Rules for Cambridge freshers – from 1660

Historical research by Philip Oswald, one of GSM’s volunteer researchers, has been picked up by the University of Cambridge and national media.

As the latest intake of students prepares to start life at Cambridge University, snippets of the rules written for 17th Century freshers entered the ether for the first time three weeks ago. Rosie Sharkey, Heritage Education Officer at Great St Mary’s,  tweeted extracts advising students to “avoid all profane scurrilous, unsavoury, rotten, frothy communication” and keep fashionable excess to a minimum: “be not to spruce, curious & fantastick nor…careless, supine and slovenly in yr Apparel.”

The University Communications Office picked up the story as a perfect freshers’ week feature, and met with Rosie, Philip Oswald and his co-author, Dr Christopher Preston, to discuss the research and draft a press release.


Scholars in academic dress from David Loggan’s Cantabrigia Illustrata of 1690
Credit: By kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge

Written by Trinity College fellow James Duport in 1660, the rules concentrate on the proper behaviour of young men studying at institutions rooted in religion. The exuberant language, however, resonates with more than a superficial understanding of the natural slothfulness and waywardness of youth enjoying a first taste of freedom away from the parental home.

Students are reminded to attend Great St Mary’s Church regularly, and to take notes on the sermon. As for recreation, football was to be avoided (“it being… a rude, boistrous exercise, & fitter for Clownes then for Schollers”) while tennis too could be overdone (“Use Tennis sparingly and never immediately after meales, it being then too violent & too stirring”).


the Cambridge University Library’s copy of the Duport Rules (Add. MS 6986), credit: Syndics of Cambridge University Library

Philip Oswald and Dr Christopher Preston published “James Duport’s Rules for his tutorial pupils: a comparison of two surviving manuscripts” in August 2013 in The Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, Vol XIV, Part 4 (pages 317-362).

The Wren Library’s version of Duport’s Rules (which is dated 1660) was published by the historian GM Trevelyan in 1943 and has been used to interpret Duport’s philosophy of education during a period when an enthusiasm for scientific discovery began to flourish. Preston and Oswald were on the point of publishing a paper on the rules held by the Wren when they were alerted to the existence of another version (undated) at Cambridge University Library. Access to this second version enabled them to make comparisons between the two.

Above all, Duport’s rules are a portrait of an energetic fatherly figure cajoling a group of feckless younger men to work hard and keep safe. The scholars under his care are described variously as slubbering, lolling, leaning and whispering.

Some teenage habits remain revolting: “When you reade or speake in your Tutors Chamber, or else where take heed of picking your Nose, or putting your Hatt or Hand to your face, or any such odd, uncouth, or unseemly gesture.” But as vehemently as he exhorts them to mend their idle ways, Duport also urges them to keep in touch with their families. “Write frequently to your Parents & Friends, to ye former especially if you know they desire you & expect it.”

You can read the full story on the University of Cambridge website and in the media here:

If you’d like to get involved with unearthing fascinating nuggets of Cambridge history like this, why not become a research volunteer for Great St Mary’s?

Margaret Beaufort in Cambridge

A few more pictures from our Tudor filmshoot last Thursday at the Michaelhouse Centre, all courtesy of Julia Barrett, who played Margaret Beaufort.


A little drizzle was not going to deter us


The gatehouse of Christ’s College, which Margaret Beaufort endowed in 1505.


Lady Margaret and her retinue having a well-earned break and cup of tea


Margaret at her devotions with her friend and confessor John Fisher, played by GSM’s associate vicar and chaplain to University staff, Peter Hayler


Tudors on a tea break


The youngest members of the cast were fuelled by chocolate biscuits


Ducking out of the rain


The morning’s cast as we wrap the outdoor scene

Thanks again to our fantastic cast, camera operator Jasmine Wingfield and consultant and director Matthew Ward of History Needs You!


Watch this space for news of the finished film…

Lights, Camera, Action!

We had a wonderful day of filming at the Michaelhouse Centre yesterday. We were shooting sequences with Margaret Beaufort and James I for our short film about the royal patronage of Great St Mary’s, which will be screened in the new education space in the south lobby. These live-action segments will be intercut with shots of beautiful Cambridge buildings and a voiceover will tell the stories of kings and queens.

My camera ran out of batteries early on, so I only have a few photos to share now, but we got some great shots and missed the worst of the rain! Members of the congregation, professional re-enactors, Kentwell Tudors, Peter Hayler (Chaplain to the University staff) and our hard-working vergers all got involved as cast members.


James I remonstrating with the university men about the gallery in Great St Mary’s which left the congregation’s backs to the altar. Matthew Ward of History Needs You as James and GSM congregation members David and Peter as dons.


A little direction from Jasmine Wingfield, our camera operator

A hapless peasant pushed aside

A hapless peasant pushed aside


Lady Margaret Beaufort sweeps by, unconcerned – played by Julia Barrett

Lady Margaret, her loyal retainer and the hapless peasant

Lady Margaret, her loyal retainer and the hapless peasant


Great St Mary’s has some exciting heritage education volunteering opportunities on offer.

Please click on the links below to read more about each role. To apply, fill out the short volunteer application form and send it to Rosie at 

Do you have a passion for history and experience of undertaking original research? If you have around 10 hours a week to spare over the next couple of months, you might like to become one of our volunteer researchers, digging into the past and discovering the most intriguing treasures that will inspire visitors to Great St Mary’s.

Click here for more information about research topics up for grabs, from Roman Cambridge to Reformation iconoclasm.

Are you an expert organiser who could co-ordinate a team of over 30 volunteers? This crucial role would suit someone with administrative and management experience, who will be able to volunteer from home for up to 12 hours a week. You will make sure the volunteer team feels valued, supported and well-trained, as well as looking after the rota system.

The exciting interactive displays which we are currently designing for GSM will involve hundreds of images. We are looking for someone with a good eye, excellent administrative and IT skills and an interest in heritage to take charge of managing the image database.

Volunteering for 8 hours per week from a home computer, you will seek out suitable images, liaise with the owners in libraries, museums and galleries and ensure that we have the relevant permissions to reuse images from illuminated manuscripts, engravings and paintings.

All these volunteering roles would be great experience for anyone interested in heritage education or local history – please get in touch with Rosie if you have any questions!

Later in the project we will have more volunteering roles on offer, including public-facing roles such as giving tours, helping with educational sessions and leading art and craft activities. Please send us an email if this sort of role would appeal to you, and we can put you on the mailing list for the future.

Research Volunteers Needed!

Heritage Education at GSM



Thanks to the HLF, Great St Mary’s is embarking on an ambitious heritage education programme. More details can be found here – we will be building a new education centre within the church, researching the fascinating histories and recruiting volunteers to run interactive education and arts sessions for local schools, visitors and community groups.

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