King’s College Chapel & Bridge

King’s College

One of the most amazing aspects of a punting tour is the ability to see things from a different perspective. The River Cam runs right through the heart of Cambridge, so punting the river gives you a close-up view of many local attractions. Our tour includes one of the most famous buildings in the world, King’s College Chapel, and its parent college, King’s.

King’s College Chapel

Scholars have claimed that King’s College Chapel is the best remaining example of late medieval architecture in England. Home to the famous King’s College Choir, and adorning postcards in every Cambridge newsagents, this magnificent gothic structure stands apart from every other college building.

Its story began in 1441, when the King’s College was founded by Henry VI. The plan was for the chapel to form one edge of the grand court, but the residential ranges that were supposed to be located on the other three edges of the court never reached completion.

The building work continued up to 1461, when it was interrupted by the Wars of the Roses. When Henry VI was taken prisoner by the future Edward IV, the workmen halted construction. A half-cut stone that the workmen left behind was eventually used as the foundation stone for the Gibb’s building in 1724.

Richard III of York took over the construction of the chapel during his reign, but it was not completed in his lifetime. He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, heralding the start of the Tudor reign.

Henry Tudor, now Henry VII, put forward the funds so that the building work could be completed. The chest that carried the King’s endowment is preserved in the Chapel Exhibition on the northern side of the chapel. The main structure was finally finished in 1515.

The chapel has stood untouched through several wars. During the Civil War, Cromwell’s troops used it as a training ground. It is seen as something of a marvel that its windows survived this usage. It is very likely that Cromwell, who was a student at Cambridge, gave orders for troops to spare the chapel.  Equally amazingly, the chapel also entirely avoided damage during WWII.

The King’s College of Our Lady and St Nicholas in Cambridge was founded by King Henry VI in 1441. During this year, he sent out letters stating that the college was being founded at Cambridge and that it required a rector and twelve poor scholars. Henry named the college after Saint Nicholas, because he was born on that saint’s day. In April of 1441, the first stone of the college’s Old Court was laid and construction began.

In 1724, James Gibbs planned a redesign of the Front Court. However, only the west range of his plans could be built, which is now known as the Gibbs Building. It wasn’t until 1828 that the court was finished, with William Wilking building the screen, which is in the location where old Provost’s Lodge and Choir School was once found. While Gibbs preferred to design in the classical style, the College had other ideas and overruled him, stating that it wanted a modern Gothic Revival. Gibbs also built the Gatehouse, the A and D staircases, the Old Lodge and the library. The same library was repurposed as a temporary hospital during World War I.

In 1861, following new statutes, the number of students at the college began to grow. At this point, new buildings were added. Sir George Gilbert Scott built the range in 1873 which can be seen along King’s Parade. It wasn’t until 1893 that the east and south ranges of Bodley’s court were completed, with Webb’s Building being completed in 1909.

King’s College Bridge

King’s College Bridge is less famous than many of its cousins on the River Cam, despite having a history at least as long as most.

The original King’s College Bridge was built in the 1400s, and has been rebuilt many times since. The footings of the original bridge can be seen as two large mounds in the field to the west of the Gibbs building.

It is said that this bridge was one of the last places in England where it was still legal to hold a duel. While there is no hard evidence of this, the story has persisted within Cambridge college folklore.

The current incarnation of King’s College Bridge was built in 1819. It was designed by William Wilkins and built by Francis Braidwood.

Posted on March 17th, 2021, by the Traditional Punting Company