News & Events

An interview with Claire Nellany our Schools Liaison Officer

Claire NellanyAs our Schools Liaison Officer at Girton College, I've really enjoyed engaging with thousands of young people over the last year with the aim of raising aspirations about what is possible for them when they leave school. We do this either by running sessions in their schools or by having them visit Girton and Cambridge and take part in activities, tours and sometimes subject Masterclasses while they are here.

I've found working with Year 7s through our new ‘Girton College Pathways to HE’ scheme to be particularly exciting, as we've been able to discuss the future and the idea of aiming for a top university with students who are at the very start of secondary education - generally before any misconceptions about university kick in!

It is such a rewarding job, which is why I was pleased to be asked to do an interview for ‘This Cambridge Life’, a set of articles written by the University focusing on some of the many people who make up this brilliant university, both staff and students.

You can see Claire’s full interview with ‘This Cambridge Life’ here:


Published: 14 July 2017

Glimpses of Girton: The Orchard


A sunny Sunday morning breakfast in the Orchard in 1916. None of the students have been identified. The photographer is unknown but the image comes from an album belonging to Nelly Margaret Scott, who came up to Girton in 1915, and later became Lady Walton. Archive reference: GCPH 10/8/14.

Elizabeth Welsh, Mistress of Girton from 1885-1903, is credited with the first planting of an orchard at Girton. Tradition has it that she climbed The Tower in order to survey the College grounds and plan the layout of new gardens, including the orchard, which were eventually completed in 1893. Elizabeth Welsh’s orchard was filled with many different varieties of fruit trees. It soon became an important part of College life. Photographs held by the Archive show groups of students having a Sunday morning breakfast in the Orchard in 1916 (archive reference: GCPH 10/8/14) and afternoon tea in 1917 (archive reference: GCPH 10/8/50).


Students sit under the trees in the Orchard enjoying a tea party in 1917. The students are unidentified. Archive reference: GCPH 10/8/50.

By the 1930s, many of the trees in the orchard were ageing: a report by the Garden Committee in 1934 indicates that several trees had to be removed due to disease (archive reference: GCAR 10/1/1/8). Fortunately, Chrystabel Procter came to Girton as Garden Steward in 1932 and did much to revitalise the College grounds during her tenure. Her photograph album, containing beautiful shots of the College grounds throughout the seasons, survives in the Archive (archive reference: GCPH 10/20).


Three gardeners stand in the Orchard with a handcart and holding basketfuls of fruit. The photograph was taken by Chrystabel Procter in the Autumn of 1937. The gardeners were identified by David Whitehead, Head Groundsman at Girton until 1977, as 'Reacher [or Reader]’, ‘W Cole [or Coe]’, and ‘WW [or EM] Collery'. Archive reference: GCPH 10/20/33.

A photograph dating to the Autumn of 1937,  taken by Chrystabel Procter, captures the annual bounty produced by the orchard as three gardeners pose with basketfuls of ripe fruit (archive reference: GCPH 10/20/33). In 1943, Girton’s orchard and gardens inspired a student to pen a sonnet, which was published in the Easter term issue of the Girton Review, the College magazine (archive reference: GCCP 2/1/3).


The apple harvest stored on wooden shelves in the Autumn of 1937. The photograph was taken by Chrystabel Procter. David Whitehead, Head Groundsman at Girton, identified the location as the top floor of Grange Cottage . Archive reference: 10/20/36.

The 1940s also saw the planting of the New Orchard behind Grange Cottage, leading to Elizabeth Welsh’s original orchard becoming known as the Old Orchard. Both orchards flourished under the care of William Stringer, who spent several decades tending Girton’s gardens, eventually becoming Head Gardener. Mr Stringer lists the many apple varieties planted in New Orchard in 1948 in his booklet,  A Garden Walk, a copy of which is held in the Archive (archive reference: GCAR 10/5/3).


The orchards were William Stringer’s pride and joy. He proudly exhibited Girton’s apples at fairs and shows around the county, regularly winning prizes throughout the 1960s and 70s, and establishing the fame of Girton’s orchards. A plan of the College made for the 1967 prospectus shows the Old Orchard in this period (archive reference: GCAR 10/3/7).  A newspaper article from The Times dated November 1979, preserved in Girton Archive (archive reference: GCAR 10/5/2), declares that “Girton College virtually swept the board in the late apple and pear competition, taking many of the first prizes!”


The “Blenheim Orange” was one of the most successful of the prize-winning apple varieties found in the orchard. Stephen Beasley, who was Head Gardener in the 1980s, writes in his A Short History of the Orchards (archive reference: GCAR 10/5/5) that the College’s “Blenheim Orange” trees are reputed to have been purchased directly from Woodstock, the original source of the apple variety (archive reference: GCAR 10/5/3). By the 1980s, they were well over 90 years old!


The College’s Garden Committee made a commitment to conserve the Old Orchard in the 1980s and revitalise the New Orchard. As part of this, Stephen Beasley introduced a wildflower meadow among the roots of the trees in Old Orchard. A list of seeds purchased for the meadow in 1983 gives a sense of the variety of flowers which were planned, including the well-named “Crested dog’s tail grass”, “Cat’s ear”, “Goat’s-beard” and “Fleabane” (archive reference: GCAR 10/3/6). The Archive also holds plans and planting lists from 1983 for New Orchard, also carried out under Stephen Beasley’s stewardship, showing the diversity of trees at Girton (archive reference: GCAR 10/3/5).


Girton’s orchards continue to flourish to this day. The spring blossom and autumn bounty of the trees provide a rich legacy for the many expert hands that have tended the orchards for well over a hundred years. 

Published: 23 June 2017

Yelena Popova, 2016-17 Artist in Residence, opens end-of-year exhibition 'Elements: A Girton Adventure'


‘…the weight and meaning of industrialism and feminist thought weave through her works across Girton College’.

Eliza Gluckman, Curator NEW HALL ART COLLECTION, University of Cambridge


Girton’s artist residency dates from 2013. It enables early career visual artists to live and work in the College for up to a year. The hope is that their creativity will be influenced by us - by the history, geography and materiality of the site, by the Fellows, staff and students who inhabit it  - and that our thinking and practices might in turn be shaped by their presence.

‘Elements’ is part of this engagement. It is an art trail created by Yelena Popova, the third incumbent of the artist-in-residence scheme. Yelena’s predecessors are Colden Drystone (2013-14), and Sonny Sanjay Vadgama (2014-15), whose end-of-year exhibitions were mounted in the Judge Business School. Yelena, in contrast, entices us on a journey - a tour of the College and of her work, including items co-produced with students.

Visitors are encouraged to pick up a booklet from the Porters Lodge which includes a map of the trail and a guide to the artworks. We think you will find some iconic spaces transformed by the new exhibits; equally, you will see that many new works are inspired by the environment and operation of the College - 53 acres of gardens, woodland and grounds, mud, earth and ashes, the material trace of past generations, the energy of today’s youth.

The artist-in-residence scheme is, in short, part of a unique educational adventure with Girton  at its centre. We are grateful to the founders and funders who have made it possible. They are Suling Mead (1975, Economics) and Ruth Whaley (1974, English): two Girton alumni whose vision and energy have, like that of the artists whose work they support, truly made a difference.

Open to the public, admission free. Mon-Sun 9am-7pm until September 25th 2017*

*NB Full exhibition available to view until Monday 26th June but please bear in mind when pieces are sold after this date they will be removed.

All pieces in ‘Elements’ are for sale and the proceeds support both the Artist and the Artist in Residence scheme at Girton. Please see the tour booklet for some images and price guide. If you would like to purchase any of Yelena’s work, please contact Tamsin Elbourn-Onslow.

Email: JLIB_HTML_CLOAKING or by phone: 01223 765685

Girton's great scheme: a purpose-built graduate complex at Eddington (North West Cambridge)


Photo (L-R): Girton College Bursar, Ms Debbie Lowther, The Mistress of Girton College and Heather Topel, Project Director for the North West Cambridge development

  • Eddington is a visionary £350 million new urban-academic community delivered by the University of Cambridge
  • Swirles Court – a purpose-built graduate complex for Girton College – is the first completed accommodation development on the site
  • Swirles Court offers some of the most sustainable student accommodation in Cambridge.

Swirles Court, a development of 325 en-suite rooms, purpose built for students, has been completed at the North West Cambridge Development of Eddington. Leased to Girton College, this is the first completion of many scheduled for 2017 at the new community, which is setting the standard in sustainable living and delivered by the University of Cambridge. The scheme has been designed by award winning architects practice, R H Partnership (RHP).

With a total construction value of £26 million, Swirles Court sits at the heart of Eddington, a 150 hectare site which will comprise 3,000 homes (private for sale and for rent to University and college key workers), 2,000 student rooms, 100,000 square metres of research facilities, a community centre, shops and a primary school. Girton is the first Cambridge College to establish a base in Eddington, offering state-of-the art facilities to its growing graduate community.

Professor Susan J. Smith, Mistress of Girton College, said: “Girton, known for its pioneering spirit, is proud to establish a College presence in Eddington. By extending our estate into North West Cambridge – just a short walk from the main site – we have the potential to link a thriving undergraduate community with a growing graduate school, in close proximity to a unique residential complex for postdoctoral researchers and other key workers. This is the collegiate University at its best, offering new possibilities for interdisciplinary, cross-community mentoring, lifetime learning and public engagement. Girton looks forward to adding to, and benefitting from, everything this unique residential complex implies.”

Swirles Court


Swirles Court – named after mathematician and physicist, Bertha Swirles (Lady Jeffreys), a Girton alumna, Fellow and Benefactor – is itself a microcosm of the sustainable ethic which underpins Eddington as a whole.

Heather Topel, Project Director for the North West Cambridge development, said:“It is incredibly exciting to see the University of Cambridge’s vision for Eddington start to come to fruition with the completion of this innovative residential development that is part of the Collegiate University.

“The new community is the University’s response to the need to provide homesfor its academic staff and student accommodation. To maintain its status as a leading academic institution on a global stage, Cambridge University has created, in Eddington, a development that is unprecedented in scale and ambition.

“Swirles Court will be part of a new sustainable urban community featuring green open spaces, facilities and amenities such as local shops and a community centre, all linked by strategic cycle routes to promote connectivity to Cambridge centre and beyond. To future-proof the University’s position on the global stage as a research leader we need to provide an inspiring, sustainable place for our people to live and thrive.”

The complex is linked to the site-wide sustainable urban drainage system, the largest water recycling network in the country, and to the district heating system, and benefits from the underground waste storage system. Students will be encouraged to grow their own produce in the integrated allotment areas.

Each student will benefit from secure indoor cycle storage (there are 325 spaces in total) and Swirles Court’s location on the main Ridgeway cycle route will provide easy access to all typical student destinations including West Cambridge, Cambridge city centre and the Sidgwick site; public transport connections are already in place to Addenbrooke’s hospital and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Innovative features like solar shading screens to prevent overheating in summer and perforated window surrounds to allow natural ventilation help cement Swirles Court, and Eddington, as an exemplar of sustainability.

The RHP designed accommodation also provides:

  • A 24 hour porters’ lodge reception
  • General meeting area
  • Quiet study area
  • Laundry facilities
  • Shared kitchen/sitting rooms suitable for self-catering
  • Access to three landscaped gardens which draw inspiration from traditional courts in Cambridge colleges
  • Some of the kitchens are large enough to host whole-house meetings/events

Swirles Court has been built by Graham Construction.


For more information, please visit:


For media enquiries, contact:

West and North West Cambridge Estates Syndicate:

PR Manager - Biky Wan


Telephone: 01223 (3)32253


Girton College

Communications Officer – Hannah Sargent



Published: 13 June 2017


About Girton

Girton College was Founded in 1869 as the first UK residential institution for the Higher Education of Women. Today, having been mixed for nearly 40 years, and with an almost 50:50 gender balance, Girton retains a commitment to inclusion and diversity, and is known for its success in widening participation.

One of the larger Cambridge Colleges overall, admitting students to almost every subject in the University, Girton is growing its graduate school. Expanding into NW Cambridge and enlarging its residential offer is part of this. Equally the College is committed to supporting the work and wellbeing of its graduate members, providing personal tutors, interdisciplinary opportunities, and help with transferable and life skills.

Girton students who reside at Swirles Court are full College members. As well as enjoying the attractions of North-west Cambridge, they have ready access to everything on offer at the main-site, including formal and cafeteria dining and (from 2018) an all-day café, bar and social hub. There are 50 acres of gardens and grounds, some of the best on-site sports facilities of any College (football, rugby, cricket, hockey, lawn tennis, squash, gym, erg-room and an indoor heated pool), fine public rooms, study space, a well-stocked library and archive, and an incomparable range of musical opportunities including a mixed voice chapel choir, and various classical and popular instrumental ensembles.


About Eddington

Eddington is a new community setting the standard in sustainable living, delivered by the University of Cambridge. This visionary urban area will provide new homes, learning spaces, amenities and green spaces, creating a vibrant environment for people to live, learn, and socialise in.

Eddington will secure the long-term success of the university by providing homes for its academic staff and students, to maintain its status as a leading academic institution on a global stage. The community is beautifully and innovatively designed, inspired by the architecture of the city and of the University of Cambridge.


The 150-hectare site will include:

  • 1,500 homes for University and College key workers
  • 1,500 homes for sale
  • 2,000 study bedrooms for post-graduates in the collegiate University
  • 100,000 square metres of research facilities
  • A wide range of community facilities


Phase one includes:

  • 700 homes for qualifying University and College staff
  • A 325-room residential complex for post-graduates
  • 450 market homes
  • Public green space
  • Facilities including a primary school, shops, community centre, nursery and a doctor’s surgery


The University’s approval will be sought for future phases, enabled through outline planning permission.

2017 Humanities Writing Competition Winners


The annual Humanities Writing Competition for current Year 12 students is now in its sixth year. The prize-giving ceremony was held on Thursday 27 April 2017 in the Fellows’ Rooms at Girton College. The aim of the competition is to encourage students of any subject to research, think and write about one of the five chosen items from the College Museum of Antiquities at Girton College, known as the Lawrence Room.

The chosen items for this year’s competition were a carved stela and a tilapia-fish amulet from ancient Egypt, a Greek aryballos (flask), a pair of terracotta tortoises from Greece, and a brooch found in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Girton’s grounds.

A record number of entries was received, including essays, short stories and poems. The terracotta tortoises in particular seemed to capture the entrants’ imagination this year, accounting for the majority of the submissions, but each object inspired at least one piece of work. All showed evidence (sometimes highly impressive) of interests and research outside the set curriculum. The general standard of proof-reading, referencing and written style was good. A few entrants did not observe the requirement to base their work on one or more of the museum objects, and we must point out that this is one of the conditions of the competition. It was also evident from this year’s work that creative writing should not be regarded as an easy option compared to essay-writing: not everyone avoided the pitfalls of clichéd style, stereotyped story-lines and an unrelieved emphasis on the awfulness of the past, with childbirth trauma being a particular ‘flavour of the year’.  The best of the creative entries, however, opened arresting windows on life in the remote past, and all gave food for thought and enhanced our appreciation of the educational and human value of Girton’s museum collection. 

First place was awarded to Maria Telnikoff (Leicester Grammar School) and second prize to Harry Dearlove Still (Lewes Old Grammar School), who both wrote fine essays on the cultural significance of tortoises in the ancient Hellenic world.   A joint third prize was awarded to the authors of two creative pieces: Sophie Al-Hussaini (The Maynard School) and Catherine Ogilvy (Cheltenham Ladies’ College), who wrote respectively about the tortoise figurines and the tilapia amulet playing pivotal parts in their characters’ lives.

In addition, the judges wished to highly commend the entries by Isabella Jakobsen (North London Collegiate School), Hannah Lewis (Oxford High School), and Peter Mumford (King Edward’s School, Bath).

The four finalists were invited to Girton where they browsed the Lawrence Room with two of the College’s Fellows and judges of the competition, Dr Helen Van Noorden and Dr Gillian Jondorf, before going on a tour of the College led by one of our undergraduate finalists. They then enjoyed tea with the Mistress and judges in the Fellows’ Rooms, where they were presented with their prizes and certificates. 

The winning entries are now on display in the Lawrence Room, which is open to the public from 2 - 4pm on Thursdays. Girton are grateful to Cambridge University Press and to Miss C. Anne Wilson for their kind sponsorship of the competition.


For more information, please visit:


Published: 05 June 2017

Glimpses of Girton: 'Terracotta dog'


Catalogue ref: LR.783: ‘DOG’

As soon as I saw this figurine, the words of a fable by La Fontaine came into my head. The fable is no. 2 in the first book of the Fables, and begins:

Maître corbeau, sur un arbre perché,

Tenait en son bec un fromage.

Maître renard, par l’odeur alléché,

Lui tint à peu près ce langage…

If you say the first two words to a French person they are likely to be able to continue, having been made to learn the poem at school. La Fontaine goes on to tell us how the fox, to obtain the cheese which the crow had in his beak, praised the bird’s beauty and suggested that if his voice was as handsome as his plumage, he would be the finest bird around. Eager to earn this accolade, the crow opened his beak to demonstrate his voice, and dropped the cheese. Job done.


However, the story was not invented by La Fontaine. He probably adapted his version from the 1st-century Roman poet Phaedrus, who surely based his version on a Greek source, such as one of the prose versions associated with the name Aesop.


So what are the chances that this figurine represents not a weird and inexplicable grouping of a dog with a round cake in his mouth and a bird on his back (as the catalogue puts it) but the moment at the end of the fable when the fox has obtained the cheese?


Our figurine comes from Boeotia, in central Greece, north of Attica. It has been dated to about 500–450 BCE. Although several accounts of Aesop’s life are plainly fictitious, serious scholars like Aristotle believed he was a real person, and that he was born in Thrace (in mainland Greece) and spent some time on Samos. He lived in the early sixth century, and may have died in 564 BCE. By the time Aristophanes (c. 446–386) was writing his comedies, the Aesopic material was obviously well known and appreciated, and Aristophanes often refers to it. It seems safe to assume that the potter who made our figurine could have come across the fable.


So is the figure a dog or a fox? I would argue that the pricked ears and the shape and angle of the tail are fox-like. I also think that the bird looks more like a bird of the crow family than anything else. Is there anything that goes against this identification? Possibly. There are traces of red colouring on the figurine (inside the pricked ears, round the nostrils, and on the bird’s beak). It would be nice if the fox’s whole body had been red, but the cataloguer tells it that it seems to have been painted with white slip, apart from those touches of red. Well, I have a collection of small animal figurines from Oaxaca in Mexico which are all bright green… Perhaps this Greek figure was part of an all-white collection, with a few coloured highlights?


How does the figurine compare with Aesopic texts? The online Thesaurus Linguae Graecae gives two versions of this fable, and in both of them the bird (korax, crow or raven) is holding not a cheese but a piece of meat (kreas). The object in the fox’s mouth does not look like meat (unless, of course, it is a hamburger patty…) but, though identified by the cataloguer as a cake, it could perfectly well be a small round cheese. Indeed, it is a cheese (caseus) in the first extant verse form of the fable, composed by the Roman poet Phaedrus, probably in the first half of the first century CE, so perhaps he knew a Greek version in which the object of desire was a cheese and not a piece of meat. And perhaps the Greek potter who made our figurine also knew such a version. We shall never know, but we can speculate.


Written by Dr Gillian Jondorf, Life Fellow.


Published: 25 May 2017

Gates Cambridge Scholarship - Class of 2017 Announced

We are delighted to announce that Wanyi Jia will be joining the College in Michaelmas 2017 as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Wanyi will be taking a PhD in Clinical Neurosciences and hopes to profile neural-glial communication in health and disease and understand the role of myelin using the optic nerve as model.

Wanyi is one of 55 successful scholars who have been selected as the most academically exceptional and socially committed people from across the globe.

“Gates Cambridge Scholars come from all over the world, but they have some important things in common: great leadership potential, a commitment to improving the lives of others and an unparalleled passion for learning,” said Bill Gates, co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Melinda and I are pleased to welcome the class of 2017. We have no doubt they will have an incredible impact on topics of global importance.”


For more information, please visit:


Published: 21 April 2017

Girtonians give back generously in the 2017 Telethon


Over a period of three weeks in the Easter Vacation students enjoyed inspiring telephone conversations with Girton alumni from all over the world. We value the Telethon as an opportunity to stay in touch in a personal  and meaningful way, and many of the callers came away from the experience with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the College past, present and  future plans.


Thank you so much to all who contributed in cash, kind or conversation – 415 alumni made a gift raising £265,208 for Girton! Those of you were giving for the first time were particularly generous, and we were especially grateful to an alumnus, who matriculated in 1991, for providing a matched fund for new regular donors.


Key achievements of the Telethon included raising two thirds of the funding left to complete the John Marks Fellowship in Medicine, the endowment of an Emily Davies Bursary and raising over £88,000 for the College’s unrestricted permanent endowment which will help all aspects of College life according to need.

A very big thank you to all our alumni and supporters who took part in the telethon; you have brought us one step closer to achieving financial sustainability in the lead up to our 150th Anniversary in 2019.



For more information, please visit:

·         Annual Telephone Campaign

·         A Great Campaign

·         Giving to Girton


Bye-Fellow, Dr Irit Katz, awarded the 2017 AIS Halpern Award


Bye-Fellow, Dr Irit Katz, has been awarded the 2017 Association for Israel Studies (AIS) Ben Halpern Award for Best Dissertation in Israel Studies. Irit received the award for her PhD study: "The Common Camp: Temporary Settlements as a Spatio-political Instrument in Israel-Palestine".


The AIS Ben Halpern Prize is awarded to the best doctoral dissertation in the various fields of Israel studies during the last calendar year. It honours the memory of Ben Halpern, a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Association for Israel Studies. His book, The Idea of the Jewish State, is still seminal in the study of Zionism. 


For more information, visit:   


Published: 19 April 2017

Free entry to see Daphne Todd’s Portrait of The Mistress, Professor Susan J Smith

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition 2017 is taking place at Mall Galleries from Thursday 4 May to Friday 19 May.

The exhibition includes a portrait by Daphne Todd OBE PPRP NEAC Hon SWA of Professor Susan J Smith, Mistress of Girton, and the Mall Galleries are offering free entry to those who are interested to see the painting and the rest of the exhibition, which includes over 200 portraits. Daphne’s portrait has also won the Face Equality Changing Faces Award. In order to gain free entry, please print off the invitation: Mall Galleries Invitation.


You can find out more about the exhibition visit:


Published: 4 May 2017

Glimpses of Girton: Isabel Townshend, Emily Gibson and Rachel Cook

The ‘Girton Five’, the earliest group of students to study at the College when it was still in Hitchin, taken in 1869. Isabel Townshend stands on the far left and Emily Gibson on the far right; Rachel Cook is seated on the left (archive reference: GCPH 7/2/1/1).

Standing in pride of place on the mantelpiece in the Stanley Library is an ornate Regency bracket clock bearing the inscription:

‘To chime in remembrance of the first Girton student registered (Hitchen 1869)[1] Emily C. Townshend (née Gibson) and her chief friends: Rachel Scott (née Cooke)[2] and Isabel Townshend[3] (whose brother she married).The family clock was given by her children 1935.’

The mahogany and brass clock, made by John Bowen in London circa 1830, was donated to the College by the Townshend family.

The clock, with its plaque shown beneath, commemorating Emily Gibson, Isabel Townshend and Rachel Cook (archive reference: GCPH 11/2a/2)

Isabel Townshend, Rachel Cook and Emily Gibson, who are commemorated in the clock’s inscription, were part of the earliest group of students to study at the College, when it was still located at Benslow House in Hitchin. These students, sometimes known as the ‘Girton Five’, are shown in a formal photograph taken at Hitchin in 1869 (archive reference: GCPH 7/2/1/1).


Little is known of Isabel’s life before Girton, except that she grew up in Ireland. After winning a scholarship due to her excellence in essay writing, Isabel took a while to acclimatise to life at Girton. Emily Davies wrote in a letter dated 1870, and preserved in the Archive, that Isabel had not been very well when she arrived at the College in October but had improved so much that Isabel’s own family had commented on it (archive reference: GCPP Bodichon 1/40).

The first, second and third years at the College in 1871-2, taken at Benslow House in Hitchin. Rachel Cook is in the back row on the far left; Emily Gibson and Isabel Townshend sit second and third from the left in the middle row (archive reference: GCPH 10/1/5).

Isabel, Emily Gibson and Rachel Cook became friends at the College. They are pictured, along with members of the first, second and third years, in 1871 (archive reference: GCPH 10/1/5). Emily wrote a memoir later in her life in which she recalled that Isabel was deeply influenced by a ‘current of aestheticism’ and believed that ‘a beautiful combination  of colours, a delicate bit of decorative work seen and cared for in a reverent and appreciative spirit, could do more for us in the way of training and development than much steady grinding away at mathematics and classics’.[4] This may explain why Isabel left the College without sitting for the Tripos examination. Instead, Isabel’s appreciation of colour and beauty led her to study art in Rome after leaving Girton. Her self-portrait survives in the College (archive reference: GCPH 11/33/42). Sadly, Isabel died aged only thirty-four after contracting an illness in Italy.

Self-portrait by Isabel Townshend (archive reference: GCPH 11/33/42).

Emily Gibson was the earliest applicant to the College. Before Girton was even founded, she wrote in her diary in 1868, that she was ‘beginning to build castles about becoming, some day, a student at the ladies’ college’.[5] Despite leaving the College before taking the Tripos examination, Emily was an active student. A letter written by Emily Gibson to Barbara Bodichon described how she and other students acted scenes from Shakespeare at Benslow House, wearing men’s clothes to perform the male roles (archive reference: GCPP Bodichon 3/7).


Emily went on to marry Isabel’s brother, Chambrey Townshend, leading a long and active life. A few years before she passed away in 1934, J. E. Nutgens captured her likeness in a beautiful sketch, donated to the College and now held in the Archive (archive reference: GCRF 5/1/7).

Pencil drawing of Emily Townshend (née Gibson) by J. E. Nutgens, circa 1928 (archive reference: GCRF 5/1/7).

Rachel Cook, the third friend commemorated on the Stanley Library clock, grew up in Scotland. Illness prevented her from taking up her place at Girton until January 1870. Rachel went on to gain a second class in the Classical Tripos in 1873, the first woman to ever go in for the exam. Her achievement, along with successes in the Tripos examinations by her contemporaries, Sarah Woodhead and Louisa Lumsden, is remembered in the Girton Song:

But of all the Cambridge heroes
There’s none that can compare
With Woodhead, Cook and Lumsden
The Girton Pioneers.

The Archive holds copy of the song, copied out in September 1873 by Alice Betham – a student at the College – in book of songs and poems owned by Amy Mantle, also a contemporary student at Girton (archive reference: GCRF 7/1/8).

‘The Girton Pioneers’ song, written out in 1873 in a book of songs and poems owned by Amy Mantle, a student at Girton from 1873 to 1877 (archive reference: GCRF 7/1/8).

Rachel continued to be an activist in women’s education after leaving Girton, helping to set up the Manchester and Salford College for Women in the 1870s-80s. She was a prominent advocate for girls’ schools in Manchester throughout her life. Sadly, she passed away aged only fifty-seven in 1905.


The clock was restored to its original glory in 2011 by Gerald Dyke. Its set of nested bells chime out in the Stanley Library in daily remembrance of the Girton Pioneers.


Further reading:

  • Campion, Val, Pioneering Women: the Origins of Girton College in Hitchin (Hitchin, 2008).
  • Girton College Register, 1869-1946(Cambridge, 1948).
  • Sparks, Peter, ‘Pendulum’, The Year: The Annual Review of Girton College (2011-2012), pp. 17-20.
  • Townshend, Emily, Emily Townshend 1849-1934, Some Memories for her Friends (London, 1936).


Published: 22 March 2017

[1] The spelling in this quotation copies that used in the clock’s inscription, but ‘Hitchen’ is normally spelt as Hitchin.

[2] The spelling in this quotation copies that used in the clock’s inscription, but Rachel Cook’s surname is normally spelt without an ‘e’ in College records. As a result, the spelling ‘Cook’ will be used in this article.

[3] Some College records refer to Isabel as Isabella. However, the Archive holds a letter in which she signs her own name as ‘Isabel Townshend’ (archive reference: GCPP Davies 15/1/5/18).

[4] Emily Townshend, Emily Townshend 1849-1934, Some Memories For Her Friends (London, 1936), p. 47

[5] Emily Townshend, Emily Townshend 1849-1934, Some Memories For Her Friends (London, 1936), p. 26.

The National Jane Martin Poetry Prize 2017 winners are announced

Girton College is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Jane Martin Poetry Prize, a national poetry competition established in 2010 in memory of Girton alumna Jane Elizabeth Martin.

The winning poems can be found here:

First prize: Katie Hale

Second prize: Andrew Wynn Owen

Katie Hale's student life was split between London, Melbourne, and St Andrews, where she completed her MLitt in Creative Writing a few years ago. She now lives in Cumbria, where she runs poetry workshops in schools and hosts Word Mess open mic night. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Review, The North and Interpreter's House, and her inaugural pamphlet, Breaking the Surface, is forthcoming from Flipped Eye. She was recently shortlisted for the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize, and came second in the Tannahill International Poetry Competition. She is currently being mentored by Penguin Random House on their WriteNow scheme, and her new musical, The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash, co-written with composer Stephen Hyde, will be showing at the Edinburgh Fringer this summer.

You can hear Katie reading some of her poems on her Soundcloud page.

Andrew Wynn Owen is an Examination Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2015 and Oxford University's Newdigate Prize in 2014. A recent narrative poem, The Dragon and The Bomb, is published by The Emma Press.'

Katie and Andrew will be visiting the College on Thursday 4 May, along with the Judges Grevel Lindop and Malcolm Guite, to attend the presentation evening and read some of their poems, which will be held in the Stanley Library from 6-7pm. All are welcome to attend and refreshments will be served.

Ridding Reading Prize 2017


Artist in Residence, Yelena Popova with Ridding Reading Prize Winner for 2017, Sonnel David-Longe

The annual Ridding Reading Prize competition was held on 13 March 2017. The competition is a Girton tradition founded in honour of Caroline Mary Ridding, who won a scholarship to Girton to read Classics in 1883, and became a renowned Sanskrit and Pali scholar.

Prose and poetry readings were set for the contestants to prepare and read.

There were six competitors, two graduates and four undergraduates, reading a range of subjects in the Sciences and Arts: Sonnel David-Longe, Jessica Ginn, David Lawrence, Sheanna Patelmaster, Ruari Paterson-Achenbach and Scott Remer.

The competition was judged by a panel of Girton Fellows: Ms Judith Drinkwater, Dr Jill Jondorf, Dr Roland Randall and Dr Emma Weisblatt. We were delighted to welcome Ms Yelena Popova, Girton’s Artist in Residence for 2016-17, as the external adjudicator.

In the first round the contestants read an extract from Shadderby Neil Gaiman, and a sonnet, ‘Farewell!’, by William Shakespeare.

The judges selected three of the six contestants to proceed to round two.

In the second round, contestants read an extract from The Pursuit of Loveby Nancy Mitford and ‘A poetry reading at West Point’ by William Matthews. The contestants approached the former passage with relish, and communicated its humour and changing voices very effectively to the audience. All the readers of the Matthews poem engaged with the sense of place and tension running through the piece. The contestants also read an unseen poem, ‘A Blessing’ by James Wright, and the judges were impressed by the way that they conveyed the mingling of gentleness and wildness in the scene depicted.

The overall winner was Sonnel David-Longe, who consistently showed appreciation of and sensitivity to the language of the passages and poems, and riveted the audience with her readings.

The evening concluded with an excellent buffet meal kindly provided by the catering staff, and those assembled took the opportunity to discuss the readings and the different styles with which they had been presented. Thanks go to all those who assisted in making the evening a success, and especially to the competitors. Many congratulations go to the overall winner.

Published: 20 March 2017

Glimpses of Girton: The Personal Papers of Ethel Fegan, 1877-1975


A close up of Ethel Fegan, taken from the 1896 First Year photograph (archive reference: 6/2/29/4).

Ethel Sophia Fegan was Librarian at Girton from 1918-1930, and notably, became Lady Superintendent of Education for the Nigerian Government, receiving the George V Jubilee Medal for her educational work in Africa.

The College archive holds a collection of her personal papers (GCPP Fegan), ranging from her manuscript copies of lectures delivered as part of the Library Association to her collection of pamphlets on the subject of bibliography. This collection has recently been re-catalogued and is now available to view in the archive.

Born in Kent and educated at Blackheath High School, Ethel read Classics at Girton, 1896-1900. She studied for the Library Association examinations while teaching classics, receiving an MA in 1907 from Trinity College Dublin (quasi ad eundem). She then became Librarian at Cheltenham Ladies’ College (1908-17) and was elected a Fellow of the Library Association circa 1910.


View of Old Hall as part of the Library, taken circa 1902, just after Ethel’s time as a student at Girton (archive reference: GCPH 2/7/1).

At Cheltenham, she inaugurated courses for professional training in librarianship, conducted correspondence classes for the Library Association, and devised the ‘Cheltenham Classification’, a library classification for schools. Her lectures were varied, from bibliographic study to the typography of Wynkyn de Worde, and her notebooks show a woman who was deeply committed to the study of words, librarianship and literature (GCPP Fegan 2/1). Perhaps surprising to us nowadays, female librarians were scarce in the early 20th Century, yet Ethel was certain that openings would come if one only worked hard (GCPP Fegan 1/1/1).

Ethel returned to Girton as Librarian (1918-30). Described as a ‘benevolent despot’, she reorganised the Library under more scientific lines from her ‘cubby-hole’ in Old Hall where the books were then kept (GCPP Fegan 1/1/1). She also worked with Dr A. C. Haddon to build up the Haddon Library, and under his influence she took the Cambridge Diploma in Anthropology (1929). In 1948 she became an Honorary Fellow of the College.


Formal group of staff (taken before the term Fellow was in use) in Emily Davies Court, by Bassano in 1919. Ethel is furthest left in the back row (archive reference: GCPH 6/1/11).

Her interest in anthropology and intrepid nature led her to Nigeria, with funding from the Gilchrist Trustees.  Her ‘Gilchrist Report’ (GCPP Fegan 3/1/2) gives an account of women's education in the then British colonies on the West Coast of Africa. She toured these during 1928 and 1929, learning Hausa and collecting data about the people, statistics, education, the curriculum, and the need for teachers.

She was then appointed Lady Superintendent of Education for the Nigerian Government (1930-35): in this role she pioneered the first official attempt to educate the women of that area.

She stayed in Nigeria as a lay worker at Zaria Leper Colony (1938-39) and returned (1945-46) for the British Empire Leprosy Relief Association, maintaining her links with Girton by writing a piece for the Girton College Review entitled ‘Life in a Leper Colony in Nigeria’, where she discusses her work frankly and mentions teaching boys to knit socks using old bicycle spokes (GCPP Fegan 3/1/12). Her articles emphasise her warmth of feeling for the places visited and the people met, and it is no surprise that at the age of 97 she still remembered Nigeria with amazing clarity, discussing men who sold her dolls, much like those selling ‘penny dolls’ from her childhood in Kent (GCPP Fegan 1/1/1).

Ethel later resumed library work: she investigated library conditions in British West Africa for the Carnegie Corporation of New York; worked in libraries in the UK; and trained Africans for library work at Achimota College on the Gold Coast, continuing to work well into her retirement. On her return to Britain, Ethel Fegan worked as a volunteer in Cambridgeshire Archives until she was over 90, her hard-working nature continuing to the last.

The catalogue for the personal papers of Ethel Fegan is now available to view on Janus:


Articles by Ethel Fegan available in the Girton Review:

  • Fegan, Ethel, ‘Some Africans’, Girton Review, (Michaelmas Term, 1929), pp. 10-14.
  • Fegan, Ethel, ‘Life in a Leper Colony in Nigeria’, Girton Review, (Easter Term, 1946), pp. 15-19.
  • Fegan, Ethel, ‘Women in Northern Nigeria’, Girton Review, (Michaelmas Term, 1954), pp. 6-9.


Published: 26 April 2017

Glimpses of Girton - The Reception Room


The interior of the Reception Room, 1923 (archive reference: GCPH 10/4/7/5).

The Reception Room, with its vibrant Jacobean-style embroideries, is one of the most distinctive rooms in the College. The crewel work embroideries are based on the tree of life motif. Exotic animals such as a leopard, crocodile, kangaroo and emu gambol amongst animals more familiar in the British landscape such as deer, sheep and squirrels. Interwoven also are flowers which bloom in country gardens throughout England and Ireland, like carnations, clematis, and passion flowers. Hiding at the bottom of two of the panels is a small white terrier.

These exquisite embroideries were the work of Lady Julia Carew, who was also the mistress of the white terrier, Pepper. She was the wife of the third Baron Carew, whose family home was Castleboro, County Wexford in Ireland. Castleboro had been badly damaged by fire in the mid-nineteenth century and many paintings had been destroyed, so Lady Carew and her sister, Lady Cory, began to create embroidery panels to decorate the walls. They were both notable needlewomen and had been taught needlework at the Royal School of Art Needlework (RSAN). This school had been founded in order to restore ornamental embroidery to the position it once held in the decorative arts.


Lady Julia Carew at her embroidery frame, published in Needlecraft magazine, December 1906 (archive reference: GCAR 8/3/2).

In an interview with The Ladies’ Field magazine in 1920, Lady Carew recalled how she ‘found pleasure in Jacobean designs’ while studying at the RSAN[1]. She began by making picture panels and chair covers for her drawing room, eventually developing her skill until she was able to make the intricate panels that now adorn the walls of the Reception Room. In an earlier interview, published by Needlecraft magazine in  1906, Lady Carew explained that the RSAN provided her with the designs for her embroideries, but that she planned the execution, stitches and colours herself. In the interview, Lady Carew said her needlework gave her ‘repose and relief from the bustle and fatigue of everyday life’ and that she spent some time every day on her embroidery[2].

It is thought that the Girton panels were meant for the ballroom in Castleboro. However, due to the Irish War of Independence, the Carews left Castleboro and Lady Carew began to look for a new home for the embroideries. It was Lady Muriel Newton, a friend of Lady Carew, who suggested Girton as a possible recipient. Lady Newton was the cousin of Helen Marion Wodehouse, who was a student at Girton from 1898 to 1902 and who would later become Mistress. Lady Carew gifted the embroideries to Girton in 1922, but sadly died before they were installed.


The characteristic landscape embroidered by Lady Carew. Since this section was never mounted in the Reception Room and is held in the College Archive, it has retained its vibrancy of colour (archive reference: GCPH 2/2/8/2).

The Reception Room, also known as the ‘Carew Room’ or ‘Jacobean Room’, was officially opened on the 7th of March 1923. Lady Cowdray performed ‘the little informal ceremony’ as a tribute to her friend Lady Carew[3]. It was Lady Cowdray who paid for the embroideries to be mounted in oak frames made by Sir Edwin Cooper, father of an Old Girtonian. Lady Cowdray also financed the first restoration of the embroideries in 1932, carried out by the Cambridge Tapestry Company.


A sheep embroidered by Lady Carew. Since this section was never mounted in the Reception Room and is held in the College Archive, it has retained its vibrancy of colour (archive reference: GCPH 2/2/8/3).

Since its opening in 1923, the Reception Room has changed little and the embroideries have retained their beauty and charm. Lady Carew’s portrait, which she donated to the College and was painted by John Baldry, was moved from the Hall to hang over the fireplace in the Reception Room in 1928, where it remains to this day.


Further reading:

  • ‘Every Woman Should Embroider’, The Ladies’ Field (20 November 1920), pp. 324-325.
  • Hulse, Lynn, ‘The Best Embroideress in Society’, Girton College Annual Review (2011), pp. 24-29.
  • Hulse, Lynn, The Embroidered Furnishings of the Lethbridge Sisters, c. 1899-1922 (OE Publications, 2016).
  • Lady Julia Carew in the Hurd Library (2012), website:
  • ‘The Needlecraft of Lady Carew and Mrs Clifford Cory’, Needlecraft (December, 1906), pp. 12-14.
  • Portrait of Lady Julia Carew, by John Baldry (1921), available on the Art UK website,
  • Richardson, Joan, 'The Origin of the Carews', Genealogists' Magazine 26, no. 7 (September, 1999), pp. 245-49.


[1] ‘Every Woman Should Embroider’, The Ladies’ Field (20 November 1920), pp. 324-325, at p. 324.

[2] ‘The Needlecraft of Lady Carew and Mrs Clifford Cory’, Needlecraft (December, 1906), pp. 12-14, at p. 12.

[3] Letter to Bertha Phillpotts from Lady Cowdray, 31st October 1922 (archive reference: GCAR 2/6/17/3(pt)).


Published: 23 February 2017