History in Structure

Fitzwilliam Museum and boundary wall, plinths and gates to the north-east

A Grade I Listed Building in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.1996 / 52°11'58"N

Longitude: 0.1197 / 0°7'10"E

OS Eastings: 544964

OS Northings: 257820

OS Grid: TL449578

Mapcode National: GBR L7H.12L

Mapcode Global: VHHK3.1Z46

Plus Code: 9F4254X9+RV

Entry Name: Fitzwilliam Museum and boundary wall, plinths and gates to the north-east

Listing Date: 26 April 1950

Last Amended: 29 September 2017

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1126276

English Heritage Legacy ID: 47298

Also known as: Fitzwilliam Museum

ID on this website: 101126276

Location: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2

County: Cambridgeshire

District: Cambridge

Electoral Ward/Division: Market

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Cambridge

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Cambridge St Mary the Less

Church of England Diocese: Ely

Tagged with: Museum building

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Museum, now known as the Founder’s Building, built in 1837-1843 to the designs of George Basevi and completed by Charles Robert Cockerell, with further internal work carried out in 1875 by Edward Middleton Barry. Extensions to the south-east added in 1921-1936 by Smith and Brewer, and Atkinson and Partners in 1955.


Museum, now known as the Founder’s Building, built in 1837-1843 to the designs of George Basevi and completed by Charles Robert Cockerell, with further internal work carried out in 1875 by Edward Middleton Barry. Extensions to the south-east added in 1921-1936 by Smith and Brewer, and Atkinson and Partners in 1955.

MATERIALS: brown brick faced in finely jointed Portland stone with stone dressings.

PLAN: the Museum occupies a large site facing north-east onto Trumpington Street. The Founder’s Building, at the north-west end of the site, has a rectangular plan with the principal entrance on the north-east side. On its south-east side the long linear Marlay Galleries, added by Smith and Brewer in 1921-1924, link up to the courtyard which has an evolved plan. The north-west, north-east and part of the south-west sides, known as the Courtauld Galleries, were added by Smith and Brewer in 1926-1931. The single-storey extension alongside the north-east side, known as the Henderson Gallery, was built in 1936. The small rectangular Coin Room (also known as the McLean Room) was added in 1921-24 in the corner between the Marlay Galleries and the north-west side of the courtyard; and the Manuscript Room was added above in 1925-26. Adjoining this, along the north-west side, is the long extension built by Atkinson and Partners in 1955.

The southern end of the south-west side of the courtyard is occupied by the square extension built in 1963-1965 by David Roberts who also designed the south-east side, built 1973-1975, which created an internal courtyard space and an additional entrance on the north-east side. An external passage, rebuilt in 1975, links this extension to Grove Lodge. The courtyard has a glazed infill extension by John Miller and Partners 2002-2004. The David Roberts extensions, external linking passage to Grove Lodge, and the early C21 infill are all excluded from the listing.

EXTERIOR: the two-storey Founder’s Building is in an enriched neo-Roman style in the Corinthian order. The principal north-east elevation has a colonnade of thirteen bays flanked by narrow pavilions and with the centre columns brought forward to form an octostyle portico under a pediment. The portico is approached by a flight of steps bounded by pedestals projecting from the moulded podium supporting the colonnade and pavilions. The entablature has enriched modillions and carved lions' heads and is continued round the whole building. The tympanum of the pediment is carved in high relief with the nine Muses, Pegasus and the Hippocrene fountain with an attendant nymph, after Eastlake's designs; on the acroteria on the lower extremities of the pediment are carved seated chimaerae. The walls of the staircase-hall continue up behind the portico to form an attic, with bracketed cornice and blocking-course; elsewhere the building has a panelled parapet wall divided into bays by pedestal-like projections.

The pavilions have fluted Corinthian pilasters at the angles, spaced as the bays of the colonnade, framing a half-domed niche which rises from a string enriched with guilloche-ornament; below the string is a panelled dado and above the niche a square panel containing a wreath; between the capitals of the pilasters are carved chimaerae facing a candelabrum. The return-fronts of the pavilions are wider than their street-fronts, with angle pilasters and two square attached fluted Corinthian columns in the centre framing an opening the full height of the order; steps flanked by carved lions on pedestals lead up to these secondary porticos and give lateral access to the colonnade. The back wall of the colonnade is divided into five bays by plain round attached columns and fluted pilasters, and is recessed in the three bays behind the main portico. In the centre bay is the main entrance doorway with side-pilasters with capitals carved with acanthus foliage, an entablature with enriched cornice and frieze inscribed 'Munificentia Ricardi Vicecomitis Fitzwilliam A.D. MDCCCXVI' in Roman capitals, and a semicircular tympanum above carved in low relief with Phoebus in his chariot. The main doors are of bronze in two hinged and panelled leaves with framing enriched with Greek frets. Flanking the main entrance door are two original pedestals. The side bays contain plain round-headed niches above a string decorated with guilloche-ornament and the end bays have continuous panels of carved acanthus foliage between the capitals of the order. In rectangular openings below the niches flanking the door are bronze grilles decorated with pierced net-pattern and acanthus foliage, designed by E M Barry in 1872–1875.

The elaborate plasterwork of the portico and colonnade was carried out by Nicholl, probably in 1842. The portico has a plaster frieze of scrolled foliage with putti, and the ceiling is divided into twenty-one deeply sunk coffers by beams enriched with plaster leaves, fruit, flowers and guilloche-ornament. The coffers are similarly enriched with egg-and-dart and Greek fret-ornament and with a large open flower in the centre of each. The ceilings of the colonnade are more simply coffered. The treatment of the interior of the pavilions is generally similar to that of the portico and colonnade.

The south-west front is divided into a wide centre and two narrower flanking bays by coupled fluted Corinthian pilasters on moulded plinths; the main entablature breaks forward over the pilasters. The windows on the ground floor are uniform in detail; the middle window is of three lights divided and flanked by pilasters with acanthus caps and an entablature pedimented over the centre light; to each side is a single-light pedimented window, and the window in each flanking bay is again tripartite but with some blocking. On the upper floor are five shallow round-headed niches above a string enriched with guilloche-ornament.

The north-west and south-east fronts are similar, but the latter is now partly covered by later buildings; each has at one end the return of the front pavilion and at the other coupled fluted Corinthian pilasters. The three three-light windows on the ground floor and niches on the floor above are similar to those of the south-west front.

To the left of the Founder’s Building is the seven-bay Marlay Wing (1921-24) in a stripped neo-Classical style. It gives the appearance of being one-storey but the upper level gallery is lit by a glazed roof hidden behind the parapet. The tall multi-paned windows have metal glazing bars and are set in slightly projecting architraves with wide sills and narrow dentilled lintels. The cast-iron downpipes have hoppers bearing the ornate initial ‘M’ for Marlay and the date of 1922. The rear (south-west) elevation is similar except the fenestration consists of five small windows in simple moulded surrounds with wide stone sills. The last two bays are covered by the two-storey Coin and Manuscript Rooms (1921-1926) which have a plain string running at first-floor sill level and plain stone cornice. The recessed windows have metal glazing bars in plain surrounds and retain external metal blinds.

To the left of the Marlay Gallery is the north-east side of the courtyard, housing the two-storey Courtauld Galleries (1926-1931), which are also in a stripped neo-Classical style. They are dominated by a double-height pavilion lit by a tall, recessed, round-arched window with metal glazing bars which radiate at the top. This is set in a round-arched surround of two plain orders with voussoirs and an elongated keystone that extends upwards to the architrave. The window is flanked by square, panelled pilasters and square corner pilasters, followed by another pair of recessed corner pilasters, all on plain bases which are supported by a continuous plinth. The entablature has a plain frieze and a dentilled cornice, surmounted by a shallow unadorned pediment. The entablature continues around the return-walls. On the right return-wall is the side of the pavilion which has a round-headed niche flanked by square, panelled corner pilasters. This is followed by two ground-floor windows in the same style as those on the Marlay Wing. The cast-iron hoppers bear the initial ‘C’ for Courtauld. The left return-wall is obscured by the single-storey, four-bay Henderson Gallery (1936) which has a shallow plinth and a parapet enriched with a rectangular form of egg-and-dart. The windows are similar to those already described, and retain their external metal roller blinds. Rising behind the Henderson Gallery is the entablature of the Courtauld Wing. The rear (south-west) elevations have a plain string running at first-floor sill level and plain stone cornice. The fenestration consists of recessed windows with metal glazing bars in plain surrounds, mostly vertical but with some horizontal windows on the upper floor. Some have external metal blinds and others have security bars.

INTERIOR: in the Founder’s Building, the mezzanine-level staircase hall extends up to roof height and has two flights of ascending and descending stairs, around which a set of five galleries are arranged on each floor. Below the portico and staircase hall are a series of rooms, some barrel-vaulted, originally designed as stores and service rooms but enlarged and remodelled in the 1990s to provide offices, workrooms and WCs.

The design for the staircase-hall was modified by both the architects employed on the building after Basevi and the extent of the work of each is only broadly definable. It now consists of a central stairwell with two flanking flights of stairs rising to a balustraded landing which returns round the two sides of the hall to form balconies. These are separated from the stair-well by open screens of composite columns and square attached columns, each of three bays; the columns and their responds on the walls behind the screens support lintels from which rise semicircular barrel-vaults with their outer ends pierced to form lunettes providing clerestorey lighting from the sides. Over the stairwell is a large circular lantern with Hermes figures against the drum and a balustraded walk. The marble doorcase of the entrance to the main gallery at the head of the stairs has flanking caryatides modelled upon those of the Erechtheion supporting an enriched architrave and cornice. The doors to the side galleries are plainer but have elaborate cartouches above containing the arms of the University against a pedimented backing. On the upper level around the entire hall there are twelve niches with small flanking Ionic columns and curved pedimented entablatures. Below the balconies secondary flights of stairs lead down to the lower galleries. The floors are laid with elaborate tesselated pavements based upon Roman models. A wide variety of marble and polished stone was used in the internal decoration by Cockerell, but important changes in the colour scheme, notably the predominance of red, were made by Barry.
On the ground floor Basevi specified the style of the lower rooms to be Grecian Doric. The gallery in the north-east corner, known as the Gayer-Anderson Room, has a plaster cornice and panelled ceiling. The gallery in the north-west corner, is divided into three bays by square panelled Roman Doric columns on pedestals supporting a trabeated plaster ceiling with the arms of the University in a wreath in the centre and guilloche-enriched panels in the end bays. The middle, long south-west gallery is divided in length and width into three bays by fluted Roman Doric columns and panelled pilasters on low pedestals supporting an enriched trabeated ceiling; in the ceiling-panels down the centre of the room and contained within wreaths of bay leaves are the arms of the University and Fitzwilliam. The smaller south-west gallery is generally similar to the north-west gallery but with modern openings into the new extension. The windows have panelled soffits and jambs.

The fittings of the Library, which occupies the south-east side, were designed by Cockerell in 1846. The three internal walls are lined from floor to ceiling with oak bookcases, and there are projecting bookcases along the north-west wall with panelled ends and enriched cornices returned across the same wall; above cornice-level the wall-cases are recessed and divided into bays by panelled pilasters spaced to coincide with the projecting bookcases below. The external wall is lined with oak panelling, with fluted columns flanking the windows and panelled pilasters between the window-lights. The white marble fireplace has scrolled side-brackets supporting a moulded shelf and the steel grate has applied brass enrichments. Above is a mirror in a gilt frame surmounted by a carved cartouche with the Fitzwilliam arms, scroll-work and a coronet under a segmental head; the whole is flanked by panelled pilasters supporting an enriched pedimented entablature.

On the first floor, Gallery I has a dado of scagliola marble and the walls are each divided into three bays by panelled composite pilasters supporting plastered ceiling-beams with enriched soffits. It is lit by three glazed domes with shallow moulded plaster drums enriched with foliage and female masks. In the north-east wall is a panelled apsidal recess with plaster enrichment of banded garlands of leaves, fruit and flowers over the archivolt of the semi-dome.

Gallery II has scagliola doorways and dado and panelled scagliola pilasters with caps carved with honeysuckle and acanthus supporting arches with scroll-work on the soffits. The dome has panelled pendentives and a plaster Medusa-head in the centre of the lantern above. The north-east doorway has a lugged architrave and flanking pilaster-strips and consoles supporting an entablature with laurel-leaf frieze. The south-east doorway has panelled side-pilasters with enriched caps supporting a semicircular over-door with plain plaster tympanum.

Gallery III, known as the Founder’s Gallery, was altered in 1932 by the insertion of bulkheads to form display-bays and a narrow wall-gallery above; around the cornice is a plaster-cast of the Parthenon frieze, bought on Basevi's recommendation from the Trustees of the British Museum in 1837. The plaster ceiling is original and of much elaboration, consisting of a deep cove rising to a long rectangular lantern; the cove has a network of diagonal panelling divided into bays by vertical bands enriched with spirals of acanthus foliage, the corner bays containing amphorae and foliage. The lights in the vertical side-walls of the lantern are divided by enriched pilasters with winged figures on pedestals in front and, in the corners of the lantern, standing plaster candelabra. The roof of the lantern is panelled and coffered and has three small domed lights with enriched pendentives.

Galleries IV and V are generally similar to Galleries I and II respectively. Gallery IV has a modern opening to the Marlay Gallery.

In the Marlay Wing, the Lower Gallery has an unadorned coffered ceiling and woodblock floor laid in herringbone with a limestone margin around the edge. The oak panelled doors are set in doorcases of polished, buff-coloured marble. A semi-circular niche is positioned in between the two doors at the south-east end. The bras-framed display cases along the north-east and south-west walls are original, as are the lattice heater grilles below the windows. In the Upper Gallery, the coffered ceiling has a clerestorey of sloping windows which allows light to enter at an angle most suitable for illuminating paintings. The gallery is divided into three by projecting bays with brass-framed display cases on timber brackets. The walls are covered in the original Japanese gold hessian wallpaper. The skirting boards, narrow floor boards and lattice heater grilles are all of oak. At the south-east end of the Marlay Galleries, the Coin Room and Manuscript Room are lined with fitted oak bookcases which have cupboards below dado height.

In the Courtauld Galleries the ground-floor galleries are similarly detailed with woodblock floors laid in herringbone; polished, buff-coloured marble doorcases; brass-framed display cabinets; and hessian wall coverings. The coffered ceilings have varying levels of enrichment: some are plain whilst others have delicate classical detailing, including egg-and-dart and bead-and-reel. The Henderson Gallery, along the north-east side, is clad in ‘Black Bean’ plywood. The Art Deco Imperial staircase in the north corner, lit by the large semicircular window in the pavilion, has travertine-lined walls and Portland stone steps with brass handrails. The apsidal ends create an oval ceiling with a dentilled cornice. At the top of the staircase are metal balustrades formed of uprights and diagonal crosses, and a screen consisting of four pairs of polished, buff-coloured marble columns with Egyptian-style capitals.

The first-floor galleries also have a hessian wall covering and oak skirting boards but the floors are laid in narrow oak boards and the doorcases are of polished travertine. Some of the galleries have coffered ceilings with subtle classical detailing, and all are top-lit by angled windows. The long north-west gallery is divided into three by projecting tapered bays with brass-framed display cabinets on the end sections. The Charrington Print Room on the north-east side has a coved ceiling lit by three rooflights and plywood-lined walls which retain built-in cupboards with mesh and brass lattice strips. The adjoining private office is lined with built-in bookcases and cupboards. The Graham Robertson Room, on the north-west side, also retains the original built-in bookcases and reception desk, both with a zebrawood veneer.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the boundary wall of the site to Trumpington Street has stone balustrading on a moulded plinth divided into bays by pedestals and protected on the outer face by chevaux-de-frise on scrolled cast-iron brackets. The pedestals flanking the gates are larger than the others and the two centre pairs have wreaths carved on the dies; the whole is of 1841–1842.


The history of the Fitzwilliam Museum is well documented in Lucilla Burn, The Fitzwilliam Museum: A History (2016), An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of Cambridge (RCHME, 1959), the Conservation Management Plan (Cambridge Architectural Practice, second draft, 2007), and other sources, notably Fitzwilliam Museum and Grove Lodge, University of Cambridge: A Chronology of Building Campaigns 1795-2004 (Julian Harrap Architects). A summary of the building’s history only is given here.

In 1815 Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, a graduate of the University of Cambridge and one of the leading collectors of his generation, bequeathed to the University his collection of pictures, books, prints etc together with £100,000 for a suitable building in which to house them. After his death the following year, the collections were exhibited first in the Perse Grammar School and from 1842 in the University Library until the permanent museum was built. The present site on Trumpington Street was purchased from Peterhouse in 1821 for the sum of £8,500 but it was not until 1834, when the site was due to be out of lease, that an architectural competition for the new museum could be held. Thirty-six designs by twenty-seven architects were submitted in both Gothic and Classical styles, and the winner was a neo-Roman design by George Basevi (1794-1845), a former pupil of Sir John Soane. During a three-year tour of Italy and Greece, Basevi studied the architecture of every age from Ancient Greece to the High Renaissance, and although he could turn his hand to Gothic and Tudor buildings when required, it was as a Classical architect that he made his mark. He was responsible for work at numerous country houses, churches in Stockport and Greenwich, and for the development at Belgrave Square and other estates in Kensington and Chelsea. By the time he won the competition to design the Fitzwilliam Museum, Basevi was established as one of the leading architects in England. He is associated with over forty buildings on the List, some of which are highly graded.

The first stone of the Fitzwilliam Museum, now known as the Founder’s Building, was laid in 1837. The contractor was George Baker of London, and William Grinsell Nicholl was employed for the sculptural work, including the column and pilaster capitals, and later the pairs of guardian lions and the composition in the pediment which was designed by Charles Eastlake. The exterior was finished by 1843 and the following year Basevi was authorised to proceed with the decoration of the interior but he was killed in an accident at Ely Cathedral in 1845. Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), who had recently completed the construction of the new University Library, was appointed to succeed him. Cockerell was a distinguished classical archaeologist and one of the most respected architects of his day. Amongst his most important surviving works are the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and the branch Bank of England in Liverpool, both listed at Grade I. Cockerell made few alterations to his predecessor’s designs at the Fitzwilliam, the most notable being the substitution of the central lantern over the staircase-hall for the three domes Basevi had planned. As the staircase arrangement had not been settled before Basevi’s death, Cockerell decided upon one central ascending staircase flanked by two descending staircases. He designed the interior of the Founder’s Library and the railings on Trumpington Street. The galleries were completed and most of the decoration of the hall ceiling was finished by 1848 when work was suspended due to lack of funds, leaving the walls of the staircase-hall in bare brick. The collections were moved in and the Museum opened in Spring 1848. It was not until 1870 that a proposal was made to complete the staircase-hall, and the following year Edward Middleton Barry was appointed architect. His designs for the rearrangement of the staircase, the enlargement of the central lantern, the enrichment of the decoration, and the general predominance of red in the colouring were approved, and the work was completed in 1875. The total cost of the Founder’s Building was £114,942.

The first extension to the Fitzwilliam took place under Sydney Cockerell, the Museum’s dynamic Director from 1908 to 1937. He oversaw the bequest of Charles Brinsley Marlay, a noted art collector and connoisseur, who also left £90,000 for a new building to house his vast collection. In 1914 the adjacent site of Grove Lodge (Grade II) was purchased from Peterhouse for £12,000 and the London-based architect Arnold Dunbar Smith (1866-1933) and his partner Cecil Brewer (1871-1918) were commissioned for the extension. Their design for the Arts and Crafts Mary Ward Settlement building in Bloomsbury (1895, Grade II) had been an early success, followed by mostly domestic work until they won the competition for the National Museum of Wales in1910 which directly helped them to get the Fitzwilliam commission. The practice has numerous listed buildings, some at high grade, such as the extension to the Grade II* listed Heal’s shop in Tottenham Court Road (1912-1916). Their initial plan at the Fitzwilliam was for a narrow connecting gallery that would run southwards from the Founder’s Building to join a large open quadrangle, more than doubling the floor space of the Museum and involving the demolition of Grove Lodge. Construction was delayed by the First World War and by the time the project could be taken up again in 1920, the costs had tripled and there was only enough money to build the connecting wing, known as the Marlay Galleries, and a single-storey Coin Room called the McLean Room. Building work was carried out by William Sindall between 1921 and 1924, and the Manuscript Room was subsequently built above the Coin Room in 1925-1926. The connecting wing required Smith and Brewer to make new openings on the ground and first floors of the Founder’s Building, and they also inserted a display balcony around the perimeter of the Founder’s Gallery supported by projecting tapered bulkheads. Additional funds from the Courtauld family enabled the construction of the north-west and north-east sides of the courtyard and the first few bays of the south-west side. Construction started in 1926 and the extension opened in 1931. In 1933 further funds allowed for an extension of the north-east side to be built which opened as the Henderson Gallery in 1936.

In 1952 it was still anticipated that Smith and Brewer’s 1914 courtyard scheme would eventually be completed but a different plan was subsequently proposed and adopted. In 1955 Robert Atkinson and Partners built the Graham Robertson Room alongside the Coin Room and over the 1920s boiler house. Then David Wyn Roberts (1911-1982), who designed the linking passage between the Henderson Wing and Grove Lodge in 1958, was asked to design the new extension. In 1962 his scheme for three interlocking cubic buildings adjoining the unfinished west wing of the courtyard was approved, and the first cube was built in 1963-1965, becoming known as the White Cube. Another extension was planned in 1970 but instead of completing the series of cubic buildings, Roberts and his partner Geoffrey Clarke designed a brick wing that would fully enclose the Smith and Brewer courtyard on the south-east side. Building work started in 1973 and the wing was opened in 1975.

In 2002-2004 the internal courtyard was infilled by John Miller and Partners who created a new café and shop within a glazed atrium, and offices and workshops projecting into the courtyard at mezzanine level, along with a new gallery at first-floor level. At the same time, the1970s extension was extensively refurbished, its north-west wall removed, and a new glazed porch added to the public entrance.

Reasons for Listing

The Fitzwilliam Museum, built in 1837-1843 to the designs of George Basevi and completed by Charles Robert Cockerell, with extensions to the south-east added in 1921-1936 by Smith and Brewer, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* Basevi and Cockerell were both leading architects of their time, and the Fitzwilliam is one of the major works of the Early Victorian period, exemplifying the move away from the sobriety of neo-Greek architecture to a more dynamic composition and opulent display of neo-Roman detailing;
* the grand elevations, clad in exquisitely laid Portland stone, are embellished with applied sculptural art of the highest order;
* the superior quality of materials is continued in the monumental public space of the staircase hall and galleries which are meticulously detailed and richly appointed;
* the stripped classicism of the Marlay Wing and Courtauld Galleries harmonise well with the Founder’s Building, the restrained internal treatment of the galleries and elegant stair achieving a quiet distinction whilst the top side-lit galleries are a significant and successful element in their design.

Historic interest:

* its founding was part of the movement to establish public art galleries in England, and it continues to play an important role in the rich cultural life of the country.

Group value:

* it has strong group value with many surrounding listed buildings, notably the Grade II listed Grove Lodge to the south-east and the Grade I listed Peterhouse College to the north-west.

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