Pembroke College was founded in 1346 by Mary, widow of Aymer de Valence, and daughter of Guy Count of Chatillon and St. Paul. The gardens consist of a Masters' and Fellow's Garden and Ivy Court. The earliest recording of the garden is from Loggan's etching of 1690.
The first garden or landscaping on the site was presumably contemporary with the 14th century construction of the college.
David Loggan's etching of 1690 shows in more detail what is depicted on his map of 1688. The map suggests that Hobson's Conduit is taken around the south side of the College and then north through the College into Pembroke Street. Then to the east are orchards and a bowling green connected by a wide walk. The small gardens to the east of Wren's Chapel are more complex and can be seen clearer in the etching, although partially hidden by the Chapel. A dog is seen drinking water from the Conduit prior to the water disappearing under the road and passing through the College grounds.
The gardens to the east of the Chapel contain formal layouts with narrow beds planted with low shrubs and flowers. There is a small mount surrounded by a low hedge and along the walls are fruit trees. Ivy Court is closed by a wall with a central gate which leads to the formal walk which runs along the north side of the far garden, overlooking an arboretum, a bowling green and finally an orchard. To the south was a field called Pembroke Piece.
Custance's map of 1798 shows little change except that Ivy Court has more trees planted either side of the central path to the bowling green gate. In 1753 Carter wrote of the Master's Lodge that: 'its chief beauty is the gardens and the waterworks contrived by the present master which supplies a beautiful and large bason in the middle of the garden and wherein he often diverts himself in a machine of his own contrivance, to go with the foot as he rides therein'.
Carter also refers to the Fellows' Garden: 'There are besides several other gardens belonging to the apartments of particular fellows, in one of which is another, small and simple, yet well-contrived waterwork which is continually supplying a large cold bath with fresh water, the overplus of which runs through the second court and so into the King's Ditch'. The oval to the east of the Chapel on Custance's map may be the 'bason' referred to by Carter.
By 1880 the Master's Lodge had been re-sited along the Pembroke Street frontage with its separate entrance court. To the east of the Lodge was a new sunken garden enclosed by a low wall overlooking the formal walk. The Bowling Green flanked by an orchard and an arboretum still remained, but a new walk with gates leading to Tennis Court Road had been laid out and the garden extended across Pembroke Piece. On the far lawn was the Observatory surrounded by planting, and the serpentine path was edged on the boundary side with more trees and shrubs. The new walk has plane trees to the south, and leads to a lily pond which was converted from a water tank originally intended for fire fighting during the Second World War.
In 1933 a new Master's Lodge was built at the south-eastern end of this garden by M. Webb. Further alterations to this garden occurred in 1985 when again the Master's Lodge was re-sited to allow the building of a new range of student accommodation along the garden's south side.
Whilst one might imagine the presence of building contractors re-siting important buildings in various locations in a garden can only bring about the garden's destruction, Pembroke has a garden of much horticultural interest. The college has a legacy of asking Fellows to choose trees for planting; and the range of trees along the north side of the new walk mark tenth anniversaries of elections to Fellowships.
The Reverend Meredith Dewey, a former Dean took much interest in the garden introducing new plantings and is remembered by his rock garden. The small pool in this garden is connected to the lily pond by an underground pipe which bypasses a mount upon which grew a mulberry supposedly planted by Spenser in 1560, when he was at the College. It died in 1977 and a root-cutting from the original now grows on the same mount. In spring there is a display of bulbs in rough grass beneath the trees and shrubs, and late autumn colchicums can be enjoyed in a wooded area recently planted on the site of the original orchard.
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Pembroke College was founded in 1346 by Mary, widow of Aymer de Valence, and daughter of Guy Count of Chatillon and St. Paul.
It has been claimed that Dr. Lancelot Andrewes who was master of the College at the beginning of the 17th century had arranged for the construction of the water channel through the College grounds. It was known to pass beneath College buildings which were erected in 1633 and 1659.