Cambridge University’s Darwin College Protected
The buildings (designed 1965-7; built 1967-9) were created to provide a gatehouse, graduate accommodation, and a dining hall for Darwin College, established in 1964.
The architectural firm of Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis (HKPA), renowned for their designs of post-war university buildings, was approached to prepare a scheme for Darwin College.
They designed a number of university buildings at Cambridge including the University Graduate Centre at Granta Place, and student accommodation at Sidney Sussex College. Elsewhere, they won commissions at Oxford, Birmingham and Reading universities (listed at Grade II) and the University of Warwick (listed at Grade II*).
Led by HKPA architect Bill Howell, the Rayne Building (named after benefactors the Rayne Foundation) and the Dining Hall were designed to blend unobtrusively with the existing historic buildings on the site and create a unified scheme.
The Rayne Building provided a gatehouse to the new College, an accommodation block of 34 study bedrooms and an internal link between Newnham Grange and the Hermitage. From the Porters’ Lodge, a passage leads to the gardens beyond.
From the central corridor, a flight of steps leads to a first-floor stair hall in the gatehouse, from where an impressive stair rises to the attic, with bridges to each floor of accommodation. Each study bedroom has a projecting box window overlooking Silver Street or the gardens, with attractive red tiled floors, brick walls, and bleached joinery stained warm grey.
The first-floor Dining Hall is raised on reinforced concrete stilts above an open car park, with a beautiful shuttered concrete finish. On the garden side, an elegant spiral stair descends to the gardens on the river. The interior of the octagonal dining hall features a natural pine ceiling resting on reinforced concrete beams and is bathed in natural light by an octagonal lantern, roof lights and slit windows.
The scheme achieved a Civic Trust commendation in 1971.
Founded in 1964, Darwin was Cambridge University’s first College exclusively for postgraduate students and the first Cambridge College to admit both men and women. Newnham Grange and the Old Granary were purchased from the Darwin family (descendants of Charles Darwin) in 1962. The neighbouring house ‘The Hermitage’ was sold by St John’s College to Darwin in 1966, and was adapted as kitchens, offices, common rooms and a small dining room.
Newnham Grange and The Hermitage
Newnham Grange and the Hermitage were each listed at Grade II in 1972. Historic England has relisted both buildings with additional information to better explain their history and why they are included on the List.
Newnham Grange was built as a detached townhouse in 1793. A number of late 18th century features survive including a fine stair hall with stone-flagged floor, classical architectural detailing and a cantilevered stone staircase.
The townhouse was acquired by George Howard Darwin, Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge, in 1883. It was partially remodelled for his family in 1885 to designs by John James Stevenson, an experienced architect with a number of listed buildings to his name.
The Hermitage was built in 1853 as a detached townhouse. It was extended and improved in around 1870 by Dr Stephen Parkinson, a celebrated mathematics teacher at St John’s College. Mrs Parkinson (later Mrs Cobb) left the Hermitage to the Master, Fellows and Scholars of St John’s College. Following the foundation of Darwin College at neighbouring Newnham Grange in 1964, St John’s sold the Hermitage to Darwin College in 1966.
Darwin College’s sympathetic fusion of old and new is a key part of the post-war evolution of the ancient University of Cambridge. I am delighted that these accomplished buildings have been listed in time for the 60th anniversary of the College’s foundation. This status will ensure that they are protected and can continue to nurture and inspire exceptional graduate minds for generations to come.
The elegantly designed Rayne Building and the Dining Hall are a striking addition to Darwin College, blending beautifully with the historic buildings at the college. They stand out among post-war college architecture with their combination of fine materials and creative functionality. These graceful buildings hold special memories for people who’ve visited or studied here and those who see them every day. We’d love people to share those stories.
We are pleased that the sympathetic design of the buildings, and the sense of cohesion they create within the College, has been recognised in this way. While the historic significance and aesthetic appeal of Newnham Grange and the Hermitage have long been recognised, the Dining Hall and the Rayne Building are more than simply filler. They are fine modern buildings central to much of Darwin’s life as a College, and a worthy reflection of the ambitions of the College’s founders.
We’re delighted to see the Rayne Building and the Dining Hall at Darwin College recognised with national listing, following C20’s application to list in 2019. Darwin College was originally composed of several distinguished but disparate buildings. The 1964 HKPA scheme unified it into a cohesive whole, providing the facilities that enabled it to become one of the most progressive colleges in the University - the first graduate and first mixed college. The news is a reminder that Cambridge is home to some of the finest modern architecture in Britain, much of it listed at a high grade; its colleges and institutions having both the funds and the foresight to employ the most accomplished architects of the day - from Powell and Moya to James Stirling, John Outram to Zaha Hadid.
The Missing Pieces Project: Uncover hidden histories and highlight overlooked stories
We’d love you to add your story about Darwin College to the Missing Pieces Project.
It could be a new photo, your memories of the college, or something you know about its historic buildings. You can add photos, drawings, audio, film, or text.
Everything you add is an important piece of the picture. And the more pieces of the picture we have, the better we can celebrate and protect what makes these places special.