Brief history of the University of Cambridge

From the very beginning

University of Cambridge

Cambridge is known all around the world mainly due to the iconic University and its rich history. In fact, the University of Cambridge is one of the oldest universities and leading academic centres in the world and dates back to the 13th century. The intellectual and academic achievements of Cambridge’s University is outstanding, and with great success comes reputation, especially in academia, around the world.

From its glorious past to its iconic future, the University Cambridge is an inspiration which brings lots of tourists from around the world to our city. This is why it sounds relevant to pay particular attention to the roots of this academic foundations from its early years. Perhaps a brief history of this University’s would prise its distinctive present.

Cambridge, from the start

The city of Cambridge dates back to 875, and its location by the River Cam made it an important city of trading. In fact, this city was well advanced in relation to others. It had castle located at one end of the main bridge that crossed the river, several residential properties and churches, as well as lots of commercial activities that took place.

The wealth that accumulated in the town was perfect to attract clergymen to visit. Around the year 1200, street markets and commercial community empowered themselves by hosting and lodging the scholars coming to town in search of brighter opportunities. By 1226, the scholar’s community was substantial which enabled them to set up their own organisation. Such concept was officially represented by a Chancellor, divided by regular courses of study.

Settling education – foundations of the University of Cambridge

This division between the town and the scholars started causing problems. It is believed that the locals would overcharge the scholars for rooms and food. Therefore, in 1231, to end this situation, King Henry III joined the scholar’s community. This bond between academics and royals developed a so called monopoly of teaching: the King would shelter and save the scholars from exploitation, meanwhile, the scholar would start to be enrolled in a tuition programme so the crown could capitalize from education.

The mutual dealing between the crown and the gown was beneficial for all apart from the town. This deal put restrictions on the ability to increase the price of fuel, food or candles. This friction has continued between the town and gown until the 19th century… When control of the traders was given by the crown to the Chancellor of the scholars.

Cambridge University Colleges

The physical setting of the university has changed and developed over the years. The university was created to offer a fulfilled education system and it was vital to offer scholars choice. Therefore, to accomplish this, numerous colleges were planned to be built so each subject could be taught and developed in a specific college. The colleges were built on private land, mainly as religious institutions where aside from education, prays would also take place.

The earliest to be built was ‘Peterhouse College’, in 21284 by Hugh Balsham, Bishop of Ely. Followed by Pembroke, Michaelhouse, Clare, Gonville Hall, Trinity Hall, Corpus Christi, King’sQueens‘ and St. Catharine’s, within the next 100 years. With Jesus, Christ’s and St. John’s College established later on, in 1500’s.

The University of Cambridge

Nowadays, the University of Cambridge has a total of 31 colleges that are located all around the city of Cambridge. An endless list of Nobel Prizes and important scientific discoveries have been accomplished in this institution. The university also consists of museums and collections of many treasures, libraries, chapels, playhouses, theatres as well as a vast range of sports teams. Cambridge University is one of the biggest and oldest institutions.

This academic establishment is still rewarding the world with discoveries and knowledge. And to this day still attracts many to visit its iconic and historical colleges, while inspiring others to one day became a part of its history too.


Our knowledgeable punters will take you on a journey through Cambridge’s history, culture and architecture. You’ll be able to ask them any questions you have about the city – they know it like the back of their hand! A punt down the river is the perfect way to relax and escape from reality for a while. With our Cambridge punting tours, you can be sure that you’ll see all of Cambridge’s most famous landmarks and learn all about its fascinating history.

Book your Cambridge punt boat tour today!

Posted on May 17th, 2020, by the Traditional Punting Company