Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

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Colleges of the University of Cambridge

Sidney Sussex College

Chapel Court, Sidney Sussex College
Full name The College of the Lady Frances Sidney Sussex
Founder Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex
Established 1596 (1596)
Master Richard Penty
Undergraduates 340
Graduates 190
Sister college St John's College, Oxford
Location Sidney Street (map)
Sidney Sussex College heraldic shield
Dieu me Garde de Calomnie
(French, "God preserve me from calumny")
College website
Student Union website
MCR website
Boat Club website

Sidney Sussex College (referred to informally as "Sidney") is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. The college was founded in 1596 under the terms of the will of Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex (1531–1589) and named after its foundress. It was from its inception an avowedly Protestant foundation;[1] "some good and godlie moniment for the mainteynance of good learninge". In her will, Lady Sussex left the sum of £5,000 together with some plate to found a new college at Cambridge University "to be called the Lady Frances Sidney Sussex College".[2] Her executors Sir John Harington and Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent, supervised by Archbishop John Whitgift, founded the college seven years after her death.[1]

Oliver Cromwell was among the first students (although he never graduated after his father became ill), and his head is now buried beneath the College's Ante-Chapel.

As of 2014, the college had an endowment of £36.m., and total capital and reserves of £108.m.[3]


A view of the college from Sidney Street

While the College's geographic size has changed little since 1596, an additional range was added to the original E-shaped buildings in the early 17th century and the appearance of the whole college was changed significantly in the 1820s and 1830s, under the leadership of the Master at the time, William Chafy. By the early 19th century, the buildings' original red brick was unfashionable and the hall range was suffering serious structural problems. The opening up of coal mines on estates left to the College in the 18th century provided extra funds which were to be devoted to providing a new mathematical library and accommodation for Mathematical Exhibitioners. As a result, the exterior brick was covered with a layer of cement, the existing buildings were heightened slightly, and the architectural effect was also heightened, under the supervision of Sir Jeffry Wyatville.[4]

In the late nineteenth century, the College's finances received a further boost from the development of the resort of Cleethorpes on College land on the Lincolnshire coast that was purchased in 1616, following a bequest for the benefit of scholars and fellows by Peter Blundell, a merchant from Tiverton, Devon.[5][6] A new wing added in 1891, to the designs of John Loughborough Pearson, is stylistically richer than the original buildings, and has stone staircases whereas the stairs in the older buildings were of timber.[7] In the early twentieth century, a High Church group among the Fellows were instrumental in the rebuilding and enlargement of the chapel, which was provided with a richly carved interior in late seventeenth-century style, designed by T. H. Lyon, and somewhat at odds with the College's original Puritan ethos.[8]

Academic profile

The college's adopted mascot, shown here topping an archway, is a blue and gold porcupine; from the Sidney family crest.[9]
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, July 2010 (04).JPG

Sidney Sussex is recognised as one of the smaller, more classical Cambridge colleges. Its current student body consists of roughly 350 undergraduate students and 190 graduates.

Academically, Sidney Sussex has tended towards a mid-table position in the unofficial Tompkins Table (placing 14th out of 29 in 2008). However, the college has traditionally excelled in certain subjects, notably Mathematics, Human, Social, and Political Science, Engineering and Law. It is also known for the high standard of pastoral support from the Tutorial team, and a sense of mutual support from students doing the same subject.

The college ranks fourth highest amongst Cambridge colleges in Nobel Prizes won by alumni.[3]

Student life

The Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge was nominated for a 2013 Gramophone Award in recognition of their disc of the music of Thomas Weelkes.[10]

In the television show University Challenge, Sidney Sussex had a winning team in both 1971 and 1978–79. The 1978 team, comprising John Gilmore, John Adams, David Lidington, and Nick Graham, went on to win the "Champion of Champions" University Challenge reunion competition in 2002. The college last appeared on the television show in 2015.

It is known for producing a well-regarded May Ball for a smaller college, notably creating an artificial lake and canal in 2010 to enable punting at the landlocked college.[11][12]

Confraternitas Historica

The Confraternitas Historica, or Confraternitas Historica Dominae Franciscae Comitis Sussexiae, is the history society of Sidney Sussex College and is reputed to be the longest-running student history society in Cambridge University, having existed since 1910. In fact, no meetings were held from 1914 to 1919 but since, during the First World War, "the University itself almost ceased to function ... the hiatus of 1914-19 is not counted as a break in the continuity of the society". The Latin name of the society reflects the tastes of Jack Reynolds, the High Church Fellow who presided over its creation, who also "endowed the Society with an elaborate Latin initiation ceremony".[13]

People associated with Sidney Sussex

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth
Chris Grayling, British Conservative MP
Carol Vorderman, British media personality

Former members of the college include the political and military leader Oliver Cromwell; early historian Thomas Fuller; historical writer Thomas Rymer; the 17th century poet and dramatist Thomas May; and Dean of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and later Bishop Robert Machray.

Notable politicians to have attended the college include the civil servant Sir Basil Engholm; and the former Foreign Secretary and leader of the Social Democratic Party Lord Owen. Former students also include current MPs, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling; Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office David Lidington; and the Minister of Finance in the Republic of Ireland Brian Lenihan.

The college's strong tradition in the sciences is seen by the association of the Nobel Prize–winning physicists Cecil Frank Powell and C. T. R. Wilson, 1997 Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipient John E. Walker and the 2002 Nobel prize in Chemistry recipient Alan MacDiarmid. Sir Benjamin Lockspeiser, the first president of CERN was also an undergraduate at the college, along with psychiatrist W. Ross Ashby. Robert McCance Professor of Experimental Medicine, played a leading part in wartime rationing and 1940s government nutrition efforts. Eleven members of the college worked at Bletchley Park during World War Two. They were Gordon Welchman, a Sidney Research Fellow in Mathematics who recruited many of them, John Herivel, Asa Briggs, Paul Coales, Malcolm Chamberlain, Edward Dudley Smith, John Manisty, Jim Passant, David Rees, Howard Smith (later head of MI5) and Leslie Yoxall (famous for his work in Hut 8 on breaking the German naval officers’ code).[citation needed]

Another famous alumnus was the theologian and moral philosopher William Wollaston who wrote 'Religion of Nature Delineated' (1724). Notable legal alumni include Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade (judge on the International Court of Justice 2009 -).

More recently alumni include best-selling author, broadcaster and Associate Editor of The Observer newspaper Andrew Rawnsley; technical director of the Mercedes-Benz Formula One team Paddy Lowe; television host known primarily for her role on the game show Countdown Carol Vorderman and the comedian Alex Horne. Also, the Hollywood director John Madden known for the Academy-award-winning Shakespeare In Love, and professor and writer John Fraser.

Musical alumni include Al Doyle (1998) and Felix Martin (1999) of the electronic band Hot Chip.[14] In 2010, American composer Eric Whitacre was named Visiting Fellow and Composer-in-Residence.

Author Dorothy L. Sayers suggested that, given details in two of the stories, the fictional character Sherlock Holmes must have been at Cambridge rather than Oxford and that "of all the Cambridge colleges, Sidney Sussex (College) perhaps offered the greatest number of advantages to a man in Holmes's position and, in default of more exact information, we may tentatively place him there".[15]

Name Birth Death Career
Sir Thomas Adams, 1st Baronet 1586 1687 Lord Mayor of London
William Ross Ashby 1903 1972 Cybernetics pioneer
Tony Badger 1947 Paul Mellon Professor of American History at Cambridge, Master of Clare College, Cambridge
Lawrence Booth 1975 Editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Ronald N. Bracewell 1921 2007 Physicist
Asa Briggs 1921 Historian
John Bramhall 1594 1663 Archbishop
Oliver Cromwell 1599 1658 Lord Protector
Thomas Fuller 1608 1661 Author, churchman, historian
William Du Gard 1602 1662 Printer
Chris Grayling 1962 Justice Secretary
Dick Heckstall-Smith 1934 2004 Musician
John Herivel 1918 2011 Bletchley Park cryptanalyst, science historian
Ronald Holmes 1913 1981 Colonial government official
Alex Horne 1978 Comedian
Alan Huggins 1921 2009 Judge
Norman Crowther Hunt 1920 1987 Minister of State under Harold Wilson
Nick Laird 1975 Poet, husband of Zadie Smith
Brian Lenihan, Jnr 1959 2011 Irish Minister for Finance
Ben Lockspeiser 1891 1990 President of CERN
David Lidington 1956 Minister of State
Alan MacDiarmid 1927 2007 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
John Madden 1949 Director
Thomas May c. 1595 1650 Renaissance dramatist
John Ashworth Nelder 1924 2010 Statistician
Gordon Newton 1907 1998 Editor, Financial Times
David Owen 1938 Foreign Secretary
Francis Sawyer Parris 1707 1760 Editor, King James Bible
Steven Pimlott 1953 2007 Opera and theatre director
Michael Pitman 1933 2000 Chief Scientist of Australia
Cecil Frank Powell 1903 1969 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Andrew Rawnsley 1962 Author, broadcaster & journalist
Charles Thurstan Shaw 1914 2013 Archaeologist
Carol Vorderman 1960 Media personality
Conrad Hal Waddington 1905 1975 Biologist
John E. Walker 1941 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
John Wheelwright 1592 1679 New World Puritan clergyman
C.T.R. Wilson 1869 1959 Nobel Laureate in Physics
William Wollaston 1659 1724 Philosopher
James Drummond Young, Lord Drummond Young 1950 Judge, Supreme Courts of Scotland

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sidney Sussex College website; history
  2. Hearn, Karen, ed. Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, p. 95
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Archived – Recommended Cambridge College Accounts" (PDF). Sidney Sussex College. pp 24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Peter Salt, 'Wyatville's remodelling and refurbishment of Sidney Sussex College, 1820-1837', Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 81 (1992), 115-55
  5. R.W. Ambler and Alan Dowling, 'The growth of Cleethorpes and the prosperity of Sidney, 1616-1968', in Sidney Sussex College Cambridge: historical essays in commemoration of the quatercentenary, ed. D.E.D. Beales and H.B. Nisbet (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1996), pp.183-8
  6. Gerald Maclean Edwards. Sidney Sussex college. 1899. Page 51
  7. Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Cambridgeshire (2nd edn., Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), p.160
  8. C.S.B. Pyke, 'The new chapel of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge', in Sidney Sussex College; Historical essays, pp.235-47; Pevsner, Buildings of England, Cambridgeshire, p.160
  9. "Sidney Sussex College Cambridge: Prospectus" (PDF). Sidney Sussex College Cambridge. 2010. Retrieved 18 May 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. I Fagiolini, Podger, Skinner and Sidney Sussex shortlisted for 2013 Gramophone Awards 29 July 2013
  11. Cambridge students create 200m canal so they can punt at their May Ball, Daily Mail, 17 June 2010
  12. Cambridge college gets a new water feature, Independent, 18 June 2010
  13. Derek Beales, '100 not out: the centenary of the Confrat', Sidney Sussex College Annual (2010), pp.22-4
  14. Paul Smith (15 January 2010). "Chip off the old block". Varsity. Retrieved 9 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Dorothy L. Sayers, "Holmes's College Career", for the Baker Street Studies, edited by H.W. Bell, 1934

External links

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