Former house, built in 1853, extended around 1870, now part of Darwin College.
Reasons for Designation
The Hermitage, built in 1853, extended around 1870 and now a college building, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* for the architectural quality of the building, and its particularly fine garden front;
* for the survival of historic interior features of note, including decorative fireplaces and a carved stair dating from improvements of 1870.
* for the evolution of the existing buildings on the Darwin College site, from private residences to college accommodation;
* as a progression of nearly eight centuries of college construction within the University of Cambridge.
* for the strong historic group the Hermitage forms with other listed buildings on the Darwin College site, including the early-C19 granary, and the attached Newnham Grange, Dining Hall and Rayne Building (each listed at Grade II).
In medieval times a hermit reputedly looked after a chapel and two small bridges on what is now Silver Street (renamed in 1615), collecting tolls for their maintenance, and sometimes repairing the bridges himself. In 1549 following the Reformation, Small Bridges Chapel and the hermitage were sold and dismantled, however the plot of land west of the River Cam and on the south side of the road continued to be known as ‘the Armitage’. In 1672, the Corporation granted a 21-year lease for ‘the Armitage and void ground beyond the holt towards Newnham Mill’. Loggan’s 1688 map of Cambridge shows a house, Causey (or Causeway) House, standing approximately on the site of what is now Newnham Grange, protruding into the street. Around 1780, Patrick Beales, a corn and coal merchant with a yard on the north side of Silver Street, began leasing the Armitage site; after his death in 1792 his brother Samuel Pickering Beales constructed ‘a substantial mansion and mercantile premises’ on the site of the former Causey House in 1793, and is shown on Custance’s map of 1798. Owing to a financial depression in Cambridge around 1850, the Beales sought to sell lots of their property at Newnham, and an 1851 auction advertisement lists ‘three valuable building sites’ at the corner of Silver Street and Newnham Road, including Lot 4 which had ‘a double frontage’. Newnham Terrace was constructed to the south fronting Newnham Road in 1851.
The house at the corner of Silver Street and Newnham Road, now known as the Hermitage, was constructed in 1853. It was purchased around 1870 by Dr Stephen Parkinson, a celebrated teacher of mathematics at St John’s, who greatly enlarged, improved and renamed the house ‘The Hermitage’. There had been ‘substantial brick-built stables, loose boxes, [a] coach-house and groom’s room over’ on the corner site, however the stabling was pulled down in the mid- to late C19, and the three-storeyed west end of the Hermitage built in its place, certainly by the time of the 1886 Ordnance Survey (OS) map. The house originally had a portico and round-arched door surround to Silver Street, as depicted in a drawing by Gwen Raverat (nee Darwin, 1885-1957) around 1890; this portico and door were removed in the late C20. On her death in 1913, Mrs Parkinson (later Mrs Cobb) left the Hermitage to the Master, Fellows and Scholars of St John’s College. In 1954 St John’s assigned a lease to the Association for Promoting a Third Foundation for Women in the University, and thus the Hermitage became the birth-place of New Hall (now Murray Edwards), being leased to them until their new buildings on Huntingdon Road were ready in 1965.
George Howard Darwin (1845-1912), the second son and fifth child of Charles and Emma Darwin, succeeded as Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge in 1883, and acquired neighbouring Newnham Grange as his family residence in 1885. Newnham Grange remained in the Darwin family until the death of Sir Charles Galton Darwin in 1962, after which it was purchased by the Masters and Fellows of Gonville and Caius, St John’s and Trinity Colleges, who announced their intention to found a new college exclusively for graduate students named Darwin College. St John’s sold the Hermitage to Darwin College in 1966. New buildings were needed to provide graduate accommodation, a pronounced entrance to the new college, and a dining hall to seat 130. These had to fit around the existing college buildings, filling gaps and providing links between Newnham Grange, the Hermitage, and Newnham Terrace to the south (which the college did not yet own but were planning to purchase). The architectural firm of Howell Killick Partridge and Amis (HKPA) were approached in 1963 to prepare designs. The firm came to prominence with their entry to the competition for Churchill College in 1959, where their scheme, though not the winner, was highly admired and led to commissions at Oxford and Birmingham universities. At Cambridge they also designed the University Graduate Centre at Granta Place (1964-7, listed at Grade II), a senior combination room at Downing College, and student accommodation at Blundell Court in Sidney Sussex College (both 1967-9). At Darwin College, they contributed the four-storey Rayne Building fronting Silver Street, which forms a gatehouse to the college, an accommodation block, and a vital internal linking between Newnham Grange and the Hermitage, and the elevated Dining Hall, recessed from Newnham Road, linking the Hermitage and (later) Newnham Terrace. The new scheme was written up in both the Architectural Review and Building journals in 1970, and achieved a Civic Trust commendation in 1971. The Hermitage was listed at Grade II in 1972.
Former house, built in 1853, extended around 1870, now part of Darwin College.
MATERIALS: The roofs have a slate covering and the walls are constructed of gault brick.
PLAN: The building is roughly rectangular on plan facing north to Silver Street.
EXTERIOR: The Hermitage, constructed in 1853, is two storeys in height and 6 bays wide, and was enlarged with the addition of a three-storey, four bay extension to the west around 1870. Both phases of construction have hipped slate roofs, walls constructed of gault brick laid in Flemish bond, and six-over-six pane sash windows without horns. There is a continuous platband over the ground floor, and a sill course to the first floor. A tall gault brick chimneystack rises from the west side of the 1870 extension. The easternmost bay of the two-storey range previously had a portico and round-arched door surround, however this was replaced by a window around 1970 when the Rayne Building was added to the east. The easternmost bay of the three-storey range has a double-height and timber-boarded oriel window to the ground and first floors, added around 1970. The west side has a single-storey screen wall curving around the corner of Silver Street and Newnham Road. The rear (garden) elevation is two storeys in height, and has a full-height curved projection towards the east end with a conical slate roof and three sash windows on each level overlooking the gardens to the south. To the left of the curved projection is a late-C19 single-storey veranda, with a lean-to roof supported by four cast-iron columns with vine decoration on carved stone plinths and a coloured tiled floor. To the left are a C20 multi-paned glazed door, and a two-bay oriel window. The Hermitage is attached the Rayne Building to the east and the Dining Hall to the west, both built between 1967 and 1970 to designs by Howell Killick Partridge and Amis.
INTERIOR: The interior of Newnham Grange was somewhat reconfigured around 1970 to accommodate a central corridor and stair, a common room in the south-east corner with a curved bay overlooking the gardens to the south, a graduate bar in the north-west corner, and a recreation room in the south-west corner. A lift was introduced in 2021 in the former entrance hall in the north-east corner. From the corridor, a straight stair (reconfigured around 1970) rises west to the first floor and bears the carved monogrammed initials ‘SP’ of Stephen Parkinson and ‘LEP’ of his wife Lucy Elizabeth Parkinson (owner and occupier until 1913). The newel post also bears a carved coat of arms showing three hounds and a stag over, and a Gothic pointed finial. The stair has turned balusters and a moulded handrail, with a number of similar newel posts on the first floor. South of the stair, the common room has a carved marble fireplace on its west wall with a pale-coloured tiled surround and cast-iron grate and hood. The east wall of the common room has two round-arched and panelled doors to the recreation room in the south-west corner, with a third round-arched door from the corridor. The bar in the north-west corner has groups of three arches to the east, south and west walls, those on the south side providing access from the central corridor and recreation room. On the first floor, the two rooms south of the stair overlooking the garden have been combined to create one large function room. The marble fireplace on the east wall retains a marble mantel supported by two brackets, a tiled surround of eight transferware tiles depicting months of the year by Helen Miles (manufactured by Josiah Wedgewood pottery, Etruria, Staffordshire in the 1870s), and an ornate cast-iron grate and hood. The rooms to the west and north were converted to kitchens and a servery for the neighbouring Dining Hall around 1970.