Step Back in Time: 10 Fun Facts About the University of Cambridge

University Life

Step Back in Time: 10 Fun Facts About the University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge, frequently rated one of the top, or the top school in the world (depending on rankings), is an intellectually stimulating place with a very rich and fascinating historical background. The quirkiness, and social and cultural aspects of the university also make it a fun and stimulating place to be. Read on for 10 fun facts that will give you a little more insight into this world-renowned university.

1. The history

The University of Cambridge is the world’s third oldest surviving university and was founded in 1209 by scholars of the University of Oxford. It has many similarities with Oxford, and the two universities are often referred to as Oxbridge.

2. Cambridge’s Alums

Cambridge has a very long list of notable alumni from across the disciplines. Among the many there are Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking, currently the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. There is David Attenborough, whose voice you might know from the Life series, and anthropologist and primatologist Jane Goodall. A number of authors whose names you might know include Zadie Smith, Virginia Woolf, C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne, and there are many more! Want to find some other names in your specific field? Go ahead and Google or use your favorite search engine. You'll have plenty of interesting alums to research for hours! 

3. The libraries

Chances of finding the book you need or a quiet place to work at Cambridge are good. The University of Cambridge has over 100 libraries. The central library alone (the Cambridge University library, or the ‘UL’) has approximately 8 million volumes, and is able to request a free copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland. Another of its well-known libraries, the Wren Library, the Trinity college library, hosts A.A. Milne’s manuscript of Winnie-the-Pooh, books from Isaac Newton’s personal library, and early Shakespeare editions. 

4. Cambridge humour

When you don’t have your nose in the books, Cambridge is a great place to enjoy some classically British humour. The ‘Footlights,’ the Cambridge University dramatic club, is famous for its comedy shows. Previous Footlights members have come to dominate British comedy, forming groups such as Monty Python. Past presidents have included Eric Idle of Monty Python, Tony Slattery of Whose Line is it Anyway and Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

5. The college system

The University has 31 colleges. In addition to being admitted to the university itself, students must also be admitted to one of the colleges. Each college has its own unique characteristics. The oldest college of the University is Peterhouse, which was founded in 1284. Three of the colleges admit only women (Lucy Cavendish, Newnham, and Murray Edwards).

6. University of Cambridge in popular culture

The University is referenced in many novels, poems, television shows, and films. Scenes from various television shows and films have been filmed at the University, including the opening scenes of the Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of Dawn Treader (2010), and many scenes from the recently released The Theory of Everything (2014).

7. A plethora of Nobel prizes

Affiliates of Cambridge University have won 90 Nobel Prizes, the most of any institution in the world. Nobel Prizes have been won by Cambridge affiliates in every category. Frederick Sanger, Nobel laureate in Chemistry from St John’s College, and a fellow of King’s College, is one of a very small handful of Nobel laureates who has won the Nobel Prize twice!

8. Academic dress

Members of the University of Cambridge can often be spotted strolling through the streets of Cambridge proudly displaying their college scarf or wearing robes (official academic dress). In fact, the University of Cambridge has a long history in academic dress. While academic robes are slightly less common at the University these days, members of the University still wear academic robes to special events and college formal dinners.

9. The array of sports

Whether you are hoping to dip a blade into the River Cam–the main river flowing through Cambridge-as a member of one of the rowing teams, or you want to participate in something else, the University offers a wide array of sports. It even offers sports like real tennis, and fives, which have gone extinct everywhere else in the UK. Students can try out for the Cambridge University teams – ‘the Blues’ - or participate at their colleges.

10. Formal hall

At the end of a long day in the library, there is nothing quite like the experience of a formal hall. These are formal meals held at the colleges. The nature of formal hall varies at the various colleges in terms of the dress, and how often they are per week. Generally, they are three or more course meals that take place in beautiful college dining halls and are complete with beverage and great conversation. University members are expected to dress in formal attire and often to also wear their academic dress.