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Fascinating Cambridge University Trivia Titbits

11th March 2016

Although to many Cambridge is the UK’s second most celebrated seat of higher learning to those who study, live, or even just visit it does end up being first in their hearts. And the debate between students and alumni over which university is better? That’s one that that has been going on unresolved for centuries and will likely continue to do so for many more.

Since Cambridge University was founded by a group of Oxford scholars and dons fleeing aggressive townspeople there have been many amazing students pass through its halls and, just like its slightly older counterpart, Cambridge University and the town that surrounds it is a source of all kinds of interesting facts, figures and tidbits. Here are just some of our favorites:

Prizewinning Superbrains

Nobel 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.

The Improbably Academic 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 Issac 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 onwards – 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


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. In addition, it, like the Bodleian Library at Oxford, is a library of legal deposit, which is a legal requirement that a person or group submit copies of their publications to a repository, usually a library, which means that an awfully large number of books are added every year swelling that total.

Odd Climbing Excursions


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 maneuver an Austin Seven automobile onto the roof of the Senate House which it thwn took the university a week to remove. In 2009, students placed some 25 giant Father Christmas (Santa) 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!

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