Every person in statu pupillari who shall be found at any coffee-house, tennis-court, cricket-ground or other place of publick Diversion and Entertainment, betwixt the hours of nine and twelve in the morning, shall forfeit the sum of Ten Shillings for every offence.

– 1750 Rules for Cambridge University Students, Senior Proctor’s Book, f. 228r

Brasses, heraldry and medieval tales

On Friday we had our first try-out of some of the new family activities which GSM will be offering this summer. Our rhyming cohort of testers, Poppy, Lily, Chloe, Phoebe and Dorothy, did great work trying out brass rubbing, creating their own coats of arms and inventing medieval tales with our new magnets.

The storyboard magnets are my favourite. Created by borrowing images from the British Library which are available for non-commercial re-use, the strange, comic book-style pictures made for endless creative combinations. Trick-or-treating, whispering angels, Victorian costumes, a moon with a human face and dragon slaying featured heavily – why not try them out yourself and see where your imagination leads?

Gabriel and the Spitfire

The reredos behind the altar in Michaelhouse depicts the Last Supper, with the scene flanked by the archangels Michael and Gabriel.

Designed by George Gilbert Scott Jr., using carved panels by the Flemish artist Michiel Abeloos, the reredos was intended to complement the scenes of angelic intervention in the stained glass window above it.

Michaelhouse Reredos

Michaelhouse Reredos

Below the Last Supper, the inscription “Panem angelorum manducauit homo” means “mortals ate the bread of angels” and refers to God sending manna from heaven.

In 2007, the reredos was fully restored, as it had suffered from rising damp and an accumulation of dirt. Gabriel’s missing lily was re-carved in hardwood from the wingtips of a Second World War Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft.

Gabriel close-up from Dr Andreas Loewe's article, 'Constituting angels and mortals in a wonderful order: George Gilbert Scott Junior’s Sanctuary in St Michael’s Church Cambridge'.

Gabriel close-up from  Andreas Loewe’s article, ‘Constituting angels and mortals in a wonderful order: George Gilbert Scott Junior’s Sanctuary
in St Michael’s Church Cambridge’.

For more information on the 19th-century reordering of Michaelhouse, and the recent restoration, see the article by the Very Revd Andreas Loewe, ‘Constituting angels and mortals in a wonderful order: George Gilbert Scott Junior’s Sanctuary in St Michael’s Church Cambridge’, Ecclesiology Today 46 (2011).


Our new brasses have arrived and we can’t wait to try them out! Here’s a sneak peek…

The question of finding enough storage in a busy parish church is always a tricky one, and clearly Great St Mary’s has been wrestling with it for several centuries!

“A part of it is made a Lumber house for ye materials of ye Scaffolds, for Bookbinders dry fats, for Aumeric cupboards, and such like implements, which they know not readily where else to put.”

– From a 1636 report to Archbishop Laud, quoted in Cooper’s Memorials of Cambridge, vol. ii, pp. 298-9

Cambridge from above

The views of King’s College Chapel from Great St Mary’s tower are always stunning, but my favourite vantage points are the ones that give a glimpse of less familiar scenes – a rainbow flag over the rainbow of market stalls, or the long shadows of passers-by on King’s Parade.

Striking the hour at Trinity

St Edward's Gate, Trinity College. Photo from wikimedia.

St Edward’s Gate, Trinity College. Photo from wikimedia.

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to climb Trinity’s clock tower and watch the clock being wound.

The pendulum clock dates to 1910 and has a state-of-the-art monitoring system to check its accuracy, but it is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Trinity: King Edward’s Gate.

This gate was once the entrance to King’s Hall, a college founded by Edward II which was dissolved in 1546 by Henry VIII and joined with Michaelhouse to found the new College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. When Trinity decided to construct the imposing ‘Great Court’,  this gate was taken down and rebuilt 100 feet north of its original location in order to fit in with the architectural plan.

After climbing the winding spiral stair, we enjoyed the view out over Great Court to King’s College Chapel.

The clock has a temperature-compensated pendulum 2 metres in length gravity_escapementdriven by a three-legged gravity escapement. It keeps time to better than one second in a month without any intervention.

Strangely, the clock didn’t strike the quarters at 3.45pm – something clearly went a bit wrong, contradicting this poem about the clock by William Wordsworth:

Near me hung Trinity’s loquacious clock,
Who never let the quarters, night or day,
Slip by him unproclaimed, and told the hours
Twice over with a male and female voice.

-William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1850

Since the early eighteenth century, the Trinity clock has struck the hour twice, first on a low note (the ‘Trinity’ chime) and then on a much higher one (the ‘St John’s’ chime). The bell you can hear striking the hour in this video bears the inscription:


(The Trinity resounds in unity. 1610.
Richard Holdfield [or Oldfield] made me.)

It was an eventful afternoon: as soon as we had finished winding the clock, a thunderstorm hit central Cambridge, making chimney pots wobble with the driving rain. There were strange red lightning flashes, and drifts of hailstones by the time the wind died down.

In the space of 10 minutes, the view from the tower window went from this:

Great Court from Clock Tower

Great Court from Clock Tower

…to this:

With thanks to Rick Lupton for letting us see the clock winding, and to Dr Hugh Hunt for permission to publish the photos and films online. More information about the clock, and Dr Hunt’s animated gif of the pendulum can be found here.

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