St Johns College

St Johns college is 508 years old this year. It was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort, grandmother to King Henry VIII.

But she was dead when most of the real founding took place and it was largely done on her behalf by St John Fisher. Counter-intuitively not whom the college is named after. It’s named for St John the Evangelist as there was originally a John the Evangelist hospital here that had to be suppressed before they built the college. They had a hard time doing that. They had to get permission from the Pope to close the hospital and also had to fight a battle in court to access Lady Margaret’s estate after her death. And then John Fisher got on the wrong side of Henry VIII and very quickly became St John Fisher. The Church tried to save Fisher’s life by promoting him to the rank of Cardinal. They said the king would never dare execute a prince of the Church… they were wrong.


William Wilberforce – In 1787, he came into contact with Thomas Clarkson and a group of anti-slave-trade activists, including Granville Sharp, Hannah Moore and Charles Midleton. They persuaded Wilberforce to take on the cause of abolition, and he became one of the leading English slavery abolitionists. He leads the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807.

William Wordsworth – Having succeed in school (despite being orphaned at the tender age of 13 years) at Hawkshead Grammar School—where he wrote his first poetry—the young Wordsworth went on to study at Cambridge University. St. Johns wasn’t a happy home for him but he did manage to graduate in 1791. His most famous publications were produced after his college career had ended; most notable being The Prelude & Lyrical Ballads. In 1843, Wordsworth became England’s poet laureate. He died at the age of 80; a significant achievement in and of itself.

Paul Dirac  – One of St John’s most notable Professor’s, having won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933 and made fundamental contributions to the early development of quantum dynamics and quantum electrodynamics. Dirac was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in Cambridge and was a meticulously precise individual, once saying ‘I was taught at school never to start a sentence without knowing the end of it’ and complaining of poetry that ‘The aim of science is to make difficult things understandable in a simpler way; the aim of poetry is to state simple things in an incomprehensible way. The two are incompatible’.

HRH Prince William – Our future King studied Estate Management at St Johns College and retains very close ties with Cambridge University. He attended seminars and lectures with other students as part of a “bespoke” course which helped him prepare for his future role in charge of the Duchy of Cornwall, which he will inherit when his father becomes king.

Landmarks of note at St Johns College

The Wren Bridge

The Wren bridge, also known as the Kitchen Bridge or the Old Bridge at St John’s. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren who also designed St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The crossing lies south of the Bridge of Sighs and was a replacement for a wooden bridge that had stood on the site since the foundation’s early days as a hospital.

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