A Very Large College

I read that St. John’s College, Cambridge, is enjoying a bonanza in the housing developments going on in North Cambridgeshire around the town of March – St. John’s owns a lot of land in the area, and is consequently quids in.

All well and good. But St. John’s comes only a distant second in landholdings to Trinity College, the largest college in either Oxford or Cambridge (although second in numbers to Homerton, just down the road from OISE). The legends that attach to Trinity’s wealth are numerous – at one point some years ago the college apparently contemplated abolishing student rents, so piffling were the amounts, and a friend of mine who was an undergraduate at the college twenty years ago tells me that it was only necessary to ask the college for a summer travelling grant on some spurious educational pretext for them to open their cheque book.

But it is the landholding that most impresses people. It is often said (falsely) that it is possible to walk to Oxford on land owned only by Trinity College; it is also often said (less falsely) that the college is the third (or second, or fourth) biggest landholder in the country after the Queen and the Church, or possibly the National Trust. It is certainly true that Trinity owns 14km2 of container facilities at the port of Felixstowe, as well as the O2 Arena, the Cambridge Science Park, and a lot of Tesco superstores.

And the College grounds are not negligible. Great Court, the largest court in Cambridge, is the location of the Great Court Run, made famous in the movie Chariots of Fire (although for the movie Trinity refused permission to film; Eton College was used instead).

So there it is. A very large college. It is also the alma mater of Issac Newton, Lord Byron (who kept a bear in his rooms) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, six prime ministers, and countless Nobel laureates (32 in the twentieth century). All a bit vulgar, if you ask me.


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