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Brief description of site

Girton has the largest grounds and gardens of any of the Cambridge colleges extending to 18.6 hectares. The gardens and grounds were laid out with the establishment of the college in 1869 and have continued to develop. The gardens feature the Fellows' Garden, the Old Orchard, Emily Davies Court, Cloister Court, Woodlands Court, Campbell Court, ponds, mature woodland and open meadows. Of particular note is the 'Green Theatre' in the Fellows' Garden which uses yew for the theatre wings against a backdrop of trees.

Location information:

Address: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB3 0JG

Locality: Cambridge

Local Authorities:

Cambridgeshire; Cambridge

Historical County: Cambridgeshire

OS Landranger Map Sheet Number: 154 Grid Ref: TL 425610
Latitude: 52.2288 Longitude: 0.0850161

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Opening contact details:

Key information:

Form of site: college garden

Purpose of site: Recreational/sport

Context or principal building: college

Site first created: 1869

Main period of development: Late 19th century

Survival: Extant

Site Size (Hectares): 18.6


In 1873, a 6.4 hectare (16 acre) site belonging to John Dennis was obtained and slowly the new planting began to provide privacy and to keep out the cold east winds. The entrance lodge was built and Orchard Drive was laid out to the north of Emily Davies Court. Tennis courts were laid out, a vegetable garden was located in the eastern corner and the Honeysuckle Walk was in place by 1884.

In 1885 Elizabeth Walsh became Mistress of the College and was responsible for establishing the pond, the Yew Walk, the Home Garden, the Fellows' Garden and the Old Orchard. In 1886 a further 6.8 hectares (17 acres) had been acquired by the College and the Home Garden continued to produce vegetables for the College for the next 60 years.

In 1921 Jane Swindale was appointed as the first Garden Steward to oversee seven gardeners and 18.4 hectares (46 acres). The same year she wrote to Gertrude Jekyll thanking her for her planting plans for Cloister Court with drifts of silvers, greys, blues and soft pinks. In 1923 another design by Jekyll was presented for Emily Davies Court using drifts of stachys, bergenia, paeonies and mallows. Although Jekyll submitted many planting plans it is unknown if any were carried out.

In 1933 Chrystabel Proctor took over the garden and concentrated on the 5.6 hectare (14 acres) of vegetables and fruit, producing large quantities of produce. She improved the garden so much that by 1940 it had become one of the sights of Cambridge.

After the Second World War the vegetables slowly disappeared, flowering shrubs replaced herbaceous borders and specimen trees were planted under the care of William Stringer, the head gardener. He improved the apple collection in the Orchard, and the College won awards at the Royal Horticultural Society's Late Fruit Shows in London between 1960 and 1980.

In 1992 Penelope Hobhouse, an Old Girtonian, designed a green theatre for the Fellows' Garden which uses yew for the theatre wings against a backdrop of trees. The auditorium is a semi-circular lawn edged with shrubs and scented flowers for summer performances.

Today much of the original layout survives. The pond, initially made to supply water for fire-fighting, has become a haven for wildlife. The lawn, bank and pond edge were recently reconstructed with the help of the Friends of the Gardens and further work is planned, including further bank stabilisation, planting and gaining control of the Phragmites.

A new addition is Campbell Court which is a paved area surrounded by borders overlooked by the Library's Duke Building. Mixed planting includes Clematis armandii and Convolvulus cneorum.

Principal building:

college Created 1869

External web site link:


The main buildings were designed by Alfred Waterhouse, and other members of his family, and stand back secluded from Huntingdon Road by mature trees along the boundary. Emily Davies' co-founder was Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, who met Gertrude Jekyll in 1872 while on holiday in Switzerland.

Site timeline

1873 to 1884: The Honeysuckle Walk is laid out.

1885: The pond, Yew Walk, Home Garden, Fellows' Garden and Old Orchard are established by Elizabeth Walsh.

1992: The Green Theatre is established in the Fellows' Garden by Penelope Hobhouse.





specimen tree


Clematis armandii and Convolvulus cneorum


Organisations associated with this site

Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust

Sources of information

Contributor or Recorder Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust


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