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Magdalene College and Bridge

Visit Magdalene College and Magdalene Bridge in Cambridge

A punting tour along the River Cam is a unique experience, and is popularly considered to be one of the most rewarding ways to spend your time in Cambridge. There are many attractions to see along the river, including Magdalene College and Magdalene Bridge.

Magdalene College

Located on the right side of the river, Magdalene College sits in an idyllic spot, and the college’s grand facade can be seen in all its glory from the comfort of a punt. Surrounded by well-kept gardens, this is a gem nestled on the banks of the River Cam.

This architectural beauty with its magnificent brickwork dates back to 1476, when it was erected by John de Wisbech. Originally, the college was established as a Benedictine hostel for student monks, known as Monks’ Hostel. Its peaceful location was deliberately picked so that the monks would not feel the urge or temptation of life in the city. Fortunately for us, it means that we get to view this amazing college up close on our tours.

In the 1470s, the college was renamed Buckingham College, due to patronage by Henry, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. His patronage began in 1472, and lasted until he was executed for treason in 1483.

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Henry’s son, Edward, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, took over his patronage and built the college’s dining hall, still used for formal dinners today, in 1519. In 1521, Edward was also executed for treason.

Buckingham College was refounded by Lord Audley in in 1542. Audley dedicated his college to St Mary Magdalene, but it seems he wanted to leave his own name on the record, too, as his chosen spelling was ‘Maudleyn’. The resulting unusual pronunciation has persisted over five centuries, and can be a source of confusion for non-locals, when they hear the name Magdalene pronounced “maudlin”.

Lord Audley, loyal to the king, Henry VIII, bore witness at the trial of Anne Boleyn, and for his help he received seven acres of land at Aldgate, London. He donated this to Magdalene College.

The 18th Century at Magdalene provided a couple of reformative Masters. The first, Daniel Waterman, revamped the curriculum for the Enlightenment age, with Newtonian Physics, Logic, Astronomy and Metaphysics available. The second, Dr Peckard, was a passionate anti-slavery campaigner, who gained fame for his work towards abolition, and who brought a new, progressive ethos to the college.

The mid-18th Century saw financial struggles at Magdalene, which continued through the Victorian era, with undergraduate numbers dropping into single figures at times. The college’s fortunes upturned during the 20th century, with many improvements guided by Master A. C. Benson, whose financial generosity raised the profile of Magdalene once again. The 20th Century saw Magdalene’s graduates reaching the top in almost every field. To this day, the college boasts great success for its alumni, especially in the fields of Engineering and English.

In the year 2000, Magdalene College admitted Nelson Mandela as an Honorary Fellow, and created the Mandela-Magdalene scholarship. The college has been home to many famous students throughout the years, including diarist Samuel Pepys and journalist John Simpson.

Magdalene Bridge

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The bridge that gave the city its name, the beautiful ‘Cam Bridge’ is one of the two main crossing points on the River Cam, and has been an important location since Roman times.

Magdalene Bridge (earlier known as both the Cam Bridge and the Great Bridge) has a long and distinguished history. For centuries, the site of the bridge formed an important link between East Anglia and London. All routes had to converge on this crossing point.

The original bridge was constructed using wood, and many subsequent iterations of the bridge also used wood, until it was rebuilt in 1754 using stone. The first cast iron bridge was built on the site in 1823 by Arthur Browne. The incarnation that we see today was born when Browne’s design was rebuilt in 1982.