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St Catharine’s College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridgemarker. Founded in 1473, the college is often referred to informally by the nickname "Catz".


Robert Wodelarke, Provost of King’s Collegemarker, had begun preparations for the founding of a new college as early as 1459 when he bought tenements on which the new college could be built. The preparation cost him a great deal of his private fortune (he was suspected of diverting King’s College funds), and he was forced to scale down the foundation to only three Fellows. He stipulated that they must study theology and philosophy only.

Wodelarke may have chosen the name in homage to the mother of King Henry VI who was called Catharine, although it is more likely that it was named as part of the Renaissance cult of St Catharine, who was a patron saint of learning. At any rate, the college was ready for habitation and formally founded on St Catharine’s day (November 25) 1473. There are six Saints Catharine, but the college was named for Saint Catharine of Alexandria. It was initially known as Katharine Hall.

The initial foundation was not well-provided for. Wodelarke was principally interested in the welfare of Fellows and the College had no undergraduates at all for many years. However, by 1550 there was an increasing number of junior students and the focus of the College changed to that of teaching undergraduates. A rapid growth made it necessary to expand the college and short-lived additions were made in 1622. By 1630 the College began to demolish its existing buildings which were decaying, and started work on the current buildings. The three-sided court, which is almost unique among colleges in Cambridge (with the exceptions of Jesus and Downing in addition to St Catharine’s sister college – Worcestermarker – which has a three-sided quad, which may well be the same thing), was built during the period 1675 to 1757. Proposals for a final range of buildings to complete the fourth side of the court have been made on many occasions up to the 20th century.

In 1637 the College came into possession of the George Inn (later the Bull Inn) on Trumpington Streetmarker. Behind this Inn was a stables which was already famous for the practice of its manager, Thomas Hobson, not to allow a hirer to take any horse other than the one longest in the stable, leading to the expression “Hobson’s choice” meaning no choice at all.

The college was granted new statutes in 1860 and adopted its current name. In 1880, a movement to merge the college with King’s Collegemarker began. The two colleges were adjacent and it seemed a solution to King’s need for more rooms and St Catharine’s need for a more substantial financial basis. However, the Master (Charles Kirkby Robinson) was opposed and St Catharine’s eventually refused.

A history of the college was written by W.H.S. Jones in 1936.

In 1979, the membership of the college was broadened to welcome female students, and in 2006 the first woman was appointed as Master of the college, Prof. Dame Jean Thomas.
The college flag.

Academic Reputation

The Academic reputation of colleges within Cambridge is hotly disputed and often difficult to determine. Historically, St Catharine's position has been exceptional and in the controversial annual league table of colleges placed towards the middle. In recent years the academic reputation of the college has markedly improved and the college was placed at the top of the Tompkins Table, which ranks the colleges by the class of degrees obtained by their undergraduates, for the first time, in 2005.

College Life

The College maintains a friendly rivalry with Queens’ Collegemarker after the construction of the main court of St Catharine's College on Cambridge’s former High Street relegated one side of Queens' College into a back alley. A more modern rivalry with Robinson College resulted from the construction in the 1970s of a modern block of flats named St Chad’s (in which the rooms are octagonal to resemble the wheel on the college crest) by the University Librarymarker . The proximity of St Chad's to Robinson Collegemarker led to an incident in which unidentified St Catharine's students appropriated Robinson's disco ball from a bop. Allegedly, this is the disco ball now hanging in St Catharine's College Bar.

For its size, the College is unusually sportingly strong and in particular is known for its strong reputation in hockey and racquet sports, in part due to its strong facilities for these sports including grass tennis courts and an astroturf hockey pitch. The college boat club hosts the Cardinals Regatta each year, in which teams compete along a short course in fancy dress with an emphasis on bribery to secure victory.

The College hosts several other notable societies. The Shirley Society is the College literary society, the oldest in Cambridge, it regularly hosts significant figures from the arts world throughout the academic year. The College based girls' choir is the first of its kind in a UK university and is composed of girls aged 8–14 from local schools.

Famous alumni

See also: Alumni of St Catharine’s College

Name Birth Death Career
John Addenbrooke 1680 1719 Founder of Addenbrooke's Hospitalmarker
Herbert Rowse Armstrong 1870 1922 Only English solicitor to be hanged for murder
Richard Ayoade 1977 Comedian, Actor & Director
Harivansh Rai Bachchan 1907 2003 20th century Indian poet
Nathaniel Bacon 1640 1676 Revolutionary in Virginia
John Bayliss 1919 1978 Poet
Peter Boizot Founder of Pizza Express
John Bradford 1510 1555 Martyr of the English reformation
Sir Kenneth Bradshaw 1922 2007 Clerk of the House of Commons
Howard Brenton 1942 Playwright
Adam Buddle 1662 1715 After whom the Buddleia is named
Henry William Bunbury 1750 1811 Caricaturist
Oliver Cromwell 1623 Second son of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell
John Cutts 1661 1707 MP and army commander
Ian Day 1954 N/A Speed Sailing record holder 1982 for 6 years
John Bacchus Dykes 1823 1876 Victorian hymn-writer
Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed 1905 1977 Fifth President of Indiamarker
Richard Finn Regent of Blackfriars, Oxfordmarker
Jenny R. Fray First female Captain with British Airways
Leo Genn 1905 1978 Actor
Brian Gibson 1944 2004 Movie Director
Peter Hall 1930 Stage manager and director
Leslie Halliwell 1929 1989 Film reviewer
Roger Harrabin 1955 Journalist and reporter
Joanne Harris 1964 Author
Sir Peter Hirsch 1925 Materials scientist
Sir Robert Howe 1893 1981 Last Britishmarker Governor-General of the Sudanmarker
Emyr Jones Parry 1947 United Nations diplomat
Malcolm Lowry 1909 1957 Writer
Sir Ian McKellen 1939 Actor
Roy MacLaren 1934 Canadianmarker diplomat
Nevil Maskelyne 1732 1811 Astronomer Royal
Michael Morris 1936 Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commonsmarker
Ben Miller 1966 Writer, Actor and Comedian
Geoffrey Pattie 1936 Former Minister of State for Information and Technology

Former Minister of State for Defence Procurement during the Falklands War
Jeremy Paxman 1950 Television journalist
Sam Pickering 1941 Professor of English at the University of Connecticutmarker

Inspiration for the Keating character in the film Dead Poets Society
Steve Punt 1962 Comedian
Tunku Abdul Rahman 1903 1990 First Prime Minister of Malaysiamarker
John Ray 1627 1705 Naturalist
Thomas Sherlock 1678 1761 Theologian
James Shirley 1596 1666 Elizabethan poet and playwright
Arun Singh Former Defence Minister of Indiamarker
Donald Soper 1903 1998 Methodist minister and campaigner
John Strype 1643 1737 Historian
Noel Thompson Television journalist
Tim Waterstone 1939 Bookseller
William Wotton 1666 1727 Historian
Terence Young 1915 1994 British film director

See also


  1. W.H.S. Jones, 1936, A history of St Catharine's College, Cambridge University Press, 414 pp

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