26 March 2024

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A is for … Acorn

The Founder of Emmanuel, Sir Walter Mildmay, liked to talk of his college as an acorn, ‘which, when it becomes an oake, God alone knows what will be the fruit thereof’.

Quoting this remark many years later, William Dillingham, Master of Emmanuel 1653-62, added that Mildmay’s acorn had indeed grown into an oak, ‘whose topmost branch adorns and revives the primacy of our Church’. This was a reference to the elevation of William Sancroft, a graduate and former master of Emmanuel, to the office of Archbishop of Canterbury in 1677. Acorn imagery can be seen on the bindings of both the college’s original copy of the founding statutes, and on the Founder’s personal copy.

Acorn motifs have also been used in the college’s newest building, Young’s Court, which opened in the summer of 2023. A beautiful carving of Sir Walter’s ‘acorn’ remark can be seen on the wall adjoining the entrance to the court, while a transparent plaque inside Fiona’s, the new college café and Hub, displays an ingenious representation of an acorn, made up of the names of donors who supported the Young’s Court building appeal.

A is for … Apethorpe

Like most Tudor self-made men, Sir Walter Mildmay converted his wealth into real estate at the earliest opportunity, purchasing Apethorpe (pronounced ‘Appthorpe’) manor house in Northamptonshire in 1551.

Sir William Cecil owned a nearby estate, where he was later to erect the gargantuan Burghley House. It was undoubtedly serendipitous for Sir Walter to be such a close neighbour of Cecil, who was to serve as Elizabeth I’s principal minister for almost her entire reign. There was, nevertheless, genuine friendship between the two men, who shared a common religious and political outlook. Apethorpe remained in the hands of Mildmay’s descendants until 1904. The costs of upkeep forced its sale after the Second World War, and it became an educational establishment. The contents were sold off, and Emmanuel College was able to buy several pieces of furniture in 1948, including the ‘Founder’s table’, now in the gallery.

A year later the new owners of the Hall gave the college the inscribed tablet, topped with a roundel showing the Mildmay coat of arms, that Sir Walter had set up over the fireplace in the great hall in 1562. It now overlooks the main staircase in the college library.

Amanda Goode, College Archivist

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