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Senate House / The Devil’s Tavern

History of the Senate House, Cambridge

In the 17th century, the Devil’s Tavern, an inn and posting house occupied part of the site. the first coach to run between Cambridge and London started from here in 1653 and this was probably therefore the site of the first post office. the tavern may possibly appear on John Hammond’s plan of Cambridge from 1592.

See Stage Coaches by Enid Porter

Senate House and University Library, 1851, from Rock and Co, views of Cambridge.

General information on the Senate House University of Cambridge can be found on Wikipedia.

Conferring degrees

Conferring Degrees

The postcard is a sale pitch from an Oxford based postcard producer to Messrs Johnson and Nephew, 3 St Andrew’s Street.

Urbs Camboritum, Senate House


The Senate House is the first place described by Quaker educationalist and philanthropist Priscilla Wakefield when she visits Cambridge  on her Family Tour of the British Empire. In her 4 pages on Cambridge (444-448) she has brief descriptions of the Senate House, public library, Peterhouse, Clare Hall, Pembroke College, Benet’s College, Trinity, Caius and Emmanuel. The second day they go to King’s, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, the Botanic Gardens and see Hobson’s Conduit before travelling on to Bedford.

Priscilla Wakefield Family Tour of British Empire 1804

Her book, ‘A Family Tour Through the British Empire containing some account of its manufactures, natural and artificial curiosities, history and antiquities: interspersed with biographical anecdotes. particularly adapted to the amusement and instruction of youth,’ was first published in 1804.

Priscilla Wakefield Map of Family Tour – excerpt

1843 Royal Progress

Degree Day by Robert Farren 1863 (Trinity Hall, Cambridge University)

1863 (note supplied by Nigel Fenner 2022)

‘Degree Day’ was painted by Robert Farren in 1863 portraying a lonely student accompanied by a small dog, in the foreground, who has failed his final exams, presumably having just seen his results posted outside the Senate House, the building  just behind him, on the right of the painting. To the left of this student, close by, is the ‘wooden spoon winner’. Note the relatively small size of the spoon, compared to what it grew into. [Brief history: starting in at least 1795, the wooden spoon was awarded to the student who came last in the final exams for the maths honours degree, called the Maths Tripos].

Surrounding the ‘failed’ student, and wooden spoon ‘winner’ (thanks to a detailed key of all individuals featured in the painting) are the most important academics including Charles Kingsley, Henry Sedgwick, Henry Fawcett and Leslie Stephen, accompanied by their families, as well as two bowler-hatted figures standing on the corner of Great St Mary’s Church, behind the white and black dog, next to the women in a grey dress on the left of the painting. These are two of the four England cricketers from the town, Thomas Hayward and Robert Carpenter, at a time when the Cambridge Town and County Cricket Club was one of the best sides in the country. Their inclusion in the painting indicates their social importance, thanks to the increasing status of cricket, and perhaps sport more generally in the University.

1892 8th Duke of Devonshire, Spencer Cavendish

possibly 1892 installation of Duke of Devonshire as Chancellor

prossible 1892 installation of Duke of Devonshire as Chancellor


In a move that would shock today’s student feminists, male students at Cambridge held a protest against a resolution that would allow women to receive full degrees from the university. They suspended an effigy of a woman riding a bicycle – the stereotypical female Cambridge student – from a window while waving banners with slogans such as “No Gowns for Girtonites”, Girton being an all-women college. On hearing that the resolution had fallen, students then maimed and decapitated the effigy before pushing it through the gates of all-women college Newnham. Women were not granted full degrees until 1921. (from the Independent December 2013 ‘A brief history of student protest)

1897 Cambridge protest against women students

Rally against admission of women 1897 ©MusCamb

Senate House Hill crowd 21.5.1897 on occasion of vote on degrees for women (Cambridgeshire Collection)

Senate House Hill c.1900 with hansom-cab rank

1904 Visit of Edward VII

Visit of Edward VII 1904

Visit of Edward VII 1904

Edward VII opening part of the New Museums Site in 1904

1904 Edward VII in Senate House Procession

1904 crowds outside Senate House during visit of Edward VII

Senate House steps, 1904 (MoC500/74)

Senate House with horse drawn tram (undated)

1906 24th May: conferring of honorary degrees of Chinese dignitaries.

This event took place during the visit of a Commission appointed by the Emperor of China to study methods of government, commerce and education in England. Eyewitness descriptions of the visit can be found here:

The picture below shows the Mayor of Cambridge Walter Durnford and the University Professor of Chinese Herbert Allen Giles, together with:

His Imperial Highness Fung En Chen Ko Duke Tsai Tse, Aide-de-Camp to his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of China, his Majesty’s High Commissioner, Great Chamberlain of the Imperial Household, Member of the Imperial Library, Commander-in-Chief of the Bordered Yellow Banner of the Manchu Army

His Excellency Wang Tahsieh, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in London of his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of China

His Excellency Shang Chi-heng, High Commissioner of his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of China

The Honourable Po Jui, Secretary to his Imperial Chinese Majesty’s High Commission

1906: Conferring of honorary degrees on Chinese dignitaries

1906 M Butler Master of Trinity with Chinese dignitaries

1906 M Butler Master of Trinity with Duke Zaize

Duke Zaize (1868-1928), grandson of the Emperor, kept a diary during the mission. He had been injured in a bomb attack in September 1905 at Peking railway station as the delegation was preparing to leave. The assailant, Wu Yue, a fanatical opponent of the Manchu regime was killed and two members of the delegation injured delaying its departure until December 1905.

See also:


Ortona Bus and Senate House ©MoC

Ortona bus outside the Senate House c. 1907.


1908 Installation of Lord Rayleigh as Chancellor

1908 installation of Lord Rayleigh as Chancellor


Proclamation of Accession of George V 10.5.1910

26.5.1910 Theodore Roosevelt receives honorary Doctor of Law

1910 Degree Day Theodore Roosevelt

The photo above shows from left to right: an Esquire Bedell, Theodore Roosevelt, Vice Chancellor Canon Mason, University Marshall Sheldrich

Until 1910 it was the tradition in Cambridge to award a large wooden spoon to the student with the lowest mark in the Maths Tripos. More information can be found here:

Recipient of Maths Tripos Wooden Spoon in 1904

Senate House and Caius College, 1904

Senate House with car on roof (MoC123)

2024 May

Gaza War protest camp May 2024 Senate House lawn

Gaza War protest camp May 2024 Senate House lawn


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