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.

[1625: Many authors assert, probably incorrectly, that there once was a sundial on the building. All these claims derive from an entry in the accounts of June 1625 For the stoneworke over the Dyall in the new court xs [quoted AHUC, Vol 2, p20]. However, the sundial was on the north wall of the court, not on the building, as can be seen in the Loggan view of 1685.]

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.

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 building is shown as it was before the arrival of gas lanterns outside the staircase entrances.


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 18571857: early photograph by Robert Cade.

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

[The first few letters of Cade’s name can be seen on the lawn at the right margin.]

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.]

Further reading

1871: The History of the Queens’ College of St Margaret and St Bernard in the University of Cambridge, by William George Searle, Vol. 2, 1560–​1662, Cambridge Antiquarian Society Octavo Publications No XIII, pp. 436–​8. (OCLC 3279381)

1886: The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge, by Robert Willis and John Willis Clark, Vol. 2, pp. 19–​20. (OCLC 6104300)

1899: The Queens’ College of St Margaret and St Bernard in the University of Cambridge, by Joseph Henry Gray, pp. 143–​4; (OCLC 8568413)
1926: New edition, updated, pp. 131–​3. (OCLC 79562186)

1910 Recent Changes in Rooms of the Walnut-Tree Court, by R.H. Kennett and A.B. Cook, in The Dial, Vol. II, No. 8, Easter 1910, pp. 355–7.

1951: A Pictorial History of the Queen’s College of Saint Margaret and Saint Bernard, commonly called Queens’ College Cambridge, 1448–​1948, by Archibald Douglas Browne (1889–​1977) & Charles Theodore Seltman, plate 107. (OCLC 7790464)

1959: An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of Cambridge, by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England), Part II, pp. 177–​8. (online version)