Some Cambridge People


     How is one to convey the crowded spirits who throng the courtyards of Cambridge? How to give a substance to the people who studied and lived here and only a very few of whom remain in the portraits and statues?


      Let me attempt to do this by imagining that I am setting up an exhibition about Cambridge University. The aim is to explore a wide range of the people and ideas that have been nurtured in this small fen university over the last eight hundred years. I have been given an unlimited budget and can use film, photographs, books, and scientific instruments to make my tour of an intellectual world over the centuries come alive. Here is a possible plan.


    I would take you first into the Old Library at Trinity College, designed by Christopher Wren and with the exquisite woodcarvings of Grinling Gibbons. Round the current statues of great men, Newton, Bacon and others, I would place other exhibits, other statues and scientific instruments. On panels in front of the bookcases I would put portraits and photographs gathered from all over Cambridge. I would extend the current display cases, which now contain manuscripts of Francis Bacon, Bertrand Russell, A.E.Houseman the poet and A.A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh.


     The aim of this display would be to show the background of current work in Cambridge. So the display would cover roughly the first 740 years of Cambridge as a University. The last sixty years will take us out into different parts of Cambridge where displays would be divided by subject or discipline.


Early or medieval Cambridge (c. 1209-1485)


      The first alcove would show maps, medieval manuscripts and Latin documents, with just one or two early engravings and portraits, dealing with Cambridge from 1208 to the arrival of the Tudors in 1475. It might be called Monkish Cambridge or Monastic Cambridge since at that time most of the colleges were like monastic institutions. There would be few individuals here.  Though there were many students who went on to make distinguished contributions, few are remembered by name. There might be a picture and manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer, who set his 'Reeves Tale' at Trumpington Mill just outside Cambridge and is reputed to have spent time in the town. But that is all, apart from the insights into early foundations and noble associations, such as the setting up of King's College by Henry VI in 1441 and other acts of charitable benefaction, and an outline of the medieval course of instructions. This period has flavoured all subsequent development, and one strand of Cambridge is still monkish. But the ideas and people are largely lost to us if we are thinking of 'famous men' (and even more, women).


Tudor or Reformation Cambridge (c.1485-1603)


     The next alcove might be called Tudor Cambridge or Reformation Cambridge, that is roughly the period from the later fifteenth century to the start of the seventeenth. As always the boundaries are unclear, since placing people and ideas in a period often involves deciding whether we take their birth, links with Cambridge, best known achievements or some other criteria for assigning them. So it is my own subjective allocation.


     I would highlight with pictures and objects just a few of the important people and their ideas, but many others of considerable significance would be listed in a hand list. There would be Desiderius Erasmus, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge for some years after 1516. There would be the poets Thomas Wyatt, Edmund Spenser, Fulke Greville, George Gascoigne  and Thomas Nashe. There would be the playwrights Christopher Marlowe, who wrote Tamburlane at Cambridge, and Giles Fletcher the Younger. There would be the musician Orlando Gibbons.


     There would be several of the founders of the Protestant Reformation in England, translators of the bible, archbishops and martyrs including Robert Barnes, Thomas Bilney, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and  Thomas Cranmer, who became the first post-reformation Archbishop of Canterbury and largely responsible for the Book of Common Prayer. This Book would later be printed by the world’s oldest-established university press (Cambridge University Press), which began to publish in 1584. There would also be famous Puritan authors, such as William Perkins who was at the University throughout his life and wrote on many topics including witches. 


     There would be John Dee the mathematician and astrologer who is thought to be the model for Shakespeare's Prospero. There would be one of the greatest of scientists, little remembered now, William Gilbert who laid down many of the principles of electricity and magnetism. There would be forerunners of history such as Ralph Holinshed the chronicler, upon whose works again Shakespeare depended, and John Leland the antiquary. There would be the doggerel poet and expert on agriculture, Thomas Tusser. There would be a number of important Elizabethan statesmen and politicians including Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham.


     The woodcuts and a growing number of printed books and surviving portraits would give us a picture of a world of ruffs and tight trousers, of codpieces and solid brick buildings, which are recreated for us in television series on Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. These are the people who broke free from Rome, and who started to travel around the world. They were beginning to recover the self-confidence and idiosyncrasy which had always been in England and Cambridge, but which had been muffled by the political turmoil of the fifteenth century, the loss of the French overseas possessions and the economic and social traumas after the Black Death.


Stuart Cambridge (c.1603-1688)


      The next alcove might be called Stuart Cambridge, or, perhaps, Puritan Cambridge. It would in essence cover the seventeenth century. In some ways, along with the twentieth century, this is perhaps the most exciting and interesting century in the history of the colleges and university and it is no longer difficult to find many major figures one would like to explore, and many secondary ones for the handlist.


    Towering over them all are two men, both puritans in their own way. There is the poet John Milton, who wrote a number of his works including Lycidas and Il Penseroso while at Christ's College. The other is Isaac Newton, doing much of his work at Trinity College, who is widely regarded as one of the very greatest scientists of all time. 'Nature and nature's law lay hid in night. God said “Let Newton be” and all was light', as Pope's epitaph put it with its brilliant play on Newton's optics. Or, as Wordsworth described how on moonlight nights he could see


‘The antechapel where the statue stood

Of Newton with his prism and silent face,

The marble index of a mind for ever

Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.’[1]


     Yet there are many others. Milton was only the most wonderful of many poets who passed through Cambridge. Others include John Donne, George Herbert (Fellow, and Public Orator in the University for eight years), Andrew Marvell, Robert Herrick, John Donne, John Dryden, Abraham Cowley, Matthew Prior, James Shirley, Richard Prior and John Suckling.


      And alongside Newton there was Francis Bacon the philosopher and scientist who mapped out the methods and scope of science in his Great Instauration, New Atlantis and other works. There was also William Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood and John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal in 1675 whose observations provided data which was essential for Newton.  Likewise there was Newton’s teacher, the divine and mathematician Isaac Barrow, who, among other things, played a part in the development of modern calculus. There was also the naturalist, John Ray, and the mathematician, inventor of the speaking-trumpet and forerunner of the computer and the steam-engine, Samuel Morland.


      There were also other kinds of writer and thinker. There was Samuel Pepys the diarist; Thomas Fuller whose Worthies captured many of his Cambridge and other contemporaries; Lancelot Andrewes the theologian; Henry More, Ralph Cudworth and Benjamin Whichcote, the so-called ‘Cambridge Platonists’, who developed a liberal and liberating philosophy based on Plato; Edward Coke the great common lawyer and author of the Institutes of the Laws of England; Henry Spelman the historian and philologist. There was also John Harvard who endowed the American University which carries his name and Thomas Shepherd the first Provost. Not least among them would be  Oliver Cromwell, a student for a year until his father died, and then Member of Parliament for the city.


     Again, the dress and language of the Stuart generations, whose portraits are now even more life-like and whose stereotypes fill many a film and television exploration on the Civil Wars and the later Stuarts, would be apparent from the assembled artefacts. There would be some of Newton's optical and other instruments, as well as drafts of the poetry of John Milton and others. This is the period of growing English supremacy on the seas and a conspicuous growth of wealth. England has recovered from a time when it felt a backwater and begins to give an impression of something new emerging in one corner of the world.


Hanoverian Cambridge (c. 1688-1800)


     I am typing this in the Gibbs Building, the long white building facing the entry to King’s College, which with its classical proportions represents some of our images of the eighteenth century. The park, lawns and grazing cows behind the building also preserve something of the last glow of an agrarian world soon to be challenged by the first industrial civilization. You may have a mental picture of this age - the age of baroque music, of Handel and Bach, the elegance of Wedgwood and the Adams brothers, the landscape of Constable and Gainsborough, the poetry of Pope and Swift at the start and the early Romantics at the end.


     This alcove, fitting within the semi-classical proportions of Wren's Library and Trinity Chapel, could be called Augustan, Hanoverian or more picturesquely Coffee House Cambridge. The bewigged figures who stare down in many College dining rooms begin to date from this period. They include politicians such as Robert Walpole and Pitt the Younger, who presided over the peace, and then the war that defeated Napoleon. There is the diplomat and traveller Stratford Canning. There is the second great economist, and one of the prophets for our age, Thomas Malthus, author of the Principles of Population. There is also Thomas Young, a polymath who pioneered the wave theory of light in the 1790s. There is the historian, theologian and mathematician William Whiston and the physiologist, chemist and inventor Stephen Hales.


    The poets include Thomas Gray ('Elegy in a country churchyard’), George Crabbe ('The Deserted Village') Christopher Smart, an eccentric genius, and then, at the end of the century William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who formed the early core of the Romantic Movement. Novelists and writers include Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy, the highly influential Horace Walpole, Lord Chesterfield, author of Letters to his Son. Other scholars included Richard Bentley, whose edition of Horace altered literary criticism, and who re-shaped (to much indignation), Trinity College where he was Master, William Law, author of A Serious Call to a Religious Life which had an enduring influence on religious thinking and William Stukeley the antiquarian.


Victorian Cambridge (c.1800-1901)


    The next alcove of the exhibition would basically cover the nineteenth century. It could be called Victorian, Imperial or Liberal Cambridge - each partly fits. Here we meet the figures whose rather serious demeanours, often dressed in black but no longer with wigs or cravats, stare down from the paintings.


    There would be some of the great historians of the modern world, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Lord Acton and F.W.Maitland, arguably the greatest of them all and far more than a historian, as is recognized by the fact that he is the only non-poet in ‘Poet’s Corner’ in Westminster Abbey. Maitland wrote almost the whole of the famous History of English Law, though the title is ‘Pollock and Maitland’ to acknowledge the collaboration with another major figure in legal history, Sir Frederick Pollock.  Maitland’s predecessor in the history of law, Sir Henry Maine, also a founding father of anthropology in his book Ancient Law, reminds us of the stream of anthropology, where Sir J.G. Frazer, the author of massive Golden Bough is arguably the most famous anthropologist of all time. Frazer links us to explorers such as Charles Doughty, author of Arabia Deserta and A.W. Kinglake who also told of his travels in the Middle East in Eothen. Sir Thomas Wade was the first professor of Chinese and a diplomat and Sir Vernon Harcourt another diplomat, politician and the Whewell Professor of International Law. And Alfred Marshall represents the tradition of economics started by Malthus and to lead on to Keynes.


     There are impressive poets, Byron, Tennyson and Fitzgerald the translator of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam.  There are many writers, including Samuel Butler the author of Erewhon and The Way of All Flesh, Charles Kingsley who wrote The Water Babies, Sir Lesley Stephen, literary critic and writer and father of Virginia Woolf, William Makepeace Thackeray the author of Vanity Fair. The major philosophers overlap into the next period, but Henry Sidgwick the moral philosopher and William Whewell, the polymath, philosopher and historian of science (who coined the word ‘scientist’ in 1840 and who is one of the very few with a statue in Trinity Chapel), could be included here.  The political figures including Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce of slave trade abolition fame and Lord Palmerston the imperial prime minister. On the musical side, Charles Villiers Stanford the composer was at Cambridge, as was the young Ralph Vaughan Williams.


      It was in this century that Cambridge became again a world centre of scientific thought.  Charles Darwin was an undergraduate and would not have undertaken his work without the influence of his teachers, Adam Sedgwick one of the founders of modern geology and John Stevens Henslow whose interest in botany and arranging of the trip on the Beagle changed Darwin’s life. Another geologist and also brilliant mathematician and teacher of mathematicians is William Hopkins.


     The man who specified what a computer is, and made the first working mechanical calculating and analytic machine along these lines was Charles Babbage, who was Lucasian Professor at Cambridge and who had his first ideas on a calculating machine while an under-graduate at Peterhouse. Henry Cavendish, after whom the Cavendish Laboratory was named, discovered hydrogen. Important advances in astronomy were made by Sir John Herschel, the foundations of electromagnetism were laid by James Clerk Maxwell and in 1897 J.J.Thomson established the nature of the electron, the basis of much atomic science and computing since then. Although he did most of his work at Glasgow, the mathematical physicist William Thomas Lord Kelvin was an undergraduate at Cambridge. 


Edwardian Cambridge (c. 1901-1945)


     The break between the nineteenth and twentieth century is very blurred, and many of the great figures in the next alcove, which covers roughly the period from the start of the century up to the Second World War, might be placed in late Victorian England, or in what we might call Edwardian or Inter-War Cambridge. Although the time period is half that of previous alcoves, the numbers of photographs and objects would be as great as any that preceded it.


     Starting this time with the sciences, this was the period when the Old Cavendish was in its prime, we can note several major figures. While he was walking along the Backs in 1912  Lawrence Bragg had the ideas which led him into the discovery of the mechanism of X-ray diffraction. In 1922 Francis William Aston the chemist and physicist won the Nobel Prize for his work with a mass spectograph and work in mathematics. Ralph Fowler was the distinguished physicist and astronomer who worked with many of the leading scientists, including Rutherford, Eddington and Chandrasekhar.


     In 1929 Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins received his Nobel Prize for the discovery of vitamins. In 1932 John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton split the atom for the first time. In 1933 Paul Dirac received his Nobel prise for Physics – one of whose equations predicted the existence of antimatter. Sir James Chadwick discovered the neutron, and there was the later work of Ernest Rutherford as Director of the Old Cavendish and that of Pyotr Kapitsa (Piotr Kapitza) in low temperature physics. Exactly on the cusp, would be Otto Frisch, who taught at Cambridge after the war, but who was the co-designer of the mechanism for the detonation of the first atom bomb in 1940. There were many distinguished mathematicians including the brilliant student of G.H. Hardy of Trinity, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who died tragically young after some sensational work in number theory.


   There were also major advances in astronomy associated with Arthur Eddington and the re-founding of modern genetics[2] by William Bateson on the basis of earlier work by Mendel. There was the pioneering work of A.V.Hill in physiology which won him the Nobel Prize and links up with later work by his famous students. D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, a mathematician and  biologist, published his still influential Growth and Form in 1917.  In 1932 Edgar Douglas (Lord) Adrian won the Nobel Prize for Physiology for his work on neurons.


    In the arts, humanities and social sciences there are many people to consider. Poets include A.E. Houseman of ‘Shropshire Lad’ fame, James Elroy Flecker, the quintessentially Cambridge Rupert Brooke as well as Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Marsh and Kathleen Raine. Historians include the social historian G.M.Trevelyan, George Gooch, Herbert Butterfield, George Kitson Clark, Walter Ullman, Sir John Clapham, Eileen Power and Sir Steven Runciman on the Crusades.  More general writers include E.M.Forster, A.A.Milne (Winnie the Pooh), M.R.James (‘Ghost Stories of an Antiquary’), Clive Bell, J.B.Priestley, John Cowper Powys and his younger brother Llewellyn. Literary critics include Lytton Strachey, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (‘Q’), I.A.Richards, C.K. Ogden and William Empson.


     Anthropology was now moving on from the days of Frazer, with the later work of A.C.Haddon and W.H.Rivers and archaeology and classics were unusually represented by women, Jane Harrison and Jane Garrod. Economists included John Maynard Keynes, arguably one of the two greatest economists of modern times. Artists and photographers included the art critic and painter Roger Fry and the photographer Cecil Beaton. Philosophers included Bertrand Russell, A.N. Whitehead, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G.E. Moore, C.D. Broad, Michael Oakeshott and Richard Braithwaite. It is not easy to categorize Allama Mohammad Iqbal, a major poet, philosopher and politician, but he should be mentioned. Royalty included Edward VII and George VI, both of whom did their degrees at Trinity.


     This Trinity Library exhibition would be a ‘prolegomena’ to the post-second World War Cambridge, the later part of which I have come to know over the last forty years. It would give us a glimpse of the ‘ancestors’ who may have died, but whose works and thoughts still swirl round the corridors, common rooms, libraries and laboratories. Constraints of space (and ignorance) have led me to omit others who would be brought to the attention of the curators of the virtual exhibition.


Contemporary Cambridge (1945 onwards)


    Then there is the question of how to represent the more than half a century since the Second World War. The problem here is that the sifting of time, which helps us to separate the enduring mountains from the smaller hills, has not occurred. There are many more figures to consider and many of them are still alive to contest their importance. There are also more because of a great surge in both the numbers passing through Cambridge and teaching here, and perhaps because of a heightened creativity over that period.


     We are dealing with people who are still alive, often literally, but also in the teaching of students and in the influence on younger minds. Some we know are immortal, like Crick and Watson, Fred Sanger the double Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and Stephen Hawking. Others we cannot yet be sure about.


    I would now move you from Trinity Library to another set of smaller exhibitions all round the University, split by disciplines or areas of interest. They would be held in departments, libraries, laboratories, theatres, and college rooms. Here each of the main areas of creative activity would have its own exhibition. There would now be more photographs, more artefacts belonging to the people concerned, taped and filmed interviews, scientific instruments and guides to explain the work.


Arts and humanities


      Let us start in a room in King’s College immortalized in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, where a dinner party was held in the room long occupied by Dadie Rylands. We have seen that a number of distinguished playrights have been associated with Cambridge from the time of Christopher Marlowe. It was in the contemporary period, however, that Cambridge theatre became internationally famous. In particular, the influence of Dadie Rylands, who inspired a number of dramatists, and of J.M.Keynes who set up the Arts Theatre, and later in the founding of the ‘Footlights’ and Marlowe Society has meant an expansion in this kind of artistic talent.


    Starting with writers and producers, we have Christopher Isherwood, Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett, David Hare, Peter Schaffer, Simon Gray, Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, John Arden, Mike Newell, Howard Brenton, Richard Eyre  and Stephen Poliakoff. Actors on stage and on television include Derek Jacobi, Michael Redgrave, Emma Thompson and Daniel Massey.


     Particularly striking are the band of inventive people who produced and acted in films, television shows and plays of an often crazy and satirical kind. We can pick out Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Stephen Fry, Jonathan Miller, John Clees, David Frost, Eric Idle, Hugh Laurie, Gryff Rhys Jones, Graham Chapman, Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Clive Anderson, John Bird, John Fortune, David Baddiel and Sasha Baron Cohen (‘Borat’). To them we might add radio presenters of distinction, including Jeremy Paxman and Sandi Tosvig and film directors such as Stephen Frears (‘My Beautiful Laundrette’) and Sam Mendes (‘American Beauty’).


    This often playful, ironic and distinctively English humour and inventiveness is an interesting reflection of the atmosphere of Cambridge in these years. It is perhaps best summed up in a cult book which also shows the interaction with the more extraordinary aspects of Cambridge science at this time. This is Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


      You could walk from the Rylands room to a small tent on ‘Scholar’s Piece’ in King’s, looking over the view which the Chinese poet Xu Zhimo immortalized in the 1920’s in his poem ‘On Saying Good-bye to Cambridge’.


    Here we would find exhibits on poets and other writers. The poets would include Seamus Heaney, William Empson, Elaine Feinstein, Gavin Ewart, J.H.Prynne, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. The writers would include Malcolm Lowry, Ronald Firbank, Ian McKellen, Peter Ackroyd, Margaret Drabble, Michael Frayn, Rosamond Lehmann, A.S.Byatt, Salman Rushdie, Patrick White, Clive James, Graham Swift, Hugh Walpole, Piers Paul Read, Howard Jacobson, J.G.Ballard, Sebastian Faulks, Nick Hornby, Germaine Greer, C.P. Snow, Tom Sharpe and Wilfred Noyce. There would also be Alistair Cooke (Letters from America) and Louis Cha, who under the pen name of Jin Yong is the widest selling novelist in China.


     You would then walk back over the river to King’s Chapel, where a concert of music old and new would celebrate the work of the composers Robin Holloway, Alexander Goehr and John Rutter. Orchestras directed by David Munro, Christopher Hogwood, John Eliot Gardiner and Sir Andrew Davies would perform the music. The performers would include the tenor Robert Tear, accompanied by Joanna MacGregor on the piano.


     You would then move two corridors down from the Chapel entrance to the set of rooms I have occupied for twenty years. Here for many years were held meetings of what was called the ‘Political Society’ inaugurated by Oscar Browning, which was in fact also the historical society. Here would be an exhibition of some of the major historians since the war.  There would be classical historians including Moses Finley and Keith Hopkins. There would be medievalists including David Knowles, Owen Chadwick, M.M.Postan, H.C.Darby (also an historical geographer). There would be experts on the early modern period, including Geoffrey Elton, Jack Plumb, Maurice Dobb, Quentin Skinner, Peter Laslett, Simon Schaffer and Peter Burke. Historians of the modern period include Eric Hobsbawm, Tony Wrigley, Joseph Needham, Stephen Toulmin, Clemens Palme Dutt and Christopher Bayly.


      You would then go to the room in King’s where the literary critic Tony Tanner lived for many years. Here there would be portraits and books of other distinguished Cambridge literary critics and authors, including Donald Davie, Ian Watt, F.R. Leavis, C.S.Lewis (who spent his last ten years in Cambridge), Raymond Williams, George Steiner and Frank Kermode. Somewhere would also have to be found for the polymathic writer Jacob Bronowski.


      You would then go to the library bequeathed by John Maynard Keynes to the College. Here there would be an exhibition of the famous generations of economists who succeeded Keynes. There would be Joan Robinson, Pierro Sraffa (founder of the  Neo-Ricardian school of economics), Lords Richard Kahn and Nicky Kaldor, while still active would be the two Nobel Prize winners Amartya Sen and James Mirrlees as well as others like Luigi Pasinetti and Partha Das Gupta. Perhaps some of the distinguished economics who have been principal advisors to a succession of British governments, including Wynne Godley and others, or Chairmen of the Bank of England, like Mervyn King, would fit in here, along with Lord Rothschild an important scientist and science advisor to the government. A number of more obviously entrepreneurial figures, including members of the Cadbury chocolate dynasty, the Sainsbury supermarket family and the Bulmer cider family, might appropriately fit here


       You would then move a few yards along the passage to the King’s College Archives which, among other things, contain the papers of the former Provost and anthropologist Edmund Leach. Here there would be an exhibition of archaeologists and anthropologists of the modern period, Leach himself as well as Meyer Fortes, Jack Goody, S.J. Tambiah, Ernest Gellner and Marilyn Strathern. Archaeologists would include Glyn Daniel, Charles McBurney, John Coles, David Clark and Colin Renfrew.


      This might also be a good place to include the neighbouring discipline of sociology which started late in Cambridge, but has included John Barnes, W.J.H.Sprott, Charles Madge, Tony Giddens and Gary Runciman among its major figures. And it would perhaps also lead off into other displays, perhaps in the elegant Saltmarsh rooms next door, covering psychology, geography, law, philosophy, education, linguistics, modern languages and many other areas in which exciting work has been going on and whose students have gone on to found departments, write important works and shape the way we think.


     In the smallest of the Saltmarsh set of rooms there might be a display of Cambridge and the world of power and wealth. It is often thought that Cambridge is less important as a producer of British politicians over the last two centuries than Oxford, and this is true. But in other ways it has contributed to international affairs. Jawaharlal Nehru was at the University before the war, and Kim Dae-Jung, former president of South Korea (and Nobel Peace Prize winner), Manmohan Singh, currently Prime Minister of India, and Lee Kuan Yew, for over thirty years Prime Minister of Singapore are among others educated at Cambridge. Here might also be slipped in some of that other kind of international ambassador, the sportsmen of Cambridge, including the cricketers David Sheppard, Ted Dexter, Mike Brearley and Mike Atherton, all of whom played for Cambridge.




     You would start the second half of the tour, which takes you through the sciences, in my room (2.3 in what is now the Department of Social Anthropology in Free School Lane). Under 1968 on the University web site it states the following. ‘Anthony Hewish and Jocelyn Bell make the most exciting recent observation in astrophysics by discovering pulsating stars or “pulsars” using Cambridge’s Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory. Their work alters the course of modern cosmology.’ It notes that Hewish and Martin Ryle, Astronomer Royal, were awarded the Nobel Prize for this work in 1974, the year before I moved into the room where part of the group in radio astronomy working on these problems were working.


     Here there would be an exhibit on astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. Those who would be represented along with the three above, would include Fred Hoyle, Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, the current Astronomer Royal, and perhaps some of the younger generation such as Neil Turok who, with Steinhardt has proposed a new model of a cyclical universe. It might be reasonable to include in this exhibition some of the outstanding mathematicians of the post-war period, Peter Swinnerton Dyer, Christopher Longuenet-Higgins, and John Coates, who worked with his student Andrew Wiles (who went on to solve ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’), while holding the oldest established chair in mathematics in the world.


        The wire which brought the message of pulsars came across from the computing laboratory. In one part of the computer laboratory there would be an exhibition celebrating some of the pioneering work in that field in Cambridge, which saw Babbage’s early vision come true. This would include a tribute to Alan Turing, most famous for his code-breaking work in the Second World War, but also a key thinker about the philosophy of artificial intelligence. There would also be Maurice Wilkes who in 1949 developed EDSAC, the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator, which we are told is ‘the first stored program digital computer to work successfully’. Since then important work on natural language parsing, information retrieval (especially the development of probabilistic searching), multi-media database systems, and the first webcam (the famous coffee pot) are just a tiny part of what has developed in one of the centres of computing in the world.


      Moving a few yards from the computer laboratory there is a long corrugated iron shed and beside it the Austin Building with a plaque to remember the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson in 1953. Somewhere round here there would be an exhibition on the interrelated fields of chemistry, biology and molecular biology. Here would be the Nobel Laureates Max Perutz and John Kendrew who made fundamental contributions to the structure and nature of proteins. There would be the outstanding figures of Fred Sanger (the only living double laureate), Aaron Klug, Sydney Brenner and John Walker, all of who worked in this field along with Cesar Milstein (who discovered monoclonal antibodies) and Sir John Sulston (who directed the first full sequencing of the human genome). J.D.Bernal, the distinguished scientist and historian of science might be here, though most of his work was done in London. More recently there could be many other internationally renowned chemists, including the former Director of the Royal Institution John Meurig Thomas, Richard Perham, Dan Brown and Hal Dixon.


     Just across from the corrugated shed, suspended in the air, is the skeleton of a whale. Beneath it is the Zoology Museum, which could house an exhibition on the successors to the Darwinian revolution. Here would be the three friends, Gabriel Horn, Robert Hinde and Patrick Bateson, all of whom became heads of Colleges (Sidney Sussex, St John’s and King’s) and together made many important discoveries and inspired several generations of students including Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey. The wider work in making natural history of interest to millions through the work of David Attenborough who studied at Cambridge as an undergraduate would also fit here.


     In a parallel exhibition, there would be a display of notable physiologists, including Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley who shared the Nobel Prize in 1963 for work on nerves. The production of the first successful ‘test tube baby’ (in vitro fertilization) in 1978 by Robert G. Edwards of Cambridge and Patrick C. Steptoe, which led to the first clinic for this technique at Bourn Hall near Cambridge, would best fit here.


     Other scientists and inventors might be celebrated in a joint exhibition. This would include the physicists Sir Brian Pippard, Cavendish Professor for some years,  the Nobel prize winner, Patrick Blackett and the current Cavendish Professor, Sir Richard Friend; Dan McKenzie, co-discoverer of tectonic plates (continental drift); Simon Conway Morris, a palaeontologist, whose work on the Burgess shale, as Stephen Jay Gould explains in Wonderful Life, has changed our understanding of early life on the planet; Oliver Rackham, the learned expert on English countryside, and especially woodlands. 


     Others would include Charles Oatley, Professor of Electrical Engineering, who led a team which developed the first scanning electron microscope ‘arguably the most important scientific instrument to be developed in the last 50 years’ and Michael Pepper, whose team in 1997 discovered a new standard for electric currents.  There might also be room for Frank Whittle, whose work led to the discovery of the jet engine who was both an undergraduate and Fellow of Peterhouse and another who had a similar connection with Cambridge, Christopher Cockerel, the inventor of the hovercraft.


     The mention of commercially important inventions such as early computers, in vitro fertilization, monoclonal antibodies, the scanning electron microscope, the jet engine and hovercraft, remind us that while much has been invented in Cambridge, or invented on the basis of work there, the successful commercial exploitation of these inventions has now always been as obvious as in the United States. Nevertheless a good deal has been achieved. In 1975 Trinity college founded England’s first science park on the outskirts of Cambridge and it is now one of the largest in the world and Cambridge is ringed by high technology centres and units.

[1] Quoted in Garrett, Cambridge, 165

[2]  ‘Genetics’ was a word coined by Bateson.