Cambridge became a city in 1951but its origins can be traced back to settlements in the area before Roman times. The current interpretation is that there was an iron age hill fort on what is now known as Castle Hill. The site was at the head of navigation of the river, and also provided a convenient route south of the waterlogged fenland. Later the occupying Roman army built a military station about 70AD on the site of the hill fort, possibly as a result of the need to better control East Anglia after the Boudican revolt. Two Roman streets, Akeman Street and the Via Devana (not actually a name used by the Romans), ran through the town, then named Duroliponte, which grew on the crossroads.

By the time of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle the settlement was known as Grantanbrycge; it appears to have declined in comparison with other fenland settlements such as Ely, where the great abbey had been founded in 673. The focus of the town moved from the castle site on the west bank to the current centre on the east bank; the town began to grow and prosper. It suffered during the Viking era, being burned in 1010.

With the arrival of William the Conqueror and the Normans, we find it called Grantabrigge, succesful enough to be paying taxes to the king for a hundred hides of land in the Domesday book. The Normans built a castle on what is now known as Castle Mound, endeavouring to illustrate their dominance over the land, but with rather less effect at Cambridge than in other places with Hereward the Wake using the fenland to the north as a base for defiance.

Cambridge was perhaps a typical medieval town of some two thousand persons, locally important through its position on the river and the trackways, but with no great reason to suddenly develop as a place of learning. However, in 1209 a group of 'clerks' who had fallen out with their tutors and colleagues at the established seat of learning at Oxford arrived in the town to use it as a base for their studies. By nature they must have been a quarrelsome group and it is not long before the records illustrate strife between the incomers and the townsfolk. By 1218, the then Pope recognised the University of Cambridge.

The concept of a formal college emerges in 1280 when Hugh de Balsham, Bishop of Ely, assists a group of poor clerks by giving them accomodation and a set of rules to live by in the Augustinian Hospital of St John. Four years later they were moved to two houses near St Peter's church and Peterhouse College was thus established, its 14 scholars to follow the rule of 'the Oxford scholars of Merton'. A lodging for the Master, a chapel in which to pray, a hall for eating and quarters for sleeping - together with a generous endowment to fund the college - would be a basis that colleges would largely follow through to the present day.

Many further colleges would follow, each with its own rules but known jointly as the University of Cambridge. Oxford and Cambridge Universities are together generally recognised as the premier seats of learning in England. Initially they were religious foundations, and many of the college names in Cambridge continue to reflect this fact, though scholarship is now across a wide range of disciplines. The final identification of DNA and the discovery of the electron are amongst the great events which have taken place at the University of Cambridge.

The town itself developed around the needs of the university. In the 13th century settlement was bounded to the west not by the river but the 'King's Ditch', a foul-smelling channel into which all the rubbish of the town was dumped. A number of colleges were then built between the river and the ditch and for centuries university and town would argue over plans for cleaning the ditch and removing this undoubted source of disease. Eventually it would be buried under Pembroke Road and Sidney Sussex College. Trinity Lane once bore the name Foul Lane with a stench capable of overcoming masters and scholars as they walked along it. It would be 1614 before there was a final solution. Gradually Ketton stone from Rutland began to be used and the city centre we see today began to emerge.

Colleges have continued to be established up to Robinson College in the 1970s. In the course of the necessary building traditional and modern techniques have been used. The visitor will have to make up his or her own mind on whether the developments of the last 100 years fit in with those of an ealier vintage. As seats of learning the colleges have also contibuted to other facilities in the city, in particular the various museums.

We have already seen Cambridge's place in road and river travel; the railway arrived in 1845. As was often the case, it had to be built outside the town centre and the town then developed towards and around the railway station. It remains a busy station both for those travelling into the city to work and for those making the relatively convenient journey to London. It has continued to develop with facilities such as a regular serivce through to Norwich being added in recent years. The ancient and then the Victorian road network has seen the addition of the M11 motorway in the latter part of the 20th century. The growth of the surrounding housing estates early in the 20th century and the science parks at the end of that century have added greatly to the area covered by the city.

The city is extremely busy at all times; whilst the colleges are in session there are thousands of students in residence and during the holiday periods and particularly in the summer it is extremely popular with visitors from all over the world. To cope with the pressure of being both the county town and a centre for tourism has led the city to develop a number of innovative systems of traffic control and the visitor arriving by car is well advised to use the slick 'park and ride' service rather than try to drive into the centre.


The lively market lies at the centre of what was medieval Cambridge, overseen by Great St Mary's church.

The view of King's College and King's College Chapel from the river and the Backs is perhaps the iconic view of Cambridge. The college was founded by King Henry VIth, though because of the unhygienic nature of the area at the time of its foudnation, he didn't actually come himself to inaugurate building work! The chapel is a magnificent example of its time, fortunately little touched by the reforming zeal at the time of the Civil War.

The nature of the river at Cambridge lends itself to punting, and whilst one may be less than enthused by being approached to take a trip as soon as one is near the river, it does provide an enjoyable way to see the university part of the city - and someone else is doing the work!

The opportunities for visitors to see the various colleges during the summer months vary; there are some charges, some are free, some are open all day, some open only at specific times. We're here at the entrance to Corpus Christi College.

The Univeristy of Cambridge is not a single university but a collection of separate colleges; the Senate building is the symbol of cooperation.