Self-guided tour of Christ's
This self-guided tour is for prospective students and their families to use when visiting Christ's College.
Hi! Welcome to Christ's College! I’m Charlotte, a student studying Natural Sciences, and I've written this tour guide to help you find out a bit about Christ's while you walk around the grounds today.
I'm afraid you can’t actually go into the buildings on a self-guided tour like this, however I hope that reading this guide will give you a sense of College life like you'd get on the open day student tours we give. If you'd prefer a guided-tour in person, please visit us on one of our open days, and we'll be happy to show you around properly!
I've split the tour into sections for those of you who would like to skip to a particular part of Christ's:
The Porters' Lodge is in the main entrance to Christ's on St Andrew's Street.
When you walk in through the main gate – it really can’t be missed – you will first arrive at the Porters' Lodge (to your left). Also known as the ‘PLodge’, this is the home of the brilliant 24/7 Christ's porters – the friendliest in all of Cambridge! These are the people you can turn to for almost anything you need. They are here to keep college safe and running smoothly, and are more than happy to help whenever you’ve locked yourself out of your room or just want a chat at 2am (you must be willing to share any and all cheesy chips!).
The plodge is also the home of the ‘pidges’ (short for pigeon hole – the student mailboxes) and where you book in to use any Christ's facilities, such as the squash court. Porters will sign for any post, and any student newspapers or events flyers can be found here.
If you then walk into the college itself, you will enter First Court - the oldest part of Christ’s and home to some of the most important locations (ie. The Buttery, Library, and Chapel). Note the circular lawn – we’re pretty sure that it is the only completely circular lawn out of all Oxford and Cambridge Colleges!
There are student rooms in all courts, and the First Court accommodation is organised by staircases (G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O), most of which are in the corners to your immediate left and right.
Walking anti-clockwise around first court (only academics are allowed to walk across the grass, though snowmen do mysteriously appear in winter), after the plodge, we first come across the college Law library that you can probably just about see through the window. This is a quaint room for lawyers with shelves of legal journals and periodicals from floor to ceiling – it's exactly what you'd picture when you think of an old-fashioned library from a bygone era, and it's an extra 12 study spaces, which are often very useful when exam term hits.
Up next (beyond the "corner") look out for G staircase. If you look at the list of names as you enter, you'll find that 'C Darwin' has been left there as the room up the stairs is his old room. It's one of the things that really makes an impression when you first visit or start as a student here. You realise that you're literally following in the footsteps of people you've always heard of and it brings home that you're studying at Cambridge University. Yet within a few weeks it's also a normal room in College, and as it's used as an academic's office, some computer scientists even have supervisions in there.
Otherwise, G is a passageway that leads to our main libraries – the Old Library and the ‘Working’ Library – which most students call the 'lib'. The Old Library is a reference library with some beautiful first edition books – including many from Charles Darwin, illustrated editions of Milton’s works and a message to the porters from (in)famous Christ’s alumnus Ali G aka Sacha Baron Cohen (just a small plug for some of our famous alumni) – more information can be found on the Library page if you're curious. There are very often exhibitions on during the week, and when you're a student here, the librarians are more than happy to help you explore it, especially if you have a particular interest.
The ‘lib’, in contrast, is where a lot of students spend most of their ‘working’ time. We get 24/7 access through our university card, and it’s a great work space with lots of natural light (and many, many desks). It has the core texts for all undergraduate courses, wifi, printing, photocopying, scanning, and even a complete skeleton for medics! There are self service issue machines, so you can borrow up to 15 books for two weeks whenever you need them. Any books missing can also be requested. More importantly (I think anyway), it’s a good space to work in silence but surrounded by people you know – it still feels like home. Independent work for supervisions is a huge part of study here, much more than at school, and while many choose to work in their rooms (you are provided a desk, don’t worry) the lib is a lovely, in-college, alternative.
Back to our walk around First Court....After G passageway, you come to the Buttery - another very Cambridge word. This is a café and common room during the day, but moonlights as the college bar in the evenings - we have the best bartenders: make friends with them - they love to chat and like the porters, they can help you out with things sometimes. The comfy sofas and flat-screen TV, with Costa Coffee (at 20% off!), all mean that the buttery provides a brilliantly relaxing social space for down-time during the day. The bar opens in the evening and sells a range of drinks (including non-alcoholic ones) so that everyone can normally find what they want, at a much lower price than in town. It’s a great place to start an evening out, and half the time your night might just end there as well – why bother going to a different pub when there’s such a nice one in College?
On the other side of first court, we have the College Chapel, dating back to the 16th century. Cambridge Colleges were originally monasteries, so Chapel was part of the daily routine for monks and for students. Thankfully, we have moved on since the 16th century, and students today come from such a wide range of backgrounds that attendance is definitely not compulsory - attend or not as you wish! Even if you don't do anything with the Chapel, you may well go to the popular weekly ‘afternoon tea and strawberries’ that Mark, the College Chaplain, organises for students in Easter term. Alongside running the chapel and it’s services, Mark is one of the people in College you can go and talk to confidentially about anything and he makes a real effort to get to know students individually. He's always more than happy to have a chat (casual or welfare based) – no particular religious or faith background required!
Coming back to the Chapel itself, this is a space for services, quiet prayer, music practice or just a calm place to sit and reflect. If you like singing, you might like to join the mixed-voice choir, who sing three choral services each week in term time, as well as other events through the year – including Christmas in the buttery. If you can’t sing, you can always go listen and support! The choir often put on events to raise money for charities selected by the college student union.
Passage between the courts
Just past the Buttery you'll see the decorated archway that leads through to second court - do go through.
We call this bit the 'screens' and you'll pass the 'in' and 'out'' doors for the dining hall on your left. The Dining Hall is where formal meals take place (we also have a canteen in second court for normal meals). 'Formal Hall' is a 3-course served meal for £9 (student price), and any Christ's student can attend by booking online (it's on six days a week in term). It's a great place to eat together - possibly the most ‘Cambridge’ section of the college (again, dating back to the 16th century), with dark wood panelling, stained glass and a balcony that's sometimes used for smaller subject-based social events. There are portraits and photos of Lady Margaret Beaufort (who founded the College) as well as a wide range of current academics, alumni and benefactors, including Charles Darwin, John Milton and Dr Sophie Read, who you may have supervisions with if you study English.
Sometimes there's a theme, and students organise events like ‘Green formal’ (vegetarian and vegan), traditional food from a particular country (e.g. China, India), 'Pink Formal' on International Womens' Day, and Christmas Formal. The hall can also be booked for birthdays and there's a Milton Bust (which by tradition must be kissed on your birthday!). It's also possible to bring guests along.
You will come out of the passageway into second court. The student accommodation here is in staircases A, B, C, D and E, and there's single student guest rooms which you can book at a reasonable rate for a friend visiting for a couple of nights.
The first entrance on your right is the way to ‘Upper Hall’ – the day-to-day cafeteria that provides breakfast, lunch and dinner when we don’t want to fend for ourselves. During term time there is a good selection of food for students - usually four main dishes including vegetarian and vegan, with unlimited sides (chips, other potatoes and vegetables) and a choice of fruit and puddings. At the beginning of term you pay a Kitchen Standing Charge (£172 per term in 2018-19), which goes towards the upkeep of kitchen facilities. This reduces the cost for each full two-course meal to around £4.00! (Cheaper than a Sainsbury’s pizza, or any microwave meals!). Equally, it’s a good social time - there will always be someone you know eating there, so you’ll always have someone to sit with.
Straight in front of you, there's the Fellows' Building, which is, apparently, one of the earliest Renaissance buildings in England! A lot of students go for their small group supervisions in there as quite a few of the academics have their offices in the Fellows' Building ('fellow' is the word we use at Cambridge for academics who belong to the College, hence the name). Supervisions are the college-level teaching and they are one of the main ways you learn here at Cambridge – you meet with an academic for an hour to discuss what you’ve learnt that week, the work you've done and any questions you have. Since the groups are so small (normally 1-3 students and the supervisor) and there's no set format, these are usually a quite enjoyable way for us to clarify any aspects of the work we are struggling with, while exploring the topics that interest us to a much deeper level – they are tailored to our needs and interests.
Fellows' Garden (open 9am - 4pm Monday - Friday only)
The entrance to the Fellows’ garden (which, yes, students can access too – it isn’t only open to the Fellows) is through the Fellows’ Building archway, in front of you as you walk through second court. We have a great gardening team who keep it looking so pretty and green, and there are always squirrels and birds. In Easter term, there are also ducks and their ducklings wandering around! Especially popular in summer, it’s a beautiful space to get away from academic work and work on a tan instead, or even revise outdoors if you’re able!
At the back of the garden you can find the college beehives and Milton’s mulberry tree, which may be of interest to prospective English students. This tree was supposedly planted the year Milton was born, and is where he often went to relax - he is even said to have composed the poem Lycidas here!
To the right of Milton’s tree is the hidden outdoor swimming pool and its little pavilion. Although closed to the public, if you follow the paths, you can see it through the bushes / back gate. We are lucky to be one of only three colleges with an outdoor pool, and ours is pretty special because it's the oldest outdoor pool in the UK! The pool has relatively recently been repainted etc. (and it's no longer fed by the 400-year-old water 'conduit' that flows through the College - see this news story). It's very blue and open for students to swim in from Easter until the end of the summer, for those who can brave the cold. It's absolutely brilliant in the summer heat. It’s also a popular college tradition to jump in fully clothed when you finish your exams!
To get to Third Court, go back out of the Fellows Garden the way you came in (i.e. through the Fellows Building archway) then turn right and follow the path round to Third Court. You'll see a map of College in case you want to check where you are.
Quite a lot of students live in Third Court, as it has the R,S,T,V,Y and the Blyth Building accommodation, and there's good mix of year groups who normally choose these rooms. For students who want to eat outside, the centre of Third Court is the best place (you can't eat in the Fellows' Garden), and it's a really nice spot to sit and chat with friends whenever it’s warm enough. Third Court is also Rocket the College cat's favourite area and you can often spot her curled up asleep somewhere if it's a sunny day.
The ground floor of Y staircase is where you go for a lot of the admin stuff you need as a student - it's where you pay your bills, get a new university card if you've lost yours, sort out any particular exams requirements you have, or just ask a question if you're confused about how something works.
Although it may seem an odd thing to mention when you're looking around, you'll also need the laundry machines quite rapidly as a student! Some of these can be found in P staircase - there are washers and dryers in there for student use, and you don't need to pay!
Continuing straight alongside the Blyth Building accommodation (the path on the right when you get into Third Court), you will reach New Court – and likely notice the change in architecture! Also known as the typewriter, or maybe resembling part of a ship, it's an odd building and views towards it's ‘brutalist look’ vary between people and years - architecture students are often quite interesting to talk to about it. Whatever your opinion, many students like living in New Court, especially because of the ensuite rooms. Walking into it is more like walking into the accommodation you get at lots of other UK universities that don't have colleges, so for students who prefer that feel, it's quite appealing.
In front of the building, you will find the Charles Darwin Sculpture Garden, which a lot of people enjoy visiting because it celebrates one of our most famous alumni. The little garden has a bronze sculpture of a young Darwin made by one of our other alumni, Anthony Smith! This shows the Darwin who was a student at Christ's discovering his interest in science rather than the old man most commonly portrayed. The plants here are carefully chosen as they are supposed to represent his voyage on the HMS Beagle. Although there is, oddly, no path through this garden, it is a nice calm spot to sit and relax.
On the other side of the typewriter is the Yusuf Hamied Centre. This has quite a few of the College's social and sports facilities such as the main common rooms and TV room, the gym and squash court (both open until 11pm), the music room - containing a piano and drum kit often used as a practice space by our resident student bands, musician and singers. And there are also the bigger spaces - the Yusuf Hamied theatre is a proper theatre with a fully equipped film projector and lighting system (Christ’s Amateur Dramatic Society, and Christ’s Film Society make a lot of use of this), and the Function Room is the college’s second bar, opened for events and parties. More details can be found on the facilities page.
You've now walked all the way through Christ's - I hope you found my explanations useful. As you walk back through the College, have a think about whether this space could feel like home. It's difficult to explain the wonderful atmosphere and community we have in Christ's fully, but I hope this tour guide gave you a glimpse. I chose to study here because it's a small, really cute and friendly community in the heart of Cambridge (and Sainsbury's is less than a minute away!). If you are interested I'd strongly recommend the undergraduate admissions pages - they have some great stuff and the admissions team are always happy to help with any questions you may have!
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