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Clare Hall, University of Cambridge

A Grade II* Listed Building in Newnham, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.204 / 52°12'14"N

Longitude: 0.1042 / 0°6'15"E

OS Eastings: 543892

OS Northings: 258282

OS Grid: TL438582

Mapcode National: GBR L78.WQ1

Mapcode Global: VHHK2.RVGS

Entry Name: Clare Hall, University of Cambridge

Listing Date: 6 September 2018

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1454213

Location: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB3

County: Cambridgeshire

District: Cambridge

Electoral Ward/Division: Newnham

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Cambridge

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire


A college of the University of Cambridge, designed by Ralph Erskine and completed in 1969.


A college of the University of Cambridge designed by Ralph Erskine in 1964-1966 and built in 1966-1969. A later building to similar designs by the same architect was constructed on the same site in 1985-1987.

MATERIALS: red brick cavity wall construction with sloping aluminium clad timber roofs. There are concrete and timber floors. The windows are timber with double glazed plate glass set within the original frames.

PLAN: the main college building has a complex plan of three main sections set within an overall rectangular footprint. The three different sections; communal/study area, houses for visiting fellows and flats block, are separated by the paved Scholars’ Walk and Family Walk, whose names reflect their different functions. There is a single cross walk which spans the site and gives access to the gardens as well as the only link between the two Walks. The buildings which face to Herschel Road are raised over a semi-basement car park that gives the complex a slightly sloping section and roof profiles. The Porter’s Lodge, which is a later addition, is located in Scholars’ Walk and gives access to the main communal area which contains the common room and bar and beyond leads to the dining room. Further down Scholars’ Walk is a glazed courtyard in the form of a peristyle which contains study and meeting rooms and offices. To the east of these is the Scholars’ Garden. The central section is occupied by four u-plan patio houses - that of two storeys to the north is for the President. The other three are single-storey and for visiting fellows and their families. One of the houses is now converted into an exhibition space. Each house is set round an internal courtyard. The west section is taken up by a large accommodation block for the fellows and visitors to the College. To the west of this is the shared Family Garden, now enclosed by other later blocks of flats.

EXTERIOR: the elevation to Herschel Road is largely blind, housing mainly the kitchens and stores. There are, however, windows on the first floor which light the upper storey of the President’s House. To the west of Family Walk is a block which steps down from three storeys to one on the north-south sloping site. This block containing four houses and twelve flats or maisonettes, plus a nursery, set in a block which falls from four storeys facing Herschel Road to two storeys at the rear. A brick wall which delineates the gardens of the ground floor flats is older and may be the boundary wall of the garden of the demolished Herschel House. There are thick timber balustrades to the walkways and balconies to the flats and these and the translucent over-sailing roof canopy are hung from steel poles to avoid cold bridging (this was a key feature of Erskine’s work and a detail developed in Sweden to deal with the harsh winter climate). Broad laminated wood and aluminium chutes discharge rainwater, previously into open channels or pools although these have been filled in. The houses have projecting bay windows to Family Walk which provide views to north and south. That of the President’s House is larger and is designed to demonstrate the central role of the President in the social and academic life of the Hall. The paved walks have flights of steps where the complex falls from north to south, concealing vents to the car park below with built in brick planters and timber seating. There are glazed walls throughout the study room ‘cloister’ which give onto a small courtyard which is dominated by the oversized rainwater goods and also contains small mushroom shaped sculptures. There is also a small canal which runs along the length of the southern edge of the site which collects rainwater goods from further oversized goods.

INTERIOR: the interior is Scandinavian in character and is distinguished by intricate planning combined with the use of materials and details such as the extensive use of exposed timber and the distinctive hand rails and balusters on stairs throughout the buildings. Within the main social spaces, off Scholar’s walk, there are sweeping timber boarded ceilings on a diagonally sloping plane supported by distinctive metal pillars with timber cladding and a gentle entasis to the common room, bar, dining room, servery and discussion rooms. The small studies surrounding the small courtyard in the south-east corner of the site are plainly detailed; there is also an office for the President one for his Secretary and two meeting rooms. The President’s House has a fine, if simply detailed interior, with a large open-plan living space with a timber floor, an office set at right angles at one end and a fine curved staircase to private accommodation at the other which has a distinctive concrete wrap-around forming a sweeping balustrade. Accommodation for visiting fellows is located in the single-storey ‘courtyard’ houses in the middle of the site, and in single-storey and duplex units located in the long sloping block to the west of the site. The block along Family Walk has a series of apartments including duplex units, and are fully equipped with fitted kitchens and bathrooms, and make use of the same simple detailing, for example the stair banisters, which are used in the other areas of the college. The other interiors are more noteworthy for their intricate yet relaxed planning than for particular fixtures.

MICHAEL STOKER BUILDING: 1985-1987 extension. The first major addition to Clare Hall on Herschel Road, the building is set at right-angles to Erskine’s earlier complex and forms the northern boundary to the Family Garden, as the original does the eastern boundary. Erskine had just been awarded the RIBA Gold Medal so his appointment was timely. The new block was designed between June 1983 and June 1985 by Erskine with executive architects Hughes and Bicknell producing the working drawings from his sketches. The building repeated the style of his earlier building and was built in 1985-7.

The materials are red brick, with timber details, concrete floors and a sloping roof from the fourth to second floor; flat roofs to the one- and two-storey sections to the west next to the nineteenth century house associated with the Keynes Family (No 3). Its colours complement those of the earlier building. The building is ‘of an L’-shaped plan, comprising fourteen bedsits with shared bathrooms, a kitchen and dining room. A projecting corner stair tower at the apex stands adjacent to that of the original building.


The change and expansion of tertiary education in the United Kingdom in the second half of the C20 had profound effects on the existing universities. It also led to the creation of many new ones. This trend reflected the shifting social and economic dynamics of the post-war era. Cambridge was certainly not immune to those effects. In terms of the growing numbers of students, graduates and other scholars who would wish to study, and therefore live, there were significant impacts on both college and university resources. The resulting requirement of additional facilities and accommodation meant dynamic changes were needed. Significant concerns were therefore voiced about the effect on the membership and character of the university.

In the years following the Second World War, the university and colleges found themselves locked in a debate seeking to address the balance of authority and resources between them. Academic support and supervision provided to undergraduates had historically been the responsibility of the colleges, but with the growing numbers of students had increasingly depended on university teaching officers (UTOs). These individuals were not associated with, or a fellow of, a college. But there was also a major issue in relation to the centrally-run university services and the support given to those by fellows of the colleges. The increasingly strategic approach to state funded research which arose during the period, while welcome in terms of the additional funding potentially available, put further pressure on existing resources because of the increasing numbers of research students.

At the same time there was a growing ambition to increase transmission of knowledge and learning through interactions between different universities, both at home and abroad, through visiting fellowships. As a relevant example, one of the members of Clare College, Richard Eden, Fellow of Mathematics, spent time in the United States in the 1950s, including at the Princeton Institute of Advanced Learning, and as he acknowledges, benefited both academically and personally from the experience. This included the development of an extensive network of international contacts many of whom were later to visit Cambridge, as well as an initial sense of the potential for an Institute of Advanced Study based on that at Princeton.

The combination of circumstances outlined above sparked some vociferous debates and led to the convening of the Bridges Committee in 1960. It also spurred the creation of the Colleges Committee which facilitated greater interaction through the regular meetings of the Head of Colleges to discuss matters of mutual interest, albeit without any formal decision making role. The Colleges began to consider how they should directly and proactively respond to the Bridges Report, published in 1962, themselves. This led several of them to take proactive action, which led, for example, to the founding of Darwin College, collectively, by Trinity, St Johns and Gonville and Caius Colleges. Corpus Christi College established a semi-autonomous facility, for Graduates only, at Leckhampton House but which retained a formal link to its mother college.

Clare College itself was not immune to or divorced from these influences and discussions, and was actively considering how to address the challenges. The Master from 1958, Sir Eric Ashby, was Vice Chair of the Bridges Committee and his influence is very apparent in the approach subsequently taken. As the discussions progressed it became clear by 1963 that neither the establishment of a semi-autonomous graduate annex to the College or a significant increase in the number of Fellows was to be met by wide-ranging support within the Governing Body (GB). Ashby nonetheless sought to drive the agenda through the calling of an Extraordinary Meeting of the GB in January 1964. In advance of the meeting however, Richard Eden submitted a new proposal for the establishment of an Institute of Advanced Study, based on that at Princeton, which would have a permanent fellowship, provide places for Graduates and, significantly, also for visiting, and in due course research, fellows. The new proposal was seen as an admirable approach and quickly gained widespread support from the GB. The proposal centred on the new foundation being on Herschel Road as it was known that the expansion of the University was likely to take place in the west of the city.

In March 1964, following further work by Ashby, Eden and Northam, a report to the GB formally recommended that the new foundation be housed in Herschel Road and that an architect be appointed to prepare plans. GB took the view that there should be room for twenty flats of varying sizes, studies for non-resident fellows and students, a reading room, seminar rooms, separate dining rooms for the fellows and for their families, a kitchen and offices. The Bursar estimated that the accommodation could cost £6 a square foot, suggesting a total price of £132,000 plus fees and furniture. These requirements were elaborated by Richard Eden in discussion with colleagues during January and February 1964, and formed the basis of an architectural brief. In March a working committee was set up to take the proposals forward.

Sir Leslie Martin, the university’s professor of architecture, proposed three practices for consideration at the committee’s first meeting. They were Alan Colquhoun, Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis (HKPA) and Peter Moro. The committee also considered Ralph Erskine, Philip Dowson of ‘Ove Arup Associates’, David Roberts, Powell and Moya, and the young Scottish firm of Morris and Steedman. It recommended that ‘the choice should be made from young men or from men of international eminence known to give personal attention’, and Holister was requested to obtain and to circulate information about Alan Colquhoun, Ralph Erskine, Peter Moro, Arup Associates and Morris and Steedman. The suggestion of Ralph Erskine, perhaps unusual because of his lack of experience in large institutional buildings, came from Holister. Morris and Steedman is another unusual choice; like Erskine, their work was largely domestic at that time and strong in the use of natural materials. It seems likely that Holister favoured this style. Richard Eden reported that ‘none of us was happy with the style of un-faced concrete that had become fashionable in some of the new universities’ espoused by Martin's recommendations. Erskine was appointed formally by August 1964.

The earliest sketches for Clare Hall, which are held in Erskine’s archive at the Swedish Museum of Architecture in Stockholm, date from 14 October 1964. The first scheme retained Herschel House, the main existing building on the site, and placed car parking along Herschel Road and the track next to the rugby field. Next to the field he placed a terrace of housing, countered by a dining room, kitchen and facilities on Herschel Road and flats on the east side, the whole creating a giant quadrangle. Another alternative joined a new dining room on to the west side of Herschel House, whose ground floor became a writing room and common room, with residential accommodation above. However, once the fellows were persuaded that there was no financial saving to be made by retaining Herschel House they were keen to see it demolished. They resolved on Erskine’s ‘sketch 5’, but asked that the building be moved slightly westwards to allow later expansion, and to have more two-storey elements for the same reason. Less happy were discussions over the programme’s timing, with Erskine considering February 1968 more realistic than October 1967, as sought by the college.

Erskine meanwhile sought to partially submerge the car parking into a semi-basement that would make for a higher building facing Herschel Road. Eden suggests that the eventual scheme was beginning to appear at the end of 1964, and by January 1965 the car parking had been moved into a basement, confirmed in February when the city planners refused to consider off-street parking. The basement at this stage was larger than that eventually realised, occupying half the depth of the site, with a substantial kitchen area as well as parking. There were two entrances, but the majority of the residential accommodation remained as a terrace alongside the rugby ground, with smaller units on the east side and a defined porter’s lodge on Herschel Road with guest rooms over. The facade to Herschel Road remained relatively low and flat-roofed at this stage.

Plans from April 1965 show the emergence of a very different scheme, much closer to that eventually realised. The committee was anxious that as much of the accommodation as possible, save for the dining hall and kitchen, be on two storeys so that there would be land for expansion, and was even unhappy with the central court houses that appeared at this time. Erskine accordingly developed a two-storey quadrangle on the south-east part of the site for the private studies and offices, the upper floor with a projecting walkway, and moved the flats to the west side. At this stage the flats had a stepped roof-line, which was retained when on 30 April Erskine added more storeys to the flats at the Herschel Road end and defined four courtyard or patio houses in the centre of the site, largely single-storey although each had one upper-floor bedroom. The kitchen and dining room remained unresolved, however, with the bar set in a small separate room behind the entrance way. A scheme from 11 May 1965 included a high table and a private dining room behind the bar, which for the first time opened out into the Common Room. It appears that one of the most difficult elements to resolve was the form of the President’s house, perhaps because in Brian and Charlotte Pippard, the president and his wife, there was a real client to hand with whom Erskine had discussions long into the night.

The college secured an authorisation from the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works to go ahead with the project in 1966 so long as building commenced before November. As the design was finalised, the patio housing was arranged in a single line with the upper floor bedrooms removed, and at this stage a single steeply sloped roof took shape over the larger accommodation block. Fat timber down-pipes discharged rainwater into a canal running down the centre of the ‘Family Walk’ and along the southern perimeter. To lower costs further the upper floors of the office courtyard were eliminated in April 1966 and the dining hall assumed the simple, open form which was built.

Clare Hall was formally founded as an approved Foundation of the University of Cambridge on 7 February 1966 with the Governing Body of Clare College as Trustees. The new fellows made use of College facilities and a weekly dinner was held each Tuesday in the Master’s Lodge. Work on the new buildings commenced in October of that year, with separate contracts for the foundations and the superstructure to enable the work to begin within the prescribed time frame. The new building was duly completed in the summer of 1969 and formally opened on 30 September by Lord Ashby of Clare College in his capacity as Vice Chancellor of the University, with the Chancellor in attendance.

The Hall quickly became known for its informality and family friendly approach; it was apparent that the layout of the buildings helped keep the noise levels down within the academic focused areas. In the years since its foundation it has also developed a distinctive academic and intellectual culture of its own. This has been enhanced by the visiting fellowship and the graduate and research students, the numbers of which have all grown significantly. There have therefore been several periods of expansion to the site and Erskine himself designed another residential block to the west in a similar style in 1983-1985. This was built in 1985-1987, with the input of local architect Nicholas Ray from the University. It is known as the Michael Stoker Building after the third President, whose efforts had led to the funds being available for the new building. Nicholas Ray himself added a further range in 1995, using a simpler version of the same idiom which was named after Brian Pippard. Clare Hall gained its Royal Charter and therefore full status as a constituent college of the University in 1984, and became fully independent in 1996, when legislation required the separation of its investment portfolio from that of Clare College.

Reasons for Listing

Clare Hall, a college of the University of Cambridge, dating to 1969 and built to the designs of Ralph Erskine, is Listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a highly sophisticated architectural form which is distinctive, as well as an aesthetically pleasing composition;
* for the scale and massing of the building, and the use of the car park to create an artificial slope to provide greater interest, also showing a consideration of landscape as well as the form of the building.

Historic interest:

* as tangible evidence of the social and economic context of the post-war era and as a unique and highly successful example of a response to the needs and challenges facing Cambridge University at the time;
* as the work one of the acknowledged premier designs by an internationally renowned architect whose buildings already well represented on the List.

Group value:

* Clare Hall has associative and geographic group value with the Grade II listed Elmside, which was the first building used by Clare Hall and now forms and integral part of the college.

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