Walnut-Tree Court history

Walnut-Tree Building was erected 1616–19.

Date stoneThis was the first residential building erected on land which the college had acquired from the dissolution of the Carmelite monastery to the north of the original college site in the 1540s. It was built by Gilbert Wigge and Henry Mann, at a cost to the college of £886 9s 0d. [History of the Queens' College…, by W.G. Searle, Vol 2, 1871, pp436–8] [AHUC, Willis & Clark, Vol 2, 1886, p19]

A small stone bearing the date 1618 is set into one of the chimneys facing Queens' Lane (not 1617 as quoted in many histories).

At first, the building consisted of two full storeys, plus a half-storey attic, and small garetts above, under a steeply pitched roof.

Original appearance1685: This detail from the Loggan view shows the original aspect of the building, from the Queens' Lane side.

1777: A fire damaged the upper floors of the building. The upper floors were rebuilt 1778–82 [AHUC, Vol 2, p20], so that the building became three full storeys under a shallow pitched roof. Only the ground floor retains its original 17th-century appearance, with low ceilings: the upper floors are more spaciously laid out, in a manner characteristic of the 18th century. Externally, on the courtyard side, it is obvious that the brickwork used for the upper floors is different from that used on the ground floor, which was not rebuilt.

1804–5: the former clock and bell-tower in Walnut-Tree Court, attached to the north range of Old Court, became structurally unsafe, and were dismantled. The clock and bell were transferred to a new tower on the roof of the Library. In 1805, a new building (which now contains the Old Library staircase) was erected close to the site of the dismantled one. [AHUC, Vol 2, pp50–51] The 1805 building is notable for the first re-appearance of gothic windows at Queens' after the classical period of the 18th century.

1823: Battlements were added to the Walnut-Tree building. [AHUC, Vol 2, p20] They still survive, unlike all the battlements added to other Queens' buildings in the early 19th century.

Walnut-Tree Building - Storer 18291827–29: View looking north-east drawn and engraved by James Storer and Henry Sargant Storer. Published in Illustrations of the University of Cambridge (first series) in part form 1827–1829.

Some editions inscribed:
J & H S Storer delt & sc Pentonville
Pubd by W Mason Cambridge

This print shows how, before Queens’ built Friars Building and the new Chapel, there was a clear line of sight through to the buildings of King’s and their Chapel beyond.

The Walnut Tree is on the left. The building is shown as it was before the arrival of gas lanterns outside the staircase entrances.

Walnut-Tree Court Library - Storer 1829-321829-32: View looking south-west drawn and engraved by James Storer and Henry Sargant Storer. Published in Illustrations of the University of Cambridge (second series) in part form 1829–1832.

Some editions inscribed:
J & H S Storer del & sc Cambridge.
Pubd by J & J J Deighton  T Stevenson  &  R Newby Cambridge.

Buildings visible are, from left to right:

  • at the extreme left, the Chapel, as it then was;
  • the clock-tower of 1804–1848;
  • the jutting out building is the library extension of 1805;
  • to its right, the Library at first-floor level;
  • under the gable end lie the SCR on the ground floor, the President's Study above, and the Dokett Bedroom in the attic;
  • just right of centre is the Essex Wing of the President's Lodge;
  • on the right, the Walnut Tree.

Walnut-Tree Court Library - Storer after 1848After 1848: an example of a steel plate being altered to show changes in the buildings. This second version is of uncertain date, but after the clock tower of 1848. It was used in the revised edition of Memorials of Cambridge by C.H. Cooper published 1860.

On close examination, the ghostly remains of details that have been scraped away are visible.

The alterations apparent in the second version are, left to right:

  • the addition of battlements (date unknown);
  • the replacement of the 1804 clock tower by the Brandon tower of 1848: the artist had to scale this down in order to fit it within the original plate;
  • the weathervane of the 1846 Dinner Bell tower appearing above the left-hand end of the roof of the 1805 building;
  • the removal of a chimney which served a fireplace in the former room D2 on the ground floor of Old Court;
  • the addition of a gas lantern over the passage through the 1805 building;
  • the top of the 1846 Louvre above Hall appearing above the right hand end of the roof of the 1805 building;
  • the removal of the broad chimney on the west wall of the 1805 building;
  • the alteration of the chimney which served a fireplace in the former room D1 on the ground floor of Old Court from rectangular to octagonal;
  • the growth of creepers further up the walls;
  • the elimination of women and child.

These external changes reflect internal re-orgnanisations. In 1837, rooms D1 and D2 on the ground floor of Old Court were appropriated to the Library (this space is now the Munro Room), and the eastern fireplace seems to have been blocked then. In 1840, further changes were made in the Library, and this appears to have involved internal reconstruction of the 1805 building. A new staircase was built, obstructing the ground floor windows west of the passage, and blocking former fireplaces on the west wall. The staircase provided a connection between the Library on the first floor and the new library space on the ground floor, with an entrance door into the passage between Old Court and Walnut-Tree Court. This is the arrangement which survives today.

1842: On March 12th the Cambridge Chronicle reported: During the hurricane that raged on Wednesday night and Thursday morning the fine old walnut tree in Walnut Tree Court, Queens' College, was blown down. The presumed replacement lasted until the 1930s.

Walnut-Tree Building - Cade 1857ca 1857: early photograph by Robert Cade.

The gas lanterns are fed by conspicuous pipes at each entrance.

Walnut-Tree Building - photo before 1888Before 1888: another old photo of Walnut-Tree Court, included for social interest.

A game of croquet is in progress on the lawn, watched by two observers from the windows of G4.

More to follow.