stoked the fires of Parliament’s disputes with the King (Charles I) to whose appeal for contributions to his war-chest the College had sought to respond by sending him much of its silver (the medium in which, before the establishment of banks, most institutions and individuals kept their liquid wealth). When a Parliamentary force occupied Cambridge punishment swiftly followed. The Master was sent to join the bishop in the Tower, the President (the Master’s deputy) was consigned to the Compter prison in Southwark, and fifteen of the sixteen Fellows were turned out. The sole survivor, retained it seems only because someone had to be left in charge of the place, went the following year after seeing the Chapel and all the early sixteenth century stained glass in its windows, as well as its Laudian furnishings, vandalised, and the trees in the grounds cut down by soldiers. The undergraduates went home: it was a couple of years before any came to take their place. A Scots Presbyterian minister without a degree from an English university (Thomas Young) was installed as Master, and suitably inclined Puritans were recruited as Fellows. It was a deeper and more complete break in the College’s life even than that in 1559, but it was not to be so lasting.

Even the Scots Presbyterian Master found the King’s execution and the declaration of a republic too much to stomach, and was in his turn evicted and replaced in 1650 by John Worthington, only 33 but already a senior Fellow of Emmanuel College – once the very heart of Cambridge Puritanism but now home to a wide spectrum of religious belief – from which he recruited new Fellows, and a cook, for Jesus. A gentle, scholarly man, who while Master also served as Vice-Chancellor, he strove with some success to restore the academic routines of both College and University. (He persuaded the Parliamentary Committee for Regulating the Universities that the College’s meagre endowments could not support more than 12 Fellows). But in 1660 when King and Church were restored, and Bishop Wren returned to his see, there was no hope of his retaining the Mastership, from which he withdrew with dignity. Almost all the Fellows elected since 1650 were, however, ready to conform to the established Church (as indeed was Worthington) and were allowed to remain, for they belonged to a generation of graduates who had known only a Commonwealth and a Puritan, Presbyterian Church. Of those evicted in 1642 who were still alive, only three wished to resume their fellowships, so there were plenty of places left for these younger men, for there were again to be 16 Fellows. The Master and the President of 1642 returned (briefly) to their posts: Sterne was soon rewarded for his loyalty and his sufferings – after his imprisonment in the Tower and then on a ship in the Thames, he had spent fifteen years as a schoolmaster – first as bishop of Carlisle, and then as archbishop of York. His three successors (in as many years) had also suffered at Puritan hands, but only the first was also to become a bishop (after being promoted to be Master of Trinity College, a royal appointment). The third, Edmund Boldero, who had served with the cavalier army, stayed to see the depredations of the war made good. The Chapel was restored for Anglican worship after sixteen years of services according to the Presbyterian Directory; the organ, bought at great cost in 1632 only to be dismantled on Parliament’s order in 1642 and hidden away, was repaired and returned; and Boldero himself paid for the handsome bookcases with which the library was refurnished, making it still one of the College’s most characterful and atmospheric rooms. And, most importantly for the College’s future, he encouraged Tobias Rustat to make his great benefaction. It was in these years too that a Fellow (John Sherman), seeking to reconnect the College to its past, wrote (in Latin) the first, and not wholly reliable, account of its history.

Substantial numbers of undergraduate pensioners came to the College, as to Cambridge as a whole, in the years immediately following the Restoration, but after the 1670s they began to fall away, and with them its role as a “finishing school”, the University and its colleges losing much of their attraction for those not intent on a career in the Church which now sought to exclude from its ranks those with Calvinist – Presbyterian or Independent – beliefs. What had previously been parties contending for control of the national Church became exclusive groups, Churchmen and Dissenters, with the universities and their colleges the property of the Churchmen, leaving the Dissenters to provide in several of their Academies a university-level education which well bore comparison with that offered in most Oxbridge colleges, and was often more wide-ranging.

The “long eighteenth century”: Rustat’s benefaction in 1671 to the start of Morgan’s Tutorship in 1863

In 1671 at what, though the benefactor could not have known, was a critical point in its history, the College received from another faithful royalist its most substantial benefaction since its foundation, one which for close on two hundred years was to reinforce its character as a seminary for Anglican clergy and a home for those – who while they remained unmarried – went on to serve local parishes, in nine of which the College appointed the vicar, usually from among its Fellows.

Tobias Rustat, Gentleman of the Robes to Charles II, whose loyalty as a personal attendant of the king throughout the long years of his exile had been well rewarded, established a permanent trust fund for scholarships for eight sons of deceased (and conforming) Church of England clergyman to enable them to study in the College and to remain until they had obtained their M.A. , by which time they could, if they wished, have followed in their fathers’ footsteps and been ordained. He supplemented it with another fund to maintain their widowed mothers who might otherwise have needed their sons to go out to work to support them. The College managed the Rustat estates well, so that by 1769 it was possible to increase the number of scholarships from eight to eleven and, effectively, to double their value, while fifty years later there were fourteen and, in the 1860’s, seventeen of them. Rustat’s example was followed by other benefactors who established similar scholarships for the sons of living clergymen. During the next three-and-a-half centuries these endowments brought close on 800 sons of the clergy to the College (more than 350 of them before 1861, when Rustat’s restriction to clergy orphans was removed). Well over half of them were in their turn ordained. Some dozens became Fellows, and one of them Master: Lynford Caryl, the most energetic of all the College’s eighteenth-century Masters, while others of them were to endow further scholarships. They constituted a distinctive society within the College, with its own officers, gowns and annual wine party or feast at which formal orations were delivered and toasts (and sometimes substantial quantities of punch) were drunk. The most famous Rustat Scholar – and probably the most remarkable of all the College’s students, albeit a very restless one – was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet, philosopher, literary critic and much else, who named his eldest son after another Rustat Scholar, David Hartley, philosopher and physician, and author of the influential Observations on Man (1749). And Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy (1760–67), was sent to the College (as is his novel’s hero) by his clergyman uncle, and held another of the scholarship, one established by his great-grandfather, the archbishop.

Without all these Scholars, many of whom first came as sizars (some from other colleges) in the hope of being elected to such a scholarship, Jesus would have been an even smaller and more inconsiderable place than it was. (Entirely appropriately, Tobias Rustat’s portrait enjoyed during these years pride of place in the Hall – between those of two archbishops, Cranmer and Sterne.) In 1679 the fourth Master in forty-six years – twenty-eight if those of the Civil War and Commonwealth are discounted – had been promoted to the headship of another, and more prestigious, college. A different future awaited the Master, appointed in 1701: Charles Ashton remained in office until his death fifty-one years later. A High Tory, his hopes of preferment were shattered when Queen Anne died and the Whigs returned to, and stayed in, power. (It might have been some consolation for him to know that two of his pupils – Thomas Herring and Matthew Hutton – were to become archbishops of Canterbury, albeit that they had first gone to fellowships in other colleges and were churchmen of a very different sort.) The best known scientist and the best known mathematician associated with the College curing this period – John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, and the algebraist Joseph Raphson – were neither students nor Fellows but had been admitted in order that they might obtain, without examination, the degrees they richly deserved and royal mandates had instructed the University to confer on them.

With rarely more than thirty students and a handful of Fellows in residence at any one time, there was little call (and little money) during “the long eighteenth century” for new buildings, but the College’s unfashionable, irregular, medieval appearance was mitigated by various “improvements”. Wrought iron gates supported by elegant piers were installed at the entrance from the street and the Hall was panelled (1703), as later was the Fellows’ Combination Room (1764) and the inner Chapel (1790). The cloisters were rebuilt and opened out to give more light and air, and a degree of symmetry was given to the entrance court by moving to a central position the ornate early sixteenth-century doorway into them (1765). And then the mullioned windows facing the street were replaced by fashionable sashed ones and the Tudor brick chimneys taken down (1791), and the Hall’s windows enlarged (1801). All except the Chapel panelling and the sash-windows remain, contributing greatly to the College’s present-day appearance, and strongly influencing the architectural character of almost all the buildings erected in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In the years between 1785 and 1820, first an ambitious Master (Richard Beadon) and then a group of unusually able and active Fellows drew attention (not all of it welcome) and a larger number of students to the College. Several Fellows moved (as did the young Coleridge) from Anglican to Unitarian beliefs and they actively supported the campaign to end the exclusion of protestant Dissenters from the University’s degrees and college fellowships, though it was to be sixty years before this campaign succeeded. Nor did some of them hide their sympathy for the French Revolution and their opposition to the war against France. The most notable and influential of the Fellows of these years was the pioneering economist – though economics was not part of the University’s curriculum – T.R. Malthus, whose Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) generated debates that still continue. (Another clergyman’s son, he had, notwithstanding that, previously been a pupil at a Dissenting Academy where he was taught by Gilbert Wakefield, a former Fellow and avowed Unitarian, the finest classical scholar to emerge from the College before the twentieth century). Quite the most prolific writer among them, however, was E.D.Clarke (another Rustat Scholar), an adventurous and enterprising traveller and collector and man of many parts. But this lively, expanding College was shortlived, and the building of twelve additional rooms (in Pump Court) in 1822 to accommodate the increased number of pensioner students was undertaken – as had been the entrance court building of 1638–1641 – just at the moment when they began to fall away, and the College to revert to its customary role as a seminary for Anglican clergy, its students largely recruited from clerical families. (Few of them, however, entered as sizars. The domestic needs of both Fellows and students were now being met by servants from the town.)

During these years Chapel services were austerely simple: the organ had long since ceased to be used and had been sold. So it is scarcely surprising that as “the long eighteenth century” was drawing to a close, the College should (in the years 1845 to 1849) have been devoting much energy (and the proceeds of various bequests) to the restoration of its Chapel in accordance with the ideals of the Oxford Tractarians and the ecclesiological principles of the Cambridge Camden Society, ridding it of the partitions, false ceilings and classical dress that it had received in 1788-90 in an attempt to combat the severity of eighteenth-century winters. After initially employing the early, rather grim, Gothic revivalist architect, Salvin, the College was persuaded by a wealthy Fellow Commoner (John Sutton) to replace him by the brilliant Pugin, fresh from his triumphs at the new Houses of Parliament. Pugin re-created the Early English features – notably the beautiful eastern lancet windows and roof – of the chancel of the nunnery’s church, and furnished it with choir-stalls, screen and organ case modelled on, but far grander than, those given it at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Sutton paying for much of the work. And a choir-school (also financed and run by Sutton) was established so that the Chapel services might be sung in a manner worthy of the restored building. The restoration of the entire chapel was to take almost thirty years (until 1876) to complete – with the aid of the architect G.F. Bodley, and the artists William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown. The result was as fine a collection of Victorian church furnishings, stained glass and interior decoration as is to be found in any church of comparable size. After nearly 250 years the vandalism of 1642 had been more than made good.

Morgan’s college: 1863-1945

In the twenty-two years from 1863 to 1885 the College changed from being one of the smallest and poorest in Cambridge to being one of the largest and most prosperous: between 1875 and 1881 it was the third largest in the University (exceeded only by Trinity and St John’s), in the latter year having 216 undergraduates, seven times as many as twenty years earlier. This transformation was almost exclusively the work of one man, Henry Arthur Morgan, another clergyman’s son, who when he came to the College in 1850 had found himself one of just 32 undergraduates, 14 of them Rustat Scholars. (The College had in all 51 scholarships, of varying value, so some needy undergraduates were helped by being given more than one.) Morgan had a successful, but not distinguished, undergraduate career and remained in Cambridge teaching mathematics while waiting for a fellowship, which came in 1860. Three years later he was appointed the Tutor – with so few students the College now needed only one – and was among the first in Cambridge to recognise how the University, and in particular his College, might help meet the new and growing demand for some sort of university education for the sons of the expanding and prospering professional and middle-class families of mid-Victorian Britain. Many of them would have attended one of the reformed, or newly established, “public schools” and might well not be contemplating a career in the Church or schoolmastering, professions that continued into the early twentieth century to be closely linked. Since 1856 it had been possible for those who were not Anglicans to obtain a B.A. degree, and in 1871 an Act of Parliament was to open all university degrees (except those in divinity), and all college fellowships, to them, thus allowing the ancient universities and their colleges to regain their status as national institutions which they had lost in the later seventeenth century. At the same time the University’s curriculum was gradually being widened: undergraduates were no longer restricted to mathematics and classics: natural sciences, moral and political philosophy and economy, history, law and divinity might now be studied (though English literature, modern languages, and much else, would have to wait until the twentieth century).

Morgan, a man of the stuff of which successful Victorian public school headmasters were made, and blessed with a good business sense – Tutors continued to have a strong financial interest in the number of pupils they could attract – grasped these opportunities. During his twenty-two years as Tutor, close on 1200 undergraduates were admitted to the College, and to house many of them two large buildings were erected: the first (designed by Waterhouse) in 1869-70, funded by borrowing from the Rustat Trust’s reserves; the second (designed by Carpenter) in 1885-86, utilising the proceeds of the compulsory purchase for railways of College owned land. A lecture hall was also built (1875, demolished 1962), for undergraduate lectures continued to be seen, as they had been for two hundred years, as a college, rather than a university, responsibility, and the Hall was enlarged (1875). And during his twenty-seven years as Master (1885-1912) – the first to be elected by the Fellows rather than appointed by the bishop of Ely, and the first not to combine the Mastership with another church appointment – a further 1350 undergraduates (though they were quite considerable fluctuations from year to year) were to be admitted and benefit from this building programme. Helped financially by the development for housing of large areas of the College’s land around Cambridge, sheltering it from the worst effects of the agricultural depression of the later nineteenth century, and by there being plenty of space within the College’s own precincts for new buildings, it was, nonetheless, a notable and lasting achievement to which the present day College – and its position within the University – owes much. Morgan was assisted by another, unrelated, Morgan (E.H.): Dean from 1866 and a Tutor from 1882, the two being thereafter known respectively as the Senior and the Junior Tutor (or, less respectfully and for much longer, as Black Morgan and Red Morgan). But there were never more than two other Fellows in residence, and often the two Morgans ran the place by themselves. The Master from 1849 to 1885 (G.E. Corrie), though earlier a successful Tutor of St Catharine’s College was, by the time of his promotion, a tired man, in indifferent health (living, however, to be 92). Of inflexibly conservative and ultra-protestant principles he was out of sympathy with the high ritualism of Chapel services favoured by the few resident Fellows of the 1850s, and spent half the year at his parish in the north Cambridgeshire fens, where he was rural dean. He was already 70 when H.A. Morgan became Tutor in 1863 and did not impede his plans for the College’s expansion as he had earlier sought to obstruct both the two Royal Commissions appointed to modernise University and college statutes, and permit the admission of non-Anglicans.

The education offered during these years to most of the students was, it must be conceded, not of a very exalted or exacting character, and the College’s sporting prowess in inter-collegiate contests, and particularly on the river, which Morgan fostered, attracted much more attention than any academic distinction it possessed. The College Close which had previously been rented out to a local farmer, or to the College cook as a kitchen garden, was now used for cricket, football and tennis. And increased numbers facilitated the founding of lively (indeed, often rowdy) sporting, dining, social and debating clubs, a college magazine and the cultivation of college “traditions”. Of the 1200 undergraduates admitted during his Tutorship – two thirds of them from the public schools, more than a third left Cambridge without any degree, and only a quarter of those who graduated (distinguished from the rest as “reading men”) took an honours degree: the others were “pass men”. And most of the “reading men”, for whom success in the University’s Tripos examinations was vital for their future careers, had to find teachers (“coaches”) for themselves outside the College, though a small library was established for their benefit, and prizes were endowed to encourage them. So the College’s role as a finishing school was once again (as it had been between 1565 and 1680) a significant one. It persisted until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Its other role, as a seminary for Anglican clergy also continued, incompatible as the two roles may seem to have been, an incompatibility leading to the establishment during these years of diocesan theological colleges to which intending ordinands went after graduating. Thirty per cent (391) of the undergraduates admitted while Morgan was Tutor were clergymen’s sons, and just one in three (more than 400) took Holy Orders. During his Mastership the proportion fell to one in five, but it was still as high as in any Cambridge College. And theology was the subject taught by the first of the Fellows (F.J. Foakes-Jackson 1895-1916) to gain a University-wide reputation as an effective and successful teacher and lecturer, and that for which the College’s first graduate studentships were established (1890).

Measures to end the rule that Fellows must be celibate, and the notion that Fellowships were prizes, not career jobs (which now survives only in the small number of limited tenure “research fellowships”) began in 1882. (All but one of the Fellows were married within the year.) But it was not until after the First World War (1914-18) – in the wake of which the first students with government grants (ex-servicemen) came to Cambridge – that the College at last acquired a staff of specialist teaching Fellows for each of the main subject areas, reflecting the division of responsibility which, since 1922, has characterised the “Cambridge system”. The University provides lectures and laboratory teaching, and research libraries, the colleges (which continue to control the admission of undergraduates) the small group teaching (“supervisions”), though its mostly the same people who do both sorts of teaching. (In the development of the English Faculty a large part was played by two Jesus Fellows (Quiller-Couch and Tillyard) and their pupils.) And it’s the colleges that also provide residential accommodation, catering facilities and other social amenities including sports grounds.

During the inter-war years the College usually had about 300 students in residence – nearly half as many again as in Morgan’s time – and another building (designed by Morley Horder) with 50 spacious sets of rooms was erected (1929-30) to help house them. Financed by a bequest and the sale of the freehold of the University Arms Hotel, this building completed the third of the College’s five three-sided courts which spread outwards in almost every direction from the core of medieval buildings surrounding the nunnery’s cloisters. In sixty years the number of student rooms had been more than quadrupled: from fewer than 40 to over 170. Most undergraduates had still, however, to spend a year or two (usually their first) in lodgings managed by University-licensed “lodging-house Keepers” in neighbouring streets.

The present-day College: 1945-

The College’s history since 1945, unquestionably one of steady and inexorable growth in numbers, buildings and academic distinction, is also one of profound change in its character and function, reflecting and paralleling that of the University. Its role as a finishing school was finally ended by the University’s insistence that all undergraduates should read for an honours’ degree, itself a natural consequence of the implementation of the 1944 Education Act’s scheme for central and local government scholarships and means-tested maintenance grants for all who gained admission to a first degree course. This made a Cambridge degree affordable by anyone minded to seek a place and able and lucky enough to do so in what was, as a result, to become an increasingly competitive admissions process. And its function as a seminary for Anglican clergy faded away, leaving it an essentially secular institution with only tenuous links to the Church, its Chapel now on the periphery rather than at the centre of the College’s life – the long term consequence of the nineteenth century’s reforming legislation, and of changes in religious belief and practice throughout Britain.

The increase in the College’s size is striking. In 1926 there had been 16 Fellows (the same number as in 1559), by 1958 there were twice as many, and by 1988 the numbers had doubled again (to 60), and in 2011 stands at 88. This is less a reflection of the increase in the number of undergraduates, which has been much smaller and far from on the scale of Morgan’s Tutorship, than of changes in the duties attaching to the posts held by most Fellows in the University’s Faculties, Departments and Institutes where their research and teaching has not only become their primary concern but also much more specialised, leaving them less opportunity for supervision teaching and other roles within the College. But the academic distinction (as well as the cosmopolitan character) of the Fellows (and Masters) since 1945, and the number of books and papers they have published has been something new in the College’s history. More than twenty have also been Fellows of the Royal Society or of the British Academy.

Among students the great increase in number has been in graduates and those doing research, not in undergraduates. By 1958 the number of undergraduates had risen only twenty percent over pre-War levels (to 360), and fifty years later (2010) was about 480 – rather more a consequence of those following four- (rather than three-) year degree courses than in the numbers admitted each year. In 1958 there had been fewer than 50 graduate and research students, by 1978 there were more than 80, and by 1988 over 150 – a figure which has almost doubled since. So now one in three Jesus students is a graduate, the large majority from other – and overseas – universities, and many following courses that last only a year. Their experience, and their expectations, of Cambridge and the College have been, therefore, very different from those of undergraduates. But with these graduate students the College may, perhaps, be seen to be returning to its sixteenth-century origins, for then its Fellows were graduate students, not university teachers.

The admission of women to the College, hitherto a male preserve, which, extraordinary as it now seems, did not occur until the late 1970s – Fellows in 1976, graduate students in 1977, undergraduates in 1979 – was, by contrast, a dramatic departure from its past. Jesus was not among the first, but it was far from being the last, of the older Cambridge colleges to admit women. The change was one factor contributing to the growth of the Fellowship and, more markedly, to the increase in graduate students and the stiffening competition for undergraduate places and the rising of admissions’ standards. But it made little other alteration to the College’s established academic character, while greatly enriching its social and cultural life. In 2011, 24 of the 88 Fellows, and more than forty-five percent of the students, were women. Two other developments have also notably enriched the extra-curricular life of the College: in the quality and amount of music, both sacred and secular, performed, with the elaborate choral services of the Chapel rivalling those of the internationally renowned colleges, King’s and St John’s; and in the regular mounting of exhibitions of contemporary art, particularly sculpture.

More Fellows and more students has meant still more buildings: one, North Court (designed by David Roberts), with 72 rooms on an ingenious plan, and the only major building not to be patterned on those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was erected in 1962-64; and a second (by Evans and Shalev) with 60 rooms on five staircases in 2000. This, with a new Library and Computer Centre (by the same architects) built in 1994-95, forms the fifth of the College’s three-sided courts. All these buildings were largely paid for by former students in response to appeals made to them: a return to the practice of the seventeenth century. And in the intervening years an extensive programme of adapting and modernising houses in adjoining streets that had previously been lodging houses, or the homes of College servants was undertaken, enabling all undergraduates and four-fifths of graduate students to live in accommodation directly managed by the College.

This extensive (and expensive) undertaking was, however, financed not by appeals but from the College’s endowment income, the clearest indication yet of how fundamentally different the present-day College is from that of the past. Previously the College – a charitable corporation – had been seen as existing for the benefit, and in particular, the career-advancement, of the 16 Fellows and the 15 Scholars whom, since 1559, it had been obliged to maintain. Everyone else – that is, the Fellow-Commoners and the pensioners, as well as those Scholars and Exhibitioners supported by other trust funds (of which the Rustat was quite the most important) – were just paying guests (hence the term “pensioner”), the full cost of whose residence and education had to be met from other sources: a principle, applying to all colleges, affirmed by the Royal Commission of 1922. The huge increase in the number of pensioner undergraduates during Morgan’s Tutorship, and its accompanying building programme, a response to external demand, was seen within the College as a means of augmenting both its endowment income and the fees that could be earned by Fellows willing to teach them. Even before the Second World War this theory had begun to lose touch with reality; after it the two parted company completely. Most Fellows were now career academics with most of their salaries paid by the University not the College, while the 1944 Education Act’s scheme for government grants for all first-degree students rendered every type of scholarship and exhibition irrelevant – they have been transmuted into (modest) prizes for high achievement in University examinations. The income from the College’s endowments and trust funds now came, therefore, to be seen as there for the benefit of everyone the College admitted to study and to research. Most of the endowment income has been (and is) absorbed in maintaining the large estate of College buildings, several of them ancient, in which Fellows and student live and work, and in extending the social and recreational amenities provided for them. Fees and charges were (and are) thus kept at lower levels than would otherwise have been possible, the studies and research of all its members being substantially subsidised by the College’s endowment income. And those in exceptional need of additional financial support are also given grants – from both the historic trust funds and endowment income and, since the early 2000s, from appeals made to former students.

The extensive government support of universities and their students, at its greatest between 1955 and 1980, had indirectly benefitted the College and stimulated its growth, but it proved to be only a temporary, because economically unsustainable, phenomenon. In 2011 the College was (and expected to continue to be) financially dependent on a combination of income from three sources: its historic endowments, the fees and charges paid by students, and the regular (rather than occasional) gifts of benefactors, in particular of its graduates.

Further Reading:
Peter Glazebrook (ed.) Jesus – The Life of a Cambridge College (2007)

April 2011