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Papers concerning construction of College in early nineteenth century, 1800 - 1823

Reference Code: GBR/0269/DCAR/1/2/2

Scope and Contents

Reports, plans and designs, costs and estimates, correspondence and Chancery papers concerning construction of College in nineteenth century. Different source types (therefore with different codes) may relate to same topic


  • Creation: 1800 - 1823

Conditions Governing Access


Biographical / Historical

The foundation stone of Downing College was laid in 1807, but 46 years before this an architect, James Essex (1722-84) had been consulted if not appointed. Pembroke Leys was at this time the considered site. In 1784 he was succeeded by the brilliantly successful James Wyatt (1748-1813) whose position was officially confirmed but there was still to be a further 16 years of legal wrangling before Downing College had a legal existence. The original choice of site at Pembroke Leys was confirmed in 1801 but not finally bought until 1807 after protracted negotiations. Early in 1804 Wyatt had submitted two designs, possibly designed 20 years earlier and therefore not intended for any specific site. They are known only to us from 3 perspective drawings in the RIBA Collection and from his own brief report / estimate of 1800. The Master of Downing, an ardent Hellenist, did not appreciate the old-fashioned Georgian classicism of Wyatt's designs. He referred them to a like-minded friend, Thomas Hope, who published in February 1804, Observations on the Plans and Elevations designed by J Wyatt.. in a letter to Francis Annesley. It consisted of a devastating condemnation of the designs. Nevertheless they were submitted to Chancery for approval where Mr Stafford, a Master, asked for an alternative design. In consequence a plan and estimate were obtained from George Byfield (c.1756-1813). Four more architects also voluntarily submitted plans; Lewis Wyatt, a nephew of James (c.1778-1833), Francis Sandys (active 1795-1815), William Porden (c.1775-1822) and William Wilkins (1778-1839). The designs of Byfield, Porden and Sandys were abandoned and those of Lewis Wyatt and Wilkins submitted to a panel of London architects in Chancery. (George Dance, James Lewis and Samuel Pepys Cockerell). In March 1806 they reported in favour of Wilkins' Neo-Greek design. Building at last went ahead with the architect acting as contractor and the Master's and one Professor's lodges were completed by 1811. No more building could be embarked on till 1818, due to lack of funds, but by this time there was a need to accommodate students if the College were to survive as an educational establishment. In August a contract was drawn up with Mr Spicer Crowe as contractor and Messrs Thomson [Tomson] as masons for the whole of the west range. The work was completed for the first undergraduates to be admitted in 1821. As funds were again exhausted no further work, except a house in Regent Street, stables and gardens walls, was possible until 1873. [Summarised from P Bicknell, Dev of Coll Buildings]


2 item(s) (2 plan chests)

53 item(s) (53 pieces)

4 bundle(s) (4 other bundles of documents)

Language of Materials



Arranged by record type.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Some plans and designs


See 'The Development of the College Buildings' Peter Bicknell, in 'Aspects of Downing History' ed S French

Repository Details

Part of the Downing College Repository

Downing College Archive
Downing College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB2 1DQ United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 762905