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Cambridge Colleges

Letters from a Cambridge student to his mother in 1642

I’m researching the garden and designed landscape history of the medieval and Tudor Cambridge colleges. There are sixteen of these colleges, including St John’s College who have copies of their college magazine, The Eagle, on-line. Wonderful stuff with each issue having articles on college features, Fellows’ interests and student life.

The earliest magazine is from 1859. This issue attracted me because it reproduces two letters of 1642. They are written by a St John’s student, Chrysostome Tallekirke, to his mother Mrs Hester Tallekirke in Pope’s-head Lane, London. The first letter was written in July 1642 and the second in September. In the first he is ill (‘sick’) and says that he needs to write to her because she doesn’t even know which Cambridge college he’s at. He describes the college grounds (gold for me) and the sporting activities that students engage in – playing football on Sheep’s Green against students from neighbouring Trinity and plunging into the river Cam to cool off in hot weather – both banned by the college statutes.

If you like social history, it’s worth reading – and if you would like a snapshot of how the Civil War was experienced by this St John’s student, read his letter of September 1642. The college is frequently raided by parliamentary soldiers. Shots are fired at students’ windows; rooms are broken into and items stolen, including books and students’ papers. Lectures do not take place and private study is impossible. Chrysostome finishes his letter of September 1642 with these words:

‘What to do I know not: one thing I know, that in no long time, if God help me, you will see the face of

Your loving mourning Son,


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