News & Events

Glimpses of Girton - 'The Dentist' by William Bowyer


Portrait: ‘The Dentist’ by William Bowyer (RA Hon. RP Hon. NEAC RWS, 1927-2015), 1975 (oil on canvas)


This portrait was added to the People’s Portraits exhibition in September 2016. It was unveiled at the annual People’s Portraits reception and the College was delighted that Jason Bowyer (son of William Bowyer), Vera Bowyer (William’s widow) and Laura Cumming (the Observer’s art critic) were all present.


Jason Bowyer, himself a member of The Royal Society of Portrait Painters, spoke to the audience. He talked warmly of his father and of his love of painting. He touched first on his father’s career, saying that William saw portraiture as a way to describe his feelings about people he knew and admired. He painted family, neighbours and friends, and his great mentors and former teachers, Ruskin Spear RA and Carel Weight RA, were the major influence on his painting. In the early 1980s, after early retirement from teaching, William received a number of commissions and he was delighted to have works purchased by the National Portrait Gallery, including a painting of the great West Indian batsman, Viv Richards. William himself played cricket well into his 70s.


Jason then focussed on the Dentist. He explained that William did not catalogue or document his paintings, and he did not have a CV - he just wanted to paint. As a result, the identity of the Dentist was unknown until Jason went online appealing for information. A former lodger of the Dentist identified him as Claude Walker, who had a dental practice in Chiswick High Street close to where William had his studio.


It is not known where the two met but it is likely that William encountered Claude in the local newsagent or even in the pub and had persuaded him to sit for his portrait. Claude probably only had four or five sittings for his portrait.


William painted him on a red ground with patches of green and would have slowly built up the portrait. William painted Claude in his studio; Jason explained that, for those who knew William’s studio, a few familiar objects are reflected in Claude’s glasses.


The pose is quite formal, perhaps even professional, with the white table placed in front of Claude. The design of the portrait is important, including the visual device of Claude’s head being just off centre. Jason explained that portrait painters are always trying to capture ‘that moment’, so William painting Claude with his mouth slightly open might have been more of a gesture, or Claude might have been just about to speak. The result is a gentleness and thoughtfulness, perhaps even a tentativeness, about him.


We believe Claude died in the 1980s. Sadly we have no record of what Claude thought about having his portrait painted. However, I think the whole audience were delighted when Laura Cumming named Claude as one of her favourite portraits of the exhibition.


The People’s Portraits exhibition is open to the public 9am-5pm daily – for information please visit:


Published: 31 January 2017

Girton College's National Jane Martin Poetry Prize opens for 2017

Girton College is delighted to invite entries for the 2017 Jane Martin Poetry Prize.  Now in its seventh year, the national prize for young poets is a key part of the College’s support for poetry and will be of interest to all those who are serious about literary excellence.

The competition will be judged by experts drawn from across the literary world and academia. We are thrilled that this year the panel will be led by Grevel Lindop and Malcolm Guite. The winner will receive a cash prize of £700 and will have an opportunity to give a reading at a celebratory event at Girton College, at which the prize will be awarded. There will also be a second prize of £300 cash.

The competition opens on 26th January 2017 and closes at noon on 17th March 2017. Please find the 2017 information pack and entry rules here.

Click here to enter the 2017 Jane Martin Poetry Prize.

Girtonians listed in the 2017 New Year’s Honours List

It gives us great pleasure to congratulate our alumni on receiving recognition in the New Year's Honours List as follows:

Companion of Honour (CH): The Right Honourable Baroness (Helen) Mary WARNOCK DBE (past Mistress). For services to charity and Children with Special Educational Needs.

Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE): Mr Stephen Neville BATES (1990 History), Chief Executive, Bioindustry Association. For services to Innovation.

Army Awards: Promotions in and Appointments to the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

As Officers: Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Charles Rule HEYWOOD (1988 Engineering), Royal Tank Regiment.


For more information, please visit:

New Year's Honours list 2017

The Military Division of the New Years Honours list 2017


Published: 23 January 2017


*To update us on your news, please contact the Development Office, email: JLIB_HTML_CLOAKING , or tel.: 01223 766672.

Glimpses of Girton: Florence Nightingale's copy of 'The subjection of women' by J.S. Mill

It is no surprise that Girton College Library owns several editions of J.S. Mill's The subjection of women, first published in 1869, the year the College was founded. However, our only copy of the first edition is special also because of its original owner – Florence Nightingale – and the way its provenance is linked to so much of the College's history.

The book was given to the College in February 1947, the year before women were finally admitted as full members of the University of Cambridge, by one of Florence Nightingale's second cousins, Rosalind Nash. She wrote to the then Librarian, Helen McMorran:

"Dear Miss MacMorran,

I had this copy of The Subjection of Women as one of some books left me by Florence Nightingale & I should like it to go to the College library, please. The few pencil marks are no doubt her own, also the turned down leaves."

alt alt
Title page


The inscription “From the author” on the half-title may or may not have been written by J.S. Mill himself but certainly he and Florence Nightingale knew each other and corresponded. Letters survive from one to the other, discussing their writings and the question of the position of women. On the death of J.S. Mill in 1873, she wrote to a friend:

"He was always urging me to publish. He used to say, with the passion which he put into everything he did say: “I have no patience with people who will not publish because they think the world is not ripe enough for their ideas: that is only conceit or cowardice. If anybody has thought out any thing which he conceives to be truth, in Heaven’s name let him say it !”1

J.S. Mill was also well-known to Emily Davies, Girton's founder, through their work to promote women's rights. It was to J.S. Mill that Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett had presented the 1866 women's suffrage petition, and Emily Davies' letters in the College Archive include several to his step-daughter, Helen Taylor2.

Florence Nightingale's extended family included links to both Girton and Newnham Colleges. One cousin was Barbara Bodichon3. One of her second cousins (and Rosalind Nash's sister) was Barbara Shore Smith, later Lady Stephen4. Rosalind once wrote of her sister, Lady Stephen:

“Accompanying the critical judgement was always a deep and real kindness, and the knowledge that kindness comes first. In both these ways she was like Florence Nightingale.”

On Lady Stephen's death, the then Mistress, K.T. Butler, said in her obituary in the Girton Review of Easter 1945:

“Girton has lost one of the best friends it ever had… . Only those who knew her personally and who were at Girton between the outbreak of the last war and of this will ever fully know how much the College owes to her.”

Numerous passages have been marked in this copy of The subjection of women, generally either with a single line in the margin (more common in the first half of the book) or by turning down the corner of the page (more common in the second half of the book).


p.147 (passage marked and “bravo”, written in margin)
"Marriage is the only bondage known to our law. There remain no legal slaves, except the mistress of every house."

Mill, John Stuart, 1806-1873.
The subjection of women / by John Stuart Mill.
London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1869.

Gamble Collection 393.1 M61



  1. Cook, Edward, The life of Florence Nightingale,London: Macmillan, 1913. 2 volumes

  2. Girton College Archive, Cambridge, Personal Papers of Sarah Emily Davies, GCPP Davies -

  3. Girton College Archive, Cambridge, Personal Papers of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, GCPP Bodichon –

  4. Girton College Archive, Canbridge, Personal Papers of Barbara Stephen, GCPP Stephen –

Published: 16 December 2016

3 Girton students selected for the 2016 Varsity matches at Twickenham


Congratulations to Alice Elgar (VetMed 2015) and replacements Jacqueline Bramley (VetSci 2013) and Chris Bell (History 2016), who have been selected to play in the Varsity Matches for the Women's and Men’s Cambridge Rugby squads at Twickenham, on Thursday 8 December!

The Women’s match kicks off at 11:30 am and the Men’s match kicks off at 2:30 pm. If you are unable to support the light blues at Twickenham, you can watch it live on the BBC here:, or live on YouTube here:, or via the red button on your TV.

For more information, visit:


Published: 8 December 2016

Glimpses of Girton: ‘cocked-hat lamp’


LR.1005: Lamp

This pretty object is an oil lamp, obviously for static use since it has no handle and could not be carried easily without spilling the oil, as the front of the reservoir is not enclosed.


The first thing that excited me about this is that it comes from Carthage (in what is now Tunisia). To non-classicists like me, Carthage is to Rome as the Cavaliers were to the Roundheads: in the words of 1066 and All That, ‘Wrong but Wromantic’ versus ‘Right but Repulsive’. Both Carthaginian legend and Carthaginian history are engaging. Legend or history: Dido, seeking to found a new city in North Africa, was offered a piece of land the size of an oxhide; she had the hide cut into narrow strips and used these to outline the perimeter of the city. Legend or, rather, pure fiction: Dido’s doomed love-affair with Aeneas, narrated by Virgil in Book 4 of the Aeneid and celebrated by Purcell in his opera Dido and Aeneas with its famous Lament. As for history – what figure in ancient history is more exciting than Hannibal, commander-in-chief of the Carthaginian armies in the late 3rd and early 2nd centuries BCE? Even his name is pleasingly strange, like those of his father, Hamilcar Barca, and his brothers Mago and Hasdrubal, and no exploit of the time is more amazing than his crossing of the Alps with elephants in 218 BCE.


It is quite likely that Dido was a historical figure, and that she founded Carthage in the last quarter of the eighth century BCE. Our lamp is dated to the first millennium BCE, so it could have been made in the lifetime of either Dido (early in the millennium) or Hannibal (towards its end). Who knows? Take your pick!


However, there is something else about this lamp which intrigues me. According to the catalogue it is a ‘cocked-hat lamp’, but online I could not find any ‘cocked-hat lamps’ quite like this. Usually they seem to have had two folds, providing one wick-rest, whereas this one has three folds, giving slots for two wicks. When I first saw this lamp, I loved its shape but longed to ‘unfold’ it to discover the shape of the piece of clay it was made from. I have worked out a good way of finding this out, which goes like this: roll out a flat slab of pastry or Play-Doh; wrap it round the lamp; trim the edges so that it exactly covers the lamp; unwrap it, and you will now know the shape of the clay. Unfortunately I do not think the Curator will let me do this, so I have had to fall back on methods of inquiry which do not involve taking the lamp out of the display case. At first glance I had thought that the lamp was made from a circle of clay, but then I realised that the top flap, between the two wick-rests, would not fit into a circle but would require a lobe extending beyond the circle, so I tried cutting a circle of paper with a bell-shaped extension on one side. This produced a promising result, but paper, being two-dimensional, could not form the graceful bowl of the oil reservoir. Time to switch to Play-Doh.


Now I was really on the right track, and though Dido or Hannibal might have been startled by the bright blue colour of my copy of the Carthaginian lamp (see below), I do not think the shape would have offended them.



Dr Jondorf's copy of the Carthaginian lamp

Written by Dr Gillian Jondorf, Life Fellow.

Published: 24 November 2016

Tucker-Price Research Fellow wins RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineer of the Year competition


Congratulations to Dr Sabesan (Tucker-Price Research Fellow) for winning the RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineer of the Year competition and for also receiving the Sir George Macfarlane Medal, for excellence in the early stage of his career at the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) Awards Dinner on Thursday 23 June 2016.

This prestigious award from RAE is given to five recipients, who are early career engineers, whose achievements are recognised as outstanding and have made a major impact in their respective fields.

Dr Sabesan is internationally recognised for his work on research and innovation in RFID Tag tracking over a wide area.


For more information, please visit:


Published: 20 July 2016

Graduate Student appointed UN Young Leader for Sustainable Development Goals


Congratulations to graduate student, Samar Samir Mezghanni, on being selected as a United Nations Young Leader for Sustainable Development Goal. The announcement was made in New York on 19 September 2016.

Samar is one of 17 Young Leaders to be selected out of a pool of 18,000 nominations from 186 countries. This recognition was awarded for their leadership and contribution to the achievements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Goals to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

For more information, please visit:


Published:  07 November 2016

On this day in history: 7 June 1866 - Women's suffrage petition

On 7 June 1866, a women’s suffrage petition was presented to Parliament. Supported by 1499 signatures, it requested that women who met the property qualifications required of men should be able to vote in parliamentary elections. Prominent in the group who organised the petition were Emily Davies and Barbara Bodichon, who three years later would be central to the foundation of Girton College.

As Parliament discussed a new Reform Bill in the spring of 1866, a group of women gathered to work on the suffrage petition. Meeting in Elizabeth Garrett's London drawing room, they included Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Bessie Rayner Parkers, Jessie Boucherett, Elizabeth Garrett, Jane Crow and Helen Taylor. From May to June 1866 they sent petition sheets to their contacts; signatures were collected from the length and breadth of the country and beyond, 300 of them almost single-handedly by Elizabeth Wolstenholme in Manchester.  The covering letter explained:

On the day itself, Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett took the petition to the House of Commons to give to the MP for Westminster John Stuart Mill. Mill was the foremost public intellectual of the day, and it was his 1865 promise to support women’s suffrage if elected to Parliament that had prompted the creation of the petition. In her Family Chronicle Emily Davies wrote that, as the petition was large and conspicuous, they asked an apple seller to hide it behind her stall.[2] This event is commemorated in the 1910 painting by Bertha Newcombe.[3]

At the suggestion of Emily Davies, printed copies of the petition were circulated to the press, to members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords, and others ‘in case they take notice’.[4]  Two of these printed copies are held in Girton College’s collections - the images below shows Emily’s copy, with some of the addresses annotated in her hand.[5]


[4] Letter from Emily Davies to Helen Taylor, 18 July 1866, held at LSE

[5] Held in the Blackburn Collection and in the personal papers of Emily Davies  – Girton College Archive reference: GCPP Davies 17/51

This petition was the first in a long line of such petitions which attracted increasingly large number of signatures in support of votes for women. In the early 1870s suffrage petitions regularly attracted between 300,000 and 400,000 signatures per year, and the final years of the Edwardian suffrage campaign saw a concerted push to collect petitions in order to rebut antisuffragist charges that women did not really want the vote. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act enfranchised women rate-payers over the age of 30 but it was not until 1928 that the vote was extended to all women over the age of 21.


Further reading:

[1]Extract of a letter from Barbara Bodichon to Mrs Maudie, 18th May 1866 – Girton College Archive reference: GCPP Bodichon 4/1 (

[2]Family Chronicle, An account of family and other matters written by Davies for her nephew Theodore in 1905 – Girton College Archive reference: GCPP Davies 1/1 (

[4]Letter from Emily Davies to Helen Taylor, 18 July 1866, held at LSE

[5] Held in the Blackburn Collection and in the personal papers of Emily Davies  – Girton College Archive reference: GCPP Davies 17/51


Published: 07 June 2016

All the World’s a Stage


What do you get when you cross two geographers with a theatre company? The Mistress, Professor Susan J. Smith, and Supernumerary Fellow, Dr Mia Gray, have teamed up with Menagerie Theatre Company to bring you The Great Austerity Debate, a forum theatre event which shares questions and seeks fresh ideas about austerity’s effects on people, policies and places. Is austerity inevitable? Is it fair? What are the alternatives?

We start with a hard-hitting performanc e of an original play, followed by an interactive session when you get to give your responses, ideas and answers. It will be entertaining, sparky and unpredictable. Come along and join in!  See the flyer for times and dates [alt pdf]

The Great Austerity Debate is a year-long collaboration between Dr Gray, Professor Smith and Menagerie Theatre Company. We created a forum theatre piece, A Life in the Week of Megan K., which tours to non-theatre venues in Cambridge, Great Yarmouth, County Durham, Norwich and London.  Each venue chooses to host a performance for very specific reasons and it is through their interest and goodwill that the events are taking place. We tour to a church hall, a community centre, a former miners’ reading room, a university lecture theatre and a trade union office. As in all forum theatre pieces, we involve the audience as “spect-actors” or creative participants, helping to solve problems to the play’s thorny questions.  he performances are largely free and the project will be documented on film.

Gray and Smith’s research and questions inspired the content and narrative of the piece and the performances themselves will even form part of their ongoing work.

For more information, visit:


Published: 2 November 2016

Dr Janet Harker (1927-2016)

Photo credit: John Edward Leigh ©

Photo credit: John Edward Leigh ©

The Mistress, Fellows and Scholars are sorry to announce that Life Fellow, Dr Janet Harker, passed away on Thursday 5 May, aged 89.

Dr Harker was known for her research on insects. Initially, she worked on Mayflies a topic she returned to in later years. In the interim, and shortly after she came to Cambridge, she worked on Biological Clocks, using cockroaches, for which she was awarded the Zoological Society's Scientific Medal in 1963.

Dr Harker was elected to a Fellowship at Girton College in October 1952, where she was Assistant Lecturer in Zoology. She then became a Lecturer and Director of Studies in Biological Sciences from 1954-92, and Director of Studies in Veterinary Medicine until 1976. Dr Harker was also a Demonstrator in the University’s Department of Zoology from 1959-64 and University Lecturer from 1964-92. She also held two Senior positions at Girton; Acting Bursar from 1967-69 and Vice-Mistress from 1969-78. Dr Harker retired from the University in 1993, a year later than she retired from her College posts. She was elected to a Life Fellowship at Girton in 1992.

Dr Harker will be sorely missed by all who knew her.

Published: 13 May 2016

Richard Cleary (10 December 1946 – 3 October 2016)


Richard Cleary, Porter at Wolfson Court for 23 years, died suddenly at home earlier this month. It was an indication of the level of warmth people felt towards Richard when the mourners at his funeral yesterday were moved into a larger chapel to accommodate all those who had come to pay their respects. Moving tributes were given by Richard’s son Paul and by Maureen Hackett, Warden of Wolfson Court, on behalf of colleagues of over two decades. Known for his calm, soft-spoken nature, interesting conversations, and dapper suits he will be missed by family, friends, colleagues and students alike.

Richard is survived by his wife Stella, children Paul and Alisa, and grandchildren Cecily, Sofia and Max.


Published: 25 October 2016

2016 Humanities Writing Competition Winners


Now in its fifth year, the annual Humanities Writing Competition for current Year 12 students was awarded on Thursday 28 April 2016 in the Stanley Library, Girton College. The aim of the competition is to encourage students of any subject to research, think and write about one of the six 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 cat amulet and a wooden jackal figurine from Egypt; three early Greek artefacts, an unguentarium, a Tanagra figurine of ‘Demeter and Persephone’, and a dog statuette; and an Anglo-Saxon cinerary urn. The items inspired a strong field of entries consisting of both creative work and research.


After much deliberation, the judges awarded joint first place to Jiwon Kim (Cheltenham Ladies’ College) for her exploration of the Tanagra figurine, and Charli Hendy (Tonbridge Grammar School) for her discussion of the wooden jackal figurine. The runners-up were Harriet Freeman (Birkdale School), who explored the possible purposes of the terracotta Boeotian dog, and Zoe Allen (Kingsbridge Community College), who wrote a creative piece about the Tanagra figurine, set at an imaginary party attended by a series of goddesses.

Three other impressive entries were highly commended by the judges. These were Ellen Jones (The Hertfordshire and Essex High School), Benedict Mulcare (Magdalen College School), and Jamie Wigley (Sheldon School).


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 Caroline Brett 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 beautiful Stanley Library, where they were presented with their prizes and certificates (pictured above).


The winning entries are now on display in the Lawrence Room, which is open to the public between 14.00 – 16.00 on Thursdays. Girton is grateful to Cambridge University Press and to Miss C. Anne Wilson for their kind sponsorship of the competition. Details about the 2016-2017 Competition will be available on this site later in the Autumn.



For more information, please visit:


Published: 11 May 2016


Glimpses of Girton - Fire rattle


Girton College Fire Brigade rattle, 1901 (archive reference: GCAS 9/6/4).

The Girton College Fire Brigade rattle was used as a fire alarm and an alert to practice. Its deafening noise is immortalised in the chorus of the Fire Brigade Song, written by Ethel Sanders in 1887 and sung to the tune of John Peel:

The roar of the rattle brought me from my bed,

And the tramp of the men as past me they sped;

For the subs. loud “alarm” would awaken the dead,

Or bring me from my books in the morning.

Grizel Blair (Girton College 1899-1901, later Mrs Gatheral) was, in 1901, Head Captain of Girton College Fire Brigade. The fire rattle pictured above (archive reference: GCAS 9/6/4) was presented to her by her officers in the May (summer) Term of 1901. The rattle saw further service as part of the World War II alarm equipment of the American College for Girls in Constantinople, where Grizel Gatheral was a teacher. It was then displayed at Hitchin for some time before being donated in 1969 by Grizel’s daughter Olivia to Girton College, where it is housed in the Archive.

A second rattle, which had probably been in the possession of Jack Hames, an undergraduate at Queens’ College in the late 1930s and early 1940s, was donated to the archives in 2015.

‘Fire Brigade Officers 1901’ taken by Mason & Basèbé, 1901. Grizel Blair, Head Captain (Girton 1899) is pictured holding the fire rattle (archive reference: GCPH 10/2/41).

‘Fire Brigade Officers 1901’ taken by Mason & Basèbé, 1901. Grizel Blair, Head Captain (Girton 1899) is pictured holding the fire rattle (archive reference: GCPH 10/2/41).

Founded in 1878, the Girton College Fire Brigade was a disciplined and enthusiastic society, running well-attended weekly practices for over fifty years. The diary entry of Sarah Mason (Girton 1878-80) for 3 December 1878 (archive reference: GCPP Tebbutt 2/4) records the meeting at which the formation of the Fire Brigade was proposed, after two students had witnessed a haystack fire near College and realised that Girton would be vulnerable in the event of a fire. At the time, oil lamps and candles presented a major fire hazard, and the only fire precautions were three small fire engines on each corridor, which no one knew how to use.

The Brigade was always student run, although junior lecturers were also eligible to join. It was initially organised with the assistance of Captain Shaw, the then Captain of the London Fire Brigade, who is immortalised in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe.The Brigade was highly structured, run by the Head Captain, with a corps for each corridor led by a Captain and Sub-Captain. Immediate training was provided by Captain Shaw and his men, who continued to test the members of the Brigade in an annual inspection. Training included Captain Shaw’s rope-knot which allowed a ‘senseless body’ to be lowered from an upper floor window; also ladder climbing in the gymnasium and passing buckets of water along a human chain.

The Fire Brigade was only ever called on to put out one fire, in Girton Village in 1918. In 1932, it ceased to exist; presumably better links to professional teams in Cambridge meant it was no longer necessary.


Published: 19 October 2016

Official Fellow, James Riley, performing at an experimental sound and spoken word event at the Faculty of English

On Thursday 12 May, Official Fellow, Dr James Riley, will be performing as part of an experimental sound and spoken word event titled 'The Other Side: An Audiophonic Séance' at the Faculty of English.

'The Other Side: An Audiophonic Séance' is a collaboration between the Cambridge-based promoter of underground music Bad Timing and The Alchemical Landscape, an on-going research project co-directed by Dr Riley and Evie Salmon (University of Cambridge).

Offered as "an evening of dead formats, traces, sites and spectres from the underground", the event features Howlround, a sound artist working with live tape loops, Documents, an electronic group influenced by Surrealism and Evie Salmon & James Riley performing 'Dust', their spoken-word piece about a series of lost tapes featuring the Beat writers. Tape music courtesy of 'bad timing djs' will be played between the evening's performances.

The event is free but places are limited. Please reserve your place via eventbrite:

For more information about the event and the performers please see the Bad Timing website:


Published: 10 May 2016