Downing College, Cambridge

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Downing College

Downing College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. The college was founded in 1800 and currently has around 650 students.

Contents

History

The college was founded in 1800 under the will of Sir George Downing, 3rd Baronet with the wealth left by his grandfather, Sir George Downing, who served both Cromwell and Charles II and built 10 Downing Street (a door formerly from Number 10 is in use in the college). He died in 1749, and as he had no direct issue (he was legally separated from his wife), the family fortune was left to his cousin, Sir Jacob Downing, if he died without heir, to three cousins in succession. If they all died without issue, the estates were to be used to found a college at Cambridge called Downing.

The Founder died in 1749 and Sir Jacob in 1764. As the other named heirs had also died, the college should have come into existence then but Sir Jacob's widow, Margaret, refused to give up the estates and the various relatives who were Sir George's legal heirs had to take costly and prolonged action in the Court of Chancery to compel her to do so. She died in 1778 but her second husband and the son of her sister continued to resist the heirs-at-law's action until 1800 when the Court decided in favour of Sir George's will and George III granted Downing a Royal Charter.

The architect William Wilkins was tasked by the trustees of the Downing estate, who included the Master of Clare College and St John's College and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, to design the plan for the college. Wilkins, a disciple of the neo-classical architectural style, designed the first wholly campus-based college plan in the world based on a magnificent entrance on Downing Street reaching back to form the largest quadrangle in Cambridge, extending to Lensfield Road. But this was not to be.

The estate was much reduced by the suit in Chancery, and the grand plans failed. Much of the north side of what was then the "Pembroke Leys" was sold to the University and is now home to scientific buildings ("The Downing Site"). In fact, only limited East and West ranges were initially built, with the plans for a library and chapel on the south face of the college shelved.

The third side of the square was only completed in 1951 with the building of the college chapel. Where the fourth side would have been is now a large paddock (known simply as "The Paddock"), with many trees. Though not fully enclosed, the court formed before the Downing College is perhaps largest in Cambridge or Oxford (a title contested with Trinity College's Great Court). An urban legend amongst Cambridge students claims that Trinity pays an undisclosed sum to the college annually with the condition that it will never build the fourth side of the square, so that Trinity may maintain the distinction of having the largest enclosed court of all colleges of Cambridge.[citation needed]

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