Walks index

Gates of Cambridge University Colleges


The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209. It has many old and beautiful buildings. It is possible to walk round many of the colleges (except during exam season) although the most popular colleges ask you to pay. Every college has a porters lodge, at its front entrance. The porter will tell you if you can enter the college.

However, you can see the gates of the colleges from the public roads or paths, and that can be done for free. The colleges are usually arranged in courts, or squares of buildings. In several colleges, the front entrance, leading to the first court, has a magnificient Tudor decorated gatehouse. The backs of the river colleges - their grounds - extend over the River Cam, and the back entrances have wrought iron gates.

Here are photos of some of the college gates, both the large gate houses and the more modest wrought iron gates, and some others, with a map showing where they are. This is not really a walk. The third river walk from Magdalene Bridge to Silver Street Bridge passes some of these gates, and could be extended to several others. However, below I have divided the gates of the colleges into a number of groups, running in rough lines from north to south, and back again, so you could try to tackle them all in this order. This would be quite a trek! But feel free to see them in any order you'd like, or perhaps more sensibly, chose which you'd like to see. There is a scale at the side of the map. 100 metres is similar to 100 yards and 400 metres is about a quarter of a mile, so you can see that all of this is quite close together.

Things on the map worth looking at are marked in red. Click on them, or on the links below, for descriptions and pictures.

St Johns St to
Trumpington St
Queens Lane and
Trinity Lane
The Backs
by Queens Road
Magdalene St to
St Andrews St
The rest
St Johns gatehouse
Trinity gatehouse
Caius front gate
Kings gatehouse
St Catharines front gate
Corpus Christi gatehouse
Pembroke front gate
Peterhouse front gate
Queens gatehouse
St Catharines back gate
Gonville and Caius Gate of Honour
Clare gatehouse
Trinity Hall front gate
Clare back gate
Kings back gate
Trinity back gate
St Johns back gate
Magdalene front gate
Sidney front gate
Christs gatehouse
Emmanuel front gate
Downing gate
Christs back gate
Sidney back gate
Jesus gatehouse
Newnham back gate
List of the gates and gatehouses in chronological order

St Johns gatehouse Trinity gatehouse Caius front gate Kings gatehouse St Catharines front gate Corpus Christi gatehouse Queens gatehouse St Catharines back gate Gonville and Caius Gate of Honour Clare gatehouse Trinity Hall front gate Clare back gate Kings back gate Trinity back gate St Johns back gate Magdalene side gate Sidney front gate Jesus gatehouse Christs back gate Christs gatehouse Pembroke front gate Peterhouse front gate Emmanuel front gate Downing gate Sidney back gate Newnham back gate

Map of some gates of the Univeristy of Cambridge

First, an explanation of what the colleges of Cambridge University are. Historically, if you applied for a place to study at Cambridge University, you applied to a college, not the university itself, and this is still true (although now some people make an open application and get allocated to a college). The university holds the lectures, sets the exams, and awards the degrees. But the colleges give tutorials to their students. The colleges also provide housing and meals, and generally look after the students. The college buildings, however old and impressive, contain student rooms and dining halls, plus chapels and libraries. This page only covers the central, older, colleges. Click here for a list of all the colleges, and their foundation dates and their addresses.

Click on the photos for a bigger version.

St Johns St to Trumpington St

There are two main roads running through the centre of Cambridge and meeting at the Round Church. These are ancient routes. One road runs closer to the river. It starts as St Johns Street, often changes name, and eventually becomes Trumpington Street. It contains some of the most famous colleges (but not all) with some splendid gatehouses.

Starting at the Round Church, and going along St Johns St, you see college buildings on the right. These are all part of St Johns College, and you will soon see its Great Gate. This was built in 1516.

St Johns gatehouse

St Johns gatehouse detail

The College Arms are flanked by curious creatures known as yales, mythical beasts with elephants tails, antelopes bodies, goats heads, and swivelling horns.

Further along (we are now in Trinity Street), set back a little from the road, is Trinity College, with its Great Gate built from 1490-1530. This gatehouse is older than Trinity College itself, which was founded by Henry VIII in 1546, combining older colleges called Michaelhouse and Kings Hall. The gatehouse was built as part of Kings Hall.

Trinity gatehouse

Trinity gatehouse detail

The gatehouse was finished in the reign of Henry VIII, and his statue is above the door. His original sceptre was been replaced by a chair leg (as a student joke). The chair leg is still there.

Caius front gate

Gonville and Caius College takes its name from its two founders. Edmund Gonville first founded the college in 1348. By the sixteenth century, the college had fallen into disrepair, and in 1557 Dr Caius refounded it as Gonville and Caius College.

Dr Caius was responsible for the building of the college's three gates, symbolising the path of academic life. On matriculation, students arrive at the Gate of Humility (near the Porters' Lodge). In the centre of the college students passes through the Gate of Virtue regularly. And finally, graduating students pass through the Gate of Honour on their way to the neighbouring Senate House to receive their degrees. The students of Gonville and Caius commonly refer to a fourth gate in the college which contains the access to the toilets, as the Gate of Necessity.

Walking onwards, you will find the unmistakable sight of Kings College Chapel appear. It was built from 1446-1515 (and people complain about modern building over-runs!) It is one of the finest examples of late Gothic (Perpendicular) English architecture. It has the largest fan vault ceiling in the world and some of the finest medieval stained glass.

Kings front

Kings gatehouse

The chapel is joined to the front wall of the court, with the gatehouse in the centre. Surely this was built at the same time. No, wrong! The gatehouse was built in 1824-28, a good example of a sympathetic addition to a historic building.

Beyond Kings is St Catharines College, familiarly known as Cats. The three-sided court, rare among Cambridge colleges, was built during 1675 to 1757. This gate dates from 1780. The golden wheel at the top of the gate is from the Cats arms. St Catherine was martyred on a wheel, hence the firework called the Catherine wheel.

St Catharines front gate

Corpus Christi gatehouse

On the other side of the road is Corpus Christi College. The front court of Corpus Christi is called New Court and it was built in the 19th century. The gatehouse must date from the same time. Corpus Christ also has Old Court, built in the 1350s, which is Cambridge's oldest court.

Pembroke College was founded by the Countess of Pembroke in 1347. The main gate of Pembroke incorporate parts of the original court of the Countess of Pembroke. The gateway retains its ancient form (although it has been refaced in stone) and is the oldest surviving college entrance in Cambridge.

Pembroke front gate

Peterhouse front gate

Peterhouse is the oldest college of the University, founded in 1284. Its hall was built in 1290. There are two iron gates from Trumpington Street, built in 1751, and you can look into the college through them. This is one of the gates.

Now we are going to look at some gates down some narrow back lanes.

Queens Lane and Trinity Lane

Retrace your footsteps a bit. Turn left down Silver Street, then, almost immediately, turn right into Queens Lane. This is part of a medieval lane which continued northwards. You can pick up another part in part of Trinity Lane, which we will see later.

This narrow lane has another of the old gatehouses. This one belongs to Queens College. It was built in 1448. Queens Lane is so narrow that it is very difficult to take a photo showing the gatehouse in full!

Queens gatehouse

St Catharines back gate

Opposite Queens is a back gate of St Catherine's College, which leads to the Master's Lodge. The gate has more wheels.

Walk down Queens Lane, then turn right down Kings Lane. I'm afraid that it is an ugly modern alleyway, but it gets you back to Kings Parade to continue the walk. Turn left and walk past Kings College Chapel again, dodging tourists as you go. The main road takes a jink to the right, but you need to turn left instead to walk down a narrow path called Senate House Passage.

Halfway down Senate House Passage is the back gate of Gonville and Caius College, built in 1575, known as the Gate of Honour. The explanation of this name is given above.

Gonville and Caius Gate of Honour

Gonville and Caius Gate of Honour

This photo shows more detail of the carving of the gate, and the sundial at the top.

Carry on down Senate House Passage until you get to the end. Turn left. Ahead is Kings College Chapel entrance (well worth seeing, but you have to pay). Walk forward a little and Clare College is on your right. Clare's Old Court was built between 1638 and 1715, and the gatehouse is part of this.

Clare front gate and gatehouse

Trinity Hall front gate

Turn round and walk down Trinity Lane. On your left is Trinity Hall, with this entrance gate built in 1852, although inside, the rest of the court is much older. Trinity Hall has no connection with Trinity College. 'Hall' used to be the old name for what became colleges, and Trinity Hall kept its name to avoid confusion with Trinity College.

Turn down Garret Hostel Lane and carry on over the river to Queens Road. The grounds of several colleges extend over the river, so they have entrances to Queens Road. These have wrought iron gates.

Turn left along the path by the ditch. First on your left you will see the back gate to Clare College, dated 1691. You can look along the path a little. Clare has an attractive garden this side of the river.

Clare College back gate

Kings College back gate

Next there is the back gate to Kings College, dated 1818. Sometimes it is manned by someone from Kings, to direct the tourists.

Turn round and retrace your footsteps past the end of Garret Hostel Lane. You will see Trinity back gate on your right, dated 1733. The road beyond is called the Avenue.

Trinity College back gate

St Johns College back gate

Continue on to the back gate of St Johns. This was erected 1780 in a different positon and in the present position in 1822. However, it may have been bought by the college from its original owner which would make it early or mid C18. The public path goes no further. You need to turn left to get onto Queens Road.

Magdalene St to St Andrews St

You can make your way back to Garret Hostel bridge. However, if you don't mind a bit of a walk along busy main roads, turn right along Queens Road, walk to the end, then right, along Northampton Street (very busy!) At the traffic lights, turn right down Magdalene Street.

This road is roughly along the route of the original Roman road through Cambridge. As you might expect, it is quite straight. It doesn't have as many colleges as the other main Cambridge road (St Johns St to Trumpington St), but there are some. It does have a lot of shops, so prepare to dodge shoppers!

Magdalene College is the only central college north of the river, although there are several modern colleges up Castle Hill, and Girton College is even further out. The entrance is dated 1585.

Magdalene College side gate

Sidney Sussex front gate

Walk down the hill, and on past the Round Church, and past the start of Jesus Lane. You are now in Sidney Street, and on your left you will see Sidney Sussex College. The entrance was built during the 1820s, although much of the college is older, if refaced with concrete!

Carry on walking, past the end of Hobson Street, and again on the left you will see the front of Christs and another splendid decorated Tudor gatehouse. Lady Margaret Beaufort founded the college in 1505. The gatehouse was presumably built soon afterwards.

Christs College gatehouse

Christs College gatehouse detail

Here is a closeup of Christs gatehouse. Christs gatehouse looks similar to St Johns gatehouse. This may be because Lady Margaret Beaufort founded both colleges, so her coat of arms are on both gatehouses. The supporting animals are called yales.

Carry on walking, dodging buses (the main Cambridge bus station is round here). Again to your left, you will see Emmanuel College. The front has pillars and a pediment. It was built from 1769-75. Emmanuel College is often known as Emma.

Emmanuel College front gate

Downing front gate

Downing College has the largest court in Cambridge (although it only has three sides) but the entrances are quite small. To find this gate, walk down Downing Street, then turn left down Tennis Court Road. This gate is on the left.

The Rest

There is one historic gatehouse left which it would be a shame to miss out. You can look at two modern gates on the way there.

Walk back to the front of Christs College, and then walk on down a road slightly to the right, called Hobson Street. This bends round to the right and becomes King Street. On your right, you will see a new gatehouse, the back gate of Christs. This gatehouse was built in 1993. It has animal carvings by Tim Crawley.

Christs College back gate

Sidney Sussex back gate

Rather than walking down King Street, turn left down Malcolm Street. On your left, there is this striking modern gate, belonging to Sidney Sussex College.

Jesus College gatehouse

When you get to Jesus Lane, turn right. On your left, you will see the entrance to Jesus College, down a walled path. The path is called the Chimney, which comes from the French chemin, meaning a path.

The gatehouse is at the end of the path. John Alcock, Bishop of Ely, founded Jesus College in 1496. The Gatehouse was one of the first parts of the College to be built following his arrival.

Parts of Jesus College are even older than this. Alcock took over the Nunnery of St Rhadegund, and kept several of the buildings, including the chapel and cloister.

An after-thought

Here is a pretty gate which is a bit further out. If you do the walk above, you could include it before Queens front gate or after Kings back gate.

Walk down Silver Street to the traffic light junction with Queens Road. Carry on down Sidgwick Avenue. Turn left into Ridley Hall Road, then right again into Newnham Walk.

The gate is at the end of the road. It was built in 1893 as a memorial to Anne Jemima Clough, the principal of the House which became Newnham College. The was badly damaged in 1921. The Senate had voted not to admit women to membership of the university, and, in celebration, a group of male undergraduates tried to smash their way into the college using a workcart. Undergraduates of all Cambridge colleges contributed to a fund to repair it.

Newnham back gate



That does not cover every college gate, or indeed, every college. Click here for a list of all the colleges. The gates were given above in a rough order that you could walk round looking at them. Here is a list of the gates and gatehouses in chronological order. Some of the dates are guess-work! Click on the listing grade for the listed description. Some listings cover just the gate (so a Grade I is a very fine edifice indeed), while others include the gate with many other, probably more interesting, buildings. I have tried to indicate below where this has happened.

Date builtCollegeListed
C14Pembroke front gateGrade I
1448Queens gatehouseGrade I
After 1496Jesus gatehouseGrade I
After 1505Christs gatehouseGrade I
1516St JohnsGrade I
1530Trinity gatehouseGrade I
1575Gonville and Caius Gate of HonourGrade I
1585Magdalene front gateGrade I
1638-1715Clare gatehouseGrade: I
1691Clare back gateGrade II*
1733Trinity back gateGrade I
1751Peterhouse front gateGrade I
1769Emmanuel front gateGrade I
1780St Catharines front gateGrade I
1780St Johns back gateGrade II*
1818Kings back gateGrade II*
1823Corpus Christi gatehouseGrade I (includes Old Court)
1824Kings gatehouseGrade I
1831Sidney Sussex front gateGrade I (includes Hall Court and Chapel Court)
1852Trinity Hall front gateGrade I (includes Front Court)
1870Caius front gateGrade II*
1875?St Catharines back gateGrade II
1893Newnham back gateGrade II*
early C20Downing gateGrade II
1993Christs back gate
late C20Sidney Sussex back gate

Finally, I have tried to verify the dates and facts above as much as I could, but I may have made mistakes. If you spot any or want to correct me, please email jo.edkins.walks@gwydir.demon.co.uk