History in Structure

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Botany Building, University of Cambridge

A Grade II Listed Building in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

We don't have any photos of this building yet. Why don't you be the first to send us one?

Upload Photo »

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »


Latitude: 52.2024 / 52°12'8"N

Longitude: 0.1217 / 0°7'18"E

OS Eastings: 545089

OS Northings: 258140

OS Grid: TL450581

Mapcode National: GBR L79.TVG

Mapcode Global: VHHK3.2X50

Plus Code: 9F42642C+XM

Entry Name: Botany Building, University of Cambridge

Listing Date: 10 July 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1446109

Location: Market, 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

Tagged with: University building

Find accommodation in


University department building, built 1901-1904 for the School of Botany, University of Cambridge, to the designs of W C Marshall, extended in 1933-1934 to the designs of T A Lodge.


University department building, built 1901-4 for the School of Botany, University of Cambridge, to the designs of W C Marshall, extended in 1933-4 to the designs of T A Lodge.

MATERIALS: Plum coloured brick walls, red brick quoins, Clipsham limestone dressings, and clay tile roof.

PLAN: Rectangular in plan, laid out on an east-west axis. M-profile hipped roofs.

EXTERIOR: The 1904 building has a three-storey elevation over a basement, facing north to the quadrangle enclosed by the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, former Squire Law Library and Law School, and Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The north elevation has a symmetrical seventeen-bay elevation, the central five bays of which break forward. The walls are constructed of plum coloured brick with Clipsham limestone dressings, a continuous stringcourse over the ground floor, and a continuous dentilled eaves course. The central five bays have ashlar limestone to the ground floor, giant Corinthian engaged pilasters spanning the first and second floors, and a segmental pediment over the central three bays. The windows throughout the building have limestone surrounds, transoms and mullions, and leaded lights. Segmental-headed dormer windows were added to the hipped roofs of the 1904 building in the early C21. The two entrances on the north elevation have ornate carved limestone door surrounds, with a large oeil-de-boeuf window over a double-leaf timber panelled door, approached by seven steps. Two wall mounted cast-iron lamps hang to the side of the entrances, and were most likely added in the early C20. A ramp was added to the west side of the north elevation in the late C20, flanked by brown brick walls and metal handrails. The rear (south) elevation is also constructed of plum coloured brick with limestone window dressings, stringcourse and eaves course. The windows of the rear elevation are a variety of sizes, and as a result, appears less coherent than the front (north) elevation. Two single-storey lean-to service buildings were added in the late C20. The east elevation has three bays, with a projecting lean-to greenhouse on iron stilts to the centre bay of the first floor (appears in historic photographs and may be original or has been renewed). A helix fire escape was added to the east elevation in the late C20, and a door opening was introduced to the central bay of the ground floor in the early C21, with a modern timber door and steps with metal railings.

The 1933-1934 extension to the west end of the 1904 building comprises a five-bay four-storey elevation over a basement. The flat roof was replaced by a mansard roof in the late C20, which saw the addition of an attic storey. Unlike the 1904 building which faces north into the quadrangle, the primary entrance of the 1933-1934 extension is on its south elevation, off Tennis Court Road. The walls are constructed of brown brick with a continuous, limestone sill course to the third floor windows, and a continuous, limestone band to the former parapet, now under the mansard roof. The front (south) elevation has a limestone surround spanning the central bay of the ground, first and second floors, with a decorative keystone over the second floor, recessed tripartite windows with limestone mullions to the first and second floors, and a square-headed door opening to the ground floor, containing double-leaf, timber panelled doors approached by four steps. The windows are metal framed casements throughout. The west elevation to Tennis Court Road also has five bays, with a limestone surround to the first and second floor windows of the central bay, and a continuous sill course to the third floor windows.

INTERIOR: The ground floor of the 1904 building has two main entrances from the north, providing access to the former museum at the east end (converted to a laboratory in the C20), a canted lecture theatre at the centre of the building, and the former herbarium at the west end (converted to a library in the mid C20). The two entrance halls, stair halls and corridor to the rear of the lecture theatre, each retain original mosaic tiling. The west wall of the west entrance hall has been opened up to allow space for a reception kiosk (introduced in the late C20). The lecture theatre survives particularly well, with original half-glazed doors from the entrance halls, plain but original timber panelling to the walls, two foliated supports, and original canted benches. The lectern, lights and parquet floors have been replaced. To the rear of the lecture theatre, two staircases provide access to the upper floors: the western staircase is wider than the east and both stairs are formed of stone steps, cast- and wrought-iron balusters and a timber handrail. The stairwells of the east and west stairs were infilled by a ventilation shaft and a lift respectively in the late C20. The plan form of the first floor survives relatively intact, with some original half-glazed doors and overlights, and the structural steel supports are exposed on the first-floor corridor.

At the west end of the building, the 1933-1934 extension retains a high proportion of its original terrazzo and parquet floors, stairs, lifts and doors. Inside the main entrance (from the south), an original lobby door surround survives with a margined overlight (a new lobby door was introduced to the interior in the early C21). The entrance hall and stair hall retain original terrazzo floors, with parquet floors and terrazzo steps on each upper level, and the stairs retain a plain but well-designed, wrought iron balustrade with timber handrail. The original goods lift, lift furniture and accompanying cupboard (possibly a telephone booth) survive on the west wall of each floor. The double-leaf glazed doors between the 1904 building and 1933-1934 extension have been renewed for fire safety reasons.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The 1933-1934 extension of the School of Botany was connected to the Archaeology Building in 1991-1994 by the insertion of the West Building by Casson Condor Partnership (not included in this listing).


The development of the University of Cambridge’s Downing Site began at the turn of the C20 after land was purchased from Downing College to relieve the growing congestion on the neighbouring New Museums Site. Following the introduction of the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1848, which formalised the teaching of science within the University, coupled with the findings of the Royal Commission on the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, whose report of 1852 stressed the need for additional space for lecture rooms and museums, the University began to erect new facilities on the site of its former Botanic Garden on the north side of Pembroke Street and Downing Street. The New Museums Site, as it came to be known, was inaugurated in 1865 with the opening of ‘Salvin’s Building’, containing museums for Zoology, Botany and Mineralogy, along with a scientific library and a collection of instruments. A subsequent sequence of Royal Commission reports on scientific instruction then went further and advocated the development of purpose built laboratories for teaching and experiment. This resulted in facilities for physics (Cavendish Laboratory) in 1874, chemistry in 1888-9, physiology in 1891, and engineering in 1891. By the end of the C19 it was clear that science would continue to expand at Cambridge, but the problem of space on the New Museums Site was becoming acute, especially as new laboratories required ever more space, natural light, and relative seclusion for the accurate use of microscopes and instruments. In 1895, somewhat fortunately, the University discovered that Downing College was willing to sell unused land at the northern end of its site, abutting Downing Street, and lying immediately to the south-east of the New Museums Site. The University subsequently paid £15,000 for the first two acres at the north end of the site in 1896, £5,000 for a strip of land to the south of this in 1897, and then about £25,000 for the last 6¼ acres in 1902. The Downing Site was gradually filled with a miscellany of buildings to house a great variety of scientific subjects, including the School of Botany, built in 1901-4 by WC Marshall, and extended in 1933-4 by TA Lodge.

The most important development in late-C19 botany had been experimental plant physiology; the world leader of this research programme was Julius Sachs, whose laboratory at Würzburg was visited by members of the Cambridge Botany School including Marshall Ward, Francis Darwin and Sidney Vines, who set up a plant physiology laboratory on the New Museums Site in the 1870s. Harry Marshall Ward (1854-1906) was elected to the position of Chair of Botany at Cambridge in 1895, and was a member of the Site Syndicate set up by the University in 1896 to find a solution to the increasing need for accommodation for the sciences, and the acquisition of land to the south of Downing Street (now the Downing Site). Marshall Ward’s efforts were rewarded in 1900 by the University agreeing to fund a new building for Botany at a cost of over £25,000. Designed by William Cecil Marshall (1849-1921), of the London architects Marshall and Vickers, it was to be situated on the Downing Site opposite the main gate, forming the south side of a quadrangle with the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences (1899-1904), the former Squire Law Library and Law School (1901-5), and later, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (1910-15). The latter three buildings were all separate commissions and designed by Sir T G Jackson, who also designed the Psychology and Physiology laboratories on the Downing Site (1911-14). Marshall and Jackson erected their buildings simultaneously and employed the same Clerk of Works. The Sedgwick Museum, the Botany School and the Squire Law building, together with the Humphry School of Medicine on the north side of Downing Street, were formally opened by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra on 1 March 1904, the news of which was covered in the 'Illustrated London News', 'The Builder', 'Nature', and local press.

William Cecil Marshall was a close acquaintance of Harry Marshall Ward and Francis Darwin, and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was articled to John Middleton of Cheltenham in 1873, and worked under Basil Champneys and Thomas Graham Jackson before commencing independent practice in Queen Square in London in 1876. The young architect was also an accomplished tennis player, finishing as runner-up to Spencer Gore in the first Wimbledon tennis final in 1877. Alumni Cantabrigienses states that Marshall was a designer of many tennis courts, including two courts at the Queen’s Club (built 1888, not listed), as well as an extension to the Cambridge University Real Tennis Club (built 1890, listed at Grade II). Marshall undertook a number of commissions for Cambridge University on the New Museums Site, including: a number of additions and extensions to the former Perse School (founded c1615) including the Engineering Laboratory (1893-4), Hopkinson Wing (1898-1900), and Social Anthropology Wing (1912), together listed at Grade II; and the old Examinations Halls (built 1909, not listed). Following the construction of the Botany School, Marshall was also commissioned to design the Forestry School (built 1913-14) in the south-east corner of the Downing Site. Elsewhere in Cambridge, he designed a number of private residences for staff of the University in West Cambridge, including Leckhampton House (built 1880-1, not listed), and 12 Madingley Road (built 1888, listed at Grade II). In addition to the Cambridge laboratories, Marshall designed the Engineering Laboratory at Oxford (1914, not listed), and the Physical Laboratory (1906) and School of Botany (1907) for Trinity College Dublin.

In 1928 the International Education Fund (founded by John D Rockefeller Junior) gave over a million pounds to the University toward a new building for the University Library and for developments in Agriculture, Biology and Physics. A share of £108,500 was allocated to Botany for two new sub-departments for research into Plant Physiology, and Mycology and Bacteriology. In addition to new staff and research endowments, the money contributed toward an extension to the west end of the 1904 building, at the corner of Tennis Court Road. The extension was designed by Thomas Arthur Lodge (1888-1967) of Lanchester and Lodge, was constructed in 1933-4, and formally opened on 22 October 1934 by King George V. Lodge is associated with at least two other buildings on the Downing Site: the Craik Marshall Building (1932); and the Mineralogy and Petrology Building (1931-4), neither listed, both completed to the designs of his firm Lanchester and Lodge. Elsewhere, Lodge is associated with a small number of listed buildings, including: the Parkinson Building at the University of Leeds (1929-32), and Hackney Town Hall (1934-7), both listed at Grade II. The 1934 extension and Jackson’s Archaeology Building were connected in 1991-4 by the addition of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (West Building) by Casson Condor Partnership.

When the Botany School was opened in 1904, it was not entirely novel but was acknowledged to be ‘probably the most complete botanical teaching institute in the Empire’. The importance of the older science of systematics or ‘whole plant’ botany could still be seen in the prominent herbarium and museum; the more novel laboratory-based parts of botany were represented in the labs on the upper floors. For the first half-century after the new building was opened, the Cambridge Botany School was one of the outstanding centres of experimental research, with novel contributions made in a number of fields. In plant physiology, F F Blackman carried out studies on the process of photosynthesis and plant respiration, and it was through Blackman’s research and teaching that Cambridge became preeminent in plant physiology in first three decades of the C20. Important work was also carried out in plant systematics and distribution, ecology, morphology, and plant genetics (the latter was specifically catered for in the 1934 extension). It was around this time, and in the School of Botany, that Cambridge University’s first genetics teaching was undertaken. A highly significant development that took place within the Botany Building was the establishment of an early facility for radiocarbon (Carbon14) dating, establishing the dates for organic materials, the study of which has proved highly significant in a number of fields, especially archaeology and analysis of historical climate change.

Since the Second World War there have been a number of changes within the Botany Building. In 1949–53 the Library was enlarged and moved to the ground floor, occupying the former Herbarium; the Herbarium was moved into the former Museum; the Museum was thinned out, and the remaining exhibition cases transferred to the corridor on the first floor. A new teaching laboratory was fitted on the ground floor of the 1934 extension in what had been the Reading Room, and an opening was made from the former Herbarium to the Lecture Theatre and Laboratory. When constructed, the 1904 building had a central flat roof with a red brick balustrade to the south, accommodating three glasshouses; in the early 1960s a substantial set of new rooms was built in the eastern part of the roof. In 1998 a new reception area was installed, a new lift was inserted, the corridor on the first floor was refurbished, and the Teaching Laboratory on the second floor was modernised and converted partly into research rooms. Also the rooms on the mezzanine floor of the western extension were converted into modern research laboratories. In 2000 the old store was converted into a new laboratory for Ecology, and a new smaller store was built on the ground floor. The laboratory spaces were modernised in the 1990s and early 2000s, to meet the requirements of modern teaching and research.

Reasons for Listing

The Botany Building, built 1901-4 to the designs of W C Marshall, and extended 1933-4 to the designs of T A Lodge, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: for the elegant design of the laboratory building by William Cecil Marshall, and extension by T A Lodge, both prominent architects, a number of whose buildings are listed, resulting in an accomplished university laboratory building;
* Historic interest: for the historic advances in carbon dating which took place in the Botany Building, and the important role the building played in the advancement of scientific research at the University of Cambridge, ensuring that the University was at the forefront of scientific research in the early C20;
* Degree of survival: much of the original plan form survives, as does the original lecture theatre, staircases, and original mosaic floors in the 1901-1904 building, and terrazzo and parquet floors in the 1930s extension;
* Group value: for the strong relationship the Botany Building holds with the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, former Squire Law Library and School, and Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (together listed at Grade II), with which the Botany Building forms the impressive forecourt of the Downing Site, as well as other listed university laboratory buildings on the nearby New Museums Site.

External Links

External links are from the relevant listing authority and, where applicable, Wikidata. Wikidata IDs may be related buildings as well as this specific building. If you want to add or update a link, you will need to do so by editing the Wikidata entry.

Recommended Books

Other nearby listed buildings

BritishListedBuildings.co.uk is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact BritishListedBuildings.co.uk for any queries related to any individual listed building, planning permission related to listed buildings or the listing process itself.

British Listed Buildings is a Good Stuff website.