Old Court Frontage

Old Court, built 1448–9, fronts onto Queens’ Lane, formerly known as Milne Street, or Mill Street, being an ancient highway from the town centre to the commercial area around the mills on the river.

East frontage 1685, by Loggan
The earliest record we have of the appearance of the college frontage was in the bird’s eye view by David Loggan in 1685.

Details of this frontage changed over the next couple of centuries, but this Loggan view was used in 1875 as the basis for a restoration (see below).

Originally, most of the land that this frontage faced on the opposite side of Queens’ Lane was also owned by Queens’, being partly the original lands of St Bernard’s College, but all remaining land east of Queens’ Lane was sold to St Catharine’s College in 1836.

Queens' College frontage
No later view of the frontage is known until around 1820, when this aquatint by Mason was published. In this period, the entire frontage of the college was behind railings, as shown.

East frontage 1822
This is an enlargement of a decorated initial capital used in several books printed in the 19th century concerning Queens’ College. It was first used in a collection of the Statutes of Queens’ College by G.C. Gorham, Fellow, printed in 1822. Gorham wrote:

The initial letters were drawn by myself on wood, and engraved over my drawings by Hughes. For the subjects of these illustrations, see the published Catalogue of Queen’s Coll. Library, Pref. [A Bibliographical Catalogue of Books Privately Printed, by John Martin, 1834, p201]

This view appears to show the Walnut Tree Building before it acquired battlements in 1823.

Queens' frontage 1824
This view of the Queens’ Lane frontage was published in 1830 in Illustrations of the University of Cambridge, by Richard Bankes Harraden. This plate is dated 1824, and shows the battlements that the Walnut Tree Building acquired in 1823. On the extreme right are the old buildings of the Cambridge University Press (on land that Queens’ sold to St Catharine’s in 1836) that were demolished in 1837.


R.B. Harraden delt. E.F. McCabe Sculpt.

This view is mis-dated 1809–11 in Browne & Seltman Plate 39.

Queens' Lane 1833
This view of Queens’ Lane was published in 1840 in The Cambridge Portfolio, edited by John James Smith, but the view was drawn earlier, in 1833, by Joseph Murray Ince. On the right are the old buildings of the Cambridge University Press, which were demolished in 1837.

Queens' College 1837
This view of Queens’ College gatehouse was published in Le Keux’s Memorials of Cambridge, by Thomas Wright and Harry Longueville Jones, illustrated by John Le Keux, published part-form in 1837–​42.

Rather unusually for this series of prints, the title includes a specific date: QUEENS COLLEGE, THE ENTRANCE GATEWAY AS TAKEN IN 1837. The archives of St Catharine’s College tell us that the buildings in the foreground were in the process of being demolished in 1837: this might account for the strange phrasing of the title of this print. These buildings had been used by the Cambridge University Press, on land owned by Queens’ but sold to St Catharine’s in 1836. The building on the right was formerly the University Anatomical School, which partly survives today as the wall to St Catharine’s car-park.

Drawn by I.A. Bell. Engraved by John Le Keux.

Queens’ Lane frontage of Queens’ College 1854 Sept 1
This view of the Queens’ Lane frontage, entitled Queen’s College, Cambridge, is by Rock & Co., No. 2537, dated 1 Sept. 1854, first published in The Tourist’s Souvenir of Cambridge, 1855.

On the right can be seen the block of nine tenements that St Catharine’s College erected to replace the former University Press buildings that it demolished in 1837.

In the distance, just beyond a lamppost, is a terrace of eight almshouses that Queens’ erected in 1836 to replace the almshouses that Andrew Dokett had left to Queens’ in his will, which had been on the land that Queens’ sold to St Catharine’s in 1836. These new almshouses were themselves demolished in 1911 to make way for the erection of Dokett Building.

East frontage 1874
In 1874, an elevation of the East frontage was drawn to scale, by architect William Milner Fawcett, in preparation for a restoration. This can be compared with Loggan’s view of 1685 (at the top of this page), to see what had changed in the intervening 189 years.

The lower part of the east window of the chapel had been blocked in 1858 as part of Bodley’s changes inside.

The elevation is mis-titled West Front as it is, and is undated, but its later partner below is dated 1874.

East frontage 1874 proposed
A tracing of the above detailed elevation, showing the changes proposed by architect William Milner Fawcett coloured pink.

Fawcett slavishly reproduced details of Loggan’s view of 1685: the chimney stacks were taken down and replaced by ones matching Loggan’s view, and the dormer windows were made gable-ended instead of hipped. A small window on the south-east tower, not shown by Loggan, was blocked. The stone surrounds of almost every other window were renewed in gothic style with cusps. A window left untouched was that of the Porters’ Lodge (immediately to the left of the gatehouse), which already had cusps, and it is possible that the new frames for the other rectangular-framed windows were modelled on this one. The leaded lights were made diamond-style. If the railings along the front had not already been removed, they were certainly removed in association with these works, which were carried out in 1875.

The drawing is titled EAST FRONT SHEWING PROPOSED REPAIRS and dated Oct 9th 1874 traced Nov 17th 1874.

Fawcett was also working in 1875 on building the new Master’s Lodge of St Catharine’s College on the other side of Queens’ Lane, the nine tenements directly opposite having been demolished. Later, Fawcett would design the Friars Building, 1886.

East frontage 1880
A view of 1880 by Maurice Bingham Adams showing Fawcett’s changes completed, and the garden of the new Master’s Lodge of St Catharine’s College.

Published in The Building News and Engineering Journal, Vol. 38, 1880 May 14, pp. 574–​5. The accompanying report includes:

The fine front … is a particularly good specimen of collegiate architecture. A few years ago, it had fallen into a very dilapidated state, but it has been most carefully restored. Every detail was taken from remains on the building itself, or where these did not exist, as in the case of chimney-shafts, dormers, &c., the designs were taken from old engravings showing the ancient character of the front.

East frontage 1880s
A photograph, probably from the 1880s, showing the east frontage with Fawcett’s changes.

The large Brandon clock-tower can be seen looming over the roof-tops on the right.

East frontage 1948
A roof-top photograph of 1948.

In 1934, staircase E of Old Court was stripped out and remodelled by architect George Carr Drinkwater. The external changes arising from those internal works are visible here. New windows were cut into the E staircase tower, and into the main fabric just left of the tower. The chimney stack between the E staircase tower and the old chapel (library) was demolished.

Drinkwater wrote an account of what he discovered about the fabric during his works. Later, he would be the designer of Fisher Building.

Also apparent in this photograph is a new window cut into the left-hand octagonal turrent of the gate-tower, balancing an existing one in the right-hand turret. It is not known when this occurred.

The chimney on the roof-ridge above E staircase near the old chapel dates from 1892, when a former organ-loft for the chapel was restored to residential use.

Further reading

1880: East Front Queens’ Coll. Cambridge as restored, in The Building News and Engineering Journal, Vol. 38, 1880 May 14, pp. 570, 574–​5. (ISSN 2059-2914)

1936: Alterations at Queens’ College, Cambridge, by George Carr Drinkwater, in Proc. Cambridge Antiquarian Society, Vol. XXXVI (1936):156–​60. (ISSN 0309-3603)