explore Swannet

Image for the news item 'Swannet' on 23 Jul 2020
The swans who inspired Swannet

Emma member, Greg Spiro (1966)'s poem - Swannet - was recently shortlisted for the Fish Publishing Lockdown Poetry Prize, which asked for poetic personal responses to the lockdown in no more than 19 lines.  Here, he kindly shares his successful poem with us, as well as explaining the inspiration behind it.  

It was a sad March day when London Wildlife Trust announced the temporary closure of Woodberry Wetlands. The path was deemed too narrow for social distancing and its popular Coal Cafe also had to close its doors. In 2016 Sir David Attenborough had opened the old reservoir, closed for 200 years, as a Wetlands Centre between Finsbury Park and Stoke Newington. Hackney Council and Berkeley Homes are pursuing London’s largest regeneration project building flats alongside an urban wildlife corridor. Yes, this is gentrification on a massive scale yet we have a diverse community and an enviable experience of a natural world instead of more traffic and shops. Look at a map and you’ll see our watery doorsteps -  two vast reservoirs, a sailing lake to the West and a haven for waterfowl in a reedy environment to the east.

We had recently relocated to a ground floor flat overlooking the Wetlands Reserve.  Our disappointment at closure was mitigated by the path that borders the narrow River New just metres away from the reservoir. We could walk our dog and join the community of swan, coot, moorhen, duck and geese watchers for whom the breeding season this year has aroused intense interest perhaps as consolation for having our own wings clipped for lockdown. Wildlife has largely thrived and the daily activity of water birds creating and feeding their young has been informative and emotional. These creatures are extraordinarily diligent in attending to their families. It has helped us to suspend our own anxieties, providing a living experience of  functioning nature in an open air classroom for parents, grandparents and their curious children. Of course there have been moments when seven cygnets become six and only nine of twelve ducklings can be counted ‘today’, a salutary reminder that nature favours safety in numbers and comes with harsh realities.  Happily the Wetlands reopened on 15 July following a community fundraiser. All this has been the inspiration for my poem Swannet:

Throned on last years nest, eggs descended,

Her neck charmed by the reeds to coil

Among them while her cob forages a few feet away,

Refurbishment the task from which they do not stray.

We onlookers on the pilgrim-punctuated path 

Cast peas, potato peels and too much bread.

Clicking like well-intentioned paparazzi

Marshalled by an eight year old, “Two metres please.”

Her sibling pleads indignantly, “Why can’t I play football on the grass!”

Brushed by sweating runners as if speed defies effect

We shuffle nervously to adjust our line.

Suddenly, she’s fending off a rat attack, wings raised,

A gasp till eggs all counted and regained,

Their living has become our life-sustaining aim.

Short-listed for Fish Publishing Lockdown Prize

 ©Greg SpiroLondonJune 2020

Image for the news item 'A Tree from the Dawn of Time ' on 23 Jul 2020
Top row: Dawn Redwood tree in Chapman's Garden. Bottom row, left to right: Dawn Redwood close-up; Emma Fellows - In this photo, taken in Front Court in 1941, Professor Frederick Brooks is on the extreme right, James Line on the extreme left

In the grounds of Emmanuel College there can be found a most remarkable tree. Next to the pond in Chapman’s Garden is a tall, alien-looking conifer with a deeply fissured trunk, its branches bearing soft green needles that turn a beautiful shade of reddish-brown in autumn. Planted in the late 1940s, it is a majestic representative of the species Metasequoia glyptostroboides, whose common name, the Dawn Redwood, reflects its ancient origins. Once a familiar sight throughout the northern hemisphere, Metasequoias were thought to have become extinct about five million years ago. Then, in 1941, a few living examples were discovered in a remote part of China. Nothing more could be done until after the Second World War, but in the autumn of 1947 a large quantity of seeds was collected from the trees. Most were sent to the USA, but a small cache came into the hands of Dr Ronald Silow, a botanist who had worked in Cambridge before going out to China in 1947. He forwarded the seeds to Frederick Brooks, a graduate and Fellow of Emmanuel College, and Professor of Botany at Cambridge University.

Professor Brooks took the seeds to the Cambridge Botanic Garden early in March 1948. They ‘germinated freely’ and in January 1949 the Botanic Garden planted out three seedlings in their grounds, one of which survives. This tree is said to have been the first specimen of Metasequoia glyptostroboides planted on British soil, and as such it features in several books on famous trees. It could be argued, though, that Emmanuel’s Dawn Redwood trees (for we have two) are almost equally venerable, for they too were grown from Professor Brooks’ batch of seeds, as was the Metasequoia in the Fellows’ garden at Clare College.

Emma’s trees were probably planted out in March 1949; not by Professor Brooks himself, but by his colleague James Line, who was also an Emmanuel Fellow and a botanist. The college Magazine issued in the summer of 1950 informed members that ‘two specimens of the newly discovered Chinese conifer Metasequoia glyptostroboides which were obtained by Professor Brooks are now rapidly shooting up by the pond in Chapman’s Garden’. In the autumn of 1953 the smaller of the two trees was moved to a new site in the Paddock, near the Squash Court.

In its natural habitat the Dawn Redwood is a critically endangered species, so we are privileged to be able to view two fine specimens in the college gardens. Professor Brooks did not live to see his trees grow to maturity, for he died in 1952, but his arboreal legacy will surely enthrall many future generations of Emmanuelians.

Amanda Goode, College Archivist

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week: Emmanuel and the Cambridge Platonists' on 23 Jul 2020
Top row: left to right, Benjamin Whichcote, Twelve Sermons (1721); Ralph Cudworth, The Union of Christ and the Church in a Shadow (1642); John Worthington, The Duty of Self-Resignation to the Divine Will (1675); Nathaniel Culverwell, An Elegant and Learned Discourse of the Light of Nature (1652). Bottom Row: Left, Benjamin Whichcote, portrait by Mary Beale, signed and dated 1682 (in the College’s collection); Right, Ralph Cudworth, portrait copied by Joseph Freeman, 1781 (in the College’s collection)

The group of seventeenth-century thinkers now called ‘The Cambridge Platonists’ might equally well have been called ‘The Emmanuel Platonists’ since all but one of its principal figures were students and Fellows at Emmanuel. In their lifetimes they did not think of themselves as a group or movement, did not call themselves Platonists, and much of their work was only published posthumously. But by the eighteenth century they had been christened the ‘Cambridge Platonists’, and their contribution to moral philosophy is a major source for modern ethical theory and ideas of tolerance. They were the first philosophers to write primarily and consistently in the English language, and they coined such terms as ‘materialism’ and ‘consciousness’. Their views were developed in reaction to the stern Calvinistic scholasticism prevailing at Cambridge in their formative years. They held Plato and Plotinus in great regard, and their respect for ancient philosophy convinced them of the eternal existence of moral principles and truth. They were very up-to-date with developments in philosophy, reading Descartes and Spinoza, but rejecting the new mechanistic natural philosophy and repudiating Hobbes. They were convinced of the compatibility of reason and faith, and did not accept that ritual, church government, or detailed dogma were essentials of Christianity. They did not live apart from their times. Two of the Emmanuel Platonists, Whichcote and Cudworth, were on the committee of sixteen divines with whose advice Cromwell decided on the readmission of the Jews to England in 1655. Protestant Emmanuel was a source of substitutes when Royalist heads of Cambridge colleges were ejected by the Cromwellians: Whichcote and Worthington were appointed at King’s and Jesus (and were then in turn ejected at the restoration of Charles II); Cudworth was appointed at Clare but resigned early, allegedly because Clare would not pay him.

Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683) was the earliest of the ‘Platonists’, but the main source for his tolerant, optimistic and rational philosophical views are his posthumously published sermons, which amount to a consistent body of ethical teachings. For Whichcote, human nature is rational and perfectible, and God communicates with man as much through reason as through revelation. Like other Emmanuel Platonists, Whichcote emphasises interior spirituality over the externals of religion (which, of course, offended those who prized the latter). Whichcote’s Emmanuel pupil John Worthington (1618-1671) was an active translator and editor of philosophical works.

Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688) was perhaps the most significant of the group, publishing major work in his lifetime, although important material remains unpublished in manuscript. For Cudworth, as for Plato, soul is ontologically prior to the physical world. Mind precedes the world, and ideas and moral principles are eternal and self-subsistent things. Since our minds mirror the mind of God we are furnished with the ability to reason, and Cudworth posits a ‘Plastic Nature’ that acts as an intermediary between the divine and the natural world, through which God makes his wisdom and goodness intelligible through created nature. Much to his disgust, Cudworth’s refutations of atheism in his The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678) were criticised for showing too much tolerance, with a supposedly  crypto-atheistic intent. His daughter Damaris Cudworth (1659-1708) may be seen as one of the early women writers of philosophy in England. She was a friend of John Locke, corresponded with Leibniz, and, despite chronic eyesight problems, published two books: A Discourse concerning the Love of God (1696) and Thoughts in reference to a Vertuous or Christian Life (1705). Her thinking is a mix of her father’s Platonism, Lockean theories and arguments, and her own proto-feminist advocacy of education for women and a life of reason.

The short life of another Emmanuel Platonist, Nathaniel Culverwell (1619-1651) meant that his important Discourse was published posthumously. The Discourse resonates with the humanist spirit and liberal theological outlook of Whichcote. Culverwell conceives of God as an intellectual being who communicates with man through reason which is the ‘light of nature’, an ‘intellectual lamp’ placed by God in the human soul. Culverwell is optimistic about human capacities, seeing all human minds as furnished with ‘clear and indelible’ principles of reason and morality, such that we become more like God through the exercise of reason. The College Library’s copy of Culverwell’s Discourse has been dedicated by its donor in an inscription to the Master ‘and to the Fellows of that religious and happy foundation’.

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'A creative writing prompt... from Dr Rosy Thornton' on 9 Jul 2020

Over the past 12 weeks, the lower levels of traffic, aircraft and other human noise has made many of us more attentive than usual to the sound of birdsong. But the rich texture and variety of the dawn chorus is notoriously difficult to reduce to words. Browning wisely didn’t try – he left the thrush to do his own recapturing – but every morning at 05:58 or thereabouts on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Tweet of the Day’ some brave naturalist, broadcaster or writer has a go at describing the churrings and chatterings of their chosen species. Some attempt phonetic rendition, while others resort to metaphor, from the mundane to the fanciful. Here is nature writer Mark Cocker comparing the song of the wood warbler to a coin spinning round on a metal top:

So here’s your writing exercise: choose the song of a common bird and try to find ways of describing the sound.

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week: William Bedell, a pioneer of tolerance' on 9 Jul 2020
Top row: Pages and detail from William Bedell’s Hebrew Bible (Emmanuel MSS 5, 6, 7). Bottom row, left to right: The Books of the Old Testament Translated into Irish (London, 1685); The ABC opened to show parallel texts of the Creed in English and Irish; The ABC, or The Institution of a Christian (Dublin, 1631).

Three rare books in Emmanuel Library witness to the legacy of a life that represents a remarkable openness to other cultures.

William Bedell (1571-1641) came to Emmanuel as a student in the year of its foundation, 1584. He was partially deaf. By 1592 he was a Fellow and by 1597 ordained; he later left, as the Founder intended, to take up the ministry. By 1607 he was chaplain to the English ambassador to Venice. It was an exciting time for an English Protestant to be in Venice, since the Serene Republic’s decidedly unserene relations with the Papacy at this period made Protestants dare to hope that Venice too would throw off the shackles of papal authority. Bedell much admired the beautiful Venetian churches and spectacular ecclesiastical ceremonies, and his affection for Venice always moderated his staunchly Protestant criticisms of Roman Catholicism. It was in Venice that Bedell took Hebrew lessons from a prominent rabbi of the Venetian ghetto, Rabbi Leo da Modena, and at this time that Bedell acquired – reputedly for its weight in silver – the splendid thirteenth-century Hebrew Bible that he would later bequeath to Emmanuel.

After returning to his parish duties near Bury St Edmunds, Bedell reluctantly accepted appointment in 1627 as Provost of Trinity College Dublin. Here he controversially instituted frequent lectures in the Irish language and began his own study of Irish, intent on bringing the reformed faith to the Irish in their own tongue. Neither Bedell nor his wife had wanted to leave the safety and comfort of Suffolk for Ireland – and there was no financial incentive – but Bedell felt it was his duty. In 1629 he was appointed Bishop of Kilmore in Co. Cavan, a predominantly Gaelic-speaking area. Bedell published a bilingual catechism with parallel English and Irish texts (Dublin, 1631), and Emmanuel possesses in Archbishop Sancroft’s library one of the only two known copies surviving of this little book. Bedell also worked on a translation of the Old Testament into Irish, the bulk of which was prepared under his direction and with his assistance. It was published posthumously in 1685 and long remained the only translation.

Although so staunchly Protestant, Bedell was comparatively liberal in Ireland: he believed souls should be won by persuasion, and was respected by both Protestants and Roman Catholics for his opposition to corruption in the Church of Ireland and his concern for the spiritual welfare of Irish people. At a time when most Protestants thought the Irish language should be stamped out, Bedell’s catechism and Old Testament show him respecting, accepting and adapting to the culture in which he found himself.

In the Irish rising of 1641 Bedell was evicted from Kilmore by the rebels and his library and effects were burned (his Hebrew Bible being saved by a grateful admirer). During an unusually severe winter he was confined for several weeks on the derelict island-fortress of Clough Oughter. This broke his health and he died soon afterwards. As a sign of respect the rebels provided a military escort for his funeral cortege and fired a volley over the grave, pronouncing the ambivalent epitaph:

                           ‘Requiescat in pace ultimus Anglorum’

                  [Rest in peace, ultimate – best? last? – of the English]. 

(Bedell’s Hebrew Bible has recently been digitized as part of an ambitious project by The National Library of Israel to digitize all Hebrew manuscripts).


Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'What to do about all the plastic bottles?' on 9 Jul 2020

Anthony Newman (1991) is the founder of Ape2o, a business with an environmental focus. Here, he tells us about what inspired him to tackle the planet's plastic problem, and how Ape2o is aiming to provide the solution. 

My name is Anthony Newman (matric. 1991) and I have fond memories of my time at Emma studying Economics. We were all blessed with great tutors (thank you Mike Gross!), a great location and beautiful gardens.

I’ve been asked to write a short piece about how I got to run a business with environmental impact at its core. So here goes.

When I left Cambridge it’s safe to say I took the path less travelled. A ski season, followed by 10 years in the music industry releasing records (some hits, some misses), 5 years in marketing and advertising ventures learning about brands, then starting my own businesses in drinks (a functional soft drinks co themed on extreme sports and then a craft microbrewery in Tropical North Queensland).

It was in Australia where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef that I saw at first hand the plight of turtles and sea life due to plastic waste in all its forms and resolved to do something about it (having admittedly been part of the problem up until then). I spent the next 3 years after moving back to London in 2015 devising a plan to eradicate single use plastic water bottles, with the help of a great team.

Ape2o was born: the anti-plastic-bottle Water Company. It’s a pun of H2O with a proud Silverback Gorilla logo. The thinking being we should all GO APE about this situation and do something about it, each being our own Guerillas in the fight for change. But how? Or more importantly why? 

So the How is a network of public water vending machines that use micro-filtration and UV light to purify mains water (removing organic/inorganic impurities and microplastics, but keeping natural minerals) and that offer chilled and sparkling options for 25p contactless; a range of 100% plastic-free, steel refillable bottles; and a 10% promise to use 10% of all topline sales to transparently fund ocean, beach and river clean ups and anti-plastic education projects.  We currently have 4 locations – London Zoo, New Street Square & One New Change in the City, and Hampton Court. 

We plan to use a tech platform for good, with maps to find our “Big Ape” machines, for easy ordering of our “Silverback” bottles, and to relay the personal and company environmental milestones that we’re all about – i.e. plastic saved from landfill/oceans, resources saved from not making single-use bottles, clean up projects and their achievements.

The Why is…it takes a lot to change entrenched consumer behaviours, and people buy plastic bottled water because it’s damn convenient with trusted purity. But paying twice the price of petrol for it is madness. So we focus on the Why – BE a part of the solution not the problem, get swept up in this movement for change, see the results of your simple action every day multiplied by millions and how that empowers you to evangelise and tell others. Make re-use cool. Use incredible imagery of the natural world all over the Big Apes and in our socials to inspire people and connect them to good decisions and outcomes.

That’s how we go about change and building back better – the carrot can be better than the stick. I sincerely hope this “global reset” moment is not wasted . And I have to say it makes me feel great to wake up to this mission every morning. It’s incredibly inspiring and humbling. A looong way to go, but I know it’s worth it.

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week: Saint Dominic's Press' on 24 Jun 2020
Top row, left to right: Eric Gill, Dress (1921), ‘She outshines the peacock’s excess above his mate’; Hilary Pepler and Eric Gill, Nisi Dominus (1919); Pilate: A Passion Play (1928), woodcut by David Jones. Bottom row, left to right: Hilary Pepler and Eric Gill, The Way of the Cross (1920); woodcuts after Gill’s designs for his Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral; Woodcut from the cover of King George and the Turkish Knight: Old Sussex Play (1921).

As a result of the donation of the Chapman Collection of twentieth-century material, Emmanuel Library has interesting items from Saint Dominic’s Press, which was founded in 1916 in the East Sussex village of Ditchling by Hilary Pepler (1878-1951), with Eric Gill (1882-1940) providing wood engravings. This press became part of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, an artists’ colony established at Ditchling in 1921 by Pepler, Gill and Desmond Chute (though Gill left the community in 1924). The Guild espoused a communal life and self-sufficiency, based around work and faith, and their idea of a medieval guild. Their core principles were a devout Roman Catholicism, resistance to industrialization and urbanization, and a commitment to Distributism, a political movement that championed individual land ownership in rural communities and whose contemporary proponents included G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. The community had grown to 41 members by 1922 and eventually occupied a cluster of communal buildings, workshops, family homes and a chapel on the edge of Ditchling Common. The Guild was part of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and among the artists and craftsmen drawn to join were wood engravers, weavers, silversmiths, calligraphers, and artists and illustrators. A plaque produced in the community bears the self-description ‘Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses’. Men? Yes, there were no women members until the 1970s. The Guild was finally disbanded in 1989, and is now commemorated by a small museum at Ditchling.

      Key to the community was its private press of Saint Domenic’s, which printed a variety of pamphlets and books, many on religious themes, or propounding the philosophies of the artists and their theories about craftsmanship, or the failings of modernity.  A pamphlet entitled In Petra produced by Gill and Pepler in 1923 has some wood engravings by David Jones (1895-1974), and the verse that accompanies a woodcut by Jones of an aspidistra – the once-ubiquitous house-plant – perhaps can serve to catch the pietistic tone:

         God made the Aspidistra,
         A bold and bulbous weed,
         To grace the ground of Eden 
         And flourish without seed.

         When Man became respectable, 
         He stole it from the field 
         To hide his utter nakedness 
         Behind its leafy shield …

         He had an Aspidistra,
         Green in a marble bowl,
         Brass candlesticks on either side –
         By then he’d lost his soul …

         So burn your Aspidistras, 
         And vase and candlesticks, 
         Return your lace to Nottingham,
         And make a Crucifix.

       Something of the same tone figures in Gill’s 1921 pamphlet Dress: Being an Essay in Masculine Vanity and an Exposure of the Un-Christian Apparel Favoured by Females (No 7 in the bracingly-entitled ‘Welfare Handbooks’ published by the Press), which includes a woodcut by Gill on the theme ‘She outshines the Peacock’s excess above his mate’, showing a woman admiring herself in a piece of millinery worthy of Royal Ascot.  Another striking woodcut by Gill shows the Devil seated in a cart being drawn by a working man, while the artist strikes at the Devil from behind with a club so large that it breaks out of the frame of the picture.

      Pepler had a contemporary reputation as the author of mimes, and when the Press published a Sussex Mummer’s Play, King George and the Turkish Knight: Old Sussex Play (1921) it was because this was seen as ‘genuine folk drama played by the peasantry’ that was ‘undoubtedly an offshoot’ of the miracle plays put on by medieval guilds. But this was heritage that was fast disappearing and had been taken down from someone who had last participated in a performance in a Sussex village in the early 1890s.  The notes stress the play’s distance from any contemporary ideas of dramatic verisimilitude: the actors, forming a semi-circle, should each ‘march forward three paces to deliver his oration’, almost chanting their words in a monotonous sing-song with little or no expression. The Valiant Soldier can have a soldier’s red jacket, but ‘in modern representations the tunic would probably be in khaki’. The Turkish Knight is to have ‘black face and beard’  (oh dear …).

      A tiny pamphlet Concerning Dragons (1916), by Pepler and Gill, is made for child-size hands.  On the left-hand page of one opening, beneath a woodcut of a worried-looking child in bed, with an adult peeping through the bedroom door, is the rhyme:


       When Michael’s angels fought
       The dragon, was it caught? 
       Did it jump and roar?
       Oh! Nurse, don’t shut the door.
       And did it try to bite?
       Nurse, don’t blow out the light.


       Hush, thou knowest what I said,
       Saints and dragons all are dead.

On the right-hand page, beneath a woodcut of a child holding a crucifix towards a very large devil with claws, is the rhyme:

        FATHER (to himself)

       O child, Nurse lies to thee,
       For dragons thou shalt see.
       And dragons shalt thou smite –
       Let Nurse blow out the light!
       Please God that on that day
       Thou may’st a dragon slay.
       And if thou dost not faint,
       God shall not want a saint.

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'Pride Month: a message from our LGBT+ officer' on 24 Jun 2020
ECSU LGBT+ Officer Louis and his friend celebrating Cambridge Pride in 2019

Happy Pride Month everyone! As ECSU LGBT+ officer, one of my favourite memories from first year was being able to attend the first ever Cambridge Pride celebration on Jesus Green with other members of Emmanuel College. It was my first time at a pride parade, and it was so nice to see students and locals from across the city coming together to celebrate being open and proud of our identities.

Sadly, this year because of COVID-19 most pride parades have been cancelled, but we’re still finding ways to keep in touch! We students will be having an drop-in zoom call before the end of the month to celebrate pride together, and I’ve been keeping in touch with many of my LGBT+ friends through video calls and social media, and even making new ones through a CUSU LGBT+ penpal scheme.

Although it would have been nice to celebrate in the streets and parks of Cambridge once again, lockdown has been an important reminder that being LGBT+ brings a sense of community that remains just as strong even when I’m far apart from my friends. It’s also allowed me to keep in mind that pride isn’t just a public thing, but it’s also about self-love, and about gradually learning to be confident and happy with who we are as queer people, whether we’re alone, with friends, with family, or anywhere in between. I hope any LGBT+ alumni have had a lovely month!


Image for the news item ''Coronavirus' - what's in a name? ' on 23 Jun 2020
Professor Anthony Waterson, former Emmanuel student and Fellow

Reams have been written about the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease known as COVID-19, but what about the word ‘coronavirus’ itself, which was officially coined in 1968? It has been stated many times that the name comes from the Latin word corona, meaning ‘crown’ – despite the fact that the now-familiar images of the spiky, spherical virus particles, do not look remotely like crowns. The true story is a fascinating one, and involves a former Emmanuel Fellow, Professor Anthony Waterson.

Tony Waterson was admitted to Emmanuel in 1941, where he achieved a double First in the Natural Sciences Tripos. When he became liable for military service in 1943, the college fought hard, and successfully, to keep him, arguing that he was one of the ‘very best’ students and should be allowed to complete his scientific studies. Tony qualified as a doctor in 1947, and became M.D. in 1954, the same year that he returned to Emmanuel take up a Research Fellowship. He went on to become a lecturer in the Pathology Department at Cambridge, where his interest in virology was kindled.

Tony was appointed to the Chair of Medical Microbiology at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, in 1964, where one of his first acts was to headhunt a brilliant young electronmicroscopist, June Almeida, to help his team’s research into viruses. Born in Scotland, June had been working in Canada for ten years when Tony met her, and he immediately recognised the value of the techniques she had devised for identifying sub-microscopic virus particles. While working as a member of Professor Waterson’s research team, June examined under an electron microscope a sample of nasal ‘washings’ sent to her by another scientist, David Tyrell, and found it to contain a novel virus, variants of which she had come across before, although her findings had not then been widely accepted.

Now that June was sure they had indeed identified something new, she, David and Tony met in the Professor’s office, to discuss what this family of viruses should be called. As they later explained, the virus particles had a fringe of ‘rounded or petal shaped’ projections ‘recalling the solar corona’. They therefore decided that the most appropriate name would be coronavirus, to reflect this ‘characteristic appearance’. The name of the virus, then, refers to its resemblance to the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun, and has nothing to do with royal headwear.

June, David, and a small group of colleagues published their findings soon afterwards, but still needed to get formal approval for the new name from the appropriate sub-committee of the International Committee for the Nomenclature of Viruses. This did not present any difficulties, though, because the Chairman of the sub-committee was none other than…Professor Anthony Waterson!

Amanda Goode, College Archivist

Image for the news item 'A creative writing prompt... from Dr Rosy Thornton' on 23 Jun 2020

Taking advantage of the absence of undergraduates currently in residence, the College has been undertaking renovation work to some of its student accommodation. Carpenters, replacing worn floorboards in a set on the top floor of Old Court, discover hidden beneath the floor an old tobacco tin (or perhaps a Tupperware box, or leather pouch, depending on your choice of timeframe), placed there by some past resident of the room, and containing…. what? Why was it placed there, and why was it never recovered?

Image for the news item 'A creative writing prompt... from Robert Macfarlane' on 10 Jun 2020
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

We are not the first age to respond to pestilence and pandemic, nor will we be the last. The word "quarantine" comes from the Italian "quaranta", and refers to the forty-day period of isolation that was imposed on ships arriving into European ports during medieval times of plague (originally the time-period was thirty days, and the term was "trentina"). Your prompt is to write about "quarantine" and isolation in some way; now, or historically, or in an imagined future; personally or hypothetically; in a poem, a short story, an essay, or any form that seems fit to you.

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week: The Chapman Collection ' on 10 Jun 2020
Songs to Our Lady of Silence (S. Dominic’s Press, Ditchling, Sussex, 1921). Engraving by Desmond Chute; The Book of Jonah, with engravings on wood by David Jones (The Golden Cockerel Press, 1926); Spring Morning, by Frances Cornford, with woodcuts by Gwen Raverat (1915)

Complementing its collections of earlier rare books, Emmanuel Library is fortunate to have the Chapman Collection of twentieth-century items, donated by John Chapman and his wife Enfys. John Chapman (matric. 1943; died 2002) came to Emmanuel from the Leys School Cambridge, read Modern and Medieval Languages and stayed on to do a certificate in education. He sold antiquarian books and built up a personal collection of items published, some in very limited editions, by such private presses as the Golden Cockerel Press (1920-1961), the Cresset Press (1927-1966), the Rampant Lions Press (1924-2008), the Enitharmon Press (since 1967) and the Gregynog Press, together with publications about twentieth-century British artists, illustrators and engravers including Eric Gill, David Jones, Reynolds Stone, Keith Vaughan, Ivon Hitchens and Michael Ayrton.


A prevailing presence in the collection is the work as an engraver of Eric Gill (1882-1940) and those influenced by him. There are copies of Gill’s The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ (1931), Canticus canticorum (1931), The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Four Gospels (1934), along with Twenty-Five Nudes (1938), and copies of Gill’s own characteristic manifestos: The Devil’s Devices: or Control versus Service (1915), or Printing and Piety: An Essay on Life and Work in the England of 1931, and particularly Typography (1931). There is also a copy of Aldous Huxley’s Leda (1929), engraved by Gill.


The collection includes a copy of the splendid Book of Jonah (1926) with wood engravings by David Jones (1895-1974), one of the major illustrated works by someone remarkable as both poet and artist. There is also a copy of the limited edition of Jones’s The Tribune’s Visitation (1969), signed by Jones, and a first edition of his great poem In Parenthesis: seinnyessit e gledyf ym penn mameu (1937).


There are various editions of poems by Frances Cornford (1886-1960), grand-daughter of Charles Darwin and mother of the poet John Cornford (1915-1936) who was killed fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Her Spring Morning (1915) and Mountains and Molehills (1934) have woodcuts by by her cousin Gwen Raverat, and her Autumn Midnight (1923) has engraving by Eric Gill. The latter was published by the Saint Dominic’s Press which is strongly represented in the collection, including a 1926 pamphlet featuring woodcuts based on Gill’s designs for his Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral.  Later items, including works illustrated by John Piper, Michael Ayrton and Ceri Richards, mean that, thanks to John and Enfys Chapman, Emmanuel Library has strong holdings in choice twentieth-century items to set alongside its rare books from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.



Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'The future of forests' on 10 Jun 2020
Jonathan Spencer

Jonathan Spencer MBE, former Head of Environment for Forestry England, spent a term as a Derek Brewer Visiting Fellow at Emma in 2017.  The benefits for research into the future of our forests were clear.  

For those of us at the “distal” end of their career, opportunities to study at our ancient Universities are really rather limited. I had searched on and off, though not very systematically, but as a result of a stroke of good fortune I heard of the Derek Brewer Fellowship at Emmanuel from an old friend, the writer Richard Mabey. He encouraged me to write to the Master (application being something of a mystery …he had held the Fellowship in 2015). So, I did. In 2016 I received an e mail from Emmanuel informing me that “The Committee had resolved in my favour” …. very Cambridge … and I joined Emmanuel in 2017 for the Easter term. The term fled past but was an immensely satisfying time. The practical benefits were obvious; the opportunity to read and write without distraction from work and home, to stay up late or skip lunch if engrossed in a paper or book, and essentially have no obligations beyond the task one has set oneself. The other benefits though far outweighed these. The gardens in spring and the ancient Plane Tree, the exceptionally friendly and supportive Fellows, staff and students, and of course the opportunities for engagement with researchers and others of direct relevance to the future of forests and biodiversity. I was really fortunate in being hosted in Cambridge not just by Emmanuel College but by the Conservation Science Group in the David Attenborough Building.


Working as Head of Environment for Forestry England, the land management arm responsible for Forestry Commission forests and woodlands across England, was a huge and full-time job …. from beavers and martens to forest soils and fungi, forest certification, the impact of tree diseases, via the conservation of rare and beautiful species of all manner of plants and animals to the intricacies of deer and venison management. Working with so much expertise left one with a tremendous insight into a whole raft of land management issues and challenges…but virtually no time to read, write or think. Given the tremendous privilege of working with so much expertise, over the whole of the country and over so many years, I was looking for an opportunity to take time out from the fascinating but furious whirl of work and catch up with the academic research into the pressing issue of “forest resilience”; the capacity of our woods and forests to cope with and recover from the twin challenges of rapid climate change and the spread of new and often devastating pests and diseases. The latter were arriving in ever increasing numbers as a result of the globalisation of trade, welcomed into our forests of limited species diversity and stressed by environmental challenges such as drought and warming winters. Bringing together academic insight and the practical experience of so many skilled forestry and conservation colleagues seemed like an important task, and a suitable way to acknowledge both their support, and the rich array of opportunities I had been blessed with throughout a career working in nature conservation and forestry.


Since my time with Emmanuel I have retired from the Forestry Commission, freeing up time for many other projects. I have a book to write (which seemed like such a good idea at the time), I teach and lecture on conservation and forest ecology issues, continue to support several rewilding projects across the country, and, with a team of others, continue to hold the Field Studies Council course on Woodland Ecology & History at Flatford Mill in Essex, run for many years by the late Prof. Oliver Rackham. And in a most exciting development I support my wife Alison in her work to support the farmers and landowners of West Hampshire in their ambitions to revitalise the wildlife and ecology of both their farmland and the River Test.


The work undertaken at Emmanuel led directly to the publication of a quartet of four papers in the Quarterly Journal of Forestry* on the nature and importance of forest resilience and the policy challenges that we now have to tackle, with growing urgency, to embrace resilience measures to sustain the role of our forests as “Natural Capital Assets”.  The first of many key discussions on forest resilience was held at Emmanuel, with a daylong workshop held for Forestry Commission staff in the spring of 2018. The workshop members were welcomed by Sarah Bendall, Development Director at Emmanuel, with words taken directly from the Founder, Walter Mildmay. On being asked about the establishment of the College by Queen Elizabeth I he responded using the oak as a metaphor:

“I have set an acorn, which when it becomes an oak, God alone knows what will be the fruit thereof"

What could have been more appropriate? We hope, Sarah and I and indeed the Master Dame Fiona, that the relationship now established between the College and the future our forests can be sustained into the future.


Jonathan Spencer MBE (2017)

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week: the rise of the hardback' on 28 May 2020

Images from left to right: Naples: painted by Augustine Fitzgerald; described by Sybil Fitzgerald (London, 1904); Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste, and Recreations for Town Folk, in the Study and Imitation of Nature, by James Shirley Hibberd. 2nd edn (London, 1857); Familiar Wild Flowers. Figured and Described, by F. Edward Hulme (London, 1890?).

Readers of this blog are likely to have seen – whether in the libraries of country houses or educational foundations – libraries with walls lined with leather-bound books, sometimes with lavish gilt decoration. The bindings of early books are much studied by historians of the book, and Emmanuel has some choice examples. These begin with a copy of Theodore Beza’s theological treatises (Geneva, 1573), dedicated by him to Emmanuel’s founder, Sir Walter Mildmay, who presented it to the College – it is sumptuously bound by Jean de Planche. In 1659 Rachel, Countess of Bath, a great-granddaughter of Sir Walter and one of the College’s early women benefactors, bequeathed books to the value of £200, most of which are still in our library and with her armorial device gold-tooled on the covers.

But by what developments did the book as a bound item move from the leather-bound books of former centuries towards the utilitarian hardback of today?  One of the nineteenth century’s most influential legacies to the history of book production is the cloth case. Ever since the Middle Ages, textiles had been used to cover bindings of manuscripts and books, but the velvets and silks used for this purpose were expensive and de luxe items, as with the Latin Bible in Emmanuel Library, bound in crimson velvet, which belonged to Edward VI. By contrast, the cloth coverings of the Victorian period were developed for their utility and cheapness, and lent themselves to the increasing mechanization of the book trade.

By the later eighteenth century, some types of coarse canvas were being used to cover school-book bindings since these items were subject to heavy use. But it was not until 1823 that a purpose-made, filled and glazed bookcloth was developed for covering cased-in books. It soon became the binding of choice, used ubiquitously by Victorian publishers. Bookcloth was much cheaper than leather, and much more durable than a paper covering. It could be produced in a wide range of colours and embossed finishes. It was also capable of taking detailed blocked impressions, stamped with a blocking press rather than being built up by hand with individual tools.

The early decades of the nineteenth century saw new developments in the mechanization of the printing process. Developments of machines to speed up the binding process soon followed, making books much cheaper to produce. The cloth case was the ideal binding for use on such books, because the sewn textblocks and the cases could be prepared in separate processes and then simply pasted together at the end of the production line.

Such case bindings were certainly less robust than books from earlier centuries bound traditionally ‘in boards’ (that is, with the boards attached to the textblock before the book was covered in leather). But books in case bindings were affordable to a much wider range of people. So it was that a form of book binding that started as a mere temporary cover – designed to be replaced after purchase by wealthy customers with a smarter binding of their own choice – came to be accepted as a permanent form of binding. With this development, some bindings in bookcloth become lavishly decorated with gold and blind blocking, colour-printed designs, embossed patterns in the cloth, and elaborately shaped boards (as the two illustrated examples from Emmanuel Library’s collections demonstrate). The forerunner of today’s hardback books had been born.

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week: March of the King Penguins' on 20 May 2020
Left: British Butterflies (1951), by E. B. Ford; illustrations and cover by Paxton Chadwick. Right: The Isle of Wight (1950), illustrated and described by Barbara Jones; cover by Clifford Barry.

In the Graham Watson Collection, now in Emmanuel Library, is a complete set of the King Penguin series: some 76 slim hardback Penguins published between 1939 and 1959. Although hardly qualifying as ‘rare books,’ it is not surprising that Graham Watson, with his keen eye for book design and illustration, would collect this series. The King Penguins were shrewdly marketed as collectibles, aiming to appeal to what Penguin saw as the public’s ‘liking for illustrated keepsakes’. Soon overtaken by an era of total war, the King Penguins continued to appear nonetheless. Contemporary Penguin publicity emphasized their role ‘at a time when so many of our galleries and museums are closed’ and presented the series as fulfilling ‘a useful purpose in promoting an appreciation of art and as a reminder of the pursuits of peace’. They were never exactly cheap: earliest editions cost one shilling (twice the price of a normal Penguin paperback or a packet of Woodbines), and by 1951 they cost five shillings, no trivial outlay for most people at the time. Their format was typically an essay-length text of 30 pages, followed by 16 plates, because subject-matter and illustration were interdependent, inviting the literary-minded to look and the visually-alert to read. The first editor, Elizabeth Senior, a Keeper at the British Museum, lost her life in the Blitz in 1941, to be succeeded by Nikolaus Pevsner, newly released from an internment camp, who then edited the series until its demise. Some of the texts were penned by Pevsner’s friends among the staff of the South Kensington museums. They did so out of a love for their subjects, since financial rewards for the authors were minimal.

The remarkable range of titles is a tribute to the public’s wartime craving for education and information as this lived on for a while into the immediate post-war period. The series provided a serious but not over-demanding text for the intellect and a small feast for the eye, all attractively packaged (but by the late 1950s no longer commercially viable). Typical print-runs were 20,000 copies, but A Book of Toys, with its appeal to readers of all ages, ran to 55,000. Penguin publicity in 1950 boasted of King Penguins on ‘anything from the Bayeux Tapestry to Balloons, from Heraldry to Highland Dress’ (and there are excellent King Penguins on those subjects), but amid the variousness there are some predominant themes. There is a strong emphasis on natural history and botany, including: A Book of Roses (1939), Edible Fungi (1944), A Book of Lilies (1944), Poisonous Fungi (1945), Flowers of Marsh and Stream (1946), Flowers of the Woods (1947), Tulipomania (1950), and A Book of Mosses (1950). Those observant gardeners and walkers in the British countryside who enjoyed such books might also like the noticeably large number of King Penguins about birds, including: British Birds on Lake, River and Stream (1939), Garden Birds (1945) and A Book of Ducks (1951). There were also Some British Moths (1944), British Butterflies (1951; with a ravishing cover), and Some British Beetles (1948), although A Book of Spiders (1947) sadly suffered the indignity of being remaindered.

Another various theme is British heritage and applied and popular arts, with King Penguins on English Ballet (1944), A History of English Clocks (1947), The English Tradition in Design (1947), The Crown Jewels (1951), and Animals in Staffordshire Pottery (1953). There is an enterprising Children as Artists (1944) and the excellent Popular Art in Britain (1945), with its focus on samplers and smocks, carts and caravans, fairground roundabouts and pub interiors. There was also The Picture of Cricket (1955) by John Arlott.

Pevsner’s own interests are reflected in King Penguins on medieval sculpture and artefacts such as Medieval Carvings in Exeter Cathedral (1953), Misericords (1954), Monumental Brasses (1957), all preceded by Pevsner’s own classic essay on the exquisite carved foliage in Southwell Minster, The Leaves of Southwell (1945).

A few topographical King Penguins – Romney Marsh (1950) ‘illustrated and described by’ John Piper, and The Isle of Wight (1950) by the illustrator Barbara Jones – are fascinating records of how things were visualized at the time. As these suggest, some of the leading illustrators and artists of the period were involved: Life in the English Village (1949) had sixteen lithographs by Edward Bawden. The book- and cover-designs of King Penguins rather contradict our lazy current orthodoxy – that this was a drab and colourless epoch – through the sheer stylishness and elegance of their design.

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'Reinvigorating rainforest communities' on 19 May 2020
Rev Bob Short on a recent trip back to S-E Mexico

Today, we're very aware of climate change, deforestation and other environmental issues.  Here, The Reverend Bob Short (1967) tells us about working with local communities in the rainforests of Mexico, who had already identified signs of climate change due to the destruction of the forests, over 50 years ago. 

It was 50 years ago in June 1970 that I packed my bags for the last time to leave Emma and take my next step in life.  I also had to hang up my cricket boots as well, sadly a month before the Varsity match in which I should have been playing.  But my future life and work was beckoning and I realised that sport would not be a major part of my life in the future.

I had studied the 3 As – Agriculture, Archaeology and Anthropology and was on my way to join Wycliffe Bible Translators as an Agricultural Missionary.

I was assigned to work with a group of Tzeltal Maya Indians in South-East Mexico who were suffering devastating ecological destruction of their environment due to hundreds of years of slash-and-burn farming.  We were to try and help them develop sustainable ways of working their land and try and break the cycle of people leaving the region to move down to the Rainforest which in turn was disappearing at an increasing rate as the same slash-and-burn process took its toll on the fragile rainforest soils.

Even at that stage, the old men and women of the villages were talking about local climate change as the rainforest disappeared, with longer dry seasons and less predictable rains. 

My senior colleague, who later became my father-in-law, had in 1969 set up a small Agricultural Centre from where we worked out to the local communities and further afield to the rainforest area.  Hundreds of families helped us to develop a zero tillage system allowing all the organic matter to rot down and with the help of a little NPK and green manures they have been able to multiply their crops enormously, to become self-sufficient in maize, beans and pumpkins, and to conserve God’s creation.   

Today I am visiting the Centre again, which is still there and being run by the local Tzeltal Indians as a registered charity.  They still have excellent demonstrations of maize, beans, vegetables, small greenhouses, and two coffee groves producing eco-coffee cultivated under the shade of Leguminous trees which fix Nitrogen and provide tons of leaf mould.  They continue to reach out to communities as much as they can trying to mitigate the effects of environmental destruction.  

Reverend Bob Short (1967)

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week: the picturesque' on 14 May 2020
Left: Sunset by William Gilpin; John Heaviside Clark, A practical illustration of Gilpin’s day (London, 1824). Right: William Combe, The tour of Doctor Syntax, in search of the picturesque. A poem (London, 1812)

A theme of Emmanuel Library’s Graham Watson Collection, as of the times when its hand-coloured books were created, are books illustrating travels in search of the picturesque. But what was the picturesque?

In 1782 William Gilpin published his Observations on the River Wye and several parts of South Wales, relative to Picturesque Beauty, illustrated with plates based on Gilpin’s sketches. Later publications focussed on the Lake District and West of England. These are not conventional guidebooks: they are guides to reading real landscapes in terms of ‘that peculiar kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture’. The principles of picturesque beauty in landscape derived from interpretations of landscape painting (as in the plate above depicting a sunset from a guide to painting scenery).

It is sometimes suggested that a simplifying Western misreading of Chinese and Japanese landscape-painting and garden-design had prepared the way for the taste for the picturesque. This may go back to the writings of Emmanuel’s Sir William Temple (1628-99), who gave the College the furniture still in use in the Hall. It is the perception of a tastefully asymmetrical disorder, a contrived and artful irregularity in Chinese landscape art.

For Gilpin, nature excelled in providing colour and texture, but nature did not create picturesque compositions on its own. These had to be selected by the viewer, and an artistic eye might well improve on nature by adding some components and modifying others. A ruined abbey or castle would add implication and consequence to the composition, and Gilpin famously remarked that the judicious use of a mallet might make the ruins of Tintern Abbey more picturesque than they actually were.

Another trick was that the chosen viewpoint tended to be low down, which emphasizes the drama in differences of height represented within the composition.

Textures should preferably be rough and broken, structures dilapidated, and any straight lines were to be shunned. Objects possessing the requisite roughness and irregularity include ruins, Gothic architecture, hovels, broken stretches of water, shattered trees, worn-out and shaggy beasts, and the sorts of gypsies, beggars and bandits then familiar from the paintings of Salvator Rosa. Anything in efficient working order was in theory excluded. Appreciation of the picturesque is implicitly a symptom of special cultivation, almost a connoisseurship, and is to be acquired by discerning acquaintance with paintings.

In the 1790s, with travel on the Continent disrupted by the French Revolution, there was a growth in domestic tourism by those travelling to take pleasure in scenes and views, with a growing appreciation of uncultivated scenery in such upland places as the Lake District, the Highlands and North Wales. Many tourists were sketching, relating what they viewed and drew to what they knew of landscape painting, and striving to identify the viewpoint from which scenery becomes picturesque and accommodated to the rules of picture-making. Discerning tourists of the Picturesque peered at the landscape by means of ‘Claude glasses’ – named after the French artist Claude Lorrain, whose landscape paintings were an inspiration for the picturesque. Claude glasses were pocket-size convex mirrors, often tinted, which both framed and darkened the view. The glass’s convexity modified features of the reflected landscape – it might tend to distort foreground trees so that they appeared to curve inwards slightly, so framing the middle distance. The glass was often backed with a coloured foil which gave the composition a consistent tonality. The Claude glass could reduce a sprawling view to a compact composition but, to use one, you had to turn your back on what you were pictorializing. Scenic places became congested with view-junkies turning their backs on the view in order to frame it in their new-fangled device (does this sound familiar?). Falls, sprains and broken bones ensued, and pursuit of the picturesque became an object of satire, as in The tour of Dr Syntax, in search of the picturesque (1812), where Dr Syntax, a would-be connoisseur of the picturesque, is depicted falling backwards into a lake while sketching a picturesque ruin.

Yet the picturesque exerted too powerful a hold on the imagination not to continue to develop long into the nineteenth century and still to shape our own expectations of a ‘view’. After Waterloo ended twenty-five years of war, foreign travels in search of picturesque scenes and views were again a possibility. Books in the Graham Watson Collection reflect this taste, with tours not only of picturesque Europe – the Alps, the Rhine, and Italy – but also the Ottoman Empire, India, the Americas and other far flung places. As late as 1870, while visiting Italy, the novelist Henry James could remark: ‘I have talked of the picturesque all my life, and now at last I see it’.

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'Week 6: Mindfulness - Labyrinth' on 7 May 2020
Labyrinth in the Fellows' Garden, Emmanuel College

In case you missed it, Emma member Claire Thompson (2005) is designing short mindfulness activities each week for us to share with the college community during this difficult time.  To see last week's exercise, click here or join in with the new activity below.


This week's mindfulness practice aims to complement the leaflet shared by Jeremy Caddick relating to the labyrinth in the Fellow's garden. Because of the 'lockdown', I know that many of you may not be able to get to the labyrinth - so guess what?  I've done my best to bring the labyrinth to you instead!  

A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering path, but one that can be walked with intention.  The labyrinth represents both a journey to our centre and back out again into the world as well as a metaphor for the path we walk throughout our lives. It's a perfect opportunity for mindfulness and reflection. 

Unlike a maze which involves making choices and solving a puzzle, a labyrinth removes choice; there is only a single path to the centre. We simply allow the path to guide us, step by step. Walking in and out of the labyrinth is thus an exercise in trusting the path itself and to pause, reconnect and to receive whatever this moment may have to offer. We can then take whatever we receive back out into our lives. The magical little haven of the Fellow's Garden is indeed a perfect setting for a labyrinth.

Using two videos I took to set the scene, and some audio guidance from me - I invite you to find a quiet, comfortable spot to sit or lie down at home and immerse yourself in this visualisation

Where might the path lead you today? Wherever that is, don't forget to enjoy the journey. And like perhaps some of us are sensing during this 'lockdown', the way forwards in times of uncertainty is always... one step at a time!

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week: Repton's 'Red Books'' on 7 May 2020
The two plates from Repton’s Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening (London, 1816) show ‘Before’ and (after lifting the flap) ‘After’ at Beaudesert in Staffordshire, demolished in 1932.

Continuing from last week’s theme of learning to paint landscape in watercolour brings us to some books in Graham Watson’s collection published by someone who built a successful career out of selling clients the landscapes he painted – turned into reality in their own gardens.

In 1788, five years after the death of Capability Brown, Humphry Repton (1752-1818) launched himself as a landscape designer, after several unsuccessful previous ventures. He was 36, with four children and no secure income. He had no previous experience at garden design, but one thing he was good at was sketching. Repton set up business as what we would now call a consultancy. He presented his clients with a portfolio of his watercolours depicting their park or garden. His stroke of genius was to present these watercolours with a series of hinged flaps. On the flaps was painted the boring and unsatisfactory current state of the property. When clients lifted up these flaps they could see the temptingly beautiful transformations of their landscapes that Repton proposed. Repton had these flapped watercolours and his handwritten proposals bound in red leather for presentation to his clients. These ‘Red Books’ became his trademark: each was a unique artwork and many survive.

The two plates (above) from Repton’s Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening (London, 1816) show ‘Before’ and (after lifting the flap) ‘After’ at Beaudesert in Staffordshire, demolished in 1932.

By the time Repton started in business the fashion for Capability Brown landscapes was fading, and although Repton initially positioned himself as Brown’s successor he soon moved to distance himself. Like Brown, Repton often advised felling trees to open up vistas. But Brown’s formula for great expanses of lawn sweeping right up to the house had had its day. Repton’s solutions involved bringing back a garden and flowers close to the house, with gravel walks and formal terraces and balustrades. In this, Repton is in the business of restoring a sense of foreground to the Brownian wide landscape. What he recommends for that foreground can seem a little cluttered and even fussy to a modern eye, but he proved to be the forerunner of long-running Victorian gardening fashions.

Brown had the grandest clients, but although Repton had some grand clients too, his client base was more mixed socially, and he advised on some distinctly modest properties. Repton could rarely work on Brown’s scale, and his business model was different. Brown sold a total service to his clients, implementing his designs himself on the basis of plans and maps provided to the client, and never publishing any account of his work. Repton charged a fee for the designs in his Red Books, but it was for the client to implement those designs, and inevitably many were only partially implemented or not at all. Yet Repton’s Red Books – and the illustrations from them that Repton recycled in engraved form in the books he published promoting his ideas on gardens and landscape – enable us to know much more of Repton’s work than remains on the ground. So it is with Repton’s fruitless aspirations to royal patronage: he drew up plans for a summer palace at Brighton in the Indian taste, but his rival John Nash got the job and built the Brighton Pavilion. Nothing daunted, Repton then published his own ideas in a lavish hand-coloured book (included in the Graham Watson collection), with all Repton’s usual techniques of hinged overlays to show the magical transformations that Repton might have provided. 

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'Mindfulness: Week 5 - Nature memories' on 30 Apr 2020
The Paddock, Emmanuel College

In case you missed it, Emma member Claire Thompson (2005) is designing short mindfulness activities each week for us to share with the college community during this difficult time.  To see last week's exercise, click here or join in with the new activity below. 

Nature memories from Emma...

Aside from all being part of the natural world (like every other human being!), what else do we all have in common across the lovely Emma community? Well, the wonderful Emma, of course! 

This week I suggest we all spend a little bit of time reflecting on any "nature memories" we have of times spent in the beautiful college gardens we've all had the privilege to experience. This could be as simple as having lunch in the paddock with friends in the sunshine - or an "aww" moment with the ducklings on your way to a lecture! 

I've recorded a guided 'visualisation' practice to support you all in bringing a special "Emma nature memory" to mind...

It may be a nice opportunity to connect over this exercise... if you feel inspired, please share a few words about your memories in the comments on YouTube!

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week: colour-plate books' on 30 Apr 2020
The fourth and fifth plates from William Pyne’s Rudiments of Landscape Drawing, In a Series of Easy Examples (London, 1812)

Continuing last week’s theme of combinations of print and painting: Emmanuel is very fortunate that Graham Watson presented his collection of colour-plate books to his old college in 1975. This is a library of around 1,700 books illustrated with hand-coloured engravings, mostly created between 1770 and 1840, before the invention of colour printing.

Book illustrations printed from woodcuts or copper plates and subsequently coloured by hand had appeared from the early days of printing. But in the aquatint process, used in many Graham Watson books, not just simple lines but graduated tones could be etched on to the copper plate. Over the black and white image printed from this plate, water-colour washes could then be applied, with the graduated tones in the underlying print producing subtle effects in the hand-coloured final product.

The fashion for such colour-plate books was a particularly British enthusiasm, and went hand in hand with a very British taste for water-colours which was developing over the same period. So it is very appropriate that the Graham Watson Collection includes many hand-coloured books that were published with the aim of teaching the amateur artist those arts of water-colour painting which were on display in colour-plate books generally.

A good example is the plates shown from William Pyne’s Rudiments of Landscape Drawing, In a Series of Easy Examples (London, 1812). These are the fourth and fifth in a series of five stages that begins by guiding the pupil in first drawing a bare outline with correct perspective. The second stage is the ‘Improved Outline’ which ‘must be firmly drawn with a black-lead pencil’ and adds in most of the detail of masonry and foliage. Third comes the ‘First Effect’ which is much concerned with supplying the shadows of differing depths. The fourth plate shown here is the ‘Finished Effect’ which applies the final degrees of shading, with spaces of white paper left to receive the colouring. For both the shading and colouring stages, detailed instructions are provided on which paints to mix for which effects. Another contemporary manual provides examples of no fewer than 436 tints for the pupil to match.  

The authors of these guides promise instruction in composition, perspective, light and shade, the mixing and harmony of colours, and sketching from nature. They are addressed to an audience of ‘young persons’ and ‘the young artist,’ and often imply an audience of young ladies: in 1818 George Brookshaw published A New Treatise on Flower Painting, or Every Lady Her Own Drawing Master. Many such books have the format of two facing plates: one beautifully coloured, the other a black-and-white line drawing, not for ‘colouring in’ but as a guide to starting afresh. Emmanuel’s collection has a beautiful Studies of Flowers from Nature ‘Printed for and sold by Miss Smith, Adwick Hall near Doncaster’ (1818) which presents each flower ‘painted after Nature with a correct outline of each and instructions for producing a facsimile of the finished drawing by Miss Smith’.  It is a reminder of the generations of amateur artists schooled in water-colour that were to follow.

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'Mindfulness: Week 4 - An interview with nature...' on 21 Apr 2020

In case you missed it, Emma member Claire Thompson (2005) is designing short mindfulness activities each week for us to share with the college community during this difficult time.  To see last week's exercise, click here or join in with the new activity below. 

An interview with nature...

How might the rest of the natural world around us be experiencing life? Of course, we’ll never know the answer, but that's not the point. This week's suggested practice is merely about asking the question.

Connecting with non-human parts of the natural world can be a powerful way to feel our innate belonging in nature - especially in these times of social isolation. This week's exercise is an invitation to nurture curiosity and compassion towards the rest of the natural world we share the planet with by 'interviewing' a mineral, a plant or an animal.

It's important to clarify that engaging with nature in this way does not equate to anthropomorphism. In fact, it’s the opposite. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics or behaviours to other living things. Instead, this exercise is an invitation to let go of our human perspective and wonder what the world may be like from another perspective - like we perhaps used to when we were children.

As AA Milne writes in Winnie the Pooh: "Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though, that's the problem". What if we could be humble enough to learn from the natural world? What if we paid more attention to minerals, plants and animals with an open mind and heart?

I hope you have fun with this week's practice!

Attached is a description of the "Interview with Nature" exercise here.

Image for the news item 'Rare book of the week' on 21 Apr 2020

The most beautiful of Emmanuel’s older rare books is also one that prompts many questions. It is a copy of Cicero’s De Officiis, that was printed on vellum at Mainz in Germany in 1465, but at some point the borders on its title-page and three other pages were richly illuminated. It is the earliest printed book in the Emmanuel library, yet it has also been given the appearance of a late-medieval manuscript. As a book, it looks both forward to the new world of printed copies and also back to the world of manuscripts as hand-painted artefacts.  

But who was it made for? All four borders are so liberally bespattered with Tudor royal badges that the book appears to proclaim its royal ownership with some emphasis. Borders and initials display the red rose of Lancaster, the coroneted portcullis, and shields of the arms of France quartering England (on one page contained inside the Garter) and supported by yales (fabulous horned beasts). But what leaps out is the profusion of triple and single ostrich feathers in a coronet with scrolls bearing the motto ‘ic dien’ (‘I serve’) – the emblems of Princes of Wales.

The consensus is that this book was made for the short-lived Prince Arthur (1486-1502), elder son of Henry VII and elder brother of Henry VIII. The initial on the title page depicts a young man in a richly ermine-trimmed gown, evidently with a tutor. But why the borders were apparently painted so long after the pages were printed is another unanswerable question.

The borders display beautifully-painted forget-me-nots, red roses, wild strawberries, sweet peas, daisies and acanthus scrolls, along with several doves and a small dog. The daisy was a favourite flower badge of Arthur’s pious and learned grandmother, the formidable Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), foundress of both Christ’s and St John’s Colleges. But daisies are ubiquitous in the borders of late-medieval manuscripts, so what could be another pointer to ownership might be, well, just a daisy.

HM The Queen, when shown the book during her 1984 visit to mark Emmanuel’s Quatercentenary, immediately asked ‘How did this get here?’  It is an excellent question, but unfortunately unanswerable. It is unlikely that it can ever be known how this book left royal ownership, but it is recorded to have been in Emmanuel before the end of the sixteenth century. So many things are unknowable about this book, but one thing at least is certain: this thing of beauty has been in the College for almost the whole of Emmanuel’s history.

Image for the news item 'Mindfulness: Week 3 - Permission to rest' on 16 Apr 2020

In case you missed it, Emma member Claire Thompson (2005) is designing short mindfulness activities each week for us to share with the college community during this difficult time.  To see last week's exercise, click here or join in with the new activity below. 

Permission to rest

There can be a huge pressure, even in these times of 'lockdown', to feel like that we should be seizing this moment by taking up exciting new hobbies, projects and being productive with this newfound free time. Of course, if we feel this drive, we can go with that flow and embrace it!  But what if it were okay if we didn't? What if we gave ourselves permission not to if we don't feel like it? 

Let's remember that whatever our circumstances at the moment, this is a really difficult and traumatic time for many. Our lives have completely changed almost overnight and our bodies and minds may have been consequently shocked into perhaps not having the same resources and energy as they used to.

So what if it were necessary to be kind and gentle with ourselves, to take the pressure off and take time to simply rest - in the company of nature? And what if it were enough for a while? Just being and belonging - alive and part of the natural world? Could there be a simple sense of peace and comfort in that? 

To support you with this, here's a 20 minute audio guidance for a mindfulness practice called "In Touch with the Earth". It's a guided resting meditation - with a reading of one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems at the end.  So this week, find a quiet spot by a window, in your garden or in a local park, lie back and enjoy!

If you'd like to find out more about Claire or expand your practice of mindfulness in nature, you can join the free "Sit Spot" initiative she has set up for people to connect with nature with others during this challenging time, by clicking here.   

Image for the news item 'Dr Wu's face masks' on 16 Apr 2020
Above is a bead panel in traditional Peranakan style, made by Dr Wu's mother while he was a student at Emmanuel. The design was based on the Emma lion, but it became a Chinese Foo dog with a flaming pearl. This can be seen in the Peranakan Museum in Singapore.

Dr Wu Lien-Teh matriculated at Emma in 1896, and was the first Chinese person to graduate from Cambridge in medicine. As Madeleine Fairweather writes in the College Magazine in 2017, he was posted to Harbin in north Manchuria in 1910 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to lead a medical team to tackle an outbreak of pneumonic plague in the area.

An article by Christos Lynteris, ‘Plague Masks: The Visual Emergence of Anti-Epidemic Personal Protection Equipment’ in Medical Anthropology 2018 explains that Dr Wu realised that the disease was transmitted directly between humans in an airborne manner, overturning the theory that the disease was spread by rats and their fleas. Thus he promoted the development of a face mask, which he claimed was his own invention, and the first time such an epidemic containment measure was attempted.

Dr Wu’s mask was similar to surgical masks, but had more protective layers and a more complex tying process, so that it didn’t slip while operating outside in winter-time Manchuria:

‘This consists of two layers of gauze enclosing a flat oblong piece of absorbent cotton 6 inches by 4 inches. It can be easily made by cutting the usual surgical gauze (9 inches wide), as supplied from the shops, into strips, each measuring 3 feet in length. Each strip is then doubled lengthwise so as to contain in the middle a flat piece of cotton wool measuring 4 inches by 6 inches. At either end of the gauze two cuts, each measuring 15 inches, are made. Thus turning the pad into a three-tail gauze bandage, with the central piece of wool for covering the respiratory entrance. The upper tail of one side should be passed round the side of the head above the ear and tied to the other corresponding tail. The lowermost tail should in a similar manner be passed under the ear and tied to the one on the other side, while the middle tail should be passed over the crown of the head, so as to fix the pad and prevent it from slipping down the neck (Wu, L.-T. 1926 Treatise on Pneumonic Plague. Geneva, Switzerland: League of Nations, 393–394).’

There are some wonderful photos in Christos Lynteris’s article!

Image for the news item 'Mindfulness: Week 2 - Radio nature' on 7 Apr 2020
Claire creating her sound map by Byron's Pool outside Cambridge

In case you missed it last week, Emma member Claire Thompson (2005) is designing short mindfulness activities each week for us to share with the college community during this difficult time.  To see last week's exercise, click here or join in with the new activity below. 

Radio nature

Last week, we explored using our breath as an anchor to the present moment and to our innate belonging in nature. This week, I invite you to explore your experience of sounds by 'tuning into radio nature... and drawing a sound map!

Find a quiet spot outdoors, by a window or in the paddock if you're in college - and take an A4 sheet of paper and pen with you. Begin by settling down into your surroundings, noticing the physical sensations of your breath in your body. Notice what's going on in your mind and whatever that is, remind yourself that it's okay. Let it be and fade your attention back into your breathing. Allow yourself time to settle, there's no rush. When you're ready, start to tune into all the different sounds you can hear around you. 

What sounds can you hear nearby? Further away? From ahead? From behind? From above? Tune into the quality of the sounds. Are they soft? Harsh? Loud? Quiet? Tuneful? Are they pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral? Imagine that you are immersing yourself in the soundscape, like a soft satellite dish on the earth - just receiving all the sounds. Let go of any effort to label, identify or explain. If you notice your mind labelling, just notice that it's happened and if possible, come back into your direct experience of the sounds.

Next, take your A4 piece of paper and draw a cross in the middle. The cross represents you spatially. Next, with your eyes open or closed, begin drawing a visual representation of the sounds you can hear all around you, a sound map. You can draw lines and squiggles to represent the quality of the sounds - or you can use whatever visual representation works for you. See where your creativity takes you! How does turning sounds into a visual map change your experience of the sounds?

If you don't have a suitable outside place to do this exercise, you can use this video of the Emma duck pond instead!

If you'd like to find out more about Claire or expand your practice of mindfulness in nature, you can join the free "Sit Spot" initiative she has set up for people to connect with nature with others during this challenging time, by clicking here.   

Image for the news item 'William Sancroft's library' on 7 Apr 2020
Book of Hours, printed by Wynkyn de Worde, 1521; Certain Necessary Directions, as well for the Cure of the Plague, printed by John Bill & Christopher Barker, 1665

One of the great treasures of Emmanuel Library is the library of William Sancroft (1617-93), successively Master of Emmanuel (1662-64), Dean of St Paul’s (1664-77), and Archbishop of Canterbury (1677-90). Twice as large as the better-known library of Samuel Pepys, now at Magdalene College, Sancroft’s diverse book collection of 7000 items in 5000 volumes is one of the few personal libraries of the seventeenth century to survive intact.

Among its curiosities – and a moving emblem of survival and continuity – are the tattered remains of a Book of Hours printed in 1521, which Sancroft found under the Dean’s stall in the charred remains of Old St Paul’s after the Great Fire of London in 1666. That disaster had been preceded the previous year by a catastrophic outbreak of plague, and Sancroft’s library includes a topical book published in 1665 and entitled

Certain necessary Directions,

As well for the Cure of the PLAGUE,

As for Preventing the INFECTION:

With many easie Medicines of small Charge,

very profitable to His Majesties Subjects.

Set down by the Colledge of Physicians.

This book includes the instruction: ‘It is advisable that all needless Concourses of People be prohibited; that the Poor be relieved and set at work, and Beggars not suffered to go about; that all sale of corrupt Provision for Food be restrained; that Streets and Houses be as diligently and carefully as may be, kept clean …’ 

The book also shrewdly observes: ‘It is to be presumed, because everyone desireth his own liberty, that none will give notice of any suspicion of the Plague against themselves; wherefore that must be the Overseers’ care, upon any notice or suspicion of Infection, by the help of the Doctours, Surgeons, Keepers… to find out the truth thereof, and so to proceed accordingly…’

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

Image for the news item 'Mindfulness activities for the Emma community ' on 1 Apr 2020
A labyrinth in the Fellows' garden, designed for walking meditation

During this strange and difficult time of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are having to adapt to new ways of living and working.  Many of us are working from home for the first time, others find themselves working on the frontline delivering essential services to society, and some are unable to work at all during the pandemic.  To help members of the Emma community during this time, author, workshop facilitator and founder of Mindfulness of Nature, Claire Thompson (2005), will kindly be creating short 5-10 minute mindfulness activities each week for us to slot into our daily routines and improve our well-being.  Claire has recorded a brief introductory video here and this week's first exercise is below. 

Breathing nature... 

In times of uncertainty,  a helpful approach to life can be by taking one moment, one day or one week at a time. 

Our breath is one of our simplest anchors to the present moment - and also an accessible connection to our sense of belonging in nature. This belonging can be very supportive in times of social distancing and isolation. Why not try this simple exercise once a day this week?

Step outside (into your garden, your doorstep, open a window) and bring your attention to your breathing. Where do you feel the air coming in and out of your body? Feel into the direct physical sensations involved in breathing in and out - as if you were noticing your breath for the first time.  Allow your breath to breathe itself, there's no need to control it. Just be curious about your experience of this natural phenomenon we call "breathing".  Is your mind wandering? That's normal, it's what our minds do all the time. It's what they've evolved to do, to keep us safe. When you notice this, it's okay, just kindly bring your attention back to your breathing.  As you breathe in the fresh air from the natural world, remind yourself that trees release the oxygen we inhale and absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale. As we breathe in and out, we're borrowing air before returning it to nature. We share this air with each other and with the rest of the natural world - as it flows through all living things. Repeat this practice frequently for 5-10 minutes a day throughout your week. How does this make you feel?  

If you'd like to find out more about Claire or expand your practice of mindfulness in nature, you can join the free "Sit Spot" initiative she has set up for people to connect with nature with others during this challenging time, by clicking here

Image for the news item 'Working from home? How COVID19 is changing our working lives' on 25 Mar 2020
Karen Eyre-White

We’ve all become significantly more home-based over the past few weeks as a result of COVID-19. This is having far-reaching effects on how we live and work. Emmanuel member and productivity coach Karen Eyre-White (nee Eyre, 2003) explores the impact it’s having on our working lives and how we can all find new ways of working which help us to stay productive.

These are times of great change in how we spend our time. In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has overturned our daily routines, changed our social fabric and fundamentally altered our working lives. Many of us are now working from home indefinitely, doing the daily battle with server connections, virtual meetings and our burgeoning inboxes, often alongside our spouse and children, and against the backdrop of the wider impact of COVID-19 on our relatives, friends and society.

If that’s you and your team, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, I can tell you that you are certainly not alone. Having graduated from Emma in 2006, I joined the Civil Service and worked my way up to be Chief Executive of a safety regulator – but after the birth of my daughter I wanted to do something I was truly passionate about, so I took the plunge and set up a productivity coaching business, Go Do. The businesses and individuals I work with are all grappling with a challenge that’s unique in its scale and impact, with significant implications for productivity, motivation and wellbeing.

We’re all different and we each need to find our own ways of working which help us to navigate this new and unfamiliar territory. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but here are three steps which can help us to feel more in control of our working lives when we’re at home:

  • Creating strong boundaries between home and work helps our brain switch gears more easily. Working in a specific place away from distractions, creating a sustainable schedule (and keeping to it), and having a daily ritual when you start work can all help. Experiment and see what works for you.
  • Being realistic about what we can achieve each day helps us to feel positive about what we’ve achieved rather than disappointed about what we haven’t. A short list of 3-5 priorities can keep us focused on and on track amidst all the distractions of home.  
  • Connecting virtually with colleagues can be crucial to both our productivity and our mental health. We all need different levels of engagement to feel connected and supported, so consider what the right balance is for you.  

When we emerge from this outbreak, society will have changed in ways it’s not possible to predict now.

In the realm of work, I believe we’ll look back and see this as a turning point. If we approach the situation proactively, supporting people to find new ways of working that work for them, there can be positive outcomes for individuals and the organisations they work for: increased flexible working, greater equality, and improved productivity for all.

Karen Eyre-White (2003)

Image for the news item 'Meeting global health needs' on 20 Mar 2020
Dr Kate Tulenko

With global health at the forefront of everybody's minds, we asked one of our members who works in this field to tell us about her career.  Dr. Kate Tulenko (1993) is a physician and health workforce expert focused on scaling up physician and nursing education to ensure that all people have access to health workers.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1 billion people alive today will never see a health worker their entire life.  The world does not have enough health workers to meet its needs, especially with the aging of populations. As a physician and health workforce expert, I have the privilege of serving at the forefront of global efforts to train, support, and retain more health workers. 

I served in the World Bank as coordinator of the Africa Health Workforce program and worked with Ministries of Finance, Health, and Education to train and retain more doctors, nurses, and other health workers.  I served as the Director of the US government’s global health workforce program, a six-year, $60 million program that worked in Latin America, Africa, and Asia to train more health workers and made noted advances and innovations in the way health professional schools are designed and managed, in how health workers are retained in under-served communities, and how they are supported to provide high quality care. I co-led the World Health Organization’s team that calculated that there would be shortage of 18 million health workers globally by 2030. 

In 2017, I founded Corvus Health, a social enterprise aimed at ensuring every person has access to high quality health workers.  I am currently working on an initiative with Operation Smile to start dozens of surgical training programs and nursing schools in low income countries.  We are pursuing a bold vision to build a single online training program for nurses accessible to all nursing schools that will be coupled with mentored clinical training in local hospitals.

Only by combining high-tech with high-touch will we be able to train enough health workers to meet the needs of every community.  

Dr Kate Tulenko (1993)

Image for the news item 'Memories of a cold winter at Emmanuel ' on 6 Feb 2020
The Winter of 1962/3

As we sit in our offices at Emmanuel feeling the February cold, Emma member Charles Hope (1960) shared the following story with us, about a much colder winter in the college...

The Winter of 1962/3 was one of the coldest on record, certainly the coldest in my life.  With the winds blowing across East Anglia, all of us wore pyjamas or tracksuits or even both under our trousers for week after week.

One morning as I was coming down the stairs from my room at the top of North Block, I met my Bedmaker on the way up.  She said she just had to tell me something and what follows is her story, virtually word for word as my memory of it remains vivid.

"I came in this morning and as I passed our washroom,  I saw Gladys (the other Bedmaker on my Staircase) standing in front of the sink.  She was holding something under a running tap and being a bit coy about it.  I asked her what she was doing and she said she was thawing out her teeth. She had put them in a glass of water in the bathroom last night and it was all frozen solid in the morning.  I asked why she hadn't thawed them out at home and she said 'All the taps were frozen too,  throughout the house.   The only water was what was left in the kettle.  I was going to use that and then put it back in the kettle to make my husband's thermos flask of tea that he takes to work. He refused to let me. He was not having his tea made with water that my teeth had been swimming about in, so I wrapped it all up in a tea-towel and brought it in here."

Charles Hope (1960)

Image for the news item 'Hat on Head, Hands on Hips ' on 4 Feb 2020
New court collage

Alice Strang (née Dewey, matric 1992) is an Emmanuel Woman through and through and has made her name as a Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art celebrating the achievements of women artists. Here she discusses her journey from undergraduate to National Gallery, which culminates in appearing in a work of art to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the admittance of women undergraduates to Emma, by – you’ve guessed it – a woman artist.

My father and maternal uncle studied at Emmanuel in the 1960s, my parents were married in the college chapel in 1966 and I arrived there in 1992, two years after my sister, Faith Archer (née Dewey, matric 1990). I had spent a Gap Year as an au pair in Florence and thought I would scream if I saw another Madonna and Child painting; thus began my love of modern art. I read History with Italian Part I, followed by a blissful History of Art Part II. This involved reading lists consisting entirely of books I would have chosen to read for pleasure. There were no modern let alone contemporary art papers available, so I got my fix by volunteering at the magical Kettle’s Yard.

After completing my degree, I joined Christie’s Graduating Training Scheme. Stints on the Front Counter and in the British Paintings and Jewellery Departments, led to becoming a Junior Specialist in Modern and Impressionist Art. Promotion and time in the Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Art departments secured me the position of Junior Curator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I left King’s Cross with my duvet and pillow in a bag in one hand and an Edinburgh A-Z in the other, planning to give it two years before trying to get into the Tate.

Twenty years later, now complete with a Glaswegian husband and two sons with Scottish accents, I am a Senior Curator at the National Galleries of Scotland. I’ve curated exhibitions of women artists from Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981) to co-curating the current Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance show, which runs at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two until 19 April 2020 ( Much as a parent shouldn’t have a favourite child, nor should a curator have a favourite show, but I can’t help  having a soft spot for the Modern Scottish Women: Painters and Sculptors 1885-1965 exhibition and book, which revealed a new chapter in Scottish art history and for which I was made a Saltire Society Outstanding Woman of Scotland.

When women graduates of Emmanuel were asked recently to send in photos of their time at college, I nostalgically went through my albums and sent in a few. It was a delightful surprise to find (the least flattering) one featured lower left in New Court Overlay, 2019 by Matilda Schwefel (matric.2017 / ECSU President), created to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Emma’s admittance of women undergraduates. Hat on head, hands on hips, I was mucking about in the Porters’ Lodge. Little did I know that the resultant photo would end up summing up not only my time at university but also my professional life thereafter.


Image for the news item 'THE FIRST BABY' on 4 Dec 2019
Dr Rachel Polonsky and her daughter Cecily

It is 40 years since the admission of the first undergraduate women to Emmanuel, but ensuring equality across the college community has involved many more firsts.  Former Emma Research Fellow, Dr Rachel Polonsky, tells her story. 

My years as a Research Fellow at Emmanuel from 1994 to 1998 were essential to establishing my scholarly career. At Emmanuel I wrote my first book, English Literature and the Russian Aesthetic Renaissance (Cambridge 1998) and found inspiration for my second, Molotov’s Magic Lantern (Faber, 2010). After Emmanuel, I spent ten years in Moscow, Russia, working as a writer and independent scholar before returning to academic life in Cambridge. I am now an Affiliated Lecturer in the Department of Slavonic Studies and a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, where I will take up office as Vice President in Michaelmas 2019. I treasure my continuing involvement with Modern Linguists at Emmanuel as Director of Studies for Russianists.

During my time at Emmanuel I gave birth to my third daughter, Cecily. She was the first baby born to a woman Fellow of the College. Her advent in 1997 prompted the Governing Body to create a maternity leave policy for Research and College Teaching Fellows. The Governing Body deliberations set in motion by Cecily’s arrival painstakingly ironed out various complications over the interpretation and implementation of this policy and culminated in February 1999 in a new Statute (XVI.4), which guarantees that women Research Fellows will not be disadvantaged if they become mothers.

This summer Cecily graduated from Princeton in Comparative Literature and began work as a first-grade teacher in Brooklyn.

I am proud of Emmanuel’s respect for tradition and openness to change, and lastingly grateful for my happy years at the College.

Image for the news item 'Success, redefined' on 26 Sep 2019
Thomas Vellacott , CEO of WWF Switzerland

Thomas Vellacott (1996, MPhil International Relations) is CEO of WWF Switzerland. WWF‘s mission is to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. Thomas is passionate about nature and has supported WWF since he was eight years old. Before joining WWF professionally, he worked for Citibank and McKinsey & Co.  Here, he discusses what success in his role means...

After 100 days in office, chief executive officers are expected to present their first breakthrough achievements. I have now been CEO of WWF Switzerland for about 2,500 days, so, by the same logic, I should have a lot to show for. The reality is more complex. In nature conservation, success is achieved in partnership with others. It’s impossible to distill, for example, WWF’s precise contribution to the growing population of lynx in the wild, or to sinking CO2 emissions. Attribution of success is not that relevant – often it amounts to little more than a vanity indicator.

What does count is that the alliance fighting for our planet is growing. The number of volunteers working with us has tripled in the last five years. Meanwhile, over 600 companies have signed commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Climate Accord. Investors have become an important driving force for sustainability, with the share of sustainably managed assets growing fast and accounting for over a quarter of the overall market. 

The current transformation of our economies towards greater sustainability is faster and goes deeper than any transition since the industrial revolution. Nevertheless, we are far from being on track to limiting global heating to under 1.5 degrees. Nor have we succeeded in reversing the global extinction crisis. Securing a living planet for us and for our children is the ultimate achievement to aim for. A collective success story that each of us will only ever make a small contribution to individually – but a success story we need to write together, even if it takes longer than 100 days.