The colleges and halls: Sidney Sussex

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.

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, 'The colleges and halls: Sidney Sussex', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959) pp. 481-487. British History Online [accessed 30 May 2024].

. "The colleges and halls: Sidney Sussex", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959) 481-487. British History Online, accessed May 30, 2024,

. "The colleges and halls: Sidney Sussex", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959). 481-487. British History Online. Web. 30 May 2024,

In this section


Sidney Sussex College. Argent a bend engrailed sable (forRadcliffe) impalingor a pheon azure (for Sidney).


Sidney Sussex College stands on a plot of ground of about 5½ acres which at one time belonged to the Franciscan friars. Here the friars had settled about the middle of the 13th century and had built their church, cloisters, and friary. In 1538 the friary was suppressed and in 1546 the buildings and site was conveyed by Henry VIII to his new college of Trinity. The buildings were mostly destroyed, the materials being used in the erection of the Great Court of Trinity, but the refectory survived as the chapel of Sidney Sussex College for many years, and was pulled down in 1776. It formed the east side of the south court of the College and can be seen in Loggan's print as it appeared about 1699.

The foundress was the Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex. The fourth daughter of Sir William Sidney, she was born in 1531, and married in 1555 Thomas Radcliffe, Viscount Fitzwalter, afterwards Earl of Sussex. She died on 9 March 1589, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Her will is a lengthy document with a large number of bequests. She left £100 amongst 'poor and godly' preachers in and near London, for the relief and redemption of poor prisoners in the King's Bench and Ludgate and for the poor in Bermondsey Street, in Barking, and in Bortham (Essex). Another bequest was £200 to purchase an annuity of £20 a year for two lectures on divinity weekly for ever in Westminster Abbey. The most important legacy involving about two-fifths of her whole estate was as follows. 'Whereas since the decease of my late lord the Earl of Sussex I have in devotion and charity purposed to erect some good and godly monument for the maintenance of good learning and to that intent have yearly gathered and deducted out of my revenues so much as conveniently I could. I do therefore . . . will that my executors shall bestow the sum of £5,000 besides all such goods as are in this my will unbequeathed for the erection of a new college in the University of Cambridge to be called the Lady Frances Sidney Sussex College.'

Out of the money and goods so bequeathed the executors were also to buy lands for the maintenance of a Master, ten fellows, and 20 scholars, students at the College 'according to the laudable custom of the said University' if the funds should prove sufficient.

If the bequest proved in the judgement of the executors insufficient for the purposes mentioned they were directed to bestow the £5,000 for the enlarging of Clare Hall and for the purchasing of lands for that college free of encumbrance for ever. The college was then to be renamed 'Clare and Lady Frances Sidney Sussex College or Hall'. The will also directed that if the testatrix had not in her lifetime obtained licence for the erection of the new College, the executors were to present to Her Majesty 'a Jewell which I have made of purpose like a starr of Rubes and Dymonds and a Rubie standinge in the midle which Stockbridge made of the valewe of cxl li. or theire aboute and having on the backside a hande deliveringe upp a hart to a Crowne with an humble suit in my name for the establishing of the said College'. The executors who were responsible under the will for the foundation of the new College were the Earl of Kent and Sir John Harrington, the first of whom was appointed 'chief and principal executor'. The Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, was made one of the supervisors of the will.

In 1593 the executors approached Trinity College with a view to buying or leasing the site of the Grey Friars. To this proposal Trinity objected that they had no power under their statutes to make any such alienation. The executors then procured an Act of Parliament empowering the College to sell or let the site to them. They also petitioned the queen who wrote to the Master and Fellows of Trinity pointing out that the executors had spared no pains to discharge their trust, and that their suit tended to the amplifying of the University and the beautifying of the town of Cambridge. The letter continued 'we require that you would presently sell or grant the said site of the Friars for some reasonable price to the said executors'. Also in case the College might still be in doubt whether they might alienate their land under the statutes, although an Act of Parliament has been passed permitting them to do so, the queen continued 'we do hereby of our mere motion and certain knowledge and of our prerogative royal fully clearly and absolutely discharge and dispense with you . . . touching all your said statutes and ordinances in that behalf'.

The executors also obtained the support of Archbishop Whitgift, who in addition to being supervisor of the will was a former Master of Trinity and was thus exceptionally qualified to act as a mediator between the college and the executors. Sir John Harrington appears to have offered Trinity College 20 marks a year for the whole site. The archbishop writing to the college on 27 June 1593 pointed out that at that time they only received £9 a year from the tenants for the site so that they would be better off by more than £4 a year by accepting Sir John's offer, which he advised them to do. What reply Trinity made is not known, but it was not until 25 July 1594 that the queen granted letters patent to the executors to found a new College on the site of the Grey Friars or elsewhere. On 1 February 1595 Sir John Harrington gave his nephew, James Montagu, afterwards first Master of the new College, power of attorney to pay out all sums given to him towards the building of 'Sydney College'. No agreement had yet been sealed with Trinity but the first stone was laid by James Montagu on 20 May 1595. The first payment to the architect had been made two months previously. Afterwards the building proceeded without interruption and sufficient stone, sand, and gravel was found on the site to lay all the foundations and to raise up the walls above the 'water table'. The sealing of the conveyance of the site was still delayed as Trinity now demanded 100 marks in addition to the annual rent for a building which Sir John meant to convert into a chapel. This demand was referred to the archbishop, who decided that the sum was to be paid. The conveyance was sealed on 10 September 1595. About three weeks later Sir John sent a messenger to Trinity to deliver as much of the 100 marks as they would take, at the same time appealing to their generosity; his appeal seems to have been successful as the Trinity bursar's books, complete for this period, show no trace of the receipt of the sum or any part of it.


The whole income of the College at the outset was only a rent-charge of £30 from the manor of Bagginton bought out of the foundress's legacy. Sir John, however, contributed, besides £100 towards the building, £30 a year for the first four years, increased this to £110 for the next four years and, finally, on 10 April 1608, endowed the College with his manor of Saleby (Lincs.) in full completion of his trust as executor. The College thereupon granted him a release of his trust, 'he having laid out as much and more than was bequeathed by the foundress for erecting and endowing the College'.

Edward Montagu of Hemington, afterwards 1st Baron Montagu of Boughton, granted the College in 1599 a lease for 1,000 years of 45 acres at Burwash (Suss.) for founding three exhibitions, two of them for candidates from Oundle School, and one to a native of Sussex. These were changed to scholarships in 1632. Leonard Smith, a citizen of London, in 1601 left £120 for a fellowship to be called after his name and his executors in 1604 founded a scholarship preferably for a candidate from Holt School. The benefaction to which the College is indebted for much of its present property was that of Peter Blundell of Tiverton, who, dying in 1601, left £2,000 for founding six scholarships at Oxford or Cambridge or both. Sir John Popham, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, to whom was left the discretion of carrying out the bequest, ordered that two of the scholarships should be founded at Balliol, two at Emmanuel, and two at Sidney. Emmanuel refusing the scholarships offered to them, four were assigned to Sidney, the two senior to be considered as fellowships; and for their maintenance the manor of Itterby near Clee (Lincs.) was bought for £1,400.

In 1603 Sir John Hart, a former Lord Mayor of London, left £30 to the College library and £600 to purchase an estate of £42 per annum, £20 of which was for the maintenance of two fellows and £4 for each of four scholars, candidates from Coxwold School to be preferred. This bequest was increased in 1618 by a gift of £200 from the testator's son-inlaw, Sir George Bolles.

About 1607 John Freestone of Altofts (Yorks.) left an estate of £25 per annum at Stamford (Lincs.) to Emmanuel to provide £10 per annum for the maintenance of a fellow, £5 per annum for each of two scholars, and the remaining £5 for the benefit of the College. Emmanuel refused the legacy, considering the allowance of £10 insufficient for a fellow, whereupon Sidney applied for it, they thinking themselves insufficiently supplied with fellows and scholars. Emmanuel agreed to the application. Dr. James Montagu, first Master, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells and later Bishop of Winchester, who died in 1618, left the College a rent-charge of £20 a year out of the manor of Coppingford (Hunts.), whereof 20 marks was to discharge the rent due to Trinity for the College site. He also left all his books to the College. Archdeacon Robert Johnson in 1625 left an annuity of £100 for four scholars in each of the four colleges, Sidney, St. John's, Emmanuel, and Clare, preference to be given to candidates from Oakham or Uppingham Schools.

Sir John Brereton, one of the first scholars, who died in 1626, left one-half of his estate for such purposes as the Regius Professor and Lady Margaret's Reader in Divinity should think most expedient for the good of the College. With this legacy Cridling Park, part of the manor of Cridling (Yorks.) was bought from the Earl of Monmouth in 1634 for £2,670. It was then valued at £140 a year. In 1627 Dr. Paul Micklethwaite gave a house opposite to the College for founding two scholarships of £4 a year each if the rent of the house should be sufficient. In 1641 Francis Combe gave a great part of his library and his manor of Abbot's Langley (Herts.) to Sidney and Trinity College, Oxford, equally between them 'for the education in piety and learning of four of the descendants of his brothers and sisters and three of the descendants of the brothers and sisters of his first and second wives'. In 1680 Downham Yeomans of Cambridge left lands at Denston (Suff.) and a house and lands at Stradishall of the annual value of £24 for the benefit of three Bedfordshire men, being scholars of the College.

Samuel Taylor of Dudley, who died in 1732, left to the College property at Dudley of the annual value of £60 for establishing a mathematical fellowship and if the profits which should arise from working coal on the estate permitted they were to be applied to the maintenance of mathematical students; a mathematical lecturership was established in 1738 in lieu of the fellowship. By private Acts of Parliament in 1818 and 1823 the College was empowered, amongst other things, to found additional exhibitions and to build a mathematical library out of the proceeds of a mining lease. In 1754 and 1756 William Barcroft, Rector of Kelvedon, gave £800 to found two exhibitions for sons or orphans of clergymen. In 1755 Sir John Frederick left £1,000 to the College. Including interest the College received £1,237 from this legacy, of which £1,007 was appropriated to the fund for purchasing advowsons and the residue for the benefit of the Masters of the College in succession. Francis Sawyer Parris, Master, who died in 1760, left £200 and most of his library, as well as £400 for purchasing an advowson. In 1776 Thomas Lovett left £2,000 for founding two exhibitions for sons of clergymen preferably for candidates from Grantham and Oakham Schools.

William Chafy, Master, 'repaired and beautified' the chapel in 1833 at his own expense and at his death in 1843 left £1,000 for the purchase of advowsons or the augmentation of College livings. In 1919 Arthur Sells of Sheffield gave £1,000 to found an exhibition for candidates from King Edward VII School, Sheffield. Gerald Maclean Edwards, formerly tutor, who died in 1924, left £2,000 to be used for any purpose which the College should think fit. William John Reynolds Pochin died in 1930 and left half of the residue of his estate to found an exhibition for resident members of the College born or educated in Leicestershire. Evan Lewis Thomas, K.C., who died in 1935, made provision in his will for studentships or scholarships in law and jurisprudence.

In compliance with the wishes of Charles David Whittaker, sometime headmaster of Taunton School, who for family reasons felt himself unable to make a bequest to the College, two of his relatives left property, a legacy of £2,000, received in 1945, and a bequest for the foundation of a scholarship in law or history. In 1945 the College received a legacy of £1,000 in memory of Percy John Harding, and in 1948 a bequest of £1,000 under the will of William Whitehead Watts, F.R.S., a former fellow.


In 1649 James Risley gave the advowson of the vicarage of Wilshamstead (Beds.), which was exchanged in 1786 by Act of Parliament for that of the rectory of Week St. Mary (Cornw.). Mr. Gyles, a member of the College, left in 1654 the advowson of Peasmarsh vicarage (Suss.). In 1703 James Johnson, the Master, gave £1,200 to purchase advowsons, and also estates at Cherry Hinton (Cambs.) and Swine (Yorks.) for the maintenance of three or four poor widows of clergymen who had been at the College and 'for want of such widows' the rent of the estates was to be given in exhibitions to four orphans of clergymen. Owing to his will being signed without witnesses the College did not obtain possession of these estates; but the estate at Cherry Hinton was bought. Johnson also gave the advowson of the rectory of Rempstone (Notts.), and out of his legacy were purchased the advowsons of the rectories of South Kilvington (Yorks.) in 1706, which was transferred to the Archbishop of York in 1946, Swanscombe (Kent) in 1710 and Lockington (Yorks.) in 1711. The last was later the subject of a lawsuit and did not remain in the possession of the College. In 1765 the advowson of the rectory of Gayton (Northants.) was bought, and in 1846 William Garnons, the senior fellow, gave the advowson of the vicarage of Ulting (Essex). The latter was transferred in 1911 to the Bishop of St. Albans. Under the will of William Henry Wyn Honey, who died in 1931, the College received the advowson of Raithby with Hallington (Lincs.).


The original statutes given to the College in 1598 by the executors were based on those of Emmanuel. The object of the foundation was stated clearly and emphatically in several passages. 'The single purpose that we have in view is the glory of God and the edification of the Church by a sound training of young men so that the College may be made a seminarium of the Church', and 'Our design in founding the College is that it may be made a seminarium of learned men from which the largest possible number may be available to instruct the people in the Christian faith.' With this end in view the Master and fellows were to proceed to the degree of D.D. as soon as possible. If the Master did not do so he lost his office, but if he obtained the degree he remained Master for life. Fellows also were required to take the D.D. as soon as they were of standing for it and if they failed to do so they lost their fellowships. In any case they had to vacate their fellowship within a year of taking the degree, so that they might leave the College and devote themselves to pastoral work. This regulation was altered in a later set of statutes of the same year so that a fellow need not vacate until three years after he was of standing for the D.D. Later still the period was increased to seven years owing to the difficulty of obtaining preferment to a living. Even this extension was found unsatisfactory and after the death of Lord Harrington in 1612 the restriction was abolished.

Fellows were to be Englishmen, chosen from amongst the scholars, poor students being preferred. After Lord Harrington's death the limitation to English nationality was rescinded and fellowships were open to Scotsmen and Irishmen provided they had studied for six years at Cambridge. Before this change John Young, said to have been the first Scotsman who ever took a degree in the University, was elected a fellow in 1606. He was incorporated from St. Andrews in that year and took his M.A. from Sidney. He afterwards became Dean of Winchester.

Master and fellows were to be before everything professors of pure religion, opposed to popery and other heresies; the erasure of the latter condition by authority of James II's commission in 1687 is still visible in the old statutes. The principal College officers in addition to the Master were the dean or catechist, the steward, and lecturer. A Greek lecturer was provided for by the will of Sir John Hart in 1603. Scholars were to be elected from young men who were poor and otherwise suitable and they must have the intention to study theology and take orders. To so strictly religious a society as this, fellowcommoners and pensioners could be admitted only if they were of 'virtuous life and unsullied reputation'. They must promise to adapt themselves in every way to the mode of life of the fellows and scholars and to obey the College statutes.

These statutes remained in force, with minor emendations, until they were replaced by new statutes framed by commissioners in 1860. By these the College was to consist of a Master, six fellows and twelve scholars. The Master might be any member of the University provided he were at least an M.A., a member of the Church of England, and in priest's orders. Any graduate who was bona fide a member of the Church of England might offer himself as a candidate for a fellowship but not more than three times. If a fellow married, his fellowship became vacant, and a fellowship lapsed one year after the holder accepted a College living. Exceptionally one fellow at the most might retain his fellowship under these circumstances. At least half the fellows must be in holy orders. The Master was ex officio bursar and was to appoint a fellow to be tutor; the annual College officers were the dean, praelector, steward, and librarian. By a set of supplementary statutes in the same year the income of all bye-foundations except the Taylor, Montagu, and Micklethwaite legacies, were to be carried to the general funds; the income of the last two was also carried to the general funds by the later statutes of 1882. All rights of nomination to fellowships and scholarships by persons outside the College were abolished.

Under the statutes of 1882 neither the Master nor any of the fellows need be in priest's orders. The present society is governed by statutes approved in 1926 with later emendations and consists of a Master, at least eight stipendiary fellows, non-stipendiary fellows, and at least 24 scholars. The Visitor is the Viscount de L'Isle of Penshurst, being the representative of the Sidney family.


The architect of the new College was Ralph Simons, who had, a few years previously, built Emmanuel College. He was assisted by a local architect, Gilbert Wigge. The building was of brick with stone dressings in the style of the period and was by no means of the dark and gloomy character described by Harraden 200 years later as is evident from original bricks seen at various times recently which are of a pleasing rich red. The whole building contained two ranges on the north and south sides of an open court, each consisting of sets of chambers on four floors, the rooms on the top floor being little more than garrets. The east side of the court was occupied by the hall and the Master's Lodge. All these buildings still exist though much changed in appearance by alterations made in the early 19th century. All Elizabethan features were then destroyed. A view of the College as it must have been in its original state is to be seen in Loggan's print of about 1699, no alterations being recorded in the interim.

Before the westward extension of the Master's Lodge there were square turrets in the corners of the court and a corresponding turret in the centre of the eastern range, the ground story of which formed a porch serving as an entrance to the hall. The Master's Lodge was probably entered by a stair in the turret at the south-east corner. The originally projecting corner turrets are now recesses. The east side of the east range had, and still has, near each end a large oriel window, the northern one lighting the dais end of the hall and the southern one the kitchen below and the great chamber in the Master's Lodge above. The Master's Lodge occupied the space above the kitchen, buttery, and the entrance passage to the hall.

The hall had an open timber roof, still in existence, though hidden by the present flat ceiling. There was no gallery and there were two windows on the west side which were later blocked up by the extension of the lodge and the building of the mathematical library. The original parlour or combination room is in the north range adjoining the hall. A new parlour was built in 1832 opening out of the old one on the north side in the then fellows' garden, now Cloister Court. This was taken down and the present combination room made in the block built by Pearson in 1891. After being used for various purposes the old room is once more used as an additional parlour.

The three ranges were practically finished in 1598 and the active life of the new College began in that year. Commons of the Master, fellows, and scholars date from 25 August and their allowances from St. Thomas's day, 21 December.

A building which Sir John Harrington had from the beginning intended to fit up as a chapel was the old refectory of the friars, the only one of the important friary buildings which had been spared. It was not quite in line with the future hall and Master's Lodge but sufficiently so to form the east side of a second court if and when it became possible to enlarge the College. The refectory was adapted to its new use by division into two floors, the lower consisting of chapel and antechapel and the upper forming a library. In November 1595 small sums were spent on mending the thatched roof of the chapel and gathering up stone and brick. Services were held there from Michaelmas 1598, but no further mention of work done there occurs until 22 March 1601, when a first payment of £10 was made 'to Rafe Simons for the building of the Chappell'. As the main buildings had been finished by this date the further payments to Simons probably refer to the chapel also. They only amount to about £112.

Here may be mentioned a memorandum in the College archives entitled 'State of the Foundress' Will, Dec. 10 1601'. The total value of the estate was £12,813 2s. 2d. After payment of funeral charges, debts, legacies, &c. there remained towards the building of the College, and the purchase of lands for its maintenance £4,027 8s. 10d. out of which had been expended at that date £2,616 4s. in building, £400 in purchasing a rent-charge of £30 a year out of the manor of Baggington, payments totalling £66 13s. 4d. to Trinity College, and £230 in other expenses incidental to the foundation, leaving £714 11s. 6d. for finishing the College and for other expenses, said to amount to £1,140.

With the meagre resources at the disposal of the College it is not surprising that the work of furnishing and completing the chapel progressed very slowly. The floor apparently remained unpaved until 1612 when Sir John Harrington supplied the necessary stones. In the same year the first Master, then Bishop of Bath and Wells, wainscotted the upper part of the chapel and so completed the work.

In 1623 the College had about 130 residents and only about 35 chambers for their accommodation; even the parlour had to be used as a fellows' chamber. This inconvenient situation was partially relieved by the erection of a new range, the end of which was just overlapped by the chapel, so completing a second court open towards the west like the first. This was due to the liberality of Sir Francis Clerke of Houghton Conquest (Beds.) who, in 1628, conveyed his manors of Pilling Shingay, or Wootton Pilling, and Pilling Rowsbury to the College and later his other property at Wootton also for founding four fellowships and eight scholarships and for increasing the scholarships of the foundation. Each of the four fellows was to have a chamber on the first floor of the new building and each of the chambers over them was to be occupied by two of the scholars. This would leave ten or more chambers at the disposal of the scholars or for other students. The building must have been begun without delay and seems to have been finished in 1630; the earliest mention of it is an entry in the College accounts at Michaelmas of that year, 'for carrieing out rubbish from the east end of the new building'. No further important change was made in the buildings for over 100 years. Uffenbach, who visited the College in 1710, describes it as 'an old but still tolerably fine building' and the library 'though high up under the very roof of the chapel' he thought 'tolerably good and well lighted and the books though not numerous were still in a good state'.

In May 1730 'in consideration of the miserable and ruinous condition of our College is in as to its building' it was agreed to borrow £200 to be laid out in repairs of the College 'and to no other use or purpose'. Six months earlier a fellowship had been kept vacant for the same reason. What repairs were necessary does not appear; the hall and chapel were dealt with some years later. Between October 1746 and February 1750 four more fellowships were kept vacant and £400 borrowed for the necessary 'reparation and decent refitting' of the hall and for other purposes, the last entry providing for repair of the gateway. The old gateway was in fact destroyed and a new one of classical design built on the same site. This was finished in 1762. It was removed in 1831 and now forms the entrance to the fellows' garden near Malcolm Street in Jesus Lane.

The work done in the hall was much more than necessary repair; the open timber roof was hidden by the present flat ceiling and a music gallery constructed; the panelling now seen was probably done at the same time. Payments of £556 and £573 in the Master's accounts for 1750 show that the work was done in that year. The next building urgently in need of repair was that containing the chapel and library. According to Cole 'the old Chapel was quite worn out both in its Stone Work and Timbers and was become dangerous'. The usual expedient of keeping a fellowship open for its repair was resorted to in October 1774 and several other fellowships were kept vacant in succeeding years. In 1775 it was judged preferable to pull the building down entirely and erect a new one in its place. Accordingly the architect, James Essex, was consulted. The old building was taken down in August 1776 and the foundation stone of its successor laid on 1 October of that year. The building erected by Essex was not quite on the foundation of the old one but was made more nearly at right angles to Clerke's building, which it overlapped completely. It consisted of two parts, of which the southern contained the chapel and the northern contained the library on the first floor and beneath it the antechapel and the Master's kitchen. In 1833 the west front was 'repaired and beautified' at the sole expense of the Master, Dr. William Chafy, who gave it a totally different appearance by altering the windows in a pseudo-Gothic style, adding a parapet and an entrance porch and covering the whole with stucco. The interior was very plain with flagged floor and painted deal stalls and panelling. In 1911 it was decided to enlarge and reconstruct the chapel according to the designs of T. H. Lyon. The shell of Essex's building was preserved but the length was more than doubled by the addition of an extension towards the south with a memorial chapel on its west side adjoining the sanctuary. The walls are panelled in oak to the cornice, which is also of oak, and the floor is of marble in various colours; the work was finished in 1923.

As the walls of the hall showed signs of weakness buttresses were built in 1821 on the east side, and on the west the structure which now connects the old angle turrets. This contains an entrance hall and staircases for the Master's Lodge and the lower room of the Taylor Library, while above them are the Master's Lodge and the upper room of the Taylor Library.

In 1831 the rooms in the roof story of the central range were enlarged, a gateway tower of masonry constructed at its west end and the old gateway opposite the entrance to the hall removed to Jesus Lane. In 1832 similar alterations were carried out in the north and south ranges and a new combination room built in the fellows' garden. The whole of the College buildings then received a coating of stucco. The architect responsible for the designs of the alterations in these twelve years was Jeffry Wyatt, afterwards known as Sir Jeffry Wyatville. No further building was done until 1891, in which year a new range was completed according to the plans of J. L. Pearson. This is north of the Hall Court parallel to Sidney Street and contains on the ground floor the combination room and a lecture room; Wyatt's combination room in the fellows' garden, now Cloister Court, was taken down at this time. Another range was built in 1923 in the Master's garden, the architect being T. H. Lyon, who had previously prepared the plans of the new chapel. Finally a range was finished in 1937 along the boundary of the College site in Sussex street, the architect being E. R. Burrow, who had a few years before built the shops and flats on the College property on the opposite side of the street. A new feature of the range is that the ground floor and basement are occupied by shops.

Historical Sketch.

The deed of foundation was sealed by the executors on 14 February 1596. The College was to consist of a Master, 10 fellows and 20 scholars in accordance with the foundress's will. The Master was James Montagu of Christ's College, Dean of the Chapel Royal; 3 fellows and 4 scholars were also named in the deed and 7 more fellows were nominated by the executors in 1599, but the estate not proving sufficient for the maintenance of the full number the executors in 1621 directed that in future there should be 7 fellows only unless the revenues of the College should be sufficiently increased.

The first Master was the fifth son of Sir Edward Montagu of Boughton by Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir James Harrington of Exton and the foundress's sister, Lucy. He was thus a grand-nephew of the foundress and a nephew of her executor, Sir John Harrington, who was Elizabeth's brother. James Montagu was appointed to the deanery of Lichfield in 1603 and transferred to that of Worcester in the following year. In 1608 he was made Bishop of Bath and Wells and resigned his Mastership. Eight years later he was translated to Winchester, but he died on 20 July 1618, aged 50, and was buried in Bath Abbey. The second Master, Francis Aldrich, originally of Clare Hall, one of the first fellows of Sidney, was nominated by the executors in April 1608. He died on 27 December 1609 at the early age of 32.

The third Master, Samuel Ward, a fellow of Emmanuel, was nominated by the executors on 6 January 1610 and admitted three days later. Under his 33 years' rule the College became very prosperous owing particularly to the benefactions of Sir Francis Clerke and Sir John Brereton. Dr. Ward was one of the translators of the Bible, being one of those to whom the Apocrypha was assigned. He was a strong opponent of Arminianism and the ritualistic innovations of Laud. He and three other divines were appointed by the king in 1618 to attend the Synod of Dort in the capacity of advisers. In his time the chapel remained unconsecrated and the iconoclast William Dowsing, after his visit there in 1643, reported 'we saw nothing there to be amended'.

The year 1616 was destined to be a memorable one in the annals of the College, for on 23 April of that year a young man, not yet 17, Oliver Cromwell, the future Lord Protector, was admitted as a fellowcommoner. It is unfortunate that there are no contemporary records of his residence in College beyond the entry of his name in the admission register and a note of the sale, amongst other plate, of the stoup which he presented to the College on his admission. His stay was short as he was obliged to leave after one year owing to the death of his father.

The Montagu connexion with the College and the reputation of the Master brought to Sidney many members of the Montagu family amongst whom should be mentioned Edward, afterwards 2nd Earl of Manchester, the famous leader of the parliamentarian side in the Civil War, admitted in 1618; his brother, Walter, admitted in the same year, afterwards Abbot of Nanteuil and a noted royalist; Edward, afterwards second Baron Montagu of Boughton, member for Huntingdon in the Long Parliament, admitted 1631; his brother William, member for Huntingdon in the Short Parliament and later Chief Baron of the Exchequer; Montagu Bertie, afterwards 2nd Earl of Lindsey, a grandson of the first Baron Montagu of Boughton and a noted royalist, admitted 1622–3. Two other distinguished royalists had been admitted in the first Master's time; Edward Noel, later Viscount Camden, a nephew of Sir John Harrington and a member of the College from its first year, and also George Goring, later Earl of Norwich, admitted in 1600. Another man of great distinction in a different sphere migrated from Queens' to Sidney in 1629, Thomas Fuller, author of The Worthies of England.

When the Civil War broke out the College sent £100 for the king's use. There is no record of any plate being sent as was done by other colleges, but two gilt cups and covers presented by the Earl of Kent and not now in the possession of the College may have gone at this time. In consequence of their gifts to the king the Vice-Chancellor and other heads of houses were requested to make contributions to the Parliamentary cause, and on their refusal, Dr. Ward and others were imprisoned in St. John's College until, his health giving way, he was permitted to retire to his own College. Within a month he was seized with an illness and died on 7 September 1643.

The first three Masters had been nominated by the executors, but by a deed of 5 January 1611 they gave the College the right of free election. On 13 September 1643 the fellows met at 5 a.m. in the Chapel to elect a successor to Dr. Ward. They were divided between Herbert Thorndike of Trinity, a royalist, and Richard Minshull, a fellow of Sidney who had been a student with Cromwell and was now on the side of Parliament. Five of the eleven fellows present were in favour of Thorndike, five in favour of Minshull and one seems to have been doubtful. The matter was settled arbitrarily but effectively by the Earl of Manchester's Committee, for they sent a party of soldiers who forcibly took away one of Thorndike's supporters; his other adherents then refused to vote and withdrew, whereupon Minshull was elected without further opposition. He and the fellows were, however, commanded to appear before the king at Oxford and give an account of their proceedings, but the king with the assent of Thorndike ultimately confirmed Minshull's election.

The next Master, Joshua Basset, a fellow of Caius College, was admitted by royal mandate on 7 March 1687. As he was a Roman Catholic the king dispensed with his taking the statutory oaths. Two months later the new Master procured from the Commission for Ecclesiastical Causes an order, confirmed by the king on 2 July 1687, annulling all provisions in the statutes against 'Popery, Heresy and Superstition'. He is said to have set up the Mass in the College chapel; if so, this was probably in a room of the Master's Lodge, which he had fitted up as a private chapel and which, though within the chapel building, had always been annexed to the lodge.

On 1 December 1688 the king addressed a letter to the College rescinding the order of the commissioners and his confirmatory letter, and directed that the statutes of the College should henceforth be observed as if no alteration had been made, also authorizing the College to proceed to the election of a Master and fellows in the room of those who were not qualified by the statutes. The College accordingly, on 9 December following, elected James Johnson, one of the fellows, to the Mastership. The interloper, Joshua Basset, had previously left the College.

Thereafter the history of the College was one of steady growth and peaceful routine, interrupted only by the two World Wars, during which its life and work were adapted to times of emergency.


The following are the most notable: the foundress, full length, attributed to the Dutch artist, Hans Eworth, (fn. 2) and also a half-length; Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper, (fn. 3) and another by H. Walker; 'Repose after the Flight into Egypt', an altar-piece by Giovanni Battista Pittoni. (fn. 4)

Plate. (fn. 5)

Ewer and basin, silver gilt, 1606–7, presented by Sir John Harrington, son and heir of the executor. Steeple cup and cover, silver-gilt, 1610–11, presented by the Earl of Kent in 1611. A similar cup and cover, another of about twice the weight also given by the Earl and a number of other early pieces have disappeared, probably during the Civil War. Plate, silver, 1664 or 1671. Six tankards with covers, silver, 1666–1706. Toy basin, silver, 1645–6. Teapot and stand, silver, 1708–9. Snuffer stand with snuffers, silver 1709–10. Pair of Trencher Salts, silver 1727–8. Large soup tureen with cover, silver 1738–9. Tankard, silver, 1739. Soup ladle, silver, 1742. Tall, twohandled cup and cover, silver, 1752–3.

Chapel plate: two chalices and paten covers, silver, part gilt, 1610–11. A pair of flagons, 1610–11. Large alms dish, silver part gilt, 1610–11. All presented by the Earl of Kent, 1611. A pair of patens, silver, part gilt, 1614.


The corporate seal of the College, showing a porcupine and surrounding it the inscription: sigill commvn collegii dominae francisc sydney svssex.

A smaller seal showing the foundress's arms on a lozenge and surrounding it the motto: diev me garde de calvmniez.

Masters of Sidney Sussex College

James Montagu: 14 Feb. 1596.

Francis Aldrich: Apr. 1608.

Samuel Ward: 9 Jan. 1610.

Richard Minshull: 13 Sept. 1643.

Joshua Basset: (fn. 6) 7 Mar. 1687.

James Johnson: 9 Dec. 1688.

Bardsey Fisher: 22 Jan. 1704.

Joseph Craven: 25 Feb. 1723.

John Frankland: (fn. 7) 12 Feb. 1728.

John Adams: 15 Sept. 1730.

Francis Sawyer Parris: 20 Aug. 1746.

William Elliston: 8 May 1760.

Francis John Hyde Wollaston: (fn. 8) 18 Feb. 1807.

Edward Pearson: 31 Jan. 1808.

John Davie: 30 Aug. 1811.

William Chafy: 17 Oct. 1813.

Robert Phelps: 23 May 1843.

Charles Smith: 5 Feb. 1890.

George Arthur Weekes: 12 June 1918.

Thomas Knox-Shaw: 16 June 1945.

David Thomson: 25 June 1957.


  • 1. This article has been revised by Mr. C. W. Scott-Giles, O.B.E.
  • 2. Walpole Soc. Annual, ii (1912–13), 17.
  • 3. G. M. Edwards, Hist. of Sid. 205.
  • 4. Burlington Mag. xlii. 47–48.
  • 5. E. Alfred Jones, Old Plate of the Cambridge Coll. 107–12.
  • 6. Admitted in obedience to a Royal Mandate; see above, p. 486.
  • 7. Walter Chambre was elected on 17 Jan. 1728, but resigned through ill health on 1 Feb.
  • 8. This election was afterwards declared void by the Visitor.