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Christ's College, Cambridge (also known as God's House)


Gardens of 3.3 hectares (8.1 acres) associated with Christ's College, Cambridge. The land was originally leased by the college in 1507 and eventually purchased in September 1554, the original building having moved after its first founding in 1437. The site has been re-designed several times notably in 1825 and features many separate areas including the Master's garden, Fellows' garden, tennis courts and a Bowling Green.


The fellows' garden is laid out informally. The current layout, which dates from the early to mid 19th century, includes a gravel perimeter path surrounding the informal lawn, with various shrub beds and mature specimen trees. The path runs along the wall of the fellow's building to the 18th century summerhouse (Listed Grade I) associated with the bathing pool to the north known as 'The Bath'.

The master's garden is laid out formally and also includes a brick summerhouse. The current layout dates from the early 20th century and is set around an axial canal which is flanked by terraced lawns. The canal continues through the garden, terminating in a small circular pool in front of a white painted loggia.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

College courts and gardens, laid out from the 16th to the 20th century.



Christ's College lies at the centre of Cambridge, on level ground. The c 2ha college is bounded to the north by King Street, to the west by Hobson Street, and to the east by Christ's Pieces, a public park. The college is set within the older commercial centre of Cambridge, close to several public open spaces, with several other colleges close by, including Emmanuel College (qv) to the south and Sidney Sussex and Jesus Colleges to the north.


The college is approached off the north end of St Andrew's Street, close to where it becomes Sidney Street, through an archway beneath the early C16 gatehouse, entering First Court (C16-C19, listed grade I). This is the oldest part of the college, enclosed in the C15 and refaced in stone in the C18. A central circular lawn is surrounded by cobble paving in which is laid a stone path. A passage at the east corner leads to the south side of Second Court. Second Court is dominated by the Fellows' Building (1640-2, listed grade I) at its north-east end, with the C19 east range forming the east boundary facing the wall of the Master's Garden on the west boundary. This sub-rectangular court is laid largely to panels of lawn divided by paths, the main path leading north-east from First Court to the pedimented archway in the centre of Fellows' Building giving access to the Fellows' Garden. A path leads north-west from Second Court to Third Court, bounded on three sides by accommodation ranges (C19-C20, north range J J Stevenson 1889, listed grade II), and on the fourth, south side by the Master's Garden wall, with a central, oval sunk lawn with perimeter beds.


The Fellows' Garden, reached from the archway through Fellows' Building is laid out informally, the current layout probably dating from the early to mid C19, with a gravel perimeter path surrounding an informal lawn with various shrub beds and mature specimen trees. A broad, gravel terrace runs along the north side of the Fellows' Building, from the east end of which the perimeter path runs north along the east boundary wall of the garden (rebuilt C19, listed grade II), flanked by shrubs, with glimpses over the open lawn and back to the Fellows' Building. Some 100m north of the Fellows' Building the path reaches a small, single-storey brick building with a lattice-work wooden porch against the central door flanked by two windows. This is the south side of the summerhouse connected with the bathing pool to the north (the whole mid C18 or earlier, listed grade I). The path winds around the west side of the summerhouse, met from the west by a branch crossing the lawn from the west perimeter path, and continues towards the north boundary wall (stone, C15-C16 and later, listed grade II), screened from the pool by a belt of shrubs and yew hedging. A spur off this path, close to the wall, runs south-east, giving access to the rectangular bathing pool known as the Bath. The path opens out close to the Bath, which is surrounded by a paved path and enclosed by shrub beds. The C18 summerhouse at the south end, containing a panelled room and a three-arched loggia in Classical style, overlooks the pool. A large plane tree stands adjacent to the east of the summerhouse. At the north-west corner of the garden stands a small glasshouse, to the south of which, earthed-up, is 'Milton's mulberry tree', said to be the only survivor of a group of mulberry trees planted in 1608 (the year of Milton's birth) to boost the English silk industry (Wilkinson 1995), although unlikely to be of this great age. A second tree, similarly earthed-up, has been grown from a windfall of the first, older tree.

By the mid C17 (Lyne, 1574) the north half of the Fellows' Garden (leased in 1507 and purchased in 1554) had seemingly been laid out as an ornamental space, depicted as a kind of grove with trees. In the late C17 (Loggan, 1688, 1690) the garden was laid out in simple quarters separated by cruciform paths, with a bowling green along the west boundary, and a small multi-sided pavilion on the east boundary (all now gone). The bathing pool and its associated summerhouse were first referred to in 1748 (Thomas Salmon) and again in 1763 (Cantabrigia Depicta, 1763), but the pool may be even earlier. The garden layout is probably c 1825, possibly influenced by J C Loudon's Encyclopaedia of Gardening (1822, fig 563, p 1182).

The Master's Garden lies north of First Court, bounded to the north by Third Court and to the east by Second Court, and separated from them by a wall. The Master's Lodge runs along the south and part of the west sides. A small brick summerhouse is set into the wall at the north-west corner of the garden, projecting back into Third Court. The garden is laid out formally. The present layout probably dates from the early C20 (OS 1888, 1925), around an axial canal with an apsidal east end, this being surrounded by stone paving and flanked to north and south by lawns with their outer edges terraced to a higher level. The canal is flanked by planting bays along its long sides, and runs west along the garden to a low archway in a brick wall forming the west boundary of the garden. Beyond this the canal continues west, flanked by lawn, terminating in a small circular pool in front of a white-painted brick loggia. The east-facing loggia contains three central round-headed arches and two flanking square-headed doorways with circular openings above, in similar style to those in the south front of the summerhouse in the main part of the Master's Garden.


Loggan, Cantabrigia Illustrata (1690)

Beeverell, Les Delices de la Grand Bretagne ... (1707)

Christ's College Magazine 1, (1886)

Country Life, 40 (30 September 1916), p 378; (7 October 1916), pp 406-12; 79 (25 April 1936), pp 430-4; (2 May 1936), pp 456-61

Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire III, (1959), pp 429-35

N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire (1970), pp 49-55

L P Wilkinson, Le Keux's Engravings of Victorian Cambridge (1981)

R Gray, Cambridge Colleges (1984), pp 15-16

M Batey, The Historic Gardens of Oxford and Cambridge (1989), pp 24, 39, 100, 143

T A H Wilkinson, Short Guide to Christ's College (1995) [leaflet]


Lyne, Map of Cambridge, 1574

Hamond, Map of Cambridge, 1592

Loggan, Map of Cambridge, 1688 (from Cantabrigia Illustrata, 1690)

Custance, Map of Cambridge, 1798

Baker, Map of Cambridge, 1830

OS 25" to 1 mile: 3rd edition published 1925

OS 1:500: 1st edition published 1888

Description written: February 1998 Amended: February 1999

Register Inspector: SR

Edited: January 2001

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

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Christ's College was first established as 'God's-house' in 1437 by William Byngham, a London parish priest. Shortly after receiving its Royal Licence from Henry Vl, God's-house was forced to move from its original site, as it was needed for the King's new project (what was to become King's College Chapel). God's-house moved to its present site in 1448 where it was re-founded as Christ's College by Lady Margaret Beaufort in 1505. The garden was leased in 1507 but purchased in September 1554.

Loggan's map of 1688 shows First Court with two rectangular lawns dissected by a path from the St. Andrew's Street Gateway. To the north of the Hall was the Master's Garden with three plots enclosed by a wall and a garden structure in a corner. Access to the Fellows' Building (built between 1640 and 1643) is along a narrow walled path. The path continues through the building, into a further walled garden, the Fellow's Garden with a tennis court and two paths. One path leads to a summerhouse in one corner, the other to a larger enclosed garden, divided into four rectangular areas each edged with trees and one given over to a Bowling Green.

A further garden building is shown directly opposite the south entrance on the north wall. The culvert from the pond at Emmanuel College is diverted along the west edge of Christ's Pieces.There is a reference by Thomas Salmon in 1748 to the Bath, a bathing pool set in paving, terminated to the south by a stuccoed loggia or summerhouse in the Fellows' Garden. Around the pool are three carved busts set on tapering pedestals, of the blind Professor of Mathematics, Nicholas Sanderson, John Milton and the philosopher Ralph Cudworth; a fourth pedestal carries an urn in memory of Joseph Mede; all 18th century. Today the Bath is backed by a screen of shrubs, and overhung by beeches and plane trees. A memorial urn containing the ashes of the author C.P. Snow has been positioned on the east side of the pool.

The Custance map of 1798 shows a circular lawn in First Court, five plots in the Master's Garden and a short avenue of trees to the north of the Fellows' Building. The large enclosed garden to the north has been simplified by combining the two northern areas into a grove, and one further area has been cleared of its perimeter tree planting. This garden was combined with the garden immediately to the north of Fellows' Building into a larger Fellows' Garden, and its present form adopted in around 1825 with lawns, winding paths, shrubberies backed by trees to a style influenced by J.C. Loudon. In this garden is an old mulberry now propped, reputedly dating from 1609.

By 1888 the College grounds had extended to the north-west of the existing Master's Garden by a gateway leading to a larger enclosed space also called the Master's Garden. This rectangular area was indicated on the Loggan map. From both these gardens a narrow pathway led to glasshouses along the Hobson Street boundary. Here three buildings were constructed to form Third Court, within which is a large sunken oval lawn surrounded by a wide border of iris. In the early part of the 20th century the Masters' Garden was revised to incorporate the end of Hobson's Conduit before it flowed beneath Hobson Street. The design subtly reduces the width of the water canal when it flows in the distance under an arch in the perimeter wall, until it reaches the Darwin Shrine built in 1920 to commemorate the centenary of Charles Darwin's birth. A fine Pterocarya x rehderana stands guard over the shrine and canal.

In 1969 Sir Denys Lasdun designed New Court, which is approached through plantings of juniper; and along King Street the new gateway incorporates a wrought iron daisy 'marguerite', a further allusion to the founder, inspired by the daisies and red roses carved on the Gatehouse in First Court.

The College possesses a large collection of specimen trees, of which many can be seen from Christ's Pieces. Recently there has been a subtle change in emphasis in reducing the extent of annuals throughout the gardens and new plantings of shrubs and perennials have been carefully nurtured.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):


Christ's College was founded as 'God's-house' in 1437 on the site of what is now King's College, moving to its present site in 1448, and was refounded as Christ's College in I505 by the Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. The college was gradually expanded over the centuries, incorporating adjacent land to achieve its present size. The site remains (1999) in college use.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • The National Heritage List for England: Register of Parks and Gardens

  • Reference: GD1607
  • Grade: II


  • Lawn
  • Bowling Green
  • Terrace
  • Loggia
  • Shrine
  • Description: Built in 1920 to commemorate the centenary of Charles Darwin's birth.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • College (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Specimen Tree
  • Gardens
Key Information





Principal Building






Open to the public





  • Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust