Downing College, Cambridge, East Range, by William Wilkins
Downing College, East Range, William Wilkins

Downing College, Cambridge, East Range by William Wilkins. Completed by E. M. Barry 1876. Photograph and text 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

According to Tim Rawle, Downing College, designed by Wilkins, provided "one of the first major buildings of the Greek Revival" (140). Nikolaus Pevsner gives it another accolade, pointing out that the original plan was to have only one court, fully turfed, and only loosely surrounded by the various buildings in the manner of American campuses. Pevsner gives the example of Thomas Jefferson's pioneering University of Virginia, and points out that Downing preceded it, so that "Downing must be recognized as the earliest college on the campus plan" (68).

Downing College, East Range, William Wilkins

The Master's Lodge at the end of the East Range

Unfortunately, although work started on it as early as 1807, it was held up by lack of funds and Wilkins was unable to see it through himself. Later on (1873-76) E. M. Barry put in extra rooms where Wilkins had only wanted screen walls, and so on. However, the East and West ranges still give an idea of what Wilkins had intended, and still have an open feel about them. Interestingly, one of Wilkins's other legacies is the beautiful screen wall at King's — this and the other work Wilkins did in Cambridge (New Court at Trinity, 1823-25; Second Court and New Court at Corpus Christi, 1823-27; and the hall range as well as the gatehouse and screen at King's, 1824-28) was in the Gothic style. An exception was a house he built for himself but which has since been demolished. This, according to Pevsner, had a Greek Doric porch (244), and his biographer R. W. Liscombe suggests that whenever it was suitable "Wilkins reverted to the Periclean forms of his formative years." This architect's success in both styles and in various areas (including monuments, country houses, theatres and even jails), shows just how versatile he was.


Liscombe, R. W. "William Wilkins (1778-1839)." The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 8 August 2008.

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

Rawle, Tim. Cambridge Architecture. London: André Deutsch, 1994.

Last modified 8 August 2008