Pembroke's older buildings, New Chapel and Red Buildings (by Waterhouse) along Trumpington Street

Frontage including Red Buildings (on the right). Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. Red Buildings by Alfred Waterhouse. 1871-72. Photograph and text 2008 by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.]

Nikolaus Pevsner writes witheringly of Waterhouse's work at Pembroke that this architect was the last person "to be guided by respect for the character of old work. In every case where he added at Pembroke he spoiled something that was already there and replaced it by something out of keeping with Cambridge" (127). As for what was already there, Pembroke College originally had a compact "Old Court," the first of its kind in Cambridge, which included all the buildings needed for a college (Chapel, Library, Hall, accommodation etc), and the south and east parts of this had to be pulled down for the Victorian rebuilding programme (see Rawle, who shows a 17c. print of the Old Court, 72). As for what Waterhouse put in its place, this has provoked even sharper criticism from other architectural historians. Reginald Turnor, for example, slating Waterhouse for his lack of taste, finds his work at Pembroke and Caius "hard to forgive." In fact, says this critic, "Waterhouse ruined Pembroke. His brick and stone and fatuous turrets insult its Wren chapel as abusively as its medieval courts, and the whole thing is a mess — a monument to tastelessness and misplaced assurance" (Turnor 91-2). Matters could, however, have been worse: Colin Cunningham writes that Waterhouse's "wish to provide a complete new set of buildings for Pembroke College was frustrated by an emerging respect for historical structures, and that college actually sacked him as its architect."

Look at the street frontage here as a whole, as the medieval gives way to Wren and then to Waterhouse. Compare Turnor's highly negative assessment of Waterhouse's work at Pembroke with Charles Eastlake's apologia for the same architect's work at Balliol College, Oxford. Was Eastlake right? Has "the hand of time" done much to relieve the disjunctions here?

Other Views of Pembroke College Cambridge


Cunningham, Colin."Waterhouse, Alfred (1830-1905)." The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Viewewd 11 July 2008.

Pevsner, Nikolaus. The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2nd ed. 1970.

Rawle, Tim. Cambridge Architecture. London: Deutsch, 1985.

Turnor, Reginald. Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford, 1950.

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Last modified 11 June 2008