Downing College

Pages 58-61

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of Cambridge. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1959.

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Downing College

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 other screen-walls.

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 guttering.

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 entirely plain.

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.