Trinity College was founded by Henry VIII in 1546 as part of the University of Cambridge, combing two existing colleges Michaelhouse and King’s Hall. Michaelhouse had existed since 1324; King’s Hall had been established by Edward II in 1317 and refounded by Edward III in 1337.
Now I’m not going to write loads of stuff on the history of Trinity College, much of this is well documented in books and on the internet but I will give some of the Alumni a mention. Trinity have had their fair share of famous past members these include: Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Wray and many more. Another past member Lord Byron, has a statue in the Wren library that was originally destined for Westminster Abbey but because of his notorious behaviour, they didn’t want the statue.
There are two past Trinity members that very rarely get a mention and that I am very interested in and they are Andy Taylor and Rod Smallwood. Who? Some of you will say but these two first met as undergraduates at Trinity and then went on to manage the biggest and most successful heavy metal band of all time……. Iron Maiden!
There are a few others that never get a mention one of them being Aleister Crowley, he never went to Trinity College between 1895 – 1898 and we won’t mention the spies!
The past members of the college that do interest me and very rarely if ever do get a mention, those that have tended the gardens/grounds over the centuries are the ever resourceful gardeners.
Now some of the gardens history has been well recorded and documented over the years but I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of the gardens team and some of the personalities that go with it. What did they get up to on a daily basis, how many were there, did they always have a Head Gardener (I’ve heard the present one is a right pillock), what tools did they use (HG again) and what they planted? Obviously, some of the plantings can still be seen to this very day.
The time that really does interest me, is the early years of the gardens history, what they got up to in the first two hundred years.
Now some of the gardeners tools used in the early those early years at Trinity would have been not to dissimilar to what we use now, as for some of the others, lets just say, it would of made for some interesting Risk Assessments.
The scythe for instance was used for cutting grass as well as reaping crops and we can’t forget the Grim Reaper!
The old sickle. Again, not to dissimilar to the modern day versions.
What about the old harmless watering can. Supposedly first used in the 16th century.
And what about the gardeners themselves. They often specialized in the famous Tudor knot gardens, which were intricate patterns of lawns and hedges, intended to be viewed from a raised walkway. The Tudor gardeners were simple folk whose entire life revolved around the upkeep of the gardens. Simple folk? I would of fitted in very well then, not so sure about my appearance though. Full sleeved tattoos, hat back to front, heavy metal t shirts (although I had heard Deep Purple were playing gigs then) but long balding hair seemed to be the order of the day though.
The early gardeners at Trinity would of been involved with some of the more interesting times in Trinity’s history, especially in the 16th and 17th century’s, although it didn’t stop there. Over the following centuries, Trinity carried on changing and expanding, adding several more acres to the garden. I have been told it is roughly a mile long from one end of the college to the other, feels a lot further than that some days.
Now two past members of Trinity’s history do have a connection with the garden and they are: Isaac Newton and John Ray. John Ray became a Trinity fellow in 1649 teaching Greek, mathematics and Latin , he was the leading 17th-century English naturalist and botanist. John Ray cultivated his own garden through the 1650’s at Trinity growing over several hundred species of plant.
As for Isaac Newton, we all know about this famous gentlemen.
Isaac Newton had his own private garden at the front of the college between Great Gate and the Chapel, what we now call the Chapel lawn. There now sits a Newtons apple tree which is an offspring of the ‘historic tree’ at Woolsthorpe Manor.
I know nothing about heavy metal music or musicians, so I won’t comment about that connection to Trinity.
But I do wonder where else there are offspring of Newton’s apple tree? There is one at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). I have seen it. But they don’t have Head Gardeners or even Gardeners. I suppose Great Britain is just more civilized (or Cambridge, or Trinity College)? There is a tree contributed by every State of the union planted on the banks of a man-made lake there at NIST. Newton’s apple tree is in the main courtyard, though.
Did John Ray keep a notebook on the plants he grew at Trinity? Thomas Jefferson kept fairly meticulous notes about his plantings at Monticello. I don’t think many of the colleges or universities here in the U.S., even Jefferson’s beloved University of Virginia, kept a history of their gardens or what they planted in them over time, unless they were specifically founded as botanical gardens (there are a few on the grounds of some schools.) It would be cool to get some bookish sort to research whether gardening and studying and keeping records mixed well in years gone by.
There is another Newtons Apple offspring at the Cambridge Botanics that I know of – I did not know there was one at the NIST. Most larger gardens/colleges and estates have a head gardener/groundsman or estates manager in this part of the world. John Ray did write ‘Historia Plantarum’ but there might be some written record somewhere at Trinity.
A really interesting post, I enjoyed reading it. I didn’t know that Issac Newton had his own private garden at Trinity. I didn’t know that John Ray was a fellow of Trinity either. Are there records of what he grew there?
I’m glad you enjoyed the post! There might be some sort of record in our library on what John Ray grew at the college – I’ll have to pop in and ask them one day.