Magdalene College Cambridge Notes: the origins of the Lutyens Building

The story of the Lutyens Building, now the backdrop to Magdalene's Benson Court, forms a well-known part of College history and legend.

This study represents a fresh attempt to tell the story, and to explore its implications.[1] Increasing student numbers following the First World War led the Governing Body to create new hostel accommodation. In 1925, A.C. Benson (Master, 1915-25) funded the conversion of a former brewery into Mallory Court (now Mallory Court B), the first College building on the west side of Magdalene Street. In 1927-8, his successor, A.B. Ramsay (1925-48), commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens, arguably Britain's leading architect, to design a grand, three-sided courtyard, open to the river. There would have been a west range alongside Bin Brook, roughly equivalent to the building that was eventually erected. A parallel east range, it is generally assumed, would have required the demolition of all the ancient Town buildings from number 18 to number 31 Magdalene Street, south of what is now the pedestrian entrance to Mallory Court. This would have entailed the loss of both the functioning Pickerel Inn, and the former Cross Keys, now the entrance to Benson Court, which was already recognised as an important part of the local cultural heritage. These two long buildings would have formed wings linked by a shorter north range.[2] In 1928, the College launched an appeal for the necessary funds, its first major attempt to raise money from old members in two and a half centuries. The appeal was notably unsuccessful. Only the west range was erected, and that with much stream-lining and penny-pinching.

There are sharply differing opinions about the structure that was eventually built. "To some it is heavy, ponderous, over-assured and monotonously formal. To others it is modest, beautiful, dignified and calmly impressive."[3] There is much wider agreement that the College was fortunate that it could not afford the whole scheme. (Indeed, the building that did eventuate was much changed from the original west range designed by Lutyens). From 1952, the architect David Roberts oversaw the conversion of the ancient buildings that Lutyens would have swept away to create "a perfect piece of small-scale townscaping, brought out delightfully by the solid red of Lutyens's building."[4] Retrospective comment has tended to concentrate, not very favourably, on the aesthetics of the overall Lutyens scheme. It is argued here that, in the longer sweep of time, the project is probably more deserving of analysis in regard to its social and educational implications for Ramsay's Magdalene.

The Lutyens Building from the river, 2019. Photograph by Magdalene College, Cambridge

The building erected between 1930 and 1932 was eventually called Benson Court, much to the distaste of Ramsay, who campaigned for it to be named after Henry Dunster, a seventeenth-century Magdalene graduate and the effective founder of Harvard.[5] As a natural consequence of the David Roberts project, the name Benson Court was applied to the whole area between Magdalene Street and Bin Brook: it had always seemed anomalous as the designation of an individual building. As a result, staircases A to E became known as the Lutyens Building. Since it is the only collegiate building by Sir Edwin Lutyens in Cambridge, this is entirely appropriate, although it seems unlikely that the name was ever formally adopted.

At the time of writing, in 2021, the Lutyens Building approaches its ninetieth birthday. This note, which gratefully draws upon earlier studies by Roderick O'Donnell and Ronald Hyam, re-examines the Lutyens project through the text and illustrations of the 1928 Appeal document, offers some speculative reflections on the failure to raise the necessary funds, and, finally, adds some details to the story of the building's construction. Above all, it argues that the real significance of the Lutyens scheme was not so much architectural as social and political. It formed part of a regressive project of social engineering aimed at winding back the Magdalene clock by half a century. Its exclusive, even exclusionist, overtones may also help to explain the failure of the Appeal to harness wide support. In the end, the College gained a notable building, but equally it was fortunate that the main project did not materialise.[6]

Context and background: buildings The Appeal document[7] outlined the growth of the student population. In 1900, the buildings of Magdalene "accommodated about five Fellows and forty undergraduates and were sufficient for the needs of the College .... it was customary for an undergraduate to have rooms in College for the three years of his residence if he desired to keep them; and if the College ever overflowed there were sufficient lodgings in the vicinity." The decade before the First World War saw "a gradual but continuous increase in the number of undergraduates till in 1914 the number reached a hundred. Since the war there has been an ever growing pressure of applicants for admission and the Governing Body of the College has felt obliged to limit the number of undergraduate members to one hundred and eighty. These larger numbers seem likely to be permanent .... the College is obliged to refuse many applicants every  year. The problem of housing satisfactorily such a large number of men is an urgent one."  The accommodation issue was not simply about providing beds, but was presented as going to the heart of the special feature of the Cambridge experience. The Government Body wished "to have a larger proportion of our undergraduates living within the College walls and enjoying the peculiar advantages of that corporate life which is such an attractive side of our university education".[8] As argued below, the Appeal document used overall pressure of numbers as a smokescreen for a project that had the substantially different purpose of creating an elite student ghetto.

The academic demographic should be borne in mind (and is discussed in more detail later): the Appeal presumably targeted the older and (hopefully) more financially secure Magdalene products, but – even if still alive – they formed a very small proportion of the alumni. Hence the document went on to remind recipients of the College's response to the challenge of increasing numbers. In 1909, Magdalene had finally spent a bequest by a former President, Mynors Bright, who had left money for a new building in 1873. The "Bright Building" had provided eleven extra sets, plus a lecture room.[9] (The designation reflected the ponderous prose of the Appeal document, almost certainly the work of Ramsay himself. There was nothing luminous about its sombre brick structure, which has been tactfully described as designed in "a comfortable, neo-Tudor style".[10]) A further dozen sets had been added through the conversion of Benson's house, the Old Lodge, in 1926.[11] Scholars and Exhibitioners were still able to claim rooms in College for all three years of their degree studies, but the average undergraduate could only "spend one year out of three in rooms in College; and there are a hundred of our men in lodgings outside the College walls, many of them in houses at a considerable distance, not designed for undergraduate occupation."

Apart from one allusion to "the late Master (Dr Benson)", which implied that he should have left more money for buildings, the Appeal document managed to ignore his massive contribution to Magdalene's built environment, relegating Mallory Court to the status of one of the three College hostels which were implicitly excluded from calculations of undergraduate accommodation.[12] However, Mallory Court was not the only project that Magdalene had considered as it contemplated expanding across the street.[13] In October 1921, the Governing Body tentatively commissioned a project for a whole new court, if only to explore "what the site was capable of".[14] The architect, Harry Redfern, was well known in Magdalene, having designed Benson's curious baronial dining room (now Benson Hall) in 1911. The Bursar, Talbot Peel, warned that there was no chance that the College could afford a major building in the near future (although, of course, that is what Bursars always say). It is possible that the whole exercise was a well-intentioned charade. The Master of Magdalene, A.C. Benson, was still emerging with slow fragility from a devastating mental breakdown, and the scheme may have been intended to harness his interest and revive his enthusiasm. A good-natured personality, Redfern remodelled the original Mallory Court four years later, and undertook the conversion of Old Lodge into student rooms after Benson's death. He does not seem to have minded being shouldered aside by the mighty figure of Lutyens, nor did he object that some of his own ideas were closely echoed in his supplanter's design. Redfern would return to Magdalene in the early 'thirties to undertake more work in Mallory Court.

Redfern thought much of Magdalene Street was "rather dull", but he made an exception for the former Cross Keys Inn, one of the few impressive sixteenth-century town buildings to survive. Thus the west range of his four-sided court covered only the later A to C staircases of the Lutyens Building, although the matching east range anticipated the later scheme in being set back slightly from Magdalene Street. This would have enabled him to preserve the Cross Keys Inn, but not the remaining old buildings down to the river.

Although not on an identical axis, Redfern's complex would have been about the same size as First Court. His four ranges were only loosely linked, but it is possible that the complex might have been mildly claustrophobic, not least because – unlike First Court – the four sides were identical in style.[15] Redfern's sketches reveal a mix of light-hearted architectural references, gables from Bright's Building, an arcade that imitated the Pepys Building. The scheme embodied a folksy friendliness, reminiscent of a cottage hospital or a convalescent home – and, a century later, it may seem none the worse for that. However, the external aura of comfort was not matched by lavish provision of facilities for its residents. Latrines were provided at one corner of the complex – the plan seems to indicate four cubicles and a row of urinals – but there were no bathrooms at all. The inmates were presumably expected to stroll across Magdalene Street to the bathhouse which then stood beside the Pepys Building, which would have become very crowded. The Lutyens design would be considerably more modern in this respect, although the eventual Lutyens Building was less well endowed.

Redfern's scheme links forward to Lutyens in two ways. First, both architects worked to virtually identical specifications – in Redfern's case, 51 undergraduate sets, a porters' lodge, a lecture room and three double sets for Fellows. However, by the time Lutyens arrived on the scene, one new idea had taken root. C.S. Davison, an American who had studied at Magdalene half a century earlier, was a generous benefactor, and was held in high regard for his championing of the Allied cause in the United States. Davison suggested the omission of the south range of Redfern's courtyard, so that Magdalene might create a sweep of grass down to the Cam that would rival the riverside campus of King's. (Davison's alternative suggestion, for a skyscraper to be called the Dunster Tower, did not find favour and almost certainly would not have received planning permission.)[16] This essay suggests that the idea which came from New York intersected in some Magdalene minds with a project that was nearing completion in New Delhi, a hypothesis pursued below. Once the specifications were amended to a three-sided court open to the river, the buildings would obviously need to extend much further back from the Cam, both to maximise the vista and to make up for the accommodation lost on the unbuilt fourth side.

Redfern had indeed gone some way towards showing "what the site was capable of". Given that he continued to work with Magdalene over its secondary and infill projects, it might have been expected that he would also continue as the principal consultant for the larger scheme, invited to amend his four-sided design to create Davison's vista. However, in 1927 the College brought in Sir Edwin Lutyens to design its ambitious new court. It is worth underlining that the decision represented a seismic change of purpose, an unexpected bid by one of the smallest and poorest Oxbridge colleges to project itself as an academic superpower. (It might be colloquially compared to a League Two soccer club signing David Beckham, or a repertory theatre starring Sir Laurence Olivier.) So ambitious a recruitment may be assumed to have carried much wider implications, notably for the type of college that Ramsay intended Magdalene to become. To begin to understand this, it is necessary briefly to review how the ethos of the College had changed in the half century before Ramsay's appointment in 1925.

Context and background: Lord Braybrooke  The key person here is Henry Neville, the seventh Baron Braybrooke, who, as hereditary Visitor of Magdalene, had the sole right to appoint the Master. It is easy to assume that successive Visitors simply looked benignly upon the College from Audley End, their Essex mansion twenty miles away, becoming closely involved only at the long intervals when a new Head of House had to be designated. However, the seventh Lord Braybrooke felt a close connection with the College and he took his responsibilities seriously. His father, Latimer Neville, had been Master of Magdalene from 1853 to 1904: Henry Neville had been born in the Lodge in 1855, and his recollections of Magdalene went back to the early eighteen-sixties, when he was allowed, as a small boy, to wear the Boat Club colours.[17] Except when he was away at Eton, he had spent his early years within the walls of Magdalene, becoming an undergraduate member of the College in 1873, and graduating with a Pass degree four years later.[18] Even then, he did not spread his wings: E.R. Yerburgh, who came up to Magdalene in 1879, recalled Henry Neville and his younger brother Grey as "very dull and respectable fellows [he meant, of course, 'chaps']", an interesting comment since it indicates that Henry remained part of the community even after he had graduated.  Kelly's Directory for 1888 gives his address as the Master's Lodge at Magdalene, and it would be a further ten years before he married, settling not far away at Royston.[19] Thus the man who became the seventh Baron Braybrooke in 1904 was a witness and, no doubt, a supporter, of his father's attempts to resist the tide of change in the University. In 1881, in response to the edict of Parliament, college statutes were revised, generally abolishing the requirement that Masters should be clergymen. Latimer Neville submitted a "solemn protest" against the decision that the office of Master of Magdalene might be "held not only by a layman but by a member of a different communion to that of the Church of England".[20] His son would act in the spirit of that protest in 1925, passing over an outstanding candidate, the President of Magdalene A.S. Ramsey, almost certainly because he was a Nonconformist.

Latimer Neville had received two comfortable patronage appointments, Master of Magdalene and Rector of Heydon in Essex, because it was necessary to provide for him as the fourth son of the third Baron Braybrooke. It could hardly have been foreseen that, in 1902, he would inherit the title himself – becoming, for the last eighteen months of his life, both Master and Visitor of Magdalene. At his father's death, in January 1904, Henry Neville inherited the Audley End estate, the Braybrooke title and the responsibility of appointing his father's successor.[21] The new Visitor's instincts were dynastic. On the day of his father's funeral, he offered the Mastership to a relative (although, apparently, a distant cousin), Walter Pym, who was a Magdalene graduate, but hardly a glittering candidate. Pym, the Bishop of Mauritius, had just been appointed to Bombay, and could not decently back out. His son, Leslie, would play a role in the 1928 Appeal, and a grandson would serve as Foreign Secretary.[22] At this point, Braybrooke's perplexity was further shaken by an acerbic article in the weekly magazine, the Spectator, which blamed Magdalene's perceived mediocrity and social exclusiveness upon its archaic constitution. In fact, the allegations related more to the College as it had been a quarter of a century earlier – when Braybrooke himself had been an undergraduate – rather than to the mildly improved College of the eighteen-nineties. In any case, while Magdalene's problems were no doubt worsened by snobbery and nepotism, fundamentally they sprang from lack of money. Nonetheless, it was now clear that the Mastership of Magdalene was something more than a plaything of personal whim. Public opinion required the selection of someone qualified to head an educational institution. It was also obvious that the new Master would have to be a man of private means. The Visitor's thinking as naturally led to his old school, where the more privileged masters could (entirely legitimately) amass a considerable financial competence by running a boarding house. The choice fell upon Stuart Donaldson, an Eton product, an Eton master, a First Class Honours graduate of King's – and the Visitor's exact contemporary both at school and university.[23] 

In Holy Orders and innately conservative, Donaldson was a safe pair of hands. However, Donaldson provided an imaginative solution to one immediate challenge, which would have unpredictable but seismic results. To conform to the requirements of its Statutes, Magdalene had to elect a fifth Fellow. Unfortunately, the income of most colleges had been slashed by the fall in income from their investments in farmland: E.K. Purnell, the historian of Magdalene, wrote in 1904 that "the dividends of Fellows have been reduced to an annual value hardly equal to the wages of a skilled artisan".[24] Magdalene, which had never been rich in the first place, simply could not afford to pay an additional Fellow. The problem was solved by importing Donaldson's friend, A.C. Benson, who had recently resigned his Eton mastership and moved to Cambridge. Benson was keen to be elected, and happy to be supernumerary – he did not need the money. Already a popular writer, and on the verge of becoming a literary megastar, he had impressive Establishment credentials. He was the son (and biographer) of E.W. Benson, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, the co-editor of the project to publish the letters of Queen Victoria and the author of the words of Land of Hope and Glory, written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. What could possibly go wrong with such a charming and convenient arrangement?

It quickly became clear that that Benson had left Eton because he disapproved of the blanketing, grinding irrelevance of its classical teaching. As the school's own Eton Chronicle obituary tribute would comment, with languid understatement, "while rightly condemning the faults of the old curriculum, he was perhaps blind to its merits". Indeed he was. By 1906, he was denouncing the policy of force-feeding boys with Latin and Greek, and calling for a much broader education, based on History, Geography, Science, Mathematics and Modern Languages.[25] There were two further bruising encounters with Eton, one in which his name was put into play as a potential Head Master – a post that he did not seek – and the other when he was nominated for election to the school's Governing Body. In both episodes, Benson's heretical views on the teaching of classics stimulated implacable opposition, in which A.B. Ramsay was a prominent spokesman. Their dislike was mutual: "Ramsay is a poky, narrow-minded, parochial, stubborn, pig-headed little fellow" was Benson's private verdict.[26] Nor was Benson's abhorrence of Latin and Greek the only deviant opinion to trip from his unstoppable and sometimes indiscreet pen. His refusal to believe in Hell was probably not unduly shocking: by Edwardian times, most educated people doubted the notion of eternal punishments. But his championing of reincarnation, a by-product of his own well-publicised recovery from a prolonged mental breakdown, would have startled most people raised in the Christian tradition, however straightforward it would seem to those who believed in the religions of the East. In 1910, he drew widespread derision upon himself with an entirely unnecessary letter to The Times, in which he shared the pain of Dr Crippen as he died on the gallows: surely, he argued, a murderer might be allowed to die by suicide at a time and in a manner of his own choosing? To cap it all, on 3 August 1914, as Europe stood on the brink of catastrophe, he signed a manifesto (along with Bertrand Russell) denouncing war with Germany as "a sin against civilisation". True, he nimbly rebranded himself as a patriot, but there could be little doubt that A.C. Benson was a loose cannon. Yet he was also an astonishingly popular writer, with a massive audience around the English-speaking world, who generated an income that enabled him to become a substantial benefactor to his adopted college.

Hence, Donaldson's death October 1915, faced Lord Braybrooke with an awkward dilemma, since both public opinion and the finances of Magdalene seemed to point to Benson as his successor. While the evidence is, perhaps necessarily, obscure, it seems likely that the Visitor would have preferred to appoint some safer alternative candidate, but it was virtually impossible to find one. Men with experience and judgement were engaged in war work, in Whitehall if not on the Western Front. Senior schoolmasters were covering for younger colleagues who had gone off to fight: by 1915, nine Eton masters had joined the Army, while retired staff were called back to help fill the gaps.[27] Given that undergraduate numbers had also collapsed and Magdalene was virtually in abeyance, it would have been downright unpatriotic to draft in an outsider whose services were needed by the nation. Nonetheless, it seems that Braybrooke did consider another candidate. Sydney James, a clergyman and a former Eton housemaster, had recently retired from the headmastership of Malvern, a second-rank public school.[28] Like Donaldson and Pym, James was a Cambridge contemporary, and Braybrooke had probably encountered him as an undergraduate.  His war work, as an Army chaplain, might perhaps have been regarded as non-essential (although he received official if enigmatic thanks after the War for "valuable services", which often indicated some hush-hush activity). At 59, he could have functioned as a stopgap Master until a hoped-for post-war world reasserted some form of academic normality. The downside of Sydney James was not so much who he was, as who he was not. He was the much less distinguished older brother of M.R. James, the Provost of King's and popular polymath: Magdalene would have suffered by the comparison. More to the point, he was not A.C. Benson, whose cause "Monty" himself supported. It would be unfair to say that Benson bought his way to the Mastership through his generous benefactions, but almost any alternative appointee would have found himself overshadowed by the College's most prominent Fellow – not to mention the complication that Benson had not only donated money but had also provided several continuing interest-free loans, which he might have been minded to call in if spurned. Braybrooke did indeed offer the post to Benson, but he took two weeks to reach his decision.

When Benson died in 1925, the Visitor once again took his responsibilities very seriously, and the minuet of consultation that followed has been carefully entangled by the College historian, Ronald Hyam.[29] Yet Braybrooke's decision to appoint A.B. Ramsay remains a mystery, or at least seems inexplicable in hindsight given the deadening incubus that his choice inflicted upon the College. Part of the explanatory problem lies in the difficulty of understanding Braybrooke himself, for he was an elusive personality. Benson described him after an encounter in 1924, "as kind and unreachable as ever".  To the historian of Audley End, who knew its owner in his last years, he was "a man of retiring disposition, largely because of his deafness".[30] In 1925, he proved willing to listen but not to heed. Most of the tributes on Benson's death assumed that Magdalene had entered on a new phase with its rebirth in 1904, implicitly (and not entirely unreasonably) dismissing the Latimer Neville era as best passed over in silence. But Braybrooke, who turned seventy during that summer of slow negotiations, thought of Magdalene in a much longer context, and almost certainly placed a higher value upon his father's services to the institution. In his 1908 satire of Cambridge politics, Microcosmographia Academica, F.M. Cornford had identified the Liberal Conservative as one of the most effective obstacles to all forms of change. "A Liberal Conservative is a broad-minded man, who thinks that something ought to be done, although not anything that anyone now desires; and that most things that were done in 1881-82 ought to be undone."[31] In large measure, that seems to have been Braybrooke's position. He did ask the Fellows whether they wished him to make an internal appointment or "go outside". They supported A.S. Ramsey who, as Bursar from 1904, had turned around the College's finances. Benson had appointed Ramsey as President (the equivalent of Vice-Master) in 1915, and he had steered Magdalene through the challenging period of post-war reopening when Benson himself was felled by his second mental breakdown.[32] However, it seems clear that one change made in 1881-2 that Braybrooke was determined to undo was the opening of the Mastership to Nonconformists. Ramsey was a product of Batley Grammar School, which was no doubt one strike against him, but the crucial bar to his appointment was his adherence to what Latimer Neville had called "a different communion to that of the Church of England", the Congregational Church.[33] It is possible that Braybrooke had only gone through the motions of discussing an internal appointment on the assumption that academics could be relied upon to disagree. There were indications from the outset that he intended to make an appointment associated with his old school, and the only relatively senior Old Etonian within Magdalene, V.S. Vernon-Jones, would have been a disaster.[34] Indeed, Braybrooke wanted not simply somebody from his school, but a particular type of Etonian who would force back the hands of the clock half a century. By October 1925, he had fixed upon A.B. Ramsay, the school's Lower Master, as his preferred candidate.[35] At this point, the Governing Body made a strategic mistake: with brash impertinence, Eton had nominated a member of its own staff, whom the Fellows were determined to block.[36] They reiterated their preference for their own President, but rated his near-namesake as a second choice.[37] Braybrooke now struck, and appointed Ramsay.[38]

Eton produced plenty of independent-minded men who questioned its ethos and some who rejected its values altogether. Allen Beville Ramsay was not one of them. Benson had condemned his "fatuous belief in the glory and majesty and beatific vision of Eton, which is the worst point about it".[39] Worse still, his experience was largely with younger boys: the Lower Master was a kind of devolved sub-headmaster. He seems to have created his own form of Stockholm Syndrome, his pupils sensing his mildly sadistic irrelevance, but assuming that he must by definition constitute a valued part of the fabled Eton education. His obituary in the Eton College Chronicle admitted that his methods were "unorthodox and to some perhaps a little irksome. The cane, and the Latin conversations, did not appeal to everyone .... really, it was good fun. The cane often hurt considerably".[40] The cane did not make the transition to Magdalene – except, perhaps, as a memento – but Ramsay imported everything else from his schoolmaster world, including his sister and his parrot. (He was a bachelor, and Miss Ramsay was a popular hostess, while the bird was admired for having resisted attempts by his pupils to teach it to blaspheme.) Embarrassingly, he called Magdalene undergraduates his "boys", and compelled undergraduates reading Classics to engage in humiliating recitations of texts by rote. Although Braybrooke had been unable to find a Master in Holy Orders, he had chosen a man who attempted – absurdly, and largely unsuccessfully – to enforce compulsory Chapel attendance at Magdalene, a custom abandoned elsewhere in Cambridge.[41] I.A. Richards, the College's brilliant Fellow and pioneer in literary criticism, chafed at Ramsay's "pre-20th century Bachelor Schoolmaster's feeling and his autocratic leanings."[42]

Ramsay exercised tight control over the admissions process. Even a sympathetic Fellow, who found the Master personally "most loveable", acknowledged that "it is possible that he accepted candidates from too narrow a sphere". In reality, under Ramsay's influence, the College became "more and more like an extension of public school". The colourful personalities drawn to Magdalene by the Benson ethos seem to have been phased out: the last was probably M.S. Redgrave, who left in 1931 with a Third in English for a brief spell as a schoolmaster and a notably longer career on the stage.[43] One institution in particular came to dominate recruitment. In 1938, Magdalene admitted 72 freshmen. Two came from State schools, nineteen from Eton.[44] It sometimes seemed as if Ramsay had never left his old school. In 1926, he was one of four signatories to a letter in The Times appealing to "the Eton public" for £2000 for a school organ. Year by year, he sent the Head Master a Founders Day telegram: in 1929, "Etonenses Magdalenenses Matri amorem salutem."[45] It is likely, too, that Lord Braybrooke seconded his efforts. The Times obituary which said that "he always maintained a lively interest in the College with which had been associated from birth" was perhaps exactly what might be expected in polite tribute to the deceased, especially as he had taken very little part in public life. But Braybrooke's was the first signature on the Appeal document in 1928, and in 1935 his eightieth birthday was celebrated by a dinner in Hall.  If the Master of Magdalene was a "pre-20th century" schoolmaster, the Visitor remained equally the product of a Victorian student world.[46] 

At this point, it may be worth confronting an apparent sub-text that may convey the idea that Eton = bad. Of course, this in itself cannot be true. By the nineteen-sixties, when Magdalene was welcoming around ninety new undergraduates every year, the handful who came from Eton (like those from most public schools) were affable, keen to meet students from different backgrounds, and obviously aware that Britain was changing. They had passed through an institution which had come to emphasise that privilege must be accompanied by responsibility, and they had gained their Cambridge places on academic merit. By contrast, forty years earlier, Eton had allowed its charges to assume that their advantage of birth was part of the natural order, a cosmos that included more-or-less automatic progression to certain favoured colleges at the ancient universities, where they constituted a special caste. It was alleged that one early twentieth-century Provost of King's (possibly M.R. James) invited the Etonians to breakfast, said 'Good morning' to the Wykehamists, and ignored the rest of the College.[47] Even so, this did not mean that Magdalene was a community of Bertie Woosters. It was the era of competitive entrance examinations, and most years some Eton candidates won Scholarships or Exhibitions in open competition.[48] Nor were they devoid of achievement, either at Cambridge or in later life: Michael Adeane gained a First in the Historical Tripos in 1931, and went on to become the Queen's private secretary. Occasionally, too, Ramsay's determination to create a community of what I.A. Richards condemned as "heavily immunized public school boys"[49] – the protection was against dissent, not disease – could fail spectacularly. One renegade Etonian became a minister in the Attlee Labour government; another briefly joined the Communist party.

Magdalene's Etonian problem was not so much one of quality as of quantity. Even in the late Benson period, around one sixth of the annual intake had come from this one school.[50] Notably, it is a historian of Eton who has suggested that ancient universities were a soft touch for the school's products. Noting that 57 percent of leavers between 1927 and 1933 went on to Oxford or Cambridge, Tim Card commented that the university entrants "were not always the cleverest, and it is remarkable that Colleges were prepared to accept so many".[51] Worse still, by increasing the numbers under his own paternalist supervision, Ramsay increased the tendency for Eton undergraduates to treat Magdalene as simply an extension of their schooldays. This was compounded by his determination to encourage unproblematic conformists. Within Cambridge, Eton had links with Trinity, an appropriate home for intellectuals, and with its sister institution, King's, which welcomed flamboyant eccentrics. Magdalene's admissions procedures concentrated heavily on character and potential – both highly subjective elements – rather than competence in a chosen subject. (This was not wholly unreasonable, both because many school subjects changed considerably in their nature and the demands they made at university, and also because, within reason, an undergraduate admitted to read one subject could switch to another.) Ramsay even devised his own scale for the assessment of candidates as 'chaps'.[52] It disguised discrimination within a fake statistical model.

From the time of Latimer Neville, and well into the twentieth century, there were two Magdalenes. The wider worlds of Cambridge and the upper classes saw only the very wealthy riding and rowing men, but there was always a less glamorous Magdalene that was serious, intelligent, diligent and determined to be successful.[53] Of course, even this attempt to challenge the negative stereotype could only be a loose generalisation: for instance, there were "fast" undergraduates who still managed to take Honours degrees.  Essentially, there were as many Magdalene experiences as there were Magdalene people, and individuals classified the student community in different ways. One unidentified commentator in 1930 discerned four groups: Etonians, aesthetes (a threatened species by then), toughs (the sporting types) and middlebrows.[54] Frank West came to Magdalene in 1929 from Berkhamsted, an independent institution but no competitor in prestige to the major public schools.[55] He identified "three distinct sets" ('sets' here meaning 'cliques'). The first (they were always the first) "were the sons of the County families, most of them Etonians". Elegantly dressed and favoured by Ramsay, they "kept very much to themselves", preferring to skip the communal dinner in Hall and take their meals in the elite Pitt Club. The second category ("by far the largest") comprised young men from the less fashionable public schools, "mostly from a professional background, and now themselves reading for a profession". The third group consisted of "about half-a-dozen studious young men" from grammar schools, who studied hard in attic rooms and "were hardly noticed by the lordly young men of the Pitt [Club]."[56] Alan Murray, who came to Magdalene in 1933 from a State school in Romford, recalled the College as "an institution ... where class distinctions were very strong". With few exceptions, "the ubiquitous Old Etonians ... were remote in every way. ... I remember with affection one or two public-school men who made the effort to bridge the gap, and to meet and get to know us".[57] Increasing numbers of Etonians could only exacerbate these divisions. No doubt Magdalene alumni, from all backgrounds, who received the lavishly printed Appeal document would have filtered the plea for money through their own experience of a stratified college.

The choice of Lutyens This excursion into the politics and the social engineering of Magdalene forms the background to the startling choice of Lutyens as the architect of its new court.  Hailed by his admirers as the greatest British architect since Wren, he was certainly one of the three most notable practitioners of his time.[58] (The other two of whom were also working in Cambridge: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott had built the first stage of Clare's Memorial Court in 1923-4, Sir Herbert Baker would follow at Downing from 1929.) Lutyens himself was an outsider, self-conscious at his lack of a public school training: poor health in childhood is one explanation, but the fact that he was the tenth of thirteen children may also suggest that the money ran out. In England, he mostly designed private houses, often for clients with new money and little social prestige: one of them, Middlefield near Stapleford in Cambridgeshire, became the home of Talbot Peel, to whom the introduction of Lutyens to the College is "traditionally ascribed".[59] Magdalene would be one of his few ventures into the world of education. Lutyens is perhaps best remembered today as the creator of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which the architectural historian Gavin Stamp has called "a monument of extraordinary subtlety".[60] In effect, the Cenotaph, the focus for the nation's grief every Armistice Day, established Lutyens as the architectural voice of British patriotism, in much the same way that Elgar (and, by association, Benson) embodied national pride in music.[61]

Yet it may be argued that there was a powerful additional dimension to the choice of Lutyens, and one that is difficult to recover today. He was not simply the architect who embodied the nation, but an imperial figure too. In 1911, the British had decided to build a new capital city for their Indian empire, New Delhi. The following year, Lutyens began work on a truly massive official residence, modestly called the Viceroy's House (now India's presidential palace, Rashtrapati Bhavan). Progress was slow. In 1920, the French leader, Georges Clemenceau, was given a carefully guided tour of the relics of former empires, culminating in the building that symbolised the majesty and permanence of the Raj. He is said to have commented that it would make the finest ruin of them all.[62] The project went into overdrive from 1927, and the Viceroy moved in during 1929-30. At that time Lutyens, who insisted on overseeing every detail, and was also designing the British Embassy in Washington DC, became one of the first global commuters.[63] It is open to doubt whether he was able to devote much time to Magdalene – although the same emphasis upon detail can be detected – nor is it known (by me, at least) how often he visited Cambridge.[64]

 The Viceroy's House, completed in 1929-30

However, that was not the point. In the late nineteen-twenties, the Lutyens scheme for Magdalene's new court would have been seen context of his work in New Delhi that was approaching its magnificent completion. Andrew Roberts called the Viceroy's House "the twentieth-century's supreme expression of imperial self-confidence and grandeur". To Gavin Stamp, it remains "arguably one of the finest buildings in the world".[65]  Not only was the Viceroy's House supremely impressive, but it happened also to be three-sided. Of course, both the proportions and the details were very different from his scheme for Magdalene.  The viceregal palace had a long central range with two shorter projecting wings. There was no need, in the Cambridge climate, for eight-foot projecting stone shelves at roof level to shade the windows, nor was Magdalene an obvious location for an Oriental dome – although, as will be argued later, Lutyens did succeed in smuggling in an allusion to the Buddhist stupa that surmounted his Delhi mansion. Twenty-first century Britain thinks of India as a developing economy and an emerging power. It has become difficult to imagine the grip that the Raj exercised on the middle- and upper-classes a century ago. Even their distinctive name for the sub-continent, In-jah, has faded from the collective memory.[66] Nowadays, we are familiar with the Lutyens Building, with its vague similarity to a suburban secondary school. But, had the new court been constructed in its entirety, the Lutyens association would have conjured images of imperial supremacy. Benson had expressed imperial pride in words: "Wider still and wider / Shall thy bounds be set". As part of Ramsay's campaign to efface Benson's legacy, Lutyens would convey the same sentiment in bricks and mortar.

The imperial overtones of the Lutyens project carried social implications too for the kind of College that Ramsay wished Magdalene to become. The planned undergraduate sets would be large, and were initially intended to be served by revolutionary new facilities (or bathrooms, as we call them nowadays). They would clearly be more expensive to rent than the average College accommodation, and would obviously attract a carefully segregated type of privileged student – dovetailing with Ramsay's determination to fill the place with Etonians. In 1925, a little-known Conservative MP, Edward Wood, was appointed Viceroy. (He promptly became Lord Irwin, and in 1940 – as Lord Halifax – was the alternative candidate to Churchill for the office of Prime Minister.) The commander of the British forces in India, Sir William Birdwood (later Master of Peterhouse) was surprised by the selection of somebody who knew nothing of India, but drew comfort from the fact that "he seems to be a really first-class English gentleman ... exactly what we want".[67] In hailing the appointment, the Eton College Chronicle pointed out that he was the twelfth ruler of British India to come from the school. Indeed, between 1884 and 1910 – in retrospect, the expansive pinnacle of the Raj – all five viceroys had been Etonians. When Irwin sent the school a congratulatory Fourth of June telegram from Simla in 1929 – in Latin, of course – he spoke for the thirteen Etonians on his staff.[68] The Viceroy would live in Lutyens-created splendour in New Delhi. And the Lutyens-designed new buildings of Magdalene would house the young gentlemen from whom future Viceroys would be selected.

The Appeal document, the Lutyens design and the Farey illustrations  Perhaps the first point to make about the Appeal document is that it was very large: 16.3 by 11 inches (41.4 by 28 cms), almost twice the size of the weekly satirical magazine, Punch. The large format made it possible to reproduce three illustrations of the proposed court on a handsome scale. Apparently intended to sit on a spacious library table, alongside publications such as Country Life and Horse and Hound, it was one of the clues that reveal how much the project was aimed at a narrow (but hoped-for) range of very wealthy potential donors.[69]

Otherwise, the Appeal document was poorly constructed. The opening statement, outlining the challenge of student numbers, has already been quoted. Its formal, ponderous style – spread over two pages in large type – was probably the work of Ramsay himself, although it was characteristic of the discourse of that era. A brief report by Sir Edwin Lutyens compared the proposed Magdalene Street frontage to the low wall "in front of the Upper School at Eton". An allusion that would have rung few bells with most recipients, this had probably been directed to the Master personally, and might have benefited from editorial attention. While it was almost certainly reasonable to assume that everybody had heard of Lutyens, even so, the opportunity was missed to include a biographical note, which could have underlined his distinction and made clear that Magdalene had achieved the coup of securing his only collegiate work in Cambridge. Although the building was to be of three storeys, curiously only the floor-plans for the first two were included, although there was plenty of blank space for the third. This, it is suggested below, may have been an intentional omission.

Dimensions and materials The proposed new court, Lutyens explained, would be 226 feet and 104 feet wide (62.8 by 31.7 metres).[70] With his usual attention to detail, he specified that he planned to build with "thin reddish bricks", which would harmonise with the sixteenth-century facade of First Court across the road. (The colour would also sharply distinguish his project from the recent grey and sombre work of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott at Clare Memorial Court.) Small bricks would require "wide mortar joints". Portland stone would be used for the cornice and mullions (window dividers), and as doorcases to frame staircase entrances. (Pevsner called these "a kind of Gibbs surround".[71]) Lutyens intended "to keep the buildings traditional and in sympathy with the old stone building that contains Pepys' Library, and to maintain the gentle and modest character of the old College." The first aim was presumably to be achieved by the use of gables at second-floor level, a feature later eliminated. Redfern had designed a short loggia in imitation of the Pepys cloister, but no such frippery emerged from the pen of Sir Edwin. Had the entire project been constructed, it might have well have said that the new complex echoed First Court, but hardly that it was either gentle or modest.   The lowest residential floor was to be raised four feet (1.22 metres) above ground level, presumably to provide protection against possible flash flooding from Bin Brook.[72] This would also make possible a basement, about which little information was provided in 1928. One welcome Lutyens hallmark in domestic design was his skill at embedding plumbing and heating facilities, notably in the restoration of the genuine medieval ruin of Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland and the fake Camelot of Castle Drogo in Devon. Massive and mysterious piping runs through the basement of the Lutyens Building, but – sadly – economies eventually forced the elimination of central heating, as well as the reduction in the number of bathrooms, and their relegation below ground.

There were to be 51 undergraduate sets, a number whose significance is explored below, arranged around twelve staircases, five in each of the wings, two in the central section. The eastern wing, which was never constructed, was to be set back 65 feet (19.8 metres) from the facade of First Court opposite – about 40 feet (12.2 metres) back from the existing street front. Undergraduate accommodation was to be relatively spacious: sitting rooms generally about 18 by 15 feet (5.5 by 4.6 metres), bedrooms 13 by 14 feet (4 by 4.3 metres). With a few exceptions, at awkward corners, sitting rooms faced into the court. The riverside sets would be substantially larger, about 24 feet long (7.3 metres), and it is not difficult to imagine these becoming the prerogative of the Boat Club Captain, and other such Big Men on the Magdalene Campus.[73] The central range, roughly along the axis of today's Mallory Court G and H, would have crowded the remaining buildings of the former brewery yard. It may seem strange that this linking section should only include two staircases. This, however, may be explained by the need to include a monumental archway leading into a passageway, providing incongruously grandiose access to the domestic muddle of Mallory Court. The implied comparison here was with the Gibbs Building in King's, which also pivoted on an ornate archway, although in two centuries nobody had ever found a use for it. Nothing was said in the Appeal document about the planned facilities in the Lutyens scheme, which were intended to include radiators and the supply of hot and cold running water to the undergraduate rooms. It may have been felt that the old members would refuse to subsidise such enervating comforts – the longer-serving Fellows were certainly horrified, and in 1930 succeeded in excising them from the scheme. Any twenty-first century Appeal for funds would surely make much of the intention to install modern facilities, but that opaque adjective would not have appealed to Ramsay.

The ground floor The street entrance was placed directly opposite the gateway to First Court, although the claim by Lutyens that "the new Court is on an axial line with Pepys' Library" suggests that he had not spotted that the path across First Court was slightly skew-whiff.[74] The only Ground Floor accommodation that was not for undergraduates was the new porters' lodge, comprising an outer office and a generously space inner room to provide storage and sleeping accommodation. This was badly needed, for the overnight space in the original First Court porters' lodge, a boarded-off recess "without window or any proper ventilation", was so "shockingly bad" that it was believed to have been responsible for the death of one under-porter from tuberculosis.[75]

The first floor At first-floor level, the proposed accommodation was more varied. There were two larger apartments for Fellows, double sets, one over the ceremonial arch in the central range.[76] Two sets were for reserved for guests, and located, sensibly enough, above the porters, to whom visitors could turn for help on simple housekeeping issues. These were adjacent and could "be thrown together into one set for a guest of particular distinction." On the opposite side of the court, between what became B and D staircases of the Lutyens Building, provision was made for a lecture room, which is further discussed below. Extra-large windows were to be provided for this non-student accommodation, breaking up the monotonous fenestration of the undergraduate rooms.

Cyril Farey's watercolours  The most striking and attractive feature of the Appeal document was the reproduction of three views of the projected court in "evocative" watercolours.[77] The artist, Cyril A. Farey, can be identified by his signature, but not much has been written about his role in the Magdalene project. Here, Wikipedia supplies biographical information, while Google Search gives access to his remarkable range of illustrations. Although Farey was a noted architect in his own right, he became especially well known for his illustrations, imaginary portrayals of finished projects by practitioners such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Lutyens himself. His particular skill lay in making structures look modern, clean and confident: a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1990 cleverly used the title "Fareyland".[78] From Farey's shimmering picture, it is hard to believe that Liverpool's massive Catholic cathedral (a Lutyens project) was never built. It is also challenging to appreciate that his elegant, sweeping portrayal of Sydney Harbour Bridge accompanied Dorman Long's tender for the contract in 1923, and that it seems that he never set foot in Australia.[79] One website calls his art "perspectivist", which sounds right to me, although I do not know the technical vocabulary well enough to appropriate it.[80]

Farey sensibly presented his idealised scenes in sunshine, and this raises some questions about his general view of the Lutyens project from Magdalene Bridge. Unusually in his work, the foreground is shaded, obviously a device to draw the viewer towards the buildings themselves. Yet there is some mystery about these shadows. Unless the buildings on Quayside were several storeys higher in 1928 (which they were not), their length indicates that the scene must be set very early in the morning. Yet the sky above the Lutyens roofs is the floor-polish red of a lingering summer sunset – a device that obviously places the new red-brick court in the comfortable warmth of belonging to its site. Of course, Farey's watercolours were intended to portray proposed buildings at their best, hence there was always an implied element of polite deception about them. However, to present Magdalene's new court simultaneously in early morning and late afternoon was pushing creativity to its ethical limits. Almost any building will look good in sunshine (although modern Cambridge has a few exceptions even to this general rule). The challenge for any structure is to appear comfortable and secure even on a cold, wet Fenland day.

Farey's view of the new court from the river was the most attractive of the three watercolours. The buildings were reflected in an unusually limpid Cam. The roof was punctuated by dormer windows echoing the attics of First Court, and by gables reminiscent of the rear of the Pepys Building. The lawn was to be levelled into stepped sections. The fine archway in the central section was to be topped by a statue (possibly intended to suggest St Mary Magdalene), but it was impossible to glimpse the clutter of Mallory Court beyond. The scene was now late morning, meaning that the inner facade of the eastern range was obscured by shadow.  This allowed Farey to adopt a viewpoint that was slightly off-centre, emphasising the sweep of the western range. Francis Turner, a Governing Body Fellow at the time, recalled the design for the three-sided court as "long and narrow".[81] It is possible that Farey chose an angle that allowed him to make the vista seem both shorter and wider than the actual structures would have appeared. Of course, since the full project was never completed, it is impossible to say.

In some ways, Farey's third watercolour, "The New Court from the Air", was the most controversial.[82]

It was a bird's-eye view, from the south, looking diagonally across the new court, with the older College buildings in the background. There was no vantage point: the tower of St John's College Chapel stood in the wrong position, and was hardly high enough. It is possible that Farey worked from an aerial photograph. The College Magazine had published an "aeroplane photograph" of the College and its environs in 1919, but this had been taken on a west-east axis.[83] In 1920, Aerofilms took a series of photographs over central Cambridge, one of them roughly from Farey's imagined viewpoint, showing Castle Hill, with Magdalene to one side.[84]

This photograph, or one like it, may have influenced his choice of background features, such as the line of Histon Road and the tiny spire of St Peter's church on Castle Hill, which he considerably exaggerated. First Court is reasonably clear, no doubt to emphasise the red brick and Tudor chimneys echoed in the Lutyens design. Other College buildings received less careful attention. The Pepys Building, mainly masked anyway, looks like a doll's house. The Master's Lodge appeared as a shoebox, not an unreasonable caricature. Farey evidently felt (and who could blame him?) that the less said (or depicted) about St Giles' church and Bright's Building, the better. Castle Hill, prominent on Aerofilms, was squashed like a Danish pastry. Notably missing from the background was the tall spire of St Luke's church in Victoria Road.

Yet the most notable omissions were closer to home. The gabled roof of Mallory Court B should have protruded above the central range: today it is possible to look down upon the Lutyens Building from its top floor. To have permitted Mallory Court to peep in would have broken the roof line of the central range. Worse still, it would have drawn attention to the sheer bad manners of the Lutyens scheme, shoving itself under the nose of the humble hostel and then turning its back in disdain. Equally striking, Farey's south-to-north perspective conveniently blotted out the grim eyesore of St John's New Court. Built exactly a century earlier, the south face of the St John's complex smiled over the Backs like a wedding cake on steroids. But the north side, to be seen only by townsfolk in the back alleys of Magdalene Street, had the grim air of a penitentiary. In the mid-nineteen sixties, the new Cripps Building would snake elegantly been the two projects, but in 1928 Magdalene was building within sight of one of Cambridge's ugliest – and longest – grubby brick walls.[85] 

The lecture room The Lutyens design included provision for a lecture room, on the first floor between B and C staircases, a feature carried over from the Redfern specifications. It was to be 43 feet long (from staircase to staircase) by 26 feet wide (13.1 by 7.9 metres), lit by five large windows on each side, and with a fireplace at each end. Safety standards were loose a century ago, but it is difficult to see how the room could have seated more than about eighty note-taking students – far more accommodation, indeed, than any single College class would have required.[86] In the event, it was not needed and not built.

By 1930, shortly before it was axed, it had been designated as the Kingsley Memorial Lecture Room. The name was an unfortunate choice, and caused some embarrassment even at the time. Like most institutions, the College had produced many distinguished personalities, but few of them had become household names. Magdalene already had a Pepys Building, and, in 1928, it certainly was not ready to commemorate Parnell (any more than Sidney Sussex would have rushed to erect a Cromwell Building). Charles Kingsley was a Magdalene graduate who returned to Cambridge as a Professorial Fellow during his tenure of the Regius Chair of History. Given his fame, it was difficult for the College to avoid commemorating him – and the lecture room was the obvious link – but it was increasingly embarrassing to be reminded of the association. Kingsley's Chartist-inspired Christian Socialism found few echoes in the mass politics of the nineteen-twenties (and would never have appealed to mainstream Magdalene anyway). His historical writing was declamatory and jejune, while his novels were best forgotten: the College Magazine facetiously suggested decorating the room with scenes from the Water Babies.[87]

In the nineteenth century, college teaching – especially in mathematics – had been delivered through lectures. Supervisions, in the modern sense, evolved with degree subjects in the Humanities, which were relatively slow to develop: hence the continuing use of the anomalous term "college lecturer" for somebody paid to engage in intensive supervision work. In late Victorian times, Magdalene mathematicians were taught, in groups of four, in the Hall. Some teaching was contributed by G.F. Pattrick, who had rooms on the first floor of the Pepys Building, on Right Cloister. Pattrick used the room looking out over Second Court as his personal lecture room, "and there was generally a clean pair of boots standing on the mantelpiece".[88] A replacement lecture room was provided in 1909 on the ground floor of G staircase in the new Bright's Building, with dimensions roughly equal to that designed by Lutyens.[89] It seems to have been Benson who revived the tradition of using the Hall for lectures, his offerings being special events unrelated to Tripos studies: on one occasion, "nearly three hundred people" turned up hoping to hear him elucidate the poetry of Browning.[90] In the early nineteen-twenties, Frank Salter had the bold idea of importing Graham Wallas and Harold Laski from the London School of Economics to lecture on political subjects.[91] Thus, although the College had no formal conference theatre until the opening of the Sir Humphrey Cripps Auditorium in 2004-5, interwar Magdalene could sponsor 'events' in the memorable surroundings of its sixteenth-century Hall. The Lutyens lecture room would hardly have provided a superior alternative venue: undergraduates joked that it would probably be used for Bump Suppers.[92]

Fundamentally, the Kingsley Memorial Lecture Room was overtaken by the march of events. In a major reorganisation in 1926, the University assumed institutional responsibility for the provision of lectures, with most college teachers transferring to the newly created Faculties – and to the central payroll. This made it possible for Magdalene to import new dons, as Fellows now came much cheaper to support. It was clear that the University would also have to provide its own teaching accommodation, a matter that was under active consideration in 1929-31, when A.B. Ramsay served as Vice-Chancellor. As usual, the Humanities were at the end of the queue, but in June 1931 approval was given for the erection of Arts lecture rooms in Mill Lane, which were completed in 1933.[93] But by 1930, the project was known to be on the horizon, and Magdalene could safely scrap plans for an additional lecture room within its own walls.[94]

Staircases B to D, as eventually constructed. Copyright

Magdalene Street  Cyril Farey's view from the Bridge shows Magdalene Street widened, with the Lutyens eastern range set back behind a narrow forecourt, lined with saplings. The watercolour is effective in demonstrating the proposed relationship between the new facade and First Court, but the background – admittedly, not Farey's concern – is sketchy and misleading. The street front beyond the new buildings – Numbers 13 to 18 Magdalene Street, between Mallory Court and Northampton Street – is obscured by shadow. The glimpse of Castle Street beyond shows no hint of a hill (even though, by Cambridge standards, it is mildly Alpine). Most inaccurate of all is the dominant spire of the miniature St Peter's church, which was (and is) invisible from Magdalene Street. The traffic on Magdalene Street consists of just four motorcars, and they are elegant vehicles too: one might imagine the fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey bounding from the yellow saloon in the foreground, perhaps seeking some friend from Eton days.

To later generations, perhaps the most shocking aspect of the Lutyens project was the College's apparently casual decision to demolish so much of Magdalene Street, including its most notable building, the former Cross Keys Inn, which Redfern had sought to preserve.[95] It is ironic that Ramsay was one of the earliest supporters of the Cambridge Preservation Society, of which he was a founder member in 1928.[96] This seems to be a remarkable example of inverse nimbyism, although it may perhaps be explained by the fact that the Society's earliest campaign was for public access to the Gogmagog Hills. However, soon after its foundation in 1928, the Cambridge Preservation Society "scored a welcome success in saving the charming block of buildings at the corner of Magdalene Street and Northampton Street", possibly a trade-off for the planned destruction of the remaining street front.[97]

Equally puzzling in long-range retrospect was the College's apparently unquestioning acquiescence in plans to widen Magdalene Street. The demolition of decaying premises fronting the garden of the Master's Lodge had made possible the widening of the east side of the northern end in 1911-12, creating easier access from Chesterton Lane. The Lutyens project would allow further remodelling, but on the west side, creating a slight kink in the historic street. This, however, would not have done much to slow the traffic. Francis Turner's mock-heroic poem of 1926, Dies Academica, had already bemoaned the "Dire Confusion" of Magdalene Street as students rushed back to College at lunchtime: "Bicycles precipitant" clashing with "groaning Motor-Cars".[98] A wider Magdalene Street would most certainly have become more dangerous. One notable feature of the overall growth in motorised traffic was the replacement of horse-drawn carts and wagons by mass-produced lorries. Magdalene Street, as one of the entry points to the town, was certainly going to see heavier traffic, and a narrow roadway that forced vehicles to slow down might well have been the only protection for the College community. While Farey chose not to depict coal trucks cruising his Magdalene Boulevard, in the real world it would surely only have been a matter of time before somebody was killed crossing the road.

It may be difficult now to appreciate just how hazardous were Britain's roads in the nineteen-twenties. Driving tests were not introduced until 1934-5, and they were not retrospective. There was no regulation of vehicle maintenance. In 1926, the first year for which there are official figures, 4,886 people died on Britain's roads; by 1930, the death toll had climbed above 7,000, four times the number killed in 2019 – and this despite a massive expansion in traffic.[99]  Magdalene was not untouched by the carnage. In August 1927, a moment of inattention had caused A.S. Ramsey to lose control of his car, which overturned, killing his wife.[100] Four months later, in a blatant miscarriage of justice, a Magdalene undergraduate was jailed for manslaughter after a fatal collision with a cyclist.[101] In both smashes, the car had gone out of control after the driver applied the brakes. The Magdalene of 1927-8 surely had good reason to question to question the creation of an unregulated race-track outside its gates.

It might well not have been stately dons or agile undergraduates who would have been most at risk crossing the widened road. The College kitchens still supplied breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas to student rooms. Here again is Turner, celebrating the kitchen porter as he hurriedly distributed the midday meals that had been ordered in advance. "On many a stair his cautious feet are seen / Chops for the humble, lobster for the Dean." Nor was this a ritual in the final spasm of indefensible privilege, for it continued into the nineteen-fifties. By then, food was delivered by a diminutive kitchen porter, H.W. Reed, known as Horace, who expertly balanced the trays on his head. Lunch somehow floated into a student's rooms, "seemingly jerking along of itself", only heavy breathing indicating the presence of "a little goblin man" beneath.[102] The Lutyens design included gyp rooms (best thought of as kitchenettes, where bedmakers could wash dishes, and store simple supplies such as bread) but there was no provision for additional  College kitchens, or even anywhere to reheat prepared food – the microwave oven of course being an invention of the far future. Apparently the Fellows of Magdalene assumed that their kitchens could continue to provide breakfasts, lunches and teas to an increased number of resident students – meals to be delivered across a busy road, many of them against the gauntlet of rush-hour travel.

Underpass It seems that the College hoped that it might eventually solve its Magdalene Street problem by building an underpass. This was certainly the solution hinted at by Lutyens himself. "It is hoped that, when the bridge is reconstructed by the Borough Council, it will be possible to provide access under the new bridge, between the old and new Courts, along the river bank." This was a curiously vague response to a challenge that ought to have been central to the construction of what was in, in effect, a wholly new precinct across a busy road, but one whose inhabitants would still depend on the facilities  of the older core. The imprecision was all the more curious given that Cambridge already had a precedent for an underpass linking two sections of a college: in 1913, the newly constructed North Court of Emmanuel had been linked to its original buildings by a subway under Emmanuel Street.[103] The lack of specific comparison may have been intentional: it is very difficult to imagine how any reconstruction of Magdalene Bridge could have provided the width and the headroom of the Emmanuel subway. As always, Farey did his best to conjure an attractive fantasy, but his underpass looks like a mousehole in a skirting board. Since even his pin figures would have had to crawl through on hands and knees, Horace Reed would have been hard pressed to deliver his meal trays.

The slow-motion sequel indicates that Magdalene was correct in not pinning fervent hopes upon a riverside subway. It was not until 1970 that there was an official announcement that "Magdalene Bridge ... is to be replaced by a bridge that can carry heavier traffic". Professor J.A.W. Bennett, Fellow of Magdalene and successor to C.S. Lewis in the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature, denounced the news as "the worst act of folly that has been committed against Cambridge for a century or more. ... the new bridge will offer positive encouragement to traffic of all kinds to add to the pollution and congestion in the narrow streets of the city."  The College mobilised to fight the project, with Jack Bennett's namesake, the medieval historian Ralph Bennett immersing himself in industrial archaeology to mount a defence based on heritage. Very little was known about the bridge, and there was a great deal to discover. A cast-iron structure, erected in 1823 (the date was lettered into the girders, but hardly anybody had ever noticed it), it was a major example of large-scale construction from the early days of the Industrial Revolution. Given Britain's pioneering role in industrialisation, Magdalene Bridge was arguably of global significance. The College also submitted its own technical assessment, the work of its Fellow in Engineering, John Dwight, who argued that the existing span could be strengthened to carry normal traffic. If it could not safely support double-decker buses, why not terminate bus routes outside the city's central core and introduce a single-decker shuttle service to carry passengers across the Cam?[104] The bridge was saved, and the logic of its preservation gradually pointed to local traffic restrictions. The College's successful conservation of Benson Court meant that nobody now thought of widening Magdalene Street. And there was certainly no suggestion in 1970 of a riverside subway. Overall, it remains curious that Magdalene could have contemplated embarking on so large a building scheme across the road from its core site, on the offchance that a subway connection between the two sections might eventually become possible.  

Arithmetic and attics The Lutyens design provided for 51 undergraduate sets. Arithmetically analysed, that basic statistic reveals much about the intentions behind the project – and how its purpose was veiled in the Appeal document. The odd number is not a problem: one set was to be adapted for use as a porters' lodge, bringing the running total to 52. Two further sets were earmarked for use as guest rooms, which make 54. The lecture room and accommodation for two Fellows were each the equivalent of double sets, a total of sixty. At first sight, this is a puzzle, for the completed Lutyens Building contained five staircases, with two sets on each of three floors, a total of thirty (in fact, 28 undergraduate sets and accommodation for one Fellow). Given that the original scheme provided for twelve staircases, there should have been the equivalent of 72 sets. Divide sixty by twelve, and the apparent hole in the arithmetic is explained, as is the decision not to publish the architect's design for the second-floor rooms: the top storey provided for just one set at attic level. Artistically, this gave Lutyens the opportunity to echo the Tudor-style gables at the rear of the Pepys Building, and the dormer windows of First Court. Yet a key, and carefully masked, fact emerges from the arithmetic: the attic rooms were designed not as garrets but rather as penthouses.

It will be recalled that the Appeal document had based its plea for cash on the argument that "a hundred of our men [were] lodging outside the College walls". One might ask why Lutyens had not been commissioned from the outset to design six sets per staircase, which would have increased the undergraduate accommodation to 63 (or 65 once the lecture room was cancelled). Furthermore, as already noted, the accommodation was relatively spacious, with sitting rooms generally about 18 by 15 feet (5.5 by 4.6 metres). Many existing College rooms were notably smaller than this – for instance, in Mallory Court B and the recently converted Old Lodge. Attic rooms in First Court and the Pepys Building often included a generous area of floor space, but were effectively reduced in size by sloping walls. F staircase in First Court, where rooms had been created in 1714 by inserting a ceiling into the Hall, was known as the Warren: "Suits sedentary midget" was one inmate's attempt to give his mini-apartment there – under the whirring of the College clock – an estate agent's description.[105]  Such rooms were cheaper to rent, and naturally became the haunts of the less wealthy. There was certainly no acceptable average standard size to which the Lutyens rooms must conform, and no reason why they could not have been made smaller. If around three feet (about one metre) were shaved off each of the ten sitting rooms in each of the Lutyens wings, and the generous stairwells narrowed slightly, a sixth staircase would have been possible in the two parallel ranges, bringing the total student accommodation to 75 (or 77 without the lecture room). Since there would always be reasons why a minority of undergraduates should live out of College – marriage, misanthropy, misbehaviour – such a project would practically have solved Magdalene's problem of housing its student population.[106] But no college would have commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens if it had simply wanted a hall of residence.

Thus, although pressure of numbers was the officially stated reason for the College's wish to build a new court, the real motive was Ramsay's desire to create elite accommodation for the kind of undergraduate he wished to attract. His Eton men (and, no doubt, some from other major schools) would live in the academic equivalent of viceregal grandeur, while the rest of the student population scrambled for the hostels, the garrets and the digs on the fringe of the community. Arithmetic again: as already noted, by 1938, Magdalene would admit nineteen Etonians. Multiply by three, and allow for some drop-outs, and it is not difficult to envisage 51 sets of the Lutyens project forming a ghetto dominated by the products of a single school. It is very likely that the project would have been so interpreted by many Magdalene alumni, and this alone may help explain why the 1928 Appeal produced relatively disappointing results.

The failure of the 1928 Appeal[107] Various explanations have been suggested for the disappointing outcome of the 1928 Appeal. Frank Salter's complaint that "the Master was too squeamish about asking for money"[108] can hardly tell the whole story. Salter was a great human being, but he was inclined to be censorious. In any case, Ramsay may have been following a policy of softly, softly, catchee money. In 1930, it was still hoped that the five staircases then under construction would prove to be merely a first phase. A project that is half completed tends to be more attractive to sponsors than one which exists merely on paper, and the Master may have been planning to return to the reluctant at a later stage, and offer them the chance of philanthropic glory. Two other suggested explanations are more persuasive. Ronald Hyam identified a constraint specific to the College, concluding that the 1928 Appeal failed "essentially because the constituency of non-resident members was still too small to able to raise any significant sums of money". Francis Turner pointed to a wider context, "the threatening world crisis in finance".[109] Both hypotheses merit closer investigation. First, however, two comments on the process should be noted. First, it is worth asking: why should we assume that there was any obligation upon former students to contribute to the 1928 Appeal? Second, it may be noted that Ramsay's fund-raising strategy may have relied less upon sweeping up pennies from the peasants and mites from the minnows, but was always targeted at a small number of hyper-rich potential benefactors, identified yet again through his Eton connections.

In the early twentieth century, universities, colleges and schools did not routinely ask their old members for financial support. There was one major exception to this: many institutions established war memorial projects, inviting former members to subscribe to new buildings in honour of those who had died for their country. In Cambridge, Clare's Memorial Court was the major example, yet even here, less than one-third of the final cost was raised by subscriptions.[110] Obviously, by 1928, Magdalene had missed the bus on any war memorial fund-raising appeal, while many potential targets would have felt they had discharged any charitable obligation to the advancement of education by supporting other projects. Indeed, we should not automatically back-project the twenty-first century assumption that alumni should provide such financial support. Until the introduction of student loans in 1997, it was possible to argue that most British students had received their higher education at taxpayer expense, and that, accordingly, they were under a moral obligation to put something back into the system. But in 1928, very few Cambridge students had been substantially financed by scholarships or grants from public funding. For a minority from very wealthy families, the cost of their university experience was of little importance. But for many, even from privileged backgrounds, it was a challenge.  One student who wrote about his finances was E.R. Yerburgh, who came up to Magdalene in 1879. Francis Turner criticised the widespread twentieth-century belief that "Magdalene has so many rich undergraduates that the general standard of life is too expensive for the undergraduate of slender means. That has never been true." But Yerburgh did find that the Magdalene environment fostered a temptation to spend more than the £800 he had budgeted to see him through three years of study. In terms of the purchasing power of 2020, £800 was worth about £100,000.[111] It would not be surprising if many alumni felt that they had made a more than sufficient contribution to College finances during their undergraduate days: indeed, Magdalene, having few endowments, was clearly dependent upon income from students.[112] In 1911, an invitation was "sent old members of the College, so far as their present addresses are known", asking them to subscribe towards the £1209 needed to erect a pavilion at the recently acquired College playing fields in Milton Road. After nine months, 32 had responded and £96 (and sixpence) collected.[113]

In modern times, it could also be argued that a Cambridge education had opened the way to well-paid employment. A century ago, many students sought to acquire a degree as a preliminary to ordination in the Church of England. (Yerburgh was one of them.) The years after the First World War were a period of financial stringency for Anglican clergy. As tithe rents were proportionate to agricultural prices, their incomes fell in parallel with the general malaise of farming, while inflation and taxation took a heavy toll. Yet they were still expected to maintain a social position, for instance educating their children privately, while the Church of England's formal opposition to birth control, reiterated as late as 1920, ensured that their families were large. It may also be noted that, in Britain, there were no tax incentives for charitable donations. By contrast, the United States had a culture of private philanthropy (and perhaps more people who could afford it). Magdalene raised some of its Appeal money from Harvard graduates willing to commemorate their university's effective founder, Henry Dunster, who had graduated from Magdalene in 1630.

There are heavy clues in the Appeal document that Ramsay hoped to rely upon a small number of large benefactions rather than a broad range of small subscriptions. In specifying that there were to be twelve staircases, the text opened with the statement that "if some of these were contributed by Institutions or families or individual benefactors, an interesting continuity would be established in the gradual growth of the College; and these staircases could be marked by titular and heraldic ornament commemorating the donors." The clear assumption was that these imagined large-scale supporters possessed not only cash but coats of arms. The point was repeated, still more explicitly, later in the text. "And though offers may be made from many quarters we feel bound to express a hope which we cherish most fondly, that if some of the families by whose devotion and loyalty the history of Magdalene has been made, will either severally or in conjunction perpetuate their allegiance on our doors [sic], it will cause us, who are responsible for the continued welfare of the College, a very particular pride and pleasure." This statement was directly followed by the signatures of the Visitor, Lord Braybrooke, the Master, A.B. Ramsay, and the President, A.S. Ramsey. The attitudes it embodied were curiously narcissistic. Offers of cash were to be tolerated from "many quarters", but the three mendicants had plunged into a fantasy world in which Magdalene's richest alumni were expected to delight the dons with their generosity.

Strangely introverted though this approach might seem, it did begin on a positive note. In May 1928, the Cambridge correspondent of The Times announced that Magdalene had launched "a scheme for a new court" in connection with the five-hundredth anniversary of the original foundation. The report hoped that "the Visitor, Master and Fellows will receive an effective response to their appeal for funds. If report is true, we can already congratulate them on the munificent contribution of a whole staircase from a father and son." The coy formula hinting at a happy rumour was intended to disguise the identity of the Cambridge correspondent, a secret only revealed by The Times in its obituary of Ramsay in 1955: he had succeeded Sir Arthur Shipley, the Master of Christ's, in the role on the latter's death in 1927.[114] This interesting but carefully veiled detail gives added weight to subsequent reports in The Times on the progress of the building. The £5,000 gift presumably came from W.H. Askew-Robertson, whose coat of arms appears over A staircase in the Lutyens Building. He was a philanthropist and an active member of the Old Etonian Association, whom Ramsay had obviously tapped through the Eton network.[115] No doubt in the mildly optimistic context of 1928, he hoped to find other such donors. Askew-Robertson's son, G.W.G. Agnew, was a Magdalene undergraduate at the time, who later joined the Army.  From a modern perspective, the transaction looks suspect: did the father buy a place in the College for his son? On balance, this seems unlikely. Agnew-Robertson was a generous philanthropist, and Ramsay was hell-bent on filling Magdalene with Etonians anyway. It would hardly have been necessary for money to change hands for young Agnew to be accepted. In the event, Agnew-Robertson's generosity remained unmatched, and some of the  reasons for this are discussed below.

The Magdalene Alumni The most obvious explanation for the relative failure of the wider appeal can be found in Ronald Hyam's conclusion that there were simply too few former members of the College to generate substantial sums of cash. The numbers may be further analysed thanks to a table of annual matriculations that forms Appendix C of the College History.[116] In the 52 years from 1866 to 1927 (inclusive), just over 1500 undergraduates were admitted to Magdalene.[117] Thus, at the time of the Appeal (and taking the standard age of matriculation as eighteen), the maximum size of the College community aged between 19 and 80, was one and a half thousand. In theory, an average gift of just over £30 a head would have raised the required sum of £46,000. In practice, of course, the number of living members of the College was very much smaller. Even among the privileged classes, life expectancy was less than in recent times. The College Magazine regularly chronicled the deaths of old members, and almost certainly there were far more than were reported. E.R. Yerburgh, who was at Magdalene from 1879 to 1883, recalled twenty undergraduates with enough money to stable their own horses. By the time of the Appeal, this cohort would have been approaching the Biblical lifespan of three score years and ten and, it might have been hoped, were ready in the autumn of their days to invest in nostalgic memories of gilded youth. In fact, half of them were dead, an eleventh followed early in 1929, while two cannot be traced. Nor did a lavish lifestyle at Cambridge necessary imply great wealth in later life. Magdalene attracted the younger sons of the aristocracy, youths with generous allowances that enabled them to spend lavishly while at University. Yet, with few prospects of inheritance, they often had to make their own way in the world, and were unlikely to be able to donate large sums of money to good causes.[118]

Death had certainly scythed through the older age groups, but younger men were vulnerable too: 51 fatalities during the First World War had ravaged the undergraduate years admitted immediately before 1914. Two thirds of the total had arrived after the appointment of Donaldson and the election of Benson changed the nature of the institution in 1904. By 1928, the oldest of these would have been in their early forties, probably few of them yet wealthy enough to make large benefactions. Many of the young men drawn to Benson's Magdalene came from the less prestigious independent schools, and from families that were prosperous rather than plutocratic. J.E.H. Blackie, who joined the College from Bradfield in 1922, was careful to insist that, while his contemporaries shared "certain habits and assumptions" that made them "gentlemen", "[m]any were not rich, but they did not think money of supreme importance."[119] Poverty, of course, is a relative concept, but we may suspect that many Magdalene men from the Donaldson-Benson era glanced at Farey's watercolours, and concluded that they could not have afforded to rent rooms in the new Lutyens court. 

It may be reasonable to assume that any exercise in fund-raising will tend to target alumni over the age of fifty, veterans who had established their careers and launched their own children into the world. In 1928, that would have pointed to undergraduates who had matriculated before 1896. In the three decades before 1896, Magdalene had admitted 571 students, but it may be doubted whether more than around 300 of them were still alive and in contact with the College. It was a very small pool to target for major benefactions. Nor were they necessarily likely to respond very positively to requests for money. The institution that Donaldson and Benson had relaunched from 1904 was sometimes called the "New Magdalene". The reforming regime made some gestures to associate itself with its predecessor, such as including heraldic stained glass in the Hall windows to commemorate Victorian worthies. But it is hard not to feel that the New Magdalene vaunted its excellence by implicit and condemnatory comparison with the Old. Extensive obituaries at Benson's death in 1925 set the legend in stone: Magdalene had been on its beam ends when its two saviours appeared. The publication of Percy Lubbock's edition of the Benson diaries in 1927, just months before the Appeal, was a further reminder: Magdalene in 1904 was "small and poor" with a future that was "none too promising".[120] Fortunately, Lubbock did not quote Benson's more censorious comments on the rule of Latimer Neville, which remained veiled until Newsome published them in his 1980 biography. But Benson had openly mocked Alfred Newton, the College's long-time Professorial Fellow, unfairly generalising a negative portrait of his personality from the frailties of his final years. It is likely that many former undergraduates from earlier decades felt excluded from the ethos of the New Magdalene. "My father used to say that Magdalene men were very loyal to their College," Lord Braybrooke recalled in 1930.[121] But, arguably, their College no longer existed. Rightly or wrongly, they remembered with affection the institution of forty to sixty members, and many probably saw little reason to bankroll a very different society that was three or four times larger. And where would it end? The Appeal document may have aroused suspicions in its reference to the "ever growing pressure of applicants for admission": Turner noted that "old members of the college could not ...believe that new buildings do not betoken a rise in numbers".[122]

More generally, there were always alumni who wanted to give money, but not for buildings. Robert Keable's 1908 First in History was one of the earliest academic successes for the New Magdalene. He had set off on a conventional career, ordination and marriage, all overturned by the First World War, which left him with a triangular attraction to agnosticism, Catholicism and free love. He explored his own conflicts through novels which received a cool critical reception, but sold well (not surprisingly, although one was banned). This made it possible for him to relocate, with a new partner, to Tahiti, where he initially moved into the former home of Gauguin. He died there in December 1927, leaving a Will that made Magdalene his eventual residuary legatee. Given the complexity of his recent life, its provisions were understandably complex, and the College would not see any cash soon. His estate was valued at £10,000 – two staircases in the Magdalene exchange rate of 1928 – but it was to be used to establish Scholarships in History.[123] Perhaps, had he lived a few months longer, he might have supported the Lutyens building project, but it seems unlikely. Large bequests to colleges were relatively rare, and something of a lottery, both in amounts and the purposes favoured by the legatees. In 1934-6, Trinity Hall was able to undertake a building programme thanks to a bequest of £30,000. Magdalene was not so lucky.[124]

To counteract possible alienation of Magdalene's older and arguably wealthier members, the Appeal document invoked the names of five honorary officers of the College Association, all of them dating from Victorian times, although it is not clear that they had any active role in fund-raising. The Magdalene College Association had been founded in 1923, with Benson as its first President. He was succeeded by Canon E.P. Knubley, who had been at Magdalene from 1869 to 1873. As vicar of Steeple Ashton in Wiltshire since 1897, Knubley was the beneficiary of Magdalene's most attractive piece of ecclesiastic patronage. He seems to have been generally liked, but he was 78 at the time of the Appeal and may have lacked the energy to pursue his contemporaries for money, even assuming that many of them were still alive.[125] Of the four vice-presidents named, the most celebrated was undoubtedly the former England cricket captain, Lord Hawke. Yerburgh, who disliked him, claimed that Hawke "was never popular in College", and that "most of his intimate friends were in Trinity".[126] J.H. Benyon had already been hailed as a venerable figure in the College History, published in 1904. He had entered Magdalene, in 1868, as J.H. Fellowes, changing his name under the terms of an inheritance. The same age as Knubley, he served as the lord-lieutenant of Berkshire for 34 years. There was also a rival academic claim upon Benyon's munificence. A supporter of agricultural training, he was for some years honorary President of University College, Reading and, in 1926, he became the first Chancellor of the University of Reading, to which he "gave money generously".[127] The third vice-president, E.K. Purnell, had studied at Magdalene from 1868 to 1872. The author of the 1904 College History, he was approaching eighty. The final vice-president was the American C.S. Davison, an undergraduate at Magdalene from 1872 to 1876, a generous benefactor whose contribution to the planning of the new court has already been noted. Thus of the five distinguished names associated with the Appeal, three belonged to a period sixty years earlier from which few contemporaries survived, while a fourth, Lord Hawke, may have been unpopular with other Magdalene men of his time. Only Davison seems to have been an active fund-raiser, and he operated within a Harvard network. During the First World War, Davison and Purnell had launched a Commemoration Fund, a freelance initiative to boost Magdalene's endowment, by raising money which would accumulate until 1942, the College's four hundredth birthday. Donations were invited in 1916, when the fund stood at £214. Davison added a plantation of white pine which was expected to realise a welcome profit when the trees were ready for felling. By 1919, there were hopes that the project would support "some large purpose" at the time of the Quatercentenary.[128]  It is not clear how energetically the Commemoration Fund was pushed during the nineteen-twenties, but it is possible that some members of Magdalene felt they had already made their financial contribution to the College's future. Although two younger officers of the College Association were also named, the Appeal document makes clear that Ramsay was in charge of the project.[129]

Magdalene was also unlucky in having few surviving dons who could reach out to alumni from the pre-1900 generations. This was partly a by-product of its very small Fellowship, but it also happened that its President and its Bursar, whose associations with the College dated back to the nineteenth century, both came from Yorkshire Nonconformist backgrounds that had little in common with the legendary moneyed Magdalene man of yesteryear: A.S. Ramsey, a Fellow since 1897 and an undergraduate from 1886 to 1890, was from Dewsbury; Talbot Peel, who followed him from 1890 to 1894, was a Huddersfield man. Both were respected, but it is unlikely that either commanded the intense loyalty that would open cheque books. Magdalene's Senior Fellow, A.G. Peskett had retired to Suffolk but, having been elected in 1875 when there was no retiring age, he still attended College meetings. An obituary in The Times attempted to put a polite gloss upon his almost Trappist taciturnity. "He was naturally silent and self-contained, and had no flow of conversation." In fact, he was totally devoid of charisma – Benson likened him to a mouse – and (at best) was regarded by students as "something of a friendly mystery". However, he was still writing letters to The Times – for instance, in 1930 blaming the BBC and the National Union of Teachers for poor standards in spoken English – and perhaps he corresponded with former students urging them to subscribe.[130] His more outgoing younger brother, Alfred Peskett, the rector of Longstanton St Michael, functioned for many years as a one-man Alumni Relations Office for Magdalene, maintaining lists of old members' addresses. Unfortunately, he had died in 1922.

How badly did the Appeal fail? The 1928 Appeal certainly failed in the most practical sense: it did not raise anything like the amount of money needed to build the full Lutyens project. Yet, in comparative terms, the sum raised, £15,000, should perhaps be seen as a respectable achievement, even though one-third of it came from a single donor. The closest Cambridge comparison was with Clare's attempts to raise money for its Memorial Court, which netted £33,000. Measured by student numbers, in 1870 Clare had not been much larger than Magdalene. Then, for reasons that are not obvious, it grew rapidly, to 171 in 1889 and 183 in 1900, while Magdalene struggled to retain 60.[131] Thus, by the nineteen-twenties, Clare could call upon three times as many potential donors in the over-fifty age group. For Magdalene to have raised almost half as much money may indicate that Magdalene alumni were equally generous, or perhaps equally parsimonious. Comparison might also be made – one that would have appealed to Ramsay – with Eton. A War Memorial Fund raised £150,000 for commemorative projects, but the school still needed funds for more basic improvements. A separate Appeal, in 1921, for the Head Master of Eton's Fund, produced a relatively disappointing £25,000, a combined total of £175,000.[132] Over the previous sixty years, Eton had annually admitted around 200 boys – around 2,000 a decade.[133] Death had scythed through the ranks of both old and young – over one thousand fell in the First World War – but it was still likely that Eton veterans in the fifty to eighty age group outnumbered those of Magdalene tenfold. Against this, it might be argued that family groupings were probably more common among Etonians, reducing the effective number of potential donors: in 1906, thirty percent of the boys were sons of former pupils, and that percentage was thought to be low. While it was not unusual for two or even three brothers to be passing through the school at the same time, once they reached the age of eighteen, a range of careers and of colleges beckoned. Against this should be balanced the likelihood that caste loyalty to Eton was probably more fervent than academic identification with Magdalene, and Etonians generally came from wealthy backgrounds, while some Magdalene students were very poor. All in all, the fact that Eton's major appeals could raise about twelve times as much cash as Magdalene's single effort seems about the right ratio between the two institutions. If the Magdalene Appeal failed – as, in practical terms it did – it may be because the College set its target unrealistically high.

The Nineteen-Twenties It has already been suggested that the decade following the First World War was a tough time for clergy, but of course few of them were likely to have been large-scale donors anyway. The decade also savaged Ramsay's hope that staircase-sized benefactions would be forthcoming from "the families by whose devotion and loyalty the history of Magdalene has been made". The landowning classes were under severe financial pressure. Agriculture was uneconomic, and taxes were high. During the Industrial Revolution, many landowners had reaped bonanzas from coal and other mineral reserves under their broad acres. Now their royalties were penalised by the taxation of mineral rights. Perhaps the biggest hazard was death duties, which were even imposed on those who had fallen in battle: the young squire who sacrificed his life leading his troops also placed his inheritance at the mercy of the tax collector. Death duties were raised to 40 percent in 1919, a burden that many bereaved families could only discharge by selling off part of their estates – but, by the late nineteen-twenties, the land market was so depressed that there were no buyers.[134] Some ancient families weathered the tough times by tapping into the plutocratic worlds of banking and industry: Askew-Robertson had made his money on the Stock Exchange.[135] For all his lifelong commitment and sense of responsibility towards Magdalene, Lord Braybrooke was almost certainly under financial pressure. The Audley End estate had just about broken even during the late Victorian agricultural depression thanks to the breeding for sale of pedigree cattle. The mansion itself, virtually a palace, required massive expenditure in maintenance. In his seventies by 1928, Braybrooke's first priority was bound to be securing his son's succession to a viable inheritance.[136]

If the nineteen-twenties generally proved to be a discouraging period for large-scale philanthropy, the years 1928-9 saw two specific developments that totally undermined the Magdalene Appeal.  It was an indication of changing times that both had their roots in the United States, and they may be summarised as Rockefeller and Wall Street. The decade was a time of challenge and change for the University. Not only did Cambridge face massively increased student numbers, but the increase in subjects of study and the expansion of activities into postgraduate research emphasised the need for new buildings, laboratories and – from the point of the view of the humanities – above all, a new University Library, for which a location had been earmarked behind Clare's projected Memorial Court.  Yet the University as an institution notoriously lacked resources, and the contrast with the better endowed colleges was an embarrassment.  In October 1928, a fairy godmother appeared, in the form of the International Educational Board – in general parlance, the Rockefeller trustees. Their offer of £700,000 – about £45 million in the purchasing power of 2021 – was unprecedented in scale.[137] However, it came with one important condition: Cambridge must raise £229,000 (about £14.75 million in modern terms) through its own efforts. Welcoming the offer of so much money The Times warned: "the University must either take it on the condition attached to it or leave it ... the Trust will help only those who will help themselves."[138]  Eight years earlier, the University had rejected as impractical a proposal to seek "benefactions" as an alternative to accepting a government grant.[139] The task that it faced now was all the more daunting because the central bureaucracy was relatively small and had little experience of fund-raising. Major projects of any kind relied upon the commitment of individuals, and here too luck ran against the University. Cambridge had used the massive prestige of its Chancellor, the former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, to make initial contact with John D. Rockefeller, Junior, but Lord Balfour's health collapsed towards the end of 1928, and he was too ill to engage in glad-handing potential donors. Negotiations with the International Educational Board had been carried on by the Master of Caius, Sir John Anderson, an enthusiast for the University Library project. Anderson received generous congratulations when the Rockefeller offer was formally accepted on 30 October, but he died following emergency surgery two days later. An enormous responsibility would fall upon the Vice-Chancellor. By perverse chance, the Vice-Chancellor from 1929 to 1931 would be A.B. Ramsay. The Rockefeller offer to the University had come four months after the launch of the Magdalene Appeal. Now the Master of Magdalene was required to switch his primary loyalty to the larger sphere.

Until 1992, the office of Vice-Chancellor rotated among the Heads of Houses.[140] In a faint nod towards the concept of continuity, the term of office had been extended in 1886 from one year to two. It was a gruelling experience, which few senior academics wished to ensure twice. As a result, the office tended to devolve upon some recently elevated college head, which explains why Ramsay was in line for the job barely three years after he had returned to Cambridge. In effect, each Vice-Chancellor was pre-elected twelve months in advance, so Ramsay would have been shadowing the role throughout the academic year 1928-9. Providing a Vice-Chancellor was regarded as an honour, but it was one that had rarely fallen to Magdalene. Unusually for that era, Latimer Neville had served two years in 1859-61. Donaldson followed in 1912, but a breakdown in health obliged him to resign after twelve months. Benson was in line to take up the burden when he died in 1925.[141] For the office to devolve upon A.B. Ramsay at such a time can only have been a major blow to the Magdalene Appeal.

When Ramsay formally took office in October 1929, there were some hopeful signs for the University's fund-raising project. The Treasury and the Empire Marketing Board had each pledged £50,000.[142] A high-powered committee headed by Lord Melchett – the industrialist Alfred Mond – had already raised £39,000.[143] But as the Michaelmas Term got into full swing, the Wall Street Crash brought the Roaring Twenties to a halt. The Magdalene Appeal document had encouraged donors to spread their gifts "over a period of years". Turner's allusion to "the threatening world crisis in finance" suggests that those phased donations were cancelled. The Appeal document had hoped that "Institutions" might contribute whole staircases, but it was obvious now that it must be the University that had first claim in begging – and receiving – "noble contributions" from wealthy bodies such as City livery companies.[144] It would have been unthinkable for the Master of Magdalene to have netted, say, £10,000 for his own building fund – even assuming that such cash was available – at the risk of losing the University seventy times that amount in Rockefeller money because it had fallen short of the target for matching funds. In December 1929, it was decided to mobilise the Cambridge Association, "the handmaid of the University for these purposes", to seek, if not pennies from the poor then at least guineas from the graduates. Since resident members would be the principal users of the planned new Library, they were "given the first chance of contributing" to a target of £10,000. Within weeks, they had donated £12,000, a sum which, The Times patronisingly commented, came from "an academic community, which ... is for the most part thrifty and poor, however studious and devoted." Through the Cambridge Association, the University sought to capitalise upon goodwill across decades, counties and countries. It was not, as Salter complained, that Ramsay was squeamish about asking potential donors to back the Magdalene Appeal. It was rather that his hands were tied by the unlucky coincidence that he was the public face of Cambridge University at a time when it desperately needed to raise a very large sum of money. The larger project was a successful: in June 1930, the new Chancellor, Stanley Baldwin, announced that the target had almost been achieved, and that Cambridge University Press would guarantee "the amount yet to be collected".[145] Unfortunately, the University's impressive achievement had effectively sidelined Magdalene's ambitions.

The Lutyens Building takes shape  As early as 1929, Lutyens was asked to modify  his design, concentrating on a west range of five staircases. There were now to be six sets on each staircase, accommodation for 28 undergraduates and one live-in Fellow. Gone were the lecture theatre, the guest rooms and the porters' lodge. Early in 1930, this scaled-down plan was subjected to further severe economies. English oak was retained for the staircases, but cheaper Australian hardwood was to be used for less visible construction. Concrete floors, a fire precaution, were omitted, and walls made thinner – although no attempt was made to squeeze in six staircases. Electric bells were also scrapped: the absurd notion that undergraduates might summon servants is further evidence of the class of student the project was designed for. Pennies were pinched in minute detail: for instance, fitted bookcases would have no backs. The most controversial cuts were to basic creature comforts. Radiators were scrapped, and the plan for bathrooms on each floor was replaced by communal facilities in the basement. The original Lutyens plan for washbasins with hot and cold running water in the bedrooms had shocked older Fellows, who feared that such luxury would be "almost dangerously soft and enervating". "They had never had any such thing," Turner recalled. "Perhaps they had forgotten that there were plenty of servants in the old days to carry hot water about in liberal supplies." With £15,000 from the Appeal, supplemented by the £14,000 Benson legacy (and probably enhanced by interest payments), Magdalene set a building estimate at £32,000. The contract was signed for £34,000, and the final cost came in at £43,000.[146] The work was undertaken by a local construction company, William Sindall Limited, which had extensive experience of University projects. Sindall employed about one hundred men on the project. Since the British economy was sliding deeper into the Depression, the employment must have been welcome. In a pleasant gesture, Magdalene entertained them to dinner in Hall when the job was completed.[147]

In his anonymous role as Cambridge correspondent of The Times, Ramsay made discreetly sure that its readers were made aware of the progress of the project. In May 1930, he announced that "a beginning is to be made with the new court at Magdalene. But both Downing and Magdalene will have to be content with partial construction until further funds are acquired."  By October, he could report that "the steam-hammer, driving the piles to carry the first wing of the new court at Magdalene, has been heard all over the town."[148] Unfortunately, during that first winter, Magdalene encountered a problem: "the piles to carry their new building, after encountering what appears to be the deposit of an old river bed, had to be driven in 50 ft. before stability was reached." However, in May 1931, "the new walls are rising to a visible height".[149] In October, Ramsay felt able to signal his liberation from the constraints of the Vice-Chancellorship by returning to the fund-raising issue. "The new buildings at Downing and Magdalene are in their last stage, and are so attractive in appearance that general regret is expressed at the inability of these colleges to find the money required for the completion of their courts."[150] The Spring 1932 issue of the Magazine reported that "the New Building is externally complete, and blushes like a new-born babe", although the decorative armorial bearings were yet to be carved. "Inside, there are still no staircases, but some rooms are nearing completion", and the plumbing and electric wiring were "almost finished". A group of Fellows on a tour of inspection made their way carefully along the banks of Bin Brook under the rear wall. Presumably not knowing they were there, a builder drenched them with a bucket of water emptied from an upstairs window. Undergraduates regarded this as a symbolic act of "mystic baptism".[151]  

Nowadays, conducting a full inspection of the rear walls of the Lutyens Building might be an even wetter experience than in 1932. Bin Brook was enlarged to form an ornamental pond as part of the St John's Cripps Court project. Photograph by Magdalene College, Cambridge.

There was a note of frustration from Ramsay in May 1932: "the new building at Magdalene hides its beauty so shyly behind the line of shops that many residents, though passing daily, have not yet seen it."[152]  The socialist architect Frederic Towndrow also noted that the new building was "only approachable through a gateway of some old houses". "There are steeply pitched gables, a tiled roof with dormers, and rather smallish windows with lead-lined panes. Over the doorways are carved shields in an old-fashioned manner". Sparing with even faint praise, Towndrow accepted that the design was "competent technically" but "most regressive".[153] The obvious riposte to this piece of bitchiness is that, if you were looking for Bauhaus, you would hardly start in Ramsay's Magdalene. 

Despite the ongoing construction, by February 1932, it could be confidently predicted that undergraduates would move in for the Michaelmas Term. As it happened, Magdalene students would not be the first occupants of the Lutyens Building. In that distant era, Britain enjoyed friendly relations with Argentina. An itinerary had been arranged for a visiting delegation of Argentine university students which was to culminate in a visit to Cambridge during May Week. By then, Magdalene expected to have completed two Lutyens staircases, with ten sets of rooms, and these were offered for the use of the South American visitors. It was a pleasant gesture of hospitality to a group of overseas students, and one which also gave the College an opportunity to try out its new accommodation.[154]

Two staircases were completed and ready to welcome visiting students from Argentina in May Week 1932. Were they A and B staircases, by the Cam? Photograph by Magdalene College, Cambridge.  

There were many quirks and oddities in the story of the new building, but perhaps its initiation by students from Argentina is one of the most charming. Early in 1933, the Magazine reported that the building had been occupied by undergraduates since the previous October "and its spacious comfort is much appreciated by the inmates".[155]

Roderick O'Donnell called Lutyens a practitioner of "scholarly eclecticism", who "deliberately mixed both form and detail", so that some aspects of the building are classical, others "domestic", even folksy.[156] Pevsner noted a combination of Tudor gables and "a kind of Gibbs surround to the doorways".[157]   I have no qualifications to appraise its "architectural jokes and conundrums", but some features of the Lutyens Building merit comment. The entrances to the staircases are surmounted by carved keystones. Modestly disguised as conjecture, Ronald Hyam identified them as follows. A staircase, a wyvern, is the symbol of Thomas Audley, notional refounder of Magdalene in 1542. The Olympic torch above B staircase recalls Lord Burghley, who entered Magdalene in 1923 and won a gold medal in the 400 metre hurdles at the 1928 Games. C staircase has a casket, the symbol of the College's patron saint, St Mary Magdalene. Over D staircase, an open book, with the word "Veritas" (truth), refers to the seal of Harvard, an allusion to its first President, Magdalene's Henry Dunster. An owl perched upon a book dedicates E staircase to Education.[158]

The owl symbolises Education on E staircase. Photograph by Magdalene College, Cambridge

Internally, Lutyens compensated for the downgrading of bathrooms by the provision of common facilities below the ground floor. "By his ingenious arrangement of a continuous basement, Lutyens ensured bathing and washing arrangements for the whole building under cover." To a later inmate, they were "cheerless caverns". With his zeal for innovative detail, Lutyens designed hearths without grates, a kind of indoor campfire system. In the Arctic winter of 1947, when coal supplies dwindled to dust and slack, the lack of any draught from below made it difficult to light fires at all.[159] Perhaps it is the staircases that have aroused the most comment. Simon Bradley called them "unforgettable spaces, entirely lined with dark panelling set near-flush, and each with a completely different pattern of newel post". Their chunky carving is said to have been designed by Lutyens to help undergraduates locate themselves by touch late at night. Pevsner thought the building was "heavy and a little too convinced of itself" but grudgingly accepted the frivolity of the tactile posts. "Here at least Sir Edwin has had that fun which to him was so much part of the attractions of an architect's life."[160] They certainly provide much scope for speculative interpretation. Could the spike on C staircase hint at Hawksmoor's Christ Church, Spitalfields, an ironic tribute to an ambitious architect who had also tried, and failed, to sweep away Cambridge clutter and create a grand piazza? Or was Lutyens suggesting that homecoming undergraduates late at night should be provided with their very own dreaming spire? 

Hawksmoor on C staircase? Photograph by Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Ronald Hyam has suggested that the baluster on D staircase recalls another Lutyens project, the Thiepval Memorial to the 72,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed at the battle of the Somme who have no known grave. (The idea was put to him by a member of the College housekeeping staff.) The four-legged, round-shouldered Thiepval arch is an intriguing structure, a set-piece by circus acrobats in stone and brick, a gigantic barbecue from a back garden in Brobdingnag? It is hard not to think that, if Lutyens had wanted to plant Thiepval in Magdalene, he would have chosen a more obvious evocation – but it is equally impossible to ignore the echoes.

Thiepval on D staircase? Photograph by Magdalene College, Cambridge 

Perhaps it is the baluster of E staircase that carries the most challenging message. What seems at first sight to be a humble bump is surely an appeal to the tonsured dome of the Viceroy's House in New Delhi, itself inspired by the Buddhist stupa (shrine). Was Lutyens slipping in a personal signature, in the way that some artists insert themselves into crowd scenes – "Sir Edwin was here"? Or was he revealing his awareness that the Magdalene project was intended to bask in the reflected imperial glory of his work in the new capital city? If, as I argue, there is a hint of India here, it seems to have been forgotten for ninety years – and, alas, the carving has been damaged over the decades.

Rashtrapati Bhavan in Benson Court? The viceregal stupa-dome on E staircase. Photograph by Magdalene College, Cambridge. 

Roderick O'Donnell was bemused by these staircase features. "Perhaps [Lutyens] thought Magdalene men to be permanently inebriated?"[161] In fact, there seems no great mystery about the carved balusters. It is difficult now to realise that, a century ago, Britain was still very dark at night. Streetlamps provided only glimmer of light, and there is no reason to assume that Magdalene intended to provide dazzling nocturnal illumination in its new academic precinct. Perhaps there was some hint of a joke in the monumental size of the carvings, but essentially they were a helpful device and a good idea.[162]

From Lutyens to Roberts Ninety years on, we know that only one segment of the Lutyens project was translated into bricks and mortar, to become the backdrop of the post-Second World War student village. But, in the nineteen-thirties, the five staircases were seen as the first stage of a longer and larger project. This, after all, was how Magdalene had managed its building programmes in the past: First Court had taken over a century to complete, while the Pepys Building had proved to be a comparatively whirlwind exercise, finished in as little as three decades.[163] The revised plan of 1930 indicated "future extensions" to the "new wing", there were further discussions with Lutyens for a north range in 1936, and in 1937 for an east range parallel to Magdalene Street. The Appeal's success in tapping Harvard sources seems to have encouraged the opportunist idea of incorporating a "Dunster gateway" into the street front.[164] In 1936-7, the Governing Body actually decided to construct a further three staircases from the grand design, although the 1928 Appeal was formally wound up at that time.[165] It seems that the decision to press on was divisive. Given that there was no money, it was also pointless.

Ramsay was perhaps aiming at the four hundredth anniversary of the refounding of Magdalene, which would fall in 1942. If there was an equivalent to 1066 in the common culture of the College, it could only have been the date given in official publications, 1542, when the former Monks' Hostel / Buckingham College re-emerged from the upheavals of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under its modern name. There had always been something faintly contrived about the quincentenary appeal in 1928. Although the Hall and the Chapel dated from monkish days, very little was known about the first century of intellectual activity on the site: Purnell's 1904 history had scraped together just ten pages.[166] Furthermore, 1928, the year in which Protestant opinion blocked the revised prayer book, was hardly a good moment to foster nostalgia for medieval monasticism. But by 1942, the global economy should have pulled itself out of the 'Thirties Depression, Magdalene would have many more alumni to whom it might appeal for cash, and the partly completed project could open cheque books and dip into the pockets of those who had already experienced student life in the Lutyens Building. Alas, if that was part of the slow and steady strategy of 1936-7, Hitler put paid to its realisation.

"All idea of completing Lutyen's [sic] total scheme was abandoned soon after the war," Turner recalled: "it was both too expensive and too wasteful of space." Oddly enough, Magdalene had sown the seeds of its future strategy immediately after the occupation of the Lutyens Building. In old photographs of Cambridge, the buildings of the Town invariably appear grey and grubby: it is no surprise that so many of them were swept away in the name of improvement. But in the winter of 1932-3, the College embarked on a programme of whitewashing the outhouses and rear extensions of the Magdalene Street shops, thereby creating "an exceedingly attractive surround" for its new addition.[167] In the post-war world, not only money but building materials were in short supply. It was cheaper and simpler to modernise the existing properties, creating accommodation for 68 students. (The completed Lutyens project would presumably have added just 41 undergraduate sets, plus a porters' lodge.) Created by the College architect and Fellow, David Roberts, the project included some new building which now seems unobtrusive, but which – in the nature of academic communities – aroused some controversy at the time. One junior Fellow was shocked by the plans for O Block, which he described as "in the style of institutional amenity wh[ich] is now employed so painfully by 'advanced' borough councils in their slum-clearance schemes."[168] Most observers would surely now agree with the verdict of Bradley and Pevsner that the David Roberts insertions were "beautifully judged" and "unusually self-effacing".[169]

A frustrated project? It would be hard to disagree with Ronald Hyam's claim that the Lutyens Building is "a structure of some significance", both in its confident architecture and in its unique status as the architect's only collegiate work in Cambridge.[170] Yet it is equally difficult to avoid the conclusion that Magdalene's reach exceeded its grasp, that little of Ramsay's grand project was realised, and that the fragment surviving today is hardly worthy of the effort and the expense of commissioning so notable an architect.[171]

It is argued here that Lord Braybrooke wished to take the College back half a century to the gentlemanly community he had known in Victorian days. It is well established that Ramsay aimed to fill the place with Etonians, and Etonians of an imperturbably conventional type. Had the full Lutyens project materialised, the simple economics of room rents would have turned the new court into a ghetto of rich young men from a handful of major public schools – and one school in particular – while the rest, students from lesser independent schools and the grammar school minority, would have been distributed around the attics, digs and hostels that were the natural habitat of the tolerated but largely ignored 'other' Magdalene.  Braybrooke and Ramsay shared the common aim of effectively excising A.C. Benson from the College saga. His radical notions and the unconventional personalities attracted to Magdalene by his reputation were to be sidelined as a temporary aberration, effaced by the imperial grandeur of Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Of course, this is a startling interpretation. In simple narrative, Benson had died in 1925, mourned for his intriguing personality and honoured for his contribution to Magdalene. In 1928, the College launched an Appeal, and in 1932 its new building was named Benson Court in his honour. In fact, with the exception of a single passing allusion in the Appeal document, his name was carefully kept out of the fund-raising exercise. It was not until well into 1932 that Ramsay's colleagues insisted on calling the new building Benson Court. Ronald Hyam calls the debate on the name "a disagreeable argument ... with the Master somewhat ungraciously and ostentatiously opposing its being named after his predecessor".[172] Even if we cannot sympathise, we may well understand Ramsay's determination to prevent a project designed to exorcise Benson's influence acquiring and perpetuating his name.[173]

If the almost accidental association of the new court with Benson's name has been overlooked, so has the effrontery of so humble an institution commissioning Sir Edwin Lutyens to design the buildings. To the objection that no specific evidence exists to support my assumption that the idea of a three-sided court conjured images of the Viceroy's House in New Delhi, I would counter with the assertion that no alert and patriotic Cambridge don could fail to be aware of what Lutyens was creating in India. We have obliterated that context because Britain left India over seventy years ago, in 1947, the same year that Ramsay departed from Cambridge:[174] by strange irony, the independence legislation was piloted through the House of Lords by the Earl of Listowel, a Magdalene Etonian.[175]

In the event, the wing intended by the architect to lead the eye from the river towards the linking central range became monotonous when it materialised only as the free-standing Lutyens Building.[176] The shift from five to six sets on each staircase eliminated the attractive second-storey gables, leaving no alternative to a continuous roofline evenly punctuated by tiny dormers. "The façade is too long to be able to dispense with some kind of central feature", one critic grumbled.[177] Pevsner memorably likened another Cambridge project of the nineteen-thirties, Fisher Building at Queens', to a friendly block of flats in Pinner. Lutyens creations invariably exuded attitude that ensured that they could never be merely suburban, but the structure which emerged was more redolent of New Malden than New Delhi.[178] If Magdalene could have foreseen that financial stringency would limit its efforts to the erection of a single accommodation block, there would have been no need, and certainly no reason, to import somebody so famously creative as Sir Edwin Lutyens. Harry Redfern might have created a student residence, equally comfortable to the eye and the inmates, that would have served as an unobtrusive backdrop to subsequent development. In 1968, to the north of the Lutyens Building, David Roberts did create the red-brick Buckingham Court A-H, on the same alignment and with a virtually identical length, which cleverly disguised a central pedestrian street while managing to include not only bathrooms but even a covered car park.[179] The accidental translation of the supporting wing of a major project into a distinct structure ensured that Sir Edwin actually provided what Sir Edwin was never hired to deliver. Critics were at best muted in their praise of the resulting Lutyens Building. The Manchester Guardian thought it "pleasant, if a little consciously tasteful".[180] Towndrow, in the Observer, dismissed its design as "a sentimental style which might be described as early English Renaissance or 'Jacobumpkin'."[181] Patronisingly describing it as "not an ill-bred building" but "rather commonplace", John Steegmann pronounced a damning verdict on the outcome. "Even second-rate Lutyens has an air about it, and this is certainly not first-rate Lutyens.[182] Magdalene had gambled on achieving a majestic project from an architect of genius. The gamble had not proved entirely successful.

Benson Court: a counterfactual fantasy When A.C. Benson died in 1925, a disciple called him "one of our great Masters".[183] Yet three years later, the Appeal document made only one passing allusion to him, and Benson's name cannot be traced in reports over the four years of fund-raising and construction that followed. Then, suddenly, the Fellows rebelled, and insisted on naming the new building after the man whose memory Braybrooke and Ramsay had so obviously intended to efface. The irony is that, had they played along with the Benson cult from the outset, they might well have raised the cash needed to realise the Lutyens project in its entirety, thereby creating the luxuriant ghetto for a socially stratified College far removed from the Benson ideal. Here, ninety years on, and offered with affectionate cynicism, is an alternative version (italicised because fictional) of the Appeal document that might have touched the heartstrings and opened the wallets of Benson's many admirers:

"Magdalene College invites its own members and its many friends to support our wish to build a worthy memorial to Dr A.C. Benson, who died in 1925. We propose to create a new section of the College opposite the existing buildings, to be called Benson Court, in honour of our beloved Master's unique contributions to education and to literature. Sir Edwin Lutyens has turned aside from his noble work in creating a new imperial capital for India to design for us a handsome three-sided court that will sweep down to the River Cam, whose gentle waters flow so happily through Dr Benson's inimitable books.[184] Sir Edwin's design recalls the majesty of the Viceroy's House, now approaching completion in New Delhi, but it is expressed in the red brick, the Tudor chimneys and the Elizabethan gables that say so much of the England whose landscapes and whose values permeate the writings of A.C. Benson. The occasion of our appeal is the quincentenary of the decision in 1428 by the great abbeys of East Anglia to accommodate their novices on a site just a little remote from the bustle and temptation of the town. Their Monks' Hostel took on a life of its own, surviving the Dissolution of the Monasteries, to emerge in 1542 as the Magdalene College of today. Now we heed those inspirational words of A.C. Benson himself: 'Wider still and wider / Shall thy bounds be set', as we plan our new building, our memorial in his honour, on a site adjoining the old College. Yet we do not aim to make Magdalene 'mightier yet' – indeed, we humbly believe that this would be impossible – but rather we seek to provide accommodation for all of our existing students. It is our aim and our hope that every Magdalene undergraduate shall be able to view the world – as A.C. Benson himself would have wished – 'From a College Window'."

No doubt such a plea would have pushed the boundary between mendicity and mendacity, but some element of imaginative exaggeration is surely permissible in academic fund-raising. More seriously, an overt attempt to capitalise on the popularity of A.C. Benson would have made the 1928 Appeal attractive to potential donors untouched by the wooden prose of the actual document. It would have facilitated an approach to two potentially large-scale benefactors, Eugenie de Nottbeck, the pen-friend who had so generously bankrolled Benson's Magdalene schemes, and the City businessmen of the Fishmongers' Company who had been about to elect him as their Warden. Although most of the young men who had passed through Magdalene since 1904 were still making their way in the world financially, a Benson Court project might have appealed to a far larger number of older and wealthier Etonians, like the Viceroy himself, Lord Irwin, who remembered A.C. Benson as the most stimulating classroom performer they had encountered. Above all, there was the massive middlebrow readership around the English-speaking world who cherished him as their guardian and guide. If Magdalene had explicitly announced its intention to create a Benson Court in 1928, the College might well have raised enough money to create the precinct designed to foster Ramsay's privileged community of gilded young men.

This exploration of the origins of the Lutyens Building has not been kind to A.B. Ramsay. No doubt he should be credited with having driven the project, however retrogressive his motives. Therefore it is right that this essay should close by quoting his own reflection on the Lutyens Building. In a "memorable speech" to the architect and the Sindall workforce, he cited the familiar classicists' motto that Rome had not been built in a day, adding that Rome had nevertheless lasted for two thousand years. Benson Court – how those words must have stuck in his throat – "was not built in two years". Did this mean, he asked, hopefully, that it would last for two million years?[185] As so often with heavyweight Magdalene obiter dicta, a large statement was founded upon confused assumptions. All that can be said, as the Lutyens Building approaches its first centenary, is that there remains much to discover about the motives and the mishaps that characterised its conception and its construction.

ENDNOTES  All websites were consulted in June and July 2021. This essay owes much to the publication by successive editors of the Magdalene College Magazine of memoirs by dons and former students. I am grateful to the Alumni & Development Office, Magdalene College, for the supply of photographs, and to the Master and Fellows for permission to use them here. For presentational and technical reasons, the photographs supplied by Magdalene College have been trimmed, but they have not been otherwise edited. The 1920 Aerofilms photograph of Castle Hill is copyright Historic England. The photograph of the B and C staircases of the Lutyens Building as constructed is copyright General biographical information about Cambridge personalities is taken from I owe thanks to Alexandra Browne, Peter Grubb, Andrew Jones, Matthew Moon, Alistair Pirie, Ellis Stratton, Catherine Sutherland and Gail Wood for information and help. For other essays on Magdalene, see "Explorations in the history of Cambridge by Ged Martin":

[1] The origins of Benson Court have been usefully outlined by the architectural historian Roderick O'Donnell in Magdalene College Magazine, n.s. xxv (1980-1), 38-40 and Magdalene College Magazine, n.s. xxxiii (1988-9), 32-5 [cited as MCM80 and MCM88]. Both the context and the architecture have been incisively analysed by Ronald Hyam in P. Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988 (Cambridge, 1994),  251-2 and [R.Hyam], Magdalene Described ... (2nd ed., Cambridge, 2011), 34-8 [cited as Magdalene History and Magdalene Described]. See also S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, Cambridgeshire: The Buildings of England (New Haven, Conn., 2014), 153.

[2] The terms west, east and north are used for convenience, but are not strictly compass indications, as Magdalene Street has a roughly north-west to south-east axis. Bradley and Pevsner regard the street range as the north side. This makes some geographical sense, but it does not accord with the mental geography of the College as a whole.

[3] Magdalene Described (R. Hyam), 36.

[4] Bradley and N. Pevsner, Cambridgeshire: Cambridgeshire: The Buildings of England, 154.

[5] Magdalene History, 252.

[6] I stand by my own youthful judgement, half a century ago, that the non-completion of the entire monumental courtyard was a rare example in the history of Magdalene when "financial stringency was a positive blessing". A Visitor's Guide to Magdalene College Cambridge (Cambridge, 1970), 14. Magdalene's income from endowments in 1926 was £5,372, the lowest among established colleges in Cambridge, and about one-thirteenth of Trinity's £68,577. C.N.L. Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, iv: 1870-1990 (Cambridge, 1993), 598.

[7] The Appeal document, discussed in more detail below, was unpaginated, and is not separately referenced in this essay.

[8] Magdalene's "corporate life" could also be a distraction. Going into digs on Castle Hill in his second year gave D.C.R. Francombe (1924) "a chance to do a bit of work". Magdalene College Magazine, xxxv (1990-1), 42. As with most Cambridge resources, the allocation of digs evolved haphazardly. As an undergraduate at Trinity, Ralph Vaughan Williams lodged in Magdalene Street.

[9] A "set" was a sitting room with separate bedroom. In most colleges, sets have long since been remodelled into bedsits.

[10] Magdalene Described, 29.

[11] The Times (12 October 1926) commented: "Arthur Benson spent a considerable sum of money in reconstructing the old building, in which Professor [Alfred] Newton lived for many years, and the yard and sheds where Lady Braybrooke kept her cows." Dairying appears to be an art which ceased to be practised by Masters of Magdalene after 1904. Fellows complained c. 1580 that the Master's cattle strayed into the Hall, with unfortunate consequences. Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, 454:

[12] Pevsner in 1954 wrongly assumed that Redfern's Mallory Court would have been demolished to make way for the Lutyens project.

[13] The Times (12 October 1926) called Redfern's Mallory Court B "peculiarly charming". Even the opinionated John Steegmann thought Redfern's work "not so much designed as contrived" and "very artistic". J. Steegmann, Cambridge (3rd ed., cf. 1st ed. 1940), 108-9.

[14] The Redfern project was forgotten for over sixty years until rediscovered by Ronald Hyam, Magdalene College Magazine, n.s. xxxi (1986-7), 25-9.

[15] But First Court in the 1920s was much more uniform in appearance than it is today. In the mid-18th century, the walls facing into the Court had been covered with Roman cement (which also attracted ivy). Around 1813, battlements were added: why battlements could ever have been required inside a College has never been explained. The additions were stripped away in 1955-6. Magdalene Described, 6.

[16] MCM80, 38.

[17] The Magdalene Boat Club 1828 – 1928... (Cambridge, 1930), foreword.

[18] The family spent the summer months at the Rectory of Heydon, a nearby village, where Latimer Neville double-jobbed. A curate stood in for him for the rest of the year. On becoming Lord Braybrooke, he was also the patron of the living. In 1903, he appointed H.T. Wilson as his successor. Wilson had been a sizar (a poor student paying reduced fees) at Magdalene from 1879 to 1883. The Times, 18 September 1903.

[19] Henry Neville's first wife was French. Yerburgh stated that he married his sister's French governess, but as Latimer Neville's only daughter was nearly thirty at the time, it must have been a slow courtship. Yerburgh's memoirs were published in Magdalene College Magazine, n.s. xlv (2000-01), 81-9, esp. 85 [cited as Yerburgh].

[20] Latimer Neville's claim that this was "in contravention of the intention of the will of the founder" was, however, open to challenge, since the first Statutes of Magdalene were only finalised in 1555, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary. D.A. Winstanley, Later Victorian Cambridge (Cambridge, 1947), 356. An exception was made for St Catharine's, where the Mastership was attached to a Canonry at Norwich Cathedral. The Master of Corpus, E.H. Perowne, echoed Neville's objection, but was intimidated into withdrawing his allegation that he might be succeeded by an "avowed atheist".

[21] The Audley End mansion was let to a tenant, and Lord Braybrooke did not move in until 1914. W. Addison, Audley End (London, 1953), 223.

[22] Magdalene History, 221-3. A near-contemporary at University of the new Visitor, Pym came to Magdalene from Bedford School, and graduated in 1879 with a Pass degree. In 1882, a year after his ordination, he was appointed curate-in-charge of the Manchester parish of Miles Platting, notorious for conflict over ritualistic practices. In 1898, he became Bishop of Mauritius in 1898.  His ability to stand the climate and his experience of working with the island's Indian immigrant community explained his translation to Bombay in November 1903. Pym did not have a happy experience in his second diocese. Although regarded as "a moderate Churchman without party narrowness", he emerged as a "vigorous Evangelical" who took a tough line against "extreme practices". This brought Pym into conflict with the High Church missionary organisation, the Cowley Fathers, whose influential supporters in England succeeded in overturning some of his decisions. After becoming seriously ill with diabetes, he retreated to the milder climate of Poona (Pune), where he died in 1908, aged 51. Although the tradition that he was a cousin of the Braybrookes is well established, I cannot trace the precise relationship. A colonial bishop with a Pass degree (and six children to support), he would hardly have been a glittering appointment as Master. The Times, 27 November 1903; 3 March 1908.


[24] E.K. Purnell, Magdalene College (London, 1904), 198.

[25], (a general source for this section); Eton College Chronicle, 25 June 1925, 857.

[26] Magdalene History, 235 (extract from Benson's diary, quoted by Ronald Hyam).

[27] T. Card, Eton Renewed... (London, 1994), 135.

[28]  D. Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise … (London, 1980), 328.

[29] Magdalene History, 231-5.

[30] P. Lubbock, ed., The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson.... (London, 1927), 304; Addison, Audley End, 220.

[31] G. Johnson, University Politics … (Cambridge, 1994) embraces Cornford's 1908 edition, esp. 95.

[32] Magdalene History, 217-18, 233-4. The Fellows' support for Ramsey was essentially a defence of the College's right to (and capacity for) self-government. As one of them recalled, "under the experienced leadership of A.S. Ramsey ... it was perfectly competent to run its own affairs." F.McD.C. [Francis] Turner, "Past Master...", Magdalene College Magazine, xliii (1998-99), 60-7 [cited as Turner].

[33] Talbot Peel, Bursar and Fellow in Engineering, and the historian Frank Salter were also Nonconformists. A.S. Ramsey's son became Archbishop of Canterbury.

[34] Did Braybrooke perhaps consider appointing Vernon-Jones? His childhood in Cardiganshire (Ceredigion) left Jones (he became double-barrelled in 1906) with a lifelong love of shooting and fishing, and he was also a good cricketer. A classicist from King's, he had been elected a Fellow of Magdalene in 1900, which indicates that he was acceptable to Latimer Neville. His obituary in The Times praised him as "a first-rate teacher, clear and forcible ... with a peculiar blend of elaborate Johnsonian humour". As an examiner, "his persistence and emphasis on minute points made him a somewhat embarrassing member of a board". Although "retiring" by nature, he had "a quick temper" and "could not always be depended upon for a balanced judgment". He was married, but also hard up. John Boardman, who came to Magdalene from Chigwell School in Essex after the Second World War, described Vernon-Jones as "a fossil grammarian in green corduroy knickerbockers who rode a tall bicycle from which he could dismount only by falling. I somehow never got invited to tea". Although the College Library was  a standing joke until c.1960, Boardman was pleasantly surprised to find a run of the Journal of Hellenic Studies on its shelves. He was less impressed to discover that the pages had not been cut: Vernon-Jones, it seems, was anxious to protect his students from the modernist theories published in its pages. In the 1960s, senior Fellows recalled Vernon-Jones for his aversion to burgundy and claret, which he condemned as "red ink". The Times, 8 December 1955; Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise, 324; J. Boardman, A Classical Archaeologist’s Life: the Story So Far... (Summertown, Oxford, 2020), 31.

[35] D.K. Money, "Ramsay, Allen Beville (1872–1955)...", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, praised him as "probably the most significant British Latin poet of the twentieth century" who wrote Latin "with natural elegance and enthusiasm". This was very creditable, but not necessarily what Magdalene needed. C.N.L. Brooke described Ramsay as "a kindly man". Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, iv: 1870-1990, 47n.

[36] There has been some confusion about the identity of the Eton candidate, apparently caused by A.S. Ramsey's mistranscription of his initials. It is now clear that he was C.H.K. Marten, who was later knighted (as Sir Henry Marten) for his services in tutoring Princess Elizabeth in constitutional history.  The Fellows of Magdalene resented the cheek of Eton to make a nomination, and the fact that Marten was an Oxford graduate also "weighed" with them. The ODNB is surely correct in concluding that "Marten would have been a much happier choice" than Ramsay.  R. Birley / T. Card, "Marten, Sir (Clarence) Henry Kennett (1872–1948)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Turner, 60.

[37] The confusion of surnames could be embarrassing. A.S. Ramsey received letters of congratulation after news of the appointment of A.B. Ramsay circulated by word of mouth in Cambridge.

[38] Braybrooke had also offered the Mastership to J.F.P. Rawlinson, MP for Cambridge University. A distinguished lawyer, and active in University affairs, Rawlinson would have been an excellent choice. In addition to his legal skills, he had played in goal for a winning Cup Final team (Old Etonians 1, Blackburn Rovers 0, 1882) and for England against Ireland, where he kept a clean sheet in a 13-0 victory. He was at Trinity from 1879 to 1882, and came from the same House at Eton (Charles Wolley-Dod's) as the Visitor. Rawlinson's declined: his health was probably poor, for he died early in 1926. Magdalene History, 233; The Times, 15 January 1926.

[39] Magdalene History, 235. It was already widely known that Ramsay was "the antithesis of Benson", Turner, 60.

[40] Eton College Chronicle, 6 October 1955, 3737.

[41] Magdalene History, 236-7. Citing information from Ronald Hyam, C.N.L. Brooke dates the retrogressive initiative to enforce compulsory Chapel to 1928-9, exactly the time of the Appeal. Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, iv: 1870-1990, 113.

[42] R. Luckett and R. Hyam, "Empson and the Engines of Love...", Magdalene College Magazine, n.s. xxxv (1990-1), 33-8, esp. 34. William Empson, also a ground-breaker in literary criticism, was stripped of his Magdalene Bye-Fellowship in 1929 for sexual misconduct. While Ramsay made some monumentally silly remarks about sex, he was not primarily responsible for the College's decision to take action against Empson, a response that was in line with University discipline at the time. Magdalene made amends in 1979 by electing Empson to an Honorary Fellowship.

[43] For Redgrave as an undergraduate, see Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., liii (2008-9), Centenary Supplement, 20-3. He made "dramatic last-minute entries to Chapel, processing its entire length which presaged his later distinguished career as an actor." Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., xxxiii (1988-9), 28.

[44] Turner, 65; Magdalene History, 239, quoting Ronald Hyam; The Times, 18 June 1931; T.E.B. Howarth, Cambridge between Two Wars (London, 1978), 157. It is perhaps ironic that Magdalene under Ramsay established a link with a recently established grammar school in Romford, Royal Liberty. The connection almost certainly came about through an alternative College network associated with the Congregationalist Church, of which F.R. Salter (a Benson import from Trinity) was a member. The first Romford boy to come to Magdalene was R.F. Bennett, who won a History Exhibition at the age of 17 in 1929. He took First Class Honours in History, and began a promising research career in medieval studies that was disrupted by the Second World War, in which he served in Intelligence at Bletchley Park. His strategy for dealing with the Magdalene ethos was essentially to join it, for instance making the transition from "Ralph" to "[Rafe]". A different approach was adopted by his younger brother, John Bennett, who followed him in 1932, and achieved distinctions in both parts of the Historical Tripos ("starred Firsts"), a record that Ronald Hyam calls "legendary".  John Bennett led an informal group of grammar schoolboys (and some public school rebels) known as the Adullamites, although they formally constituted themselves as the Society for Tendentiously Resisting All Constituted Authority. Even under Ramsay, Magdalene was a laid-back community where such defiance was tacitly tolerated. John Bennett joined the Colonial Office, where his distrust for Britain's ruling caste made him a theorist of decolonisation. R. Hyam, "John Bennett and the End of Empire", in Hyam, Understanding the British Empire (Cambridge, 2010), 268-72. Magdalene's Romford connection continued for four decades, but became weaker after the reorganisation of the Royal Liberty School in 1974. It gave the College two Professorial Fellows, Peter Grubb (Chair in Investigative Plant Ecology) and Tom Spencer (Coastal Dynamics).

[45] The Times, 16 October 1926. Reports in the Eton College Chronicle suggest that King's, Eton's sister foundation, was the only other Cambridge college to send annual birthday greetings. In 1865, King's had admitted its first non-Etonian students in the modern era (they had existed in earlier centuries), and the college grew in numbers between 1870 (22 undergraduates) and 1904 (146). Although a strong institutional link survived between the two foundations, Etonians ceased to dominate King's numerically, even though their personalities remained influential. Between 1865 and 1879, two-fifths of Kingsmen came from Eton. The increasing size of the undergraduate population helped to dilute this to one-sixth in the eighteen-eighties. However, at least one Fellow of King's held that one Etonian was worth half a dozen undergraduates from other schools. Between 1919 and 1938, Etonians constituted one-tenth of the King's student community. L.P. Wilkinson, A Century of King's 1872-1972 (Cambridge, 1980), 22, 160, 164; C. Morris, King's College a Short History (Cambridge, 1989), 46-7.  

[46] The Times, 10 March 1941. Although a member of the House of Lords for 37 years, Braybrooke seems to have taken no part in its proceedings. He was a Justice of the Peace.

[47] Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, iv: 1870-1990, 251. Brooke thought the tale "extremely improbable". Wykehamists [former pupils of Winchester] do not seem to have been numerous in Magdalene: G.H. [Leigh-] Mallory, who died on Everest in 1924, was a History Exhibitioner from the school in 1905. Roderick O'Donnell states that an earlier Wykehamist, Charles Vyner Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak (Magdalene 1894), refused to subscribe to the Appeal. MCM80, 40.

[48] This was an era in which some Scholarships were restricted to candidates from particular schools. Characteristically, Ramsay wish to create one at Magdalene limited to Eton, but was discouraged from doing so. Magdalene History, 235.

[49] Magdalene History, 266 (letter from 1938, quoted by Ronald Hyam). John Boardman recalled the Magdalene of the mid-1940s as dominated by "Etonians, not usually of the first grade". The College "had a reputation of a certain disdain for mere academic achievement, but without being positively hearty". Boardman, A Classical Archaeologist’s Life: the Story So Far, 28.

[50] Benson had encouraged links with what he called "the best schools", but these included foundations such as St Paul's, a middle-class day school, and Gresham's, Holt, a small and Tudor foundation in Norfolk effectively relaunched by an ambitious headmaster after 1900. In 1910, Benson mobilised "some of the best twenty men" in Magdalene to quash anti-social behaviour by students whom Benson dubbed "outsiders" [i.e. Magdalene undergraduates not from approved backgrounds]. Benson himself described the ensuing confrontations as "a social cleavage, the big schools keeping together and the provincial schools dropped out". He blamed students from the latter for being "rude and shy", shortcomings that disqualified them from "friendship and civility". This seems to have been a rare instance of interaction of any kind among social groups that would become increasingly polarised in Ramsay's time. Magdalene History, 227-31. Between 1860 and 1869, 13.75 percent of undergraduates admitted to Magdalene had come from Eton. However, many of these stayed only for one year. Ged Martin, "Parnell at Cambridge: the Education of an Irish Nationalist", Irish Historical Studies, xix, (1974), 74n.

[51] Card, Eton Renewed, 161. By the late 19th-century, Eton was steering its brightest candidates to Trinity, "leaving the close scholarships at King's as a cushion for the second best". Wilkinson, A Century of King's 1872-1972, 35-6.  King's insisted that its undergraduates read for Honours degrees. This had a displacement effect. 

[52] When I encountered it, still in use in 1970-1, it was (I believe and hope) largely decorative, but it was also top-secret. Since Ronald Hyam alluded to it in the 1994 College history, I presume it may now be discussed. Technically, candidates were assessed as human beings on a scale of 0 to 5. However, because of Original Sin, nobody could score more than 4½. Yet the mere wish to come to Magdalene indicated basic decency, so no candidate could be rated at less than 4¼. This was elaborated by a complex series of plus and minus signs, moderated by question marks. The 'chap' assessment formed the right-hand column of entrance examination marksheets, arranged in what computer printers now call 'landscape' fashion, so that it could be guillotined off should it be necessary to divulge performance information to anybody outside the select group. The odd thing about Ramsay's scale was that it did convey an impression of candidates, although one that was undoubtedly socially regressive. Thus 4¼?+ usually meant something like 'grammar school boy, says he's too busy to read books'. There was mild excitement on High Table one evening when it was reported that a candidate had been awarded the full (and unprecedented) 4½. He was the head boy at a major public school (not Eton). Magdalene History, 242.  


[54]Magdalene History, 241.

[55] West intended to become an Anglican clergyman, and did indeed rise to the rank of suffragan bishop. The Dean, Francis Clark, who was President of the Pitt Club, "never alluded to the matter in all my three years". West concluded that he was "highly embarrassed by any form of religious enthusiasm", which seems unlikely as Clark was also a proud Ulster Protestant. An edited version of West's reminiscences was published in MCM88, 27-30, esp. 28. For Bishop West, see Independent, 22 October 2011:

[56] Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this aspect of West's analysis is that it is almost identical to the description of Magdalene sixty years earlier by the snobbish Samuel Sproston, who had matriculated in 1867. Sproston recalled "three or four men, mostly from private schools, who lived quiet, unobtrusive lives because, their means being small, they declined to indulge in pleasures which they could not afford. They were poor and, all honour to them, they did not pretend to be rich." Cut off from the social activities of their contemporaries, they "consorted only with one another, went long walks by way of exercise, and sat together in Hall." But Sproston did at least notice the Magdalene Poor. "I suppose there were reading men," recalled the explorer Harry de Windt, who entered Magdalene in 1876, "... but I never saw them."

[57] Alan Murray, "Reminiscences: Magdalene in the Thirties, from a Grammar School Boy's Perspective," Magdalene College Magazine, xl (1995-6), 44-8.

[58] Gavin Stamp, "Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869–1944)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[59] So said Roderick O'Donnell in MCM88. The house had been built in 1908 for Henry Bond, from whom Peel had purchased it, presumably after Bond became Master of Trinity Hall in 1919. If an architect does a decent job on a project – as Lutyens invariably did – it is not clear why he would have returned to become acquainted with a subsequent owner. 

[60] In a wry joke, Ronald Hyam called the chimneys on the Lutyens Building "distinctly cenotaphic". Magdalene Described, 36. In fact, the Lutyens Building chimneys were intended to echo the street front of First Court, where a range of ancient smokestacks was removed in 1954. (One had collapsed in 1839, almost killing Frederick Spinks, the undergraduate who occupied the rooms below. Spinks had been about to take the Mathematical Tripos but was – understandably – so shocked by the episode that he deferred his examinations for twelve months. The saga had a happy ending, for he graduated in 1840 with First Class Honours (38th Wrangler). Spinks became a successful lawyer, a Conservative MP and survived until 1899.)

[61] At the time of his Magdalene project (1928-32), Lutyens was also overseeing the construction of the Thiepval Memorial, a massive arch commemorating the missing dead of the Battle of the Somme.

[62] Clemenceau's barbed comment may yet come true. In 2019-20, the Modi government was planning large-scale reconstruction around Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the term "Lutyens world" was used, pejoratively, to characterise the city's metropolitan elite.

[63] It may be possible to detect similarities between the Lutyens design for Magdalene and the Washington Embassy, but I leave that speculation to others.

[64] It is very possible that Lutyens worked informally from Redfern's plan, which had, after all, been designed to demonstrate the potential of the site: the locations of the proposed lecture room (first floor, overlooking Bin Brook) and the porters' lodge were similar in both, and the length of the central range was virtually identical.

[65] A. Roberts, 'The Holy Fox'... (London, 1997 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1991), 24; Stamp in ODNB.  In 1931, the recently occupied Viceroy's House formed the backdrop to dramatic negotiations between Irwin and M.K. Gandhi. One of Irwin's senior advisers was H.W. Emerson, a student at Magdalene from 1900 to 1903, allegedly the nadir of the College's history. Emerson entered the Indian Civil Service after gaining a First in Mathematics. "Such a hard man and so unkind to the poor people", was Gandhi's verdict, although they are said to have negotiated amicably. In no doubt coded language, The Times praised his handling of the subsequent  campaign of non-violent resistance for its "mingled firmness and perspicacity". Emerson was Governor of Punjab from 1933 until his retirement in 1938. He became League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1939, later chairing a British government advisory committee which attempted to resettle 20 million displaced persons. He received a knighthood and an Honorary Fellowship at Magdalene. Emerson was not a product of a major public school but came from Calday Grange, a grammar school in Cheshire. He married the sister of A.E. Bellars, the young science don whom Benson regarded as leader of the "outsiders" in the social clash of 1910 referred to in Endnote 50 above. Earl of Birkenhead, Halifax ... (London, 1965), 301; The Times, 14 April 1962. 

[66] I last heard it from an Edinburgh neighbour in the 1980s. She also referred to the city's Usher Hall as "Uncle Andrew's Hall".

[67] Roberts, 'The Holy Fox', 19.

[68] Eton College Chronicle, 5 November 1925, 922; 7 June 1929, 662. The Chronicle also pointed out that the Governors-General of the four principal Dominions were from Eton: Athlone (South Africa), Byng (Canada), Fergusson (New Zealand) and Stonehaven (Australia).

[69] Horse and Hound had been founded in 1884 by W.B. Portman (Eton and Magdalene). Portman, it should be noted, had taken First Class Honours in Civil Law back in 1853-4.

[70] As noted above, the Appeal document was unpaginated. Roderick O'Donnell reproduced the Lutyens report (dated 28 December 1928) in MCM88, 34.

[71] Bradley and Pevsner, Cambridgeshire: The Buildings of England, 153. Bradley has here slightly reworded the original comment by Pevsner in the 1954 edition.

[72] College legend reported that Bin Brook did indeed flood one winter during the 1930s.

[73] It was reported from Pembroke in 1920 that "some of the best rooms in the college have been allotted as a 'Blues' Staircase'." Howarth, Cambridge between Two Wars, 58.

[74] The Monks' Hostel had been founded in 1428 in "two messuages", probably separate but adjacent buildings on the east side of Magdalene Street. It is likely that the original entrance to the College was between them, slightly to the north of the present porters' lodge. Ronald Hyam believes that the west range was constructed in two stages, its northern section probably in the 15th century, and the rest around 1585. When the east (Hall) range was constructed around 1519, the screens passage had been located opposite the (conjectured) original entrance. The 1580s project included a new archway ("handsome but restrained" in Ronald Hyam's assessment) which deflected the axial line of First Court. And so it remains today. Magdalene Described, 7.

[75] Magdalene College Archives, A.S. Ramsey, "Bygone Days in Magdalene", 3-4.

[76] The location of the second Fellow's set is not clear from the published plans of the first two storeys.

[77] The adjective "evocative" is Roderick O'Donnell's. He reproduced the three watercolours in MCM88, 32-5. Only one could be traced in 1980.  The scans included here have been cropped to highlight particular points.

[78] Cyril A. Farey was born in 1888, and died in 1954.

[79] This is a deduction from the National Library of Australia's Trove newspaper archive website, and see He signed his watercolours "Cyril A. Farey del." and dated them to 1928, with no month specified. The abbreviation "del." [delineavit, i.e. drew] suggests that he sketched an outline of the existing scene on the spot, later working in the Lutyens design and adding colours.


[81] Turner, 63.

[82] It was reproduced (in black and white) in the Manchester Guardian, 25 May 1928.

[83] Magdalene College Magazine, June 1919, 170-1. The 1919 aerial photograph did little justice to First Court but emphasised "the graceful spire of the electric light works (the Queen of the River) which plays an unobtrusive but continual part in the life of the college". The power station was a noxious eyesore next to Quayside, its mere existence a perennial grievance to the inhabitants of Magdalene. 

[84] Aerofilms specialised in side-angled panoramas, not the vertical air photographs used for map-making and military intelligence.

[85] One journalist called the rear view of St John's New Court so mercilessly exposed by Magdalene's building project "a nightmare blend of terminus, barracks, workhouse, and asylum". Manchester Guardian, 10 December 1931.  To add to the pain, the diversion of a right of way compelled Magdalene to build a bridge over Bin Brook to give Johnians access to their New Court from Magdalene Street. Sadly, it was demolished in 1960:

[86] Magdalene's Sir Humphrey Cripps Auditorium (2005) seats 142 delegates, in safe and comfortable spacing.

[87] MCM80, 38; N. Vance, "Kingsley, Charles (1819–1875) …", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. As a Magdalene undergraduate, Kingsley had become addicted to tobacco. The first version of his novel Alton Locke (1850) was critical of Cambridge student life. Later, when a Fellow of Magdalene, he was responsible for one of the greatest intellectual autobiographies in British history, J.H. Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua. Unfortunately, Kingsley's role in its production was to accuse Newman of lying, thereby provoking him into a devastating self-defence.

[88] Ramsey, "Bygone Days in Magdalene", 9, 13-14. The rapid-fire transfer of information required in this form of mathematics teaching was a special skill, and (no surprise here) not everyone who had the knowledge could transmit it. A young Fellow of Trinity, A.N. Whitehead, was employed for one term, but did not give satisfaction. He later became a distinguished philosopher. G.F. Pattrick had taught Parnell.

[89] The Bright's Building lecture room became Ramsay Hall, an overflow dining area, in 1949, and was converted to informal study space in 2018.

[90] Benson's literary lectures could not be related to any examination syllabus because the English Tripos had not then been introduced.

[91] In 1920, Frank Salter imported the socialist and rationalist Graham Wallas from the London School of Economics to lecture on political psychology. Wallas (whose daughter was at Newnham) spent two days a week in Magdalene, where he was regarded as "an adopted member of the College". "The crowds which may be seen flocking through the First Court into the Hall every Friday and Saturday morning bear abundant testimony to the success of the experiment".  Wallas was succeeded by another LSE intellectual, Harold Laski, who lectured (also in the Hall) on parliamentary government.  "His lectures contain brilliance and lucidity not often to be found."  It is curious to think of Laski lecturing in Magdalene, let alone on parliamentary government. A Marxist who became chairman of the Labour Party, his attempts to control the Attlee government were rebuffed by its prime minister, who memorably advised him that "a period of silence on your part would be welcome". On this, if nothing else, Ramsay probably agreed with Attlee: Salter's left-wing visitors had ceased by the late 1920s. Another notable visiting speaker was the Arctic explorer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, whose two lectures on the potential of the polar regions delivered in the Hall in 1929 "aroused unusual interest". Magdalene College Magazine, December 1920, 110; December 1922, 110; The Times, 14 May 1929. As noted below, it seems likely that A.B. Ramsay wrote this article.

[92] MCM80, 38.

[93] The Mill Lane lecture theatres can only have been intended as an architectural device for the anaesthetisation of intellectual enquiry: in its sombre halls, the most scintillating insight reverberates into a commonplace aside.  However, The Times (3 May 1933) hailed the Mill Lane lecture rooms as an "astonishing achievement ... a building of dignified and noble aspect ... its interior in a generous style which unites usefulness with beauty". Pevsner more realistically said "utilitarian ... disappointing". Bradley and Pevsner, Cambridgeshire: The Buildings of England, 252.

[94] E. Leedham-Green, A Concise History of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1996), 191-3; Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, 294-6: There is a detailed discussion of the reforms of the 1920s in Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, iv: 1870-1990, ch. xi.

[95] The destruction, a decade later, of most of the west side of Bridge Street, the continuation of Magdalene Street, underlines the point. It seems that St John's originally planned to demolish only the rear extensions of these older structures to clear space for North Court (constructed 1938-40). In the event, the remaining street front looked like a forlorn Wild West set, and it was swept away too. The result is an uninteresting space and what was, until recently, a busy street. The Times, 5 May 1938, 25 January 1939.

[96] "When, in 1928, the Cambridge Preservation Society was formed, Ramsay at once took the lead on the part of the University in cooperating with the town." The Times, 22 September 1955. The Society is now Cambridge, Past, Present & Future.

[97] Manchester Guardian, 12 December 1928. It is difficult to understand the statement by Francis Turner that the three-sided court "was designed so that the shops in Magdalene Street could be retained". Access via the new porters' lodge would have required the demolition of 26-28 Magdalene Street, immediately opposite First Court, and it would hardly have made sense to retain the Pickerel as a functioning public house adjoining so many student bedrooms. The Lutyens scheme would still have required the destruction of buildings to the rear, a notable loss in Cross Keys Yard.  But perhaps the Fellows did consider retaining a row of lock-up shops? Turner, 63.

[98] Turner contrasted "These pensive Courts, half lost in Dreams" as the College clock struck 1 p.m. with the mayhem of Magdalene Street: "Without / Dire Confusion reigneth; dreadful Rout / Of Bicycles precipitant; fierce Wars / Calamitous 'twixt groaning Motor-Cars, / Dark fumes exuding, yea, and loathsome Smell, / Full many a Traveller clean into Hell / Hath thought himself translated; ruined quite, / Of Hope completely robb'd; so great his fright / At these Affrays". Quoted Magdalene College Magazine, n.s. liii (2008-9), Centenary Supplement, 11.

[99] "Reported Road Accident Statistics", House of Commons Library (2013). In March 1923, a Magdalene freshman was killed in a motor-cycle accident on the road to Ely. In April, a former student died in a motor accident in London. Magdalene College Magazine, March 1923, 137-9; April 1923, 166-7.

[100] A.S. Ramsey was driving near Huntingdon at about 30 m.p.h. A coroner's inquest, held within 24 hours, returned a verdict of accidental death. The coroner's comments indicate a relaxed attitude to road safety: "Apparently Mr Ramsey took his eye off the road to move a coat which was behind him. ... Mrs Ramsey died from an accident ... there is no blame attaching to her unfortunate husband." A.S. Ramsey, who suffered broken ribs, was heard to say: "It is such a little thing. I was just trying to put my coat right." As the vehicle ran up on to the grass verge, the passengers shouted warnings. Ramsey's attempted correction steered the car to the right, causing it to skid and overturn. A passenger, a young student from Denmark, died in hospital. The Ramseys' son, Michael, a future Archbishop of Canterbury, had graduated with First Class Honours in Theology just weeks before and intended to enter the Church. "The death of the most important person in his life brought long-standing problems to the surface and plunged him into mental turmoil." He temporarily withdrew from Cuddesdon and sought psychiatric help. The Times, 16, 17 August 1927; A. Wilkinson, "Ramsey, (Arthur) Michael... (1904–1988)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[101] On an October night in 1927, R.P.L. Rose, the son of a baronet, was driving back from his old school, Eton, where he had been playing football for Magdalene. (The Eton College Chronicle, 3 November 1927, 331, makes clear the match was the school's own Field Game, and it is noteworthy both that Magdalene could raise a full team of 11 players and that their ties were strong enough to make them wish to go back and play.) Rose was accompanied by two other Magdalene Etonians, one of them Lord Malden – the presence of a titled aristocrat added to the interest of the case. They had stopped for dinner in St Albans, but there was no suggestion that Rose was drunk. On the Great North Road near Baldock, a cyclist pulled out from a side road, evidently misjudging the speed of the oncoming vehicle. Had Rose not braked, an accident would probably have been avoided, but the sudden braking made the car swerve to the near side, hitting the cyclist, who was killed. Rose was greatly distressed by the collision, telling witnesses that "the silly fellow pulled out into the middle of the road". In court, he blamed the "greasy surface" of the carriageway. Witnesses claimed he was driving at 50 to 60 m.p.h., then generally regarded as a recklessly high speed. His counsel, the theatrical Sir Henry Curtis-Bennett, insisted that he had been travelling at 35 m.p.h. and argued that it was a safe, straight road. It was also suggested that the three undergraduates had to return to College before midnight. The jury's decision to convict seems harsh, and may have been motivated by dislike of privileged young men. The judge expressed his "sympathy", but blamed the defendant for his "heedlessness", and sentence him to six months in prison. Rose was released on bail after a few days pending an appeal, which Curtis-Bennett presumably managed to fast-track. In January 1928, the sentence was set aside, but not the guilty verdict. This was a disaster for Rose, who had hoped to secure a commission in a Guards regiment after Cambridge, a career ruled out by a criminal conviction. Vernon-Jones, who had accepted a lift to Eton, was a character witness for the defence. The Times, 13, 14 December, 1927, 14 January 1928.

[102] Magdalene College Magazine, n.s. liii (2008-9), Centenary Supplement, 26, a tribute to Reed after his death in a cycle accident in 1959. The author was Simon Barrington-Ward. Horace Reed had joined the kitchen staff in 1939. A photograph of him, competing in a pancake race, appears in Magdalene History. John Boardman believed that Magdalene was the only Cambridge college to resume room service of breakfasts after the War. Trays, left outside student rooms at 8 a.m., contained porridge and scrambled eggs. Food was in short supply, and the eggs were powdered. Boardman, A Classical Archaeologist’s Life: the Story So Far, 28.

[103] The Times, 8 October 1913; Bradley and Pevsner, Cambridgeshire: The Buildings of England, 95. Emmanuel decorated its tunnel with tiles, which have the look of a job lot from the London Underground. Images of the Emmanuel subway may be consulted via Google.

[104] The bridge was designed by the Norwich-based architect Arthur Browne, and cast in Derby. Its cost, of over £2,400, was met by public subscriptions: Magdalene gave £200, and the Master, George Neville (later Neville-Grenville) an additional twenty guineas (£21). The Times, 7 November 1970, 28 October 1971; Bradley and Pevsner, Cambridgeshire: The Buildings of England, 306-7; C.H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iv (1842-53), 542.

[105] Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., xlii (1997-8), 54. W.J. Stracey (later Stracey-Crowther) who had come up in 1839, recalled having rooms in "the Warren". The term was still used by the porters in 1964-5, but had gone out of student use. Magdalene College Magazine, iii (March 1910), 73-4.

[106] Clare built 114 undergraduate sets in Sir Gilbert Scott's Memorial Court. In its 1935-6 Fisher Building, Queens' managed to create 73 undergraduate sets (plus other accommodation) on a site not much larger than the area of the Lutyens Building.

[107] The Appeal specifically asked for £60,000, but with a £14,000 legacy from Benson available for buildings, this was effectively reduced to £46,000 (close to £300,000 in 2021 purchasing power).

[108]Ronald  Hyam's summary of a December 1930 letter from Salter to I.A. Richards, Magdalene History, 251.

[109] Magdalene History, 219; Turner, 63.

[110] The total cost of Clare's Memorial Court between 1922 and 1935 was £125,361, of which £33,358 was subscribed. Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, 340-6:

[111] Turner, 65; xlv (2000-1), 23 (Yerburgh). The argument that those who had benefited from Magdalene should put something back into the College was pressed upon the Bursar, John Smith, by the Visitor, the Earl of Suffolk, in 1636. "Mr Smith, you are now in the fullness of your age and in the school of affliction by sicknesse.... As you received the begininge and encrease of your estate from the Colledge, and have accordingly all your life hitherto continued a carefull nurse and steward in it, so you, I doubt not, but in the ende of your dayes, you [sic] will return a thankfull and cordiall memory and gratification, in disposing some part of your estate ... to ye same place where God hath so much blessed you, w[hi]ch act as it will bee a sweet smelling sacrifice to God, and exemplary to the world, so it will be most acceptable unto mee".  But this may have been a special case: Smith had prospered mightily as Bursar. Purnell, Magdalene College, 101-2; Magdalene History, 109-13 (David Hoyle).

[112] For this point, and its ethical implications, see the comment by Ronald Hyam: "it would of course today be thought an extremely dubious proceeding to meet essential running costs out of undergraduate pockets and their payments for meals. ... But it is hard to see what possible alternative there could have been if bankruptcy were to be averted." Magdalene History, 218.

[113] Magdalene College Magazine, March 1911, 173; December 1911, 24-5. The College had also appealed in 1847 for £2,000 (about £212,000 in 2021 purchasing power) for the restoration of the Chapel. This Appeal reportedly raised a "large sum", but several of the windows were repainted by amateur labour. Purnell, Magdalene College, 19-20.

[114] The Times, 7 May 1928; 22 September 1955.

[115] Askew-Robertson (Willie Agnew in his school days) "was not specially distinguished either in work or at games" at Eton, but was well known as the bugler in the school's Volunteer unit. He went on to New College at Oxford. He made a fortune on the Stock Exchange in the early 1920s, and became a benefactor both of his old school and of the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed (he had an estate nearby, at Ladykirk in the Borders). "His own tastes were of the simplest; and he was never happier than when he was living on an old barge at the mouth of the Thames", which he used as a base for shooting wildfowl.  Eton College Chronicle, 12 March 1942, 1296.

[116] Magdalene History, 305-6. I believe the table was the work of Dr Ronald Hyam.

[117] The total is 1,521, but it is possible that some of these did not come into residence. In earlier decades, some students had transferred ('migrated') from other colleges, but this practice seems to have ended by 1866. Although some students stayed on after graduation, there were no postgraduates in the modern sense, and no students admitted from other universities. The Magdalene community was slightly enlarged after 1900 by the election of Fellows from other colleges.

[118] Yerburgh's list included the Honourable Reginald Wentworth Fitzwilliam, 8th son (and 13th child) of Earl Fitzwilliam, and Lord Richard Nevill, 5th son of the Marquess of Abergavenny. "I was at Magdalene for a few years in Latimer Neville's time when I did nothing but hunt, play Polo & gamble," the latter recalled in 1910. "I knew more when I left Eton than after 3 years at Cambridge." Compelled to earn a living, he became private secretary first to a cabinet minister, and then to various colonial governors, finally taking charge of the households of the governors-general of Australia (1908-14) and Canada (1914-21). On the death of his father, in 1916, "Dicky" (as he was known in Australia) inherited £10,000, plus an annuity income of £600, possibly the continuation of an earlier allowance. Nor did he marry money: he died a bachelor in 1939. His estate was valued at £236 (plus ten shillings and sixpence): it is not clear whether this small sum reflected poverty in his later years or the shrewd allocation of his resources. No doubt, he enjoyed a comfortable life (it was even a surprisingly useful one). However, for all his undergraduate flamboyance, it seems he was hardly rich enough to endow a staircase. Magdalene College Archives, R. Neville to Donaldson, 5 December 1910; Sunday Times (Sydney), 18 June 1916 (via the National Library of Australia's Trove online newspaper archive); information from Gail Wood.

[119] Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., xxxi (1986-7), 24.

[120] Lubbock, ed., The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson, 74. For a 1913 view of the College's allegedly transformed indentity: "Magdalene, to which a few undergraduates straggled every winter to hunt ..., is now become a seat of learning and sound culture" C. Tennyson, Cambridge from Within (London, 1913), 9.

[121] The Magdalene Boat Club 1828 -1928, foreword.

[122] Turner, 63.

[123] Observer, 14 April 1929. Thomas Hardy, who died in 1928, was an Honorary Fellow who made Magdalene the residual beneficiary of part of his estate, but only if no university had been founded in Wessex within five years of his wife's death (which occurred in 1937). Oddly, this provision was not widely reported in the British press, but was picked up by newspapers in New Zealand: Western Gazette (Yeovil), 2 March 1928, and see the National Library of New Zealand website, PapersPast. Colleges have always preferred unrestricted gifts: the Earl of Suffolk advised Bursar Smith in 1636 that "it will be better for your own creditt to follow the example of former Benefactors, than to begin a new way of charitye, in clogging your guift with hard conditions or innovations". Magdalene History, 112.   

[124]  Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, 368. I am grateful to Alexandra Browne, archivist of Trinity Hall, for informing me of the amount. Trinity Hall's windfall came from Harold Thompson, an Etonian who was an undergraduate there in 1879-83. He might easily have come to Magdalene and, one hopes, enjoyed himself as much. C.S. Davison had originally planned to study at Trinity Hall. So had Samuel Pepys. Thompson's legacy was obliquely referred to in The Times, 12 February 1932, described (almost certainly by Ramsay, and in the hope of encouraging emulation) as "a fine example of that piety which through many centuries has enabled our ancient foundations to keep abreast of modern requirements."


[126] Yerburgh, 85-6.

[127] Purnell, Magdalene College, 196; The Times, 15, 16 February 1935: Benyon "was never carried away by impulsive ideas ... many a dull committee has been enlivened by his pungent and racy comments". Academics learned never to invite him to attend a meeting on the day of the Eton and Harrow cricket match. Magdalene marked his Chancellorship by making him an Honorary Fellow in 1928. In recent times, the University of Reading has named a student village in his honour.

[128] Magdalene College Magazine, June 1916, 36-7; June 1919, 172.

[129] Leslie Pym, the Association's treasurer, was the son of the colonial bishop to whom Lord Braybrooke had first offered the Mastership in 1904. A product of Bedford School, he was one of Benson's young men.  Magdalene History, 227. Leslie Pym has a small niche in British constitutional history. In 1939, he was elected MP for Monmouth, and successfully defended the seat at the 1945 general election. However, there was a 3-week delay between polling day and the counting of votes, to enable ballot boxes to reach Britain from overseas. Pym died in that interval, triggering an instant by-election, at which the future cabinet minister Peter Thorneycroft was elected. The Association's secretary, George Parker-Jervis, was by far the youngest of the listed names. Although he was a collateral descendant of Sir John Jervis, the victor (thanks to Nelson) of the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797, Parker-Jervis joined the Army on leaving Eton, and was mentioned in dispatches in 1917.  Part of the massive post-war influx into Magdalene, he achieved a remarkable combination of offices, President both of the College Boat and of the University's Amateur Dramatic Club. "No P.-J.", it was said, "no A.D.C." London Gazette, 30 March 1917, 3107; Magdalene College Magazine, March 1920, 51; June 1920, 89. The Magazine solemnly warned that "many young hopeful careers have been blighted by that most insidious and delightful activity of which he is the chiefest apostle in the College." In 1930, Parker-Jervis was co-author of the History of the Magdalene Boat Club, along with his contemporary F.R.F. Scott.

[130] The Times, 5 October 1929, 15 August 1930, 28 July 1931.

[131] In 1874, there were 81 students at Clare, 49 at Magdalene. The Student's Guide to the University of Cambridge (3rd ed., Cambridge, 1874), 451, 478; Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, iv: 1870-1990, 593-4, 63; Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, 342.

[132] Card, Eton Renewed, 154.

[133] Admissions were 195 (a thin year) in 1906, 224 in 1912. Between 1927 and 1933, the average number leaving each year was 211. Overall, the school had risen from 870 boys in 1884 to 1,045 in 1908. Card, Eton Renewed, 82, 130, 161.

[134] D. Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy (New Haven, Conn, 1990), 96-100.

[135] Unfortunately, Victorian Magdalene had not provided a welcoming environment for new money. Samuel Sproston, who joined the College in 1867, condemned the presence of "a few undergraduates, mostly sons of monied parvenus from the North of England" who "tried to liken themselves to country gentlemen, and succeeded in looking like stable-boys". Yerburgh, a decade later, recalled the Waller brothers, whom he described as sons of a London builder. They were "enormously rich and enormously vulgar …. No one would have anything to do with them in Magdalene". Despite importing expensive furniture from the London store, Maples, which arrived in a convoy of horse-drawn furniture vans, they did not stay long. Neither had been to public school. But a brief stay at  Eton did not enable George Alexander [known as Abington] Baird to overcome the disadvantage of being the grandson of an Aberdeen ironfounder. Despite "fabulous wealth", he "was always such a hopeless blackguard that he never got into any good set at College or into any decent Club, and in fact people would have nothing to do with him." The rumour that he was so mean he never tipped his bedmaker was probably a canard derived from his Scottish identity. He left Magdalene after two years, and his rooms were inherited by Martin (later Lord) Hawke. "I took over the rooms of Abingdon [sic] Blair, whom I had held down at Eton when he was swished for appearing at early school with his overcoat over his nightshirt…. They were comfortable rooms, and I venture to think that my tenure was more decorous than that of my lively predecessor."  Venn states that Baird was a noted amateur jockey. An extensive Wikipedia article (consulted 3 July 2021), evidently largely based on a 1980 biography by Richard Onslow, indicates that it was not merely snobbery that caused Baird's ostracism. Magdalene College Magazine, June 1910, 103; Yerburgh, 83-4; Lord Hawke, Recollections & Reminiscences (London, 1924), 34.

[136] Addison, Audley End, 205-6, 223-4. By the time of his death, in 1941, death duties had soared to 60 percent. In 1943, his elder son, the eighth Lord Braybrooke, was killed in Tunisia. Death duties were charged again, the State taking 84 percent of an uneconomic estate in less than two years. As the Honourable R.H.C. Neville, the eighth Baron had won an entrance scholarship to Magdalene, and achieved an upper second in Part I of the Classical Tripos in 1939.   He died about 40 miles from Carthage, close to the site of a battle in 536 won by the Byzantine general Belisarius. The Times, 19 June 1939.  In payment of death duties, Audley End passed to the State in 1948.

[137] However, Rockefeller had made an earlier benefaction, of £133,000 in 1923, conditional upon the University raising £31,000, which it obtained from a single donor. Nor was the academic community devoid of aggressive fundraisers. Sydney Cockerell, the "piratical" Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, laughingly described the spiral staircase leading to his office to an "oubliette", a lethal medieval dungeon, down which he threw people who declined to give him what he requested. Cornford identified one academic faction as the Adullamites [i.e. scientists] who "know what they want; and that is, all the money that is going." G.H.F. Nuttall, a Professorial Fellow of Magdalene, scored a lucky hit when he appealed in 1919 for financial support to establish an Institute for the study of parasitology. Praising Nuttall's work as "of the very greatest value to the Empire and particularly to Africa, where so many diseases are transmitted by and through parasites", P.A. Molteno, a wealthy South African businessman, and his wife donated £30,000, on condition that the University provided a site. Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, 296; Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, iv: 1870-1990, 460; Johnson, University Politics, 95;

[138] The Times, 2 October 1928.

[139] Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, 290. For the Rockefeller offer, Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, iv: 1870-1990, 381-6.

[140] The collective term "Heads of Houses" reflected the fact that the University's component units did not all call themselves colleges, and their chief executives were not all called Masters.

[141] In, I argue that the burden of the Vice-Chancellorship, at a time of structural reform in the University, would have been too much for Benson's fragile health.

[142] The Times, 6 December 1928. These donations were in support of agricultural research, which formed part of the Rockefeller grant.

[143] By the summer of 1930, Melchett's committee had raised £60,000. The Times, 2 October 1929, 6 June 1930. Melchett's energetic support was indeed noble: as an undergraduate at St John's, he had failed the Natural Sciences Tripos.

[144] The Times, 6 June 1930.

[145] Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, 296-7. The Press enjoyed (as it still does) the monopoly of printing the Authorized Version of the Bible. The funding that made possible the construction of the new University Library was backed by the profits from the sale of Holy Writ.

[146] Turner, 63; MCM88. The best account of the economies is by Ronald Hyam in Magdalene History, 251-2. Professor Peter Grubb, who lived in the Fellow's set on E staircase from 1963 to 1965, kindly informs me that his accommodation included a bathroom and central heating, amenities not then available to undergraduates. It is likely that these were installed during the original construction, as they would have been difficult to add later. The earlier and less grandiose Mallory Court project had included basic central heating. This may explain why the Kabaka of Buganda was given rooms in Mallory Court rather than in the grander Lutyens Building. As a student at Magdalene from 1945 to 1948, he was officially known as E.F. Mutesa, and popularly as King Freddie.

[147] Magdalene College Magazine, February 1933, in Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., liii (2008-9), Centenary Supplement, 14.

[148] The Times, 5 May, 20 October 1930.

[149] The Times, 5 February, 4 May 1931.

[150] The Times, 20 October 1931.

[151] Magdalene College Magazine, Spring 1932, in Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., liii (2008-9), Centenary Supplement, 14.

[152] The Times, 7 May 1932.

[153] Observer, 23 October 1932.

[154] The Times, 12 February, 7 May 1932. The visit by the Argentine students was probably arranged by Stephen Gaselee, Librarian of the Foreign Office and a supernumerary Fellow of Magdalene: The Times, 21 May 1932. The College had another connection with Argentina. In 1924, Magdalene received a gift of £150 from A.F. de Ledesma of Buenos Aires. Some of this was applied, at the donor's wish, to the purchase of plate for use in Hall, which suggests that he was an old member. The rest was applied to the erection of a fives court, presumably the one constructed soon afterwards in Mallory Court. Magdalene College Magazine, June 1924, 80.

[155] Magdalene College Magazine, February 1933, in Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., liii (2008-9), Centenary Supplement, 14.

[156] MCM80, 39.

[157] Bradley and Pevsner, Cambridgeshire: The Buildings of England, 153.

[158] Magdalene Described, 38.

[159] Turner, 63; R.C. Livesey (1946) in Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., xxxv (1990-1), 61. Coal was delivered to undergraduate rooms by rope-operated lifts (i.e. dumb-waiters). These were still functioning in the 1960s. The cellars later provided space for a gym.

[160] Bradley and Pevsner, Cambridgeshire: The Buildings of England, 153. Attribution of opinion to the individual authors is deduced from comparison with the original edition.

[161] MCM80, 38. See also Magdalene Described, 38. For Ronald Hyam's comparison with the Thiepval Memorial, Magdalene College Magazine, ns, lvi (2011-12), 51.

[162] The garish sodium bulb was first manufactured in the Netherlands in 1932, but did not spread along British main roads until after the Second World War.

[163] First Court is assumed to date from c.1470 to c.1585, and the Pepys Building from c.1677 to c.1699. In fact, nobody knows when work began on the latter. It is possible that it may date from 1640, when the Master, Henry Smyth, appealed to a bishop for a donation "towards some buildings in our Colledge (w[hi]ch is not now able to lodge with conveniency all students and members thereof)". The highly traditional and irregular features at the rear could even point to a 16th-century origin. Dendro-dating might throw some light on its construction. R. Willis and J.W. Clark, The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge (2 vols, Cambridge, 1886), ii, 366. For the 17th-century fund-raising campaign, see Magdalene History, 154-6 (Eamon Duffy). In 1679, a Fellow of Magdalene noted that building work had been delayed because "some of our benefactours" were "very slow in paying their subscriptions". Willis and Clark, ii, 367. 

[164] MCM80, 39. Roderick O'Donnell noted that Lutyens drew up 4 distinct schemes for Magdalene — and Lutyens was not a cheap architect. I am grateful to Dr Catherine Sutherland for information about the only plan that seems to have survived in the College Archives, apparently the 1930 revision. 

[165] Magdalene History, 252. The 3 staircases would have constituted a mini-Lutyens Building replacing the Pickerel alongside Magdalene Street, with a curious visual effect. Ronald Hyam, "Unbuilt Magdalene, 1928 to 1968: Architectural Images", lecture 2012.

[166] Purnell, Magdalene College, 1-10. Peter Cunich was able extend the story in Magdalene History, 1-30.

[167] Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., xliv (1999-2000), 82; Magdalene College Magazine, February 1933, in Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., liii (2008-9), Centenary Supplement, 14. Ronald Hyam has suggested that the Lutyens project was not finally abandoned until c.1950. Ronald Hyam, "Unbuilt Magdalene, 1928 to 1968: Architectural Images", lecture 2012. Lutyens had died in 1944: Hyam regrets that he was "thoroughly mucked about by the College" for ten years of life. One assumes he was paid well.   

[168] Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., xxxvii (1992-3), 29 (4 July 1956).

[169] Bradley and Pevsner, Cambridgeshire: The Buildings of England, 39, 154.

[170] Magdalene Described, 36. Silver Street bridge was also based on a design by Lutyens, but constructed after his death.

[171] We need not, however, echo Clemenceau in predicting that it will make Magdalene's finest ruin.

[172] Magdalene History, 252.

[173] Ramsay argued for the name Dunster Court. After 3 centuries of ignoring Henry Dunster, the founder of Harvard, Magdalene was waking up to the idea that there might be a pot of gold at the Massachusetts end of the rainbow. This positive attitude had not always been the case. In 1866, the Reverend Edward Dodd, a Fellow of Magdalene, had condemned Massachusetts as "a pragmatical little State, which by its literary influences has done more than perhaps any other State in the Union, to soak a continent with blood":

[174] Ramsay retired to Malvern, where he taught Latin to small boys in a preparatory school. He died in 1955. Brooke's statement that "Ramsay died during the Second World War" and was succeeded by "Lord Willink" is a curious, if happily rare, error. Brooke, A History of the University of Cambridge, iv: 1870-1990, 46.

[175] Viscount Ennismore, son of the Earl of Listowel, was sent to Ramsay's Magdalene specifically to cure him of radical ideas picked up at Balliol. He was elected to the Union Committee, and insisted on being addressed as Mr Hare. He read English, and went on to complete a PhD in aesthetics at the University of London. Although disinherited by his father, he could not be prevented from succeeding to the earldom and a seat in the House of Lords. Listowel became Secretary of State for India in 1945, although Mountbatten and Attlee controlled the timetable for British withdrawal. His part was to ensure that the necessary legislation was not impeded in the Lords, which under the 1911 Parliament Act retained the right of delay for up to two years. He managed to write his Magdalene experience out of his biography (e.g. omitting it from Who's Who): in the 1960s it was believed that the College had produced no cabinet minister between Lord Glenelg, of whom it was said that the problems of Canada in the 1830s caused him many a sleepless day, and Selwyn Lloyd, Foreign Secretary at the time of Suez in 1956. The Times, 30 November 1927, 13 March 1997; George Ireland, "Hare, William Francis, fifth earl of Listowel (1906–1997)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[176] Of course, it does not follow that a building will fail simply because it was intended to form part of a larger scheme. King's College Chapel was planned as one side of a quadrangle.

[177] Steegmann, Cambridge, 108. As Farey's watercolours demonstrate, the original Lutyens design of 1927-8 did include a focal feature half way along the west range, a monumental arch giving access to Bin Brook. 

[178] As Roderick O'Donnell pointed out (MCM88, 33), Lutyens was designing flats for Westminster City Council at the same time. Historic England praises his Vincent Street building as an "imaginative Lutyens treatment of a standard L.C.C. type of housing block". Google Street View suggests that its distinctive black-and-white chequerboard decoration has not aged happily. Apart from its emphatic doorcases, the Westminster project has little in common with his work for Magdalene:

[179] Magdalene Described, 41, is unexpectedly muted in its enthusiasm for Buckingham Court.

[180] Manchester Guardian, 10 December 1931.

[181] Frederick Towndrow in Observer, 23 October 1932. 'Jacobumpkin' presumably owed its origin to the portmanteau term 'Jacobethan', which the Oxford English Dictionary attributes to John Betjeman in his 1933 book, Ghastly Good Taste. In fact, a choir called Jacobethan Singers (sometimes hyphenated) had been performing since 1929, and The Times (12 May 1931) had used it in relation to design. Towndrow edited the magazine Architectural Design, where it was perhaps also used. 'Jacobumpkin' did not catch on. Lutyens himself coined an alternative term for a hybrid historical style, 'Wrenaissance'.

[182] Steegmann, Cambridge, 108. Steegmann, a former student of King's, was an assistant keeper at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and later Director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The Times, 16 April 1966.

[183] Stephen Gaselee:

[184] This would have been a blatant fib: Benson showed little interest in the Cam.

[185] Magdalene College Magazine, February 1933, in Magdalene College Magazine, n.s., liii (2008-9), Centenary Supplement, 14.

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