25 July 2011

A room with a view in Blundell Court

Blundell Court ... a modern accommodation block at the corner of Malcolm Street and King Street, named after a Tudor merchant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Each year I have stayed in different rooms in different courts in Sidney Sussex College. This year I am staying in Room 103 in Blundell Court, looking out onto the college gardens, with an abundance of trees in front of my window.

Blundell Court is at the back of Sidney Sussex, close to the Malcolm Street Gate and the corner of Malcolm Street and King Street. The rooms in Blundell Court are all en-suite, and relatively new, and were refurbished two years ago. The kitchens here are shared by six-nine students and are considered the best kitchens in college.

Although this is a modern accommodation block, it is named after an Elizabethan merchant, Peter Blundell (c. 1520-1601), who was one of the early benefactors of Sidney Sussex College following its foundation in 1596.

Blundell was a prosperous clothier, trading between London and Tiverton, his home town, in Devon. He died in April 1601, a mere five years after the foundation of Sidney Sussex, and shortly before the death of Queen Elizabeth I. He was buried on 9 May 1601 at Saint Michael Paternoster Royal in London.

Blundell never married and in his will he left over £32,000 to fellow clothiers and their families and to his employees, he created several charitable trusts, and he left £2,400 foundation of Blundell’s School as a free grammar school in Tiverton so that it would – in his own words – teach and maintain sound learning and true religion.

But Blundell also left £2,000 to endow six scholars from Blundell’s School in Divinity at the University of Cambridge and the University Oxford, and his executors made arrangements for these Blundell Scholars to enter Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge and Balliol College in Oxford.

Blundell educated clergy and gentry who took leading roles in the English Civil War and the Williamite Rebellion in “preserving the Protestant Religion and the liberties of the subjects,” according to the values of the founder. But the links between the school and Sidney Sussex and Balliol survive to this day.

Later pupils included Richard Blackmore, author of Lorna Doone, Archbishop Frederick Temple of Canterbury, AV Hill, winner of the Nobel Prize for Biology, and Knox Shaw, a Master of Sidney Sussex who has given his name to the Knox Shaw Room in Cloister Court, where I stayed on staircase K during my first year here in 2008.

Peter Blundell ... his legacy survives in the name of Blundell Court

For my second year, I stayed in a set on one of the old staircases in Chapel Court. Needless to say, the sets in the old staircases and in Cloister Court are the most coveted rooms here. These sets consist of a bedroom and a study room/living room, although the kitchen and bathroom facilities for the staircases are fairly basic and are shared between about five students each.

Last year, I stayed in Garden Court, in the middle of college, directly above the library. There, floors R, S and T have some big rooms with large windows and some even have fireplaces. The top floor (T) is where most international students are housed, and there are rumours of planned revamping for the kitchens and S floor. But I shall always remember Garden Court for that amazing lift with no door, which left me looking at the wall slide past as I went up and down.

Both Garden Court and Sussex House, which is reached by a footbridge across Sussex Street, have the advantage of being near college and having hobs, while Cromwell Court – about five minutes further along King Street – is said to have a great social atmosphere, and was renovated three years ago.

There are also several college-owned houses around Cambridge, including Portugal Street, Park Parade, Huntingdon Road and near the river (De Frev). The houses on Huntingdon Road are the furthest – although in Cambridge terms “far” means about a 20 minute walk from college.

Walking on grass

During the afternoon, I enjoyed the pleasure of walking through the gardens in Sidney Sussex after lunch. Unlike some other Cambridge colleges, it is possible to walk on about half the grass at Sidney Sussex – and it is always a joy to be able to step onto grass in Cambridge.

The front courts – Hall and Chapel – are off limits, as is the Master’s Garden, but the gardens at the back, including those at Blundell Court, are among Sidney’s best-kept secrets.

Sidney’s three gardens – Cloister Court, Fellow’s Garden and Tennis Garden – are large, and well-maintained, they play host to a number of events in the Easter term, including plays and garden parties, and they are wonderful places to relax and to think.

Over the past few days, I have eaten in Hall in Sidney. Formal food at Sidney is considered one of the better formal halls in Cambridge, and the chefs are said to be among the best in Cambridge, having won many national awards. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served Mondays-Fridays, while brunch and dinner are served on Saturdays, and dinner is served on Sundays.

Formal hall takes place three times a week – on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays – and are very popular, often selling out weeks in advance in Michaelmas and Lent.

Little known fact, or useless information:

Blundell Park, the grounds of Grimsby Town Football Club in Lincolnshire since 1899, is named also after Peter Blundell. His legacy was used by Sidney Sussex College to buy the land in 1616.

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