History of the College

Emmanuel College was founded by Sir Walter Mildmay, on the site of a thirteenth-century Dominican Priory. It admitted 20 students to the new establishment in 1584.

The Dominican buildings were adapted into accommodation, and the monks' chapel into the dining hall. On its foundation, Sir Walter intended Emmanuel to educate Protestant preachers. In this way, the College was distinctive from others across Cambridge at the time. It grew so rapidly that, by the 1620s, it was the University's largest college.

The College continued to expand, and developed into a centre of humanist & latitudinarian study. During the sixteenth century, the Chapel was replaced by the elegant Classical Revival building. Changes were also made to the College Statutes. The original chapel — adapted from the monks' refectory — was converted into the Library in 1680.

The seventeenth century was a series of very significant years, as the appearance & layout of the College changed dramatically. The buildings were reorientated from largely Elizabethan ranges to a new 'court' layout. The new Chapel a feature of the new entrance on St Andrew's Street. This elegant transformation led to an influx of distinguished students to Emmanuel. These include the polymath — "the last man who knew everything" — Thomas Young, Busick Harwood, and Sir William Gell. Harwood was the first Professor of Medicine at Downing College, and Gell's topographical work on Pompeii was widely studied.

Although a fire gutted the entire southern range of Front Court in 1811 — it was subsequently rebuilt — applications continued to rise. Due to the increase in students numbers by 1820, new accommodation was constructed in New Court, in the neo-Gothic style. Changes were introduced to conditions for Fellows in the College Statutes. The requirement of ordination was abolished, and restrictions for marital status & scholarship competition removed.

Over the rest of the nineteenth century, the average number of undergraduates almost tripled from 65 to 165. There was also a significant increase in students taking Honours degrees. The Hostel was constructed as a new accommodation block, in a new wave of building work. It then expanded to almost double its original size between 1886 & 1889. College sport also boomed, starting with the foundation of the Boat Club in the 1820s. The Cricket Club was founded in 1834, and the Football, Athletics, Tennis & Hockey Clubs established between 1880 & 1900. The sporting 'colours' were debated & decided by the Boat Club in 1851: rose pink & dark blue. These proved of enduring significance, as the College uses these colours to the present day.

Emmanuel's confidence & prosperity at this time was reflected in the design of the new North Court. This was built in 1909–1914 by the popular architect Leonard Stokes. The New Lecture Rooms (now the Library) were also constructed by Stokes. Our first twentieth–century Master, William Chawner, was also our first non–clerical Head of House. In both WWI & WWII, the College's life was characterised by use of rooms by various regiments. There were also significant reductions in student, staff & Fellowship numbers due to both wars. With the onset of rationing, the community ended up growing vegetables in neat plots on the Paddock!

The rest of the twentieth century has been described as relatively 'serene'. New research students were admitted, and there was a growing number of Fellows & other teaching staff, as well as students. These people expanded the experiences & backgrounds of the inclusive College community. The first female undergraduates were admitted in 1979, with postgraduate women in the mid–'70s. Four new buildings (including the new Kitchens) constructed in the last half of the century. During this time the College also produced three Nobel Prize winners from the Fellowship. Frederick Gowland Hopkins — pioneer in the discovery of vitamins — was awarded the Prize for Physiology & Medicine in 1929. Ronald Norrish & George Porter were jointly awarded the prize for Chemistry for their collaborative work in flash photolysis in 1967.

Emmanuel continues to thrive, with over 650 under- & postgraduates, nearly 100 Fellows, and 150 staff. We are an academic centre of international repute, attracting the best entrants, and academics of the highest ranks. Our community of students work hard, take advantage of the diverse collegiate community, and achieve great success.

We equip every member of our community with the knowledge & skills they need to flourish, for life. This philosophy stems from and continues Sir Walter's intentions when awarded the Royal Charter in 1584. He stated: "I have planted an acorn, which, when it becomes an oak, God alone knows what will be the fruit thereof".