A historic layout of Downing College
As we all discovered it during the quiz when we arrived at Downing, the college was founded by Sir George Downing, third Baronet, with wealth left by his grandfather, who built 10 Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister. He left the estates to his cousin, Jacob Downing. In his will, he stated that if Jacob died without heir, three cousins would inheritate the estates. If all four died, the estates were to be used to found a college called Downing. George died in 1749 and when Jacob passed away in 1764, all their cousins were already dead. Jacob’s widow refused to give up the estates. Sir George’s legal heirs led a legal action. In 1800 the Court decided in favour of Sir George’s will and Downing College was granted a Royal Charter.
A timeline of Downing’s construction
The first buildings, located between Regent Street and Tennis Court Road, were designed by William Wilkins, and were greatly influenced by Greek architecture. The room in which we have class was named after him, which shows the greatness of this man at Downing. The East Range included the Master’s Lodge at the southern end but was not completed at the northern end until 1873. The West Range was built between 1818 and 1820. During our experience in Downing, we spend most of our time in the East Range.
No further construction took place until 1931 and Downing was the only College built as a whole, when residential blocks were built by Sir Herbert Baker, who had a Roman-inspired design over Wilkins’ Greek design. In the 1980’s, the Howard Building was built. It contained a reception room and a fully equipped flat floor concert and meeting room and was named about Dr. Alan Howard. It was designed by Mr. Terry who was also the architect for the Butterfield Building, which provides a junior common room (JRC) and bar facilities as well as a basement party room. After, he was then commissioned to design the Maitland Robinson Library.
The Singer Building opened in the bicentenary year and provided accommodation for the college. In 2010, the Howard Court was completed with the Howard Theatre, designed again by Quinlan Terry. Most recently, in 2016, an art gallery dedicated to modern and contemporary art opened at Downing, and was named after Alwyn Heong, an alumnus.
Our first days in Downing
The first time we stepped into Downing College, it was love at first sight. The only word that comes into your mind while seeing this prestigious place is “WOW”. When you enter the college, you can directly access the porters’ lodge on your left where you can get all the information you want. Don’t hesitate to talk with one of the porters named Paul - he is a very pleasant guy, a perfect British gentleman. Enjoy his British sense of humour, you won’t be disappointed!
At the porters’ lodge, we got a map of Downing site, which made us realize the greatness of the place. Indeed, Downing counts many great on-site facilities, such as the Maitland Robinson Library, a dining hall where all the students share a good meal and a good time, sports grounds, the Howard theatre, the recently opened Heong art gallery…
Downing will both support your learning, and will have many opportunities to engage with your peers socially and academically. Social life is very active at Downing, with plenty of student-run societies and places in the college to meet with friends. Among the most prestigious societies, we can mention the Cranworth society, “the largest student-run college law society in Cambridge,” or the Blake society for Arts and Humanities. Concerning the sporting range of activities, for sure you will find what you are looking for! The Griffin society is in charge of the sporting life at Downing and has a famous reputation especially in rowing and cricket. During the free society week at the beginning of October, we were able to take part in a sport team and follow in the footsteps of former England cricket captain Mike Atherton.
If you have not found the society of your dreams, feel free to have a look on Downing College official website!
A three-month experience as students in Cambridge
The first thing we can say about our experience in Downing is that it is quite different from the Grenoble one. Actually, GEM’s very modern building contrasts with the ancient architecture of Cambridge, a city with a rich historic background. Also, the expression “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” perfectly applies in this case. In Downing you have vast grass areas, but don’t even try to put your toe on it, fellows and crows are the only privileged persons!
We enjoy this environment conducive to studies but also to meetings. Between two lessons, we adore going to the Lord Butterfield café, a famous social place in Downing where we often take a coffee, especially to wake up in the morning. It has become our HQ and we know by heart all the recipes of paninis.
We are only at the beginning of our stay in Cambridge, but we will definitely make everything possible to discover all the richness of this city. At the end of our stay, we want to be fully-fledged students of Downing College.
(By Cassandre Carat, Natacha Crémel and Louise Walryck)