Fitzwilliam House, Cambridge

Fitzwilliam at 150

Fitzwilliam has a history unlike that of any other Cambridge college. 

Tracing its origins to 1869, it was created to enable students without the financial means to meet college fees to come to Cambridge and study for degrees. Almost 150 years later, that founding ethos still remains at the heart of the College.

The story of Fitzwilliam began in the nineteenth century, when the University of Cambridge introduced reforms which included the admission of undergraduates without their needing to become members of colleges. This was crucial, as membership of colleges was expensive – many students even had to buy their own furniture! The cost of being a non-collegiate student at Cambridge was less than half that of being a member of a college.

The University established the Non-Collegiate Students Board to manage the non-collegiate students, of whom the first eight were admitted in 1869. At least six of the 1869 entrants were mature students, including two schoolmasters and a surgeon. At that time, and for the next century, the students lived in lodgings with landladies. The building known as Fitzwilliam Hall was purchased in 1887; situated on Trumpington Street opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum, it was where they socialised and received some teaching. The name Fitzwilliam House was adopted in 1924.

Student numbers grew, with a post-war peak of over 300 recorded in 1920. In 1944, it was decided that a new and larger building was needed, and by 1960 land had been purchased by the University and an architect – the celebrated modernist Sir Denys Lasdun – appointed. Fitzwilliam House moved to its current site in 1963, and in 1966 it was granted a Royal Charter and became Fitzwilliam College.

'Ex antiquis et novissimis optima' (The best of the old and the new)

The College’s motto

The College is built in the grounds of The Grove, a beautiful Regency house which formerly was the home of Emma Darwin, the widow of Charles Darwin. The first student residences and the distinctive Hall Building, designed by Lasdun, were completed in 1963. They were followed by New Court and by Wilson Court, and by the award-winning Chapel designed by Sir Richard MacCormac. More recently, awards have been won by Gatehouse Court and the 250-seat Auditorium, both designed by Allies and Morrison. The stunning Olisa Library, designed by Edward Cullinan Architects, opened in January 2010 and is one of the most impressive and well-equipped college libraries in the University.

Today, Fitzwilliam is among the largest of the Cambridge colleges, with a community of around 450 undergraduates, 350 graduates, 55 Fellows and 120 staff. Known as an exceptionally friendly college, Fitzwilliam is committed to supporting our students, with around 1,100 financial awards totalling over £550,000 made by the College to our students in the last academic year.

Our students make the most of the extraordinary education and opportunities available to them, with many performing at the highest level: 113 of our students achieved Firsts in 2018, including five starred Firsts. You can watch the Master, Professor Nicola Padfield, in her welcome video talk about what studying at Fitzwilliam is like today – and how our founding values still inform every aspect of College life.

In 2019 we will mark 150 years of Fitzwilliam’s unique history with a series of events. In addition, we are inviting alumni to share their memories as part of a special history project. You can read the full story of the College’s history in Fitzwilliam: The First 150 Years of a Cambridge College.

Gatehouse, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Fitzwilliam 150 years logo

To celebrate our 150th anniversary, along with 40 years of women at the College, we are inviting alumni to contribute to a special history project which will bring together their memories and photos. Share yours here.