Clare College and Bridge

Clare College, Clare Gardens and Clare Bridge

There is much to see and enjoy when you take a punting tour along the River Cam. This part of East Anglia is shrouded in history and architectural beauty, from the river you can see these marvels from a whole new perspective. Floating along the river, you will come across impressive buildings and magnificent sights including Clare College, Clare Gardens and Clare Bridge.

Clare College

The oldest college on the river, Clare College was founded in 1326 by Richard Badew, who was the chancellor of the University of Cambridge at the time. Originally, the college was known as University Hall.

University Hall hit financial difficulties due to inadequate funding, which lead Badew to supplement the scanty endowments from his own resources for several years. But it was not enough, and in 1336, the college received a new patron, Lady Elizabeth de Burgh (the Lady of Clare, Suffolk). University Hall was re-founded as Clare Hall in 1338.

The endowment from Lady de Burgh allowed the college to thrive. The new funding provided maintenance for ten students and twenty fellows, as opposed to the two fellows that University Hall had provided for. Over the next decade, Lady de Burgh developed statutes to protect the college, as undesirable practises had developed during the years of financial hardship. It was Lady de Burgh who conceived the idea of a college as a community of undergraduates, graduates, fellows and Master.

Clare Hall became Clare College in 1856, one of many colleges to change their name from Hall to College over the preceding four centuries. The last college to be founded as a Hall was St Catherine’s, in 1459. King’s College had been founded in 1441, and from then on, it became the fashion to rename colleges, substituting “College” for “Hall”, Clare Hall and Pembroke Hall, who renamed the same year, were the last two colleges to make this change.

Clare Gardens

Clare’s gardens are a real work of beauty, located in the middle of the city. The gardens are sited on ancient Fenlands, three of its four sides are bounded by dykes, with the fourth facing out onto the River Cam. The Fellows’ Garden is a true insight into an elegant English garden as seen in the 20th century. In 1947, the garden was redesigned by Nevill Willmer, a Histology Professor, who retained many of the garden’s earlier features, such as its old yews and chestnuts, a riverside specimen of Swamp Cypress, a gnarled Judas tree, and the stone wall and apple trees which used to be part of the old kitchen garden.

In its current form, the garden a formal and artistic design. In the middle of the garden, a sunken pond can be found enclosed by a yew hedge. In spring, the terraced walls are adorned with blooming flowers, bringing the entire space to life. Here, there is a path leading to the riverbank along a herbaceous border strewn with vibrant blues and yellows that add a real splash of colour during the summer months. Legend has it that Willmer planted these beds to illustrate his theory of colour vision, to show how the blues became lighter and the yellows darker, as twilight fell.

Beyond the old wall, there is a shady walk, where trees and shrubs provide a cool contrast to the bright colours that lay on the other side of the wall. Across the walk there is a vast lawn with a border of summer flowers and roses. Two island beds face the river, with mesmerising golds and reds reflecting the autumn-coloured shrubs at the eastern edge of the lawn.

Clare Bridge

As you glide along the river past Clare College gardens, you will come upon Clare Bridge. This is the oldest bridge on the River Cam and is the only bridge to survive beyond the civil war, when Cromwell’s troops tore down many of the other bridges, using the stone to re-fortify Cambridge Castle. At the time, Clare Bridge was the newest bridge to join both sides of the River Cam. This bridge is much-loved by tourists and locals, and is one of the most photographed bridges on the river.

Clare Bridge has a grade one listed status. It was built in 1640 by a Thomas Grumbold and in 1969 it was carefully restored.

The bridge is decorated by 14 stone spheres, but one is incomplete, with spherical wedge (like a segment of orange) noticeably missing. This missing section is the subject of many myths and stories, with the best known legend relating to that of the original builder. The tale goes that Grumbold was not paid what he was owed for the work, so in retaliation he removed part of it and took the stone as recompense for his wages. It is perhaps more likely that a botched repair job took place, and the repaired section worked its way loose and eventually fell out. There is no historical record of the incident, so the truth will remain a mystery.

Posted on September 7th, 2023, by the Traditional Punting Company