Trinity and Town Trivia

31, Trinity Street, Cambridge, is the location of our new shop that opened at the beginning of November 2108. The word "trinity" is derived from Latin trinitas, meaning 'the state of being 3' or a group of three people or things. As this is our 3rd shop, it seems only right to do some research of this fascinating city, its universities and history. 

Trinity College Entrance

Cambridge is well known, in both Great Britain and throughout the world, for its highly respected University that is currently ranked third in the world. Despite not having a cathedral, it was granted a city charter in 1951 and is located in the south-east of England in the region of East Anglia and within the county of Cambridgeshire

Trinity Street

Trinity Street is a central part of Cambridge’s original medieval ‘High Street’ and links St John’s Street with Senate House Hill. The quality of its historic environment is exceptional, with every single building being considered of special historic and architectural interest (and therefore meriting listing). The mixture of college buildings, historic townhouses and shops epitomises the ‘town and gown’ history of the city.

Trinity College Flag

Trinity College, one of the main colleges, was founded by Henry VIII in 1546, combining Michaelhouse and King’s Hall. Michaelhouse had existed since 1324; King’s Hall had been established by Edward II in 1317 and refounded by Edward III in 1337. Trinity’s flag, flown on special occasions, has as its design the royal standard of Edward III.

Trinity Flag

 Henry VIII is holding a chair leg!

King Henry VIII

At the north end of the street, the forecourt of Trinity College provides an open space in the street, with a grassed verge, cobbled and tree-lined approach that sets the college buildings apart from the more domestic architecture of the commercial street. The tower and the medieval college frontage are now major focal features of the street. The tower bears both a statue of Henry VIII, as the college’s founder, and the coats of Arms of Edward III and his descendants, adding colour and both historic and artistic interest. The replacement of Henry VIII’s sceptre with a chair leg, in the early C20, is an undergraduate prank that has become part of the folklore of the university.

Clock Tower

Clock Tower

The College clock is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Trinity: King Edward’s Gate, otherwise known simply as the clock-tower. In 1910 the old clock was replaced by the mechanism which is still now in place. It was built by Smith of Derby to a design by Lord Grimthorpe very much along the lines of the mechanism used for the clock in the Palace of Westminster (“Big Ben”). The clock is governed by a temperature-compensated pendulum 2 metres in length driven by a three-legged gravity escapement. It is a remarkable instrument, capable of keeping time to better than one second in a month without any intervention. Since it was replaced in the early eighteenth century, the Trinity clock has been notable for striking the hour twice, first on a low note (the ‘Trinity’ chime) and then on a much higher one (the ‘St John’s’ chime). This phenomenon was recorded by William Wordsworth in his poem ‘The Prelude’ (1850):

Near me hung Trinity’s loquacious clock,
Who never let the quarters, night or day,
Slip by him unproclaimed, and told the hours
Twice over with a male and female voice.

Cambridge’s Alphabetical Staircases

Trinity College Grounds

The impressive grand quadrangle of Trinity College conceals some oddly-labelled staircases. A traditional Cambridge college is structured around courts and staircases that lead off those courts to different sets of rooms and offices. So you might be able to give your office address as staircase A, room 3 or similar. Cambridge’s second grandest college is St John’s, which happens to be next door, and so the two have a rivalry that dates back centuries. A popular taunt for students to shout while punting down the Cam past St John’s is “I’d rather be in Oxford than St John’s” – obviously, going to Oxford would be awful for a loyal Cambridge student. Trinity College labels its staircases alphabetically, except that it jumps straight from I to K; there is no J staircase. It’s a popular suggestion that this is because J is for St John’s, so it’s omitted as a snub to the college. Unfortunately, St John’s doesn’t have a J staircase either, and they’re probably not snubbing themselves. What’s now a j sound in English words used to be represented either with an i or with a dg (think “hedge”); only in the early 17th century did j come into common use. The relevant part of Trinity was completed in 1535, some hundred years earlier. J staircase was originally not included because the letter j didn’t really exist; its absence from the staircases of Trinity is now maintained by tradition, or at least in the knowledge of how annoying it would be to re-label all of the staircases.

Town and Gown Trivia

Prize Winning Super Brains

Nobel Prize Winners


The one area in which Cambridge University can quite authoritatively state that it outstrips Oxford is in the number of Nobel Prize winners it has educated; 89 versus Oxford’s 58. The prizes have come in all categories – physics, chemistry, peace, literature, physiology, and medicine – but primarily in physics, a field in which Cambridge alumni have taken home the big prize 29 times. Interestingly, Professor Stephen Hawking's groundbreaking work earned him dozens of accolades over his lifetime, but the coveted Nobel Prize always eluded him.

The Improbably Academic Bridge

Mathematical Bridge

Cambridge University is home to The Mathematical Bridge (official name, the Wooden Bridge) which is a bridge that connects two halves of Queen’s College and was the first bridge built strictly using mathematical principles. It was not, as romantic legend has it, designed by Sir Isaac Newton, as he died 22 years before it was conceived of. In fact it was designed by a carpenter turned architect William Etheridge. What is remarkable about it is that, originally, it stood as a stable structure – one that was use on a daily basis by students from 1749 onward – without nails or screws having been employed in its construction at all. Or so it seems. The bridge has been taken apart several times and it was discovered that the screw mechanisms are built into the structure unseen. The mathematical portion of the name refers to the fact that the arrangement of timbers is a series of tangents that describe the arc of the bridge, with radial members to tie the tangents together and triangulate the structure, making it rigid and self-supporting.

A Bookworm’s Paradise

Wren Library

Between all of the constituent colleges there are over 100 libraries at Cambridge University. The largest and best known however is the Central Cambridge University Library, which, as of the end of 2015, housed more than 8 million volumes of works spanning every genre. 

The Wren Library is the library of Trinity College. It was designed by Christopher Wren in 1676 and completed in 1695. Observe the windows on the lower floor of the Wren Library; these contain no glass and the books are all kept on the first floor. This is because the architect was afraid of the Cam overflowing and damaging the precious books contained inside. Should the Cam ever overflow, the water will just pass through the window frames and flow back out without doing any damage.

Odd Climbing Excursions

Night Climbers

A rather frowned-upon activity that continues anyway is the art of Cambridge Night Climbing. This basically involves students literally climbing up and on various college buildings at night. Some, not just content to just climb the buildings, many of which of course are centuries-old structures, have used their night climbing excursions to commit several novel pranks. In 1958, Cambridge engineering students from Gonville & Caius College were able to manoeuvre an Austin Seven automobile onto the roof of the Senate House which it then took the university a week to remove. In 2009, students placed some 25 giant Father Christmas hats on a number of buildings, including the pinnacle of King’s College Chapel and the top of Pembroke’s Porter’s Lodge.

Exploiting Loopholes

Speaking of rule bending students, when Lord Byron arrived in Cambridge to begin his studies at Trinity College he was informed that he could not keep his beloved Newfoundland dog, Boatswain – the canine for whom he later wrote the famous “Epitaph to a Dog” – on campus and would have to send him home, despite the fact that the wealthy young man offered to pay extra room and board for it. So he looked to the rule book for revenge. Although there were rules about dogs, cats and guinea pigs there was nothing about not keeping a bear as a pet. So that is exactly what he did. And, as there was nothing formally to stop him, that is what the college had to put up with!

The Cambridge Rules

The Cambridge Rules

Cambridge also has links to the development of football. It cannot be claimed that Cambridge invented football, as evidence of football in England dates back to the 8th century, but the city and the University in particular did have an influence on the formation of official football rules. Members of the University and representatives from Harrow, Rugby and Eton, among other prestigious schools, met at Trinity College in 1848. At this meeting the Cambridge Rules were drawn up which were first used on Parker’s Piece. These new rules included an early form of the offside rule and also had provisions for goal kicks, throw-ins and forward passes. The idea behind it was to formulate a set of rules for students from different schools and universities who previously had all played to different rules. The rules did not really catch on outside of public schools and universities, but as one of the first formulated sets of rules, they had an important influence on the creation of the modern rules for football drawn up in 1863 by the Football Association.

Explore Cambridge

Brass Map of Cambridge City Centre

Are you planning a UK city break? Cambridge is a delight to visit in any season. This elegant yet compact, internationally renowned city boasts spectacular architecture in the shape of colleges, chapels, churches and courtyards combined with green parks, wide open spaces and the River Cam, which winds through its heart. Culture abounds in the shape of museums, galleries, theatres, art centres and festivals, with programmes to stimulate, inspire and entertain.

And for shopping there's a rich choice of quality independent shops, friendly markets and chic shopping centres.

Come and visit us in our new shop at:

31, Trinity Street Cambridge CB2 1TB

Or if you like shopping from the comfort of your home, why not visit us online where we offer free UK delivery.