Downing College Arms
(26) Downing College stands to the N. of Lensfield
Road between Regent Street on the E. and Tennis
Court Road on the W. The buildings generally are of
two storeys, some with cellars and attics. The principal
elevations are of Ketton stone ashlar, the rear walls of
gault brick and the roofs are slate-covered. The College
was founded by Sir George Downing, 3rd Bart. (16841749), of Gamlingay Park, who directed in his will
dated 1717 that should his legatees die without issue
trust property was to be used to found a College in
Cambridge to be called "Downing's College". Sir
George died in 1749 and his cousin Jacob Garret Downing, the chief legatee, died without issue in 1764.
Foundation of the College was delayed by litigation and
the charter was not granted until 1800. The first stone
of the buildings designed by William Wilkins was laid
in May 1807.
Wilkins in his scheme ignored the traditional Cambridge College plan and arranged the elements comprising the College symmetrically in separate blocks of
buildings linked only by screen-walls round a spacious
central area some 300 ft. square. The revived Greek
style was adopted for the buildings. Previously, both
James Essex c. 1771 and James Wyatt from c. 1784 to
1804 had been the architects consulted. The latter had
prepared designs which were laid before the Master in
Chancery in 1804 who then called for alternative designs
to be submitted; these were prepared by George
Byfield. Subsequently other plans were offered voluntarily by Wilkins, Francis Sandys, William Porden
and Lewis Wyatt, those of Wilkins ultimately being
selected by the College and Master in Chancery on
the advice of the three architects, George Dance, J.
Lewis and S. Pepys Cockerell.
Wilkins' lay-out is shown in the accompanying diagram. The Master's Lodge and the E. Professor's Lodge
were the first begun, and completed by 1810; the range
of chambers between them was completed by 1813.
The W. side of the quadrangle, including the Hall and
W. Professor's Lodge, was begun in 1818, Spicer Crowe
being the contractor and Messrs. Thomson the stonemasons, and occupied in 1821 though the northernmost
end wall was left uncompleted. In 1874 work was
recommenced under the supervision of E. M. Barry
who during the following two years completed the N.
range of chambers on the E.; he also finished the W.
range, added two rooms on the N. of the Law Professor's house and made some alterations to the E. end
of the interior of the Hall. Thus only the E. and W.
groups of buildings were completed according to
Wilkins' lay-out, with some modification of the N.
ends and minor additions to the Master's Lodge and the
Professors' houses. On the Chapel site a burial vault was
made in consultation with Wilkins for the interment
of Sir Busick Harwood, first Downing Professor of
Medicine, who died in 1814.
In the present century work was begun in 1930 on the
completion of the buildings to the N. of the quadrangle
from designs by Sir Herbert Baker; these consist of
two L-shaped ranges forming the N.E. and N.W.
returns, completed in 1931, connected by a N. range,
subsequently redesigned, containing the Chapel begun
in 1951 and completed and dedicated in 1953. The
scheme departs from Wilkins' proposals.
William Wilkins' Downing College was a remarkably spacious conception of orderly groups of buildings
in a landscape setting, with an impressive axial view
from the N. columniated entrance-gate, or 'Propylaeum', of the hexastyle portico of the Chapel range
southward across the extensive quadrangle. By spacious
planning, involving broad expanses of verdure, and the
use of the Greek style for the buildings, Wilkins contrived something of an idyllic scene. Although the
Wilkins scheme was not completed and the Court is
now closed towards the N. and open to the S., thus
reversing the original intention, sufficient of the effect
was achieved and survives to make it possible to appreciate the architect's intention (Plate 120). The Wilkins
buildings are themselves conspicuously successful
examples of the 19th-century revived Greek style.
Architectural Description—On the W. side of the Quadrangle (302 ft. by 443 ft.), the southernmost block of buildings
contains the Hall, with the Combination Room adjoining on
the W., the entrance lobby on the N. and the Kitchen and
Buttery to the N.W. It was built between 1818 and 1821. The
Hall and Combination Room form a rectangular temple-like
block (Plate 121) raised on a stylobate of three steps under a
continuous low-pitched roof with a pedimented hexastyle Ionic
portico at the E. end. The order is a plainer version of that of
the Erechtheion, with honeysuckle ornament on the necking of
the columns and the antae. On the centre of the S. side of the
'naos' is a tetrastyle portico, pedimented and repeating the
order of the E. portico. The torus-moulded bases of the antae
and the main entablature are continued round most of the
building; the entablature is unornamented except for lions'
masks carved on the cyma of the lower horizontal S. cornice.
The portico ceilings are deeply coffered. The back-wall of the
E. portico contains a central doorway with tapering architrave
and simple cornice supported on console-brackets; the door
is panelled and divided into two upper and two lower leaves.
The main S. wall contains ranges of five windows on the
ground and first floors, the lower openings being continued
down to the floor, and all with eared tapering architraves and
containing double-hung sashes; the easternmost ground-floor
opening and all the upper windows are blocked behind the
glazing. The W. end is faced with Roman cement, except the
plain stylobate, the returns of the anta-strips round both
corners and the cornice of the pedimented entablature, which
are of stone. It is divided into three bays by anta-strips with
enriched caps. The window on each floor in every bay is
similar to that at the same respective level on the S., but not
blocked. The N. wall, where not concealed, is of gault brick
and with a stone and timber eaves-cornice. The windows have
flat brick arches.
Downing College, Plan
The Interior of the Hall (57 ft. by 42½ ft.) (Plate 116) has the
walls divided into bays by sienna scagliola anta-strips, with caps
decorated with honeysuckle ornament, supporting a deep
plaster entablature with enriched architrave, dentil-cornice and
lions' masks spaced along the cyma; all the enrichments are
gilded. The E. end is in three bays divided by coupled Ionic
columns and antae, the soffit of the continuous entablature
returned from the side walls being panelled. In the centre bay,
the E. doorway has a scagliola architrave, plain frieze and
dentil-cornice surmounted by a plaster roundel containing the
College arms in a wreath with the crest above and in an
elaborate framing of swags, scrolls, palmette ornament and
cornucopias. In the flanking bays are round-headed niches in
plaster panelled surrounds with enriched sills and small dentil-cornices supported on reeded consoles. This end of the Hall
was entirely remodelled by E. M. Barry between 1874 and
1876 and the doorway, the columns with their entablature and
the niche-surrounds are by him (E. M. Barry, R.A., Specification of Works, July 1874, preserved in the College). Wilkins'
design for the E. end shows a screen the full height of the Hall,
with only sufficient room between it and the E. wall for a stair
to the gallery, and three window-like openings at the upper
level (Drawings preserved in the College). The W. end is in
three bays divided by coupled anta-strips; in the side bays are
doorways with moulded architraves and enriched cornices
supported on consoles; the friezes are omitted and the cornices
placed on the architraves. The two doorways in the N. wall
with the five windows, one in each bay, at a higher level and
the three french-windows in the S. wall have architraves and
cornices similar to those of the W. doorways.
The Combination Room (19¼ ft. by 32 ft.) has an original
cornice enriched with egg-and-dart and honeysuckle ornament; in the E. wall is an original fireplace of white marble
with panelled side pilaster-strips supporting a moulded shelf
and a central frieze-panel carved with the arms of the College
and the motto 'Quaerere verum' on a scroll. The room above
the Combination Room was, for more than a century, fitted
as a Chapel with the altar at the S. end; in the E. wall is an
original white marble fireplace similar to that in the room
below but without the carving and retaining the original
reeded cast-iron grate.
The South-west Range of chambers connected to the Hall
block by a lobby and servery, both concealed by a two-storey
screen-wall towards the Quadrangle, has a plain plinth and an
entablature of the same height and at the same level as the
stylobate and entablature respectively of the Hall; the plinth
and the cornice only of the entablature are continuous across
the screen-wall; this last contains a doorway and a window
above. The E. front of the range of chambers is in eight bays
and symmetrically designed, with a doorway in both the third
and sixth bays and a window in every other bay on the
two floors; all the openings are square-headed. The doorways
have simple moulded and eared tapering architraves and are
hung with panelled doors in two leaves with a lintel-rail and
fixed panels in the head; only the windows over the doorways
have architraves, which are similar to those of the doorways.
The roofs are hipped. The W. side is built of gault brick with
a brick and timber eaves-cornice and the two projecting bays
are symmetrically placed and rise the full height of the building.
The windows have flat brick arches; the window in the S.
projecting bay and the two doorways are later insertions.
The Interior of the western part of the ground floor has been
altered to some extent in recent years and a cross-wall removed;
but, for the rest, the rooms retain most of their original fittings
including dado-rails and small plaster cornices, panelled
shutters to the windows and four-panelled doors; the fireplaces are of white marble with moulded surrounds, panelled
pilaster-strips at the sides and moulded shelves. The staircases
are of stone, with plain square wood balusters, wrought-iron
newels and moulded oak handrails.
The Lodge of the Professor of Law, now called West Lodge,
placed centrally on the W. side of the Quadrangle and linked
to the flanking ranges of chambers by screen-walls, has been
converted into College and Fellows' rooms. It was built, with
the two ranges and the Hall-block, between 1818 and 1821, but
was not extended by the addition of rooms built behind the
screen-wall to link with the N. range of chambers until
between 1874 and 1876. The E. front is in five bays with a
doorway in the centre; the treatment is similar to that of
the flanking ranges except that the frieze and architrave of the
main entablature are omitted, only the doorway has an architrave and the two ranges of windows are at a slightly higher
level; the rise is sufficient not only to give optical correction
but a definite emphasis to the centre of the long frontage to the
Quadrangle. The screen-walls are similar to that N. of the Hall.
The W. side of the house is of brick with a brick and timber
cornice; a straight joint marks the junction between Wilkins'
work and Barry's addition, the latter with a brick and stone
cornice. All the windows have brick flat-arched heads; most
are french-windows with small wrought-iron balconies probably of 1818–21, copied in 1874–6.
The Interior retains most of the original fittings; they are
generally similar to those in the flanking ranges. Some of the
doorways and windows have panelled architraves; the doors
are in four panels. The Drawing-room, on the W., has a
plaster cornice enriched with egg-and-dart ornament, and the
room above a cornice enriched with palmette ornament. The
staircase is of stone, with square wrought-iron balusters and a
moulded mahogany handrail.
The North-west Range of chambers is a repetition of the S.W.
range and of the same date except the N. end, which was left
unfinished by Wilkins. The latter part, in a form slightly
extended to the N. and N.W., was completed by E. M. Barry
between 1874 and 1876; whether this was to Wilkins' designs
or not is uncertain because his amended drawings for the N.
side of the Quadrangle have not been found. The fact of the
end being left unfinished as if for the subsequent addition of an
adjoining building suggests that the design is by Barry; in this
event Barry's close sympathy for Wilkins' work in the College
is most notable. The pedimented centre part projects and has
coupled Ionic anta-strips at each end; in it are ranges of three
closely spaced windows on each floor, with architraves similar
to those on the other main fronts; the wall-faces flanking it are
unpierced. The Interior of the range was similar in plan to the
more southerly range, but in recent years some alterations have
been made on the ground floor; the original fittings are
generally similar to those already described.
Downing College, Plan
On the eastern side of the Quadrangle, the Master's Lodge
(Plate 86) at the S. end was one of the first buildings undertaken; it was begun in 1807 and finished in 1810. Soon afterwards the room immediately behind the screen-wall linking
the Lodge to the range of chambers to the N. was added. The
main part of the house balances the Hall-block on the opposite
side of the Quadrangle, but reversed, and is generally similar
externally on the S. and W., except that the hexastyle portico
is shallower and the openings in the back-wall of the same
differ. In it on the ground floor are three doorways; that in the
centre has the lower part blocked and the upper part glazed;
the two flanking doorways are hung with six-panelled doors,
but the southernmost is a dummy; above are three windows
with eared and tapering architraves. Further, none of the S.
windows in the 'naos' is blocked. The E. end has on the S. the
returns only of the S.E. anta-strip and the main entablature; the
cornice alone is continued across in stone and timber; four of
the windows have tapering architraves. A long range of
kitchens and kitchen-offices contemporary with the Master's
Lodge adjoins it on the N.E. The screen-wall to the Quadrangle has the ground-floor doorway converted into a window;
the recess on the upper floor simulates the windows in the
The Interior of the Master's Lodge retains original doors of
four moulded panels, window-linings with panelled soffits and
shutters, and high moulded skirtings in most of the rooms. The
Study contains an original fireplace-surround with reeded
pilaster-strips at the sides and a moulded shelf and two fitted
mahogany bookcases with panelled doors. The Drawing-room
and Dining-room have plaster cornices enriched with egg-and-dart and honeysuckle ornament and leaf-and-dart and Greek
fret ornament. The staircase is of stone, cantilevered, with
square wrought-iron balusters and a moulded mahogany
handrail. The bedrooms have plaster cornices and contain
original fireplaces, all of simple design.
The South-east Range of chambers, next N. of the Master's
Lodge, was amongst the first buildings of the College.
Wilkins was directed to put it in hand by an Order dated 19
May, 1807. It was not completed and occupied until 1813. The
front to the Quadrangle is similar to that of the range opposite.
The N. and S. ends are gabled, the roof being continuous and
not hipped. The E. side has a brick plinth and a brick and timber
eaves-cornice with a second cornice, now damaged, some 3 ft.
below. The doorways and windows have flat-arched heads of
rubbed brick and the eight windows on the first floor have stone
sills and simple wrought-iron balconies. The attics are lit only
from the E.; their four windows open into wells sunk in the
roof and screened by the upper part of the main wall between
the two cornices; the lower cornice presumably concealing the
The Interior retains most of the original fittings. The doors
are in four panels; the windows have panelled linings and
shutters; the fireplaces, now painted, are of stone or marble,
with reeded pilaster-strips at the sides and moulded shelves or
with plain surrounds with roundels at the corners. The staircases are of timber with plain square balusters, wrought-iron
newels and moulded mahogany handrails.
The Lodge of the Professor of Medicine, now called East
Lodge, next N. of the foregoing and linked to it by a screenwall, was completed by 1810; it has since been converted into
the Library. The front to the Quadrangle is similar in all respects
to that of the Lodge opposite. The E. side has features similar
to those on the E. side of the range of chambers to the S.
The screen-wall is a repetition of those opposite. The Interior
retains original fittings in most of the rooms; they are similar
to those already described. The staircase is of stone and similar
to that in West Lodge.
The Porter's Lodge, standing at the entrance to the College
from Regent Street, is of two storeys with a cellar; the walls
are of gault brick and the hipped roofs are slate-covered. It was
built in 1834. The plan is rectangular; part has been let for
offices. The elevations are plain, with parapet-walls with brick
plat-bands below. The street-front is symmetrically designed;
the central doorway with fanlight has a semicircular head,
moulded imposts and archivolt of stucco, and is hung with
a four-panelled door. The two windows flanking the doorway
and the three first-floor windows have flat brick heads and
contain double-hung sashes, except the S. ground-floor window, which has been enlarged in modern times. The interior
is of no particular interest.
N. of the Porter's Lodge and contemporary with it are the
Entrance-gates to the College; these are in three bays divided
and flanked by wrought-iron latticework piers surmounted
by lamps and with cast-iron shields-of-arms of the College
bolted to the inner and outer faces. The wrought-iron main
gates in the centre bay are in two leaves; the side bays contain
railings the height of the main gate and fitted with wickets; the
main uprights have small urn-finials, for the rest the design is
The Boundary-wall of the Law Professor's garden was built
in 1822; it has recently been reduced in height. In 1825 the
Boundary-wall along parts of the N. and W. sides of the
College grounds was built, and in 1834 the rest of the wall next
Tennis Court Road was completed; all are of gault brick.