Statement from the heads of Cambridge colleges

May 22, 2020 News


As heads of Cambridge colleges we have been concerned in recent days to see headlines around the world making the claim that Cambridge will be moving entirely online next year. These claims have caused unnecessary alarm to students and our wider community. We are a collegiate university, and our strength is that so much student activity takes place in colleges, from small group teaching and pastoral care to music and sport.

We will always take the latest public health advice and clearly there will be challenges in providing all this in the next academic year. Online lectures will make a key contribution. But we are determined to do our best to bring the colleges and the university back to life with intensive in-person learning in the traditional locations and the widest possible range of activities.

Jane Stapleton, Master, Christ’s College; Athene Donald, Master, Churchill College; Anthony Grabiner, Master, Clare College; David Ibbetson, President, Clare Hall; Christopher Kelly, Master, Corpus Christi College; Mary Fowler, Master, Darwin College; Alan Bookbinder, Master, Downing College; Fiona Reynolds, Master, Emmanuel College; Sally Morgan, Master, Fitzwilliam College; Susan J Smith, Mistress, Girton College; Pippa Rogerson, Master, Gonville & Caius College; Geoff Ward, Principal, Homerton College; Anthony Freeling, President, Hughes Hall; Sonita Alleyne, Master, Jesus College; Michael Proctor, Provost, King’s College; Madeleine Atkins, President, Lucy Cavendish College; Rowan Williams, Master, Magdalene College; Barbara Stocking, President, Murray Edwards College; Alison Rose, Principal, Newnham College; Chris Smith, Master, Pembroke College; Bridget Kendall, Master, Peterhouse; John Eatwell, President, Queens’ College; David Yates, Warden, Robinson College; Mark Welland, Master, St Catharine’s College; Catherine Arnold, Master, St Edmund’s College; Tim Whitmarsh, vice-Master, St John’s College; Roger Mosey, Master, Selwyn College; Richard Penty, Master, Sidney Sussex College; Sally Davies, Master, Trinity College; Daniel Tyler, acting vice-Master, Trinity Hall; Jane Clarke, President, Wolfson College; Michael Volland, Principal, Ridley Hall.

Published: 22 May 2020

Coronavirus: FAQs for Girton College

May 19, 2020 News

This page contains the latest advice for students, staff and Fellows at Girton College on novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). As the situation evolves, these FAQs are subject to change, so you are advised to consult them on a daily basis in order to obtain the latest information.

The University is continually monitoring latest Public Health England and Government advice about the virus. You can find useful information on their website here.

Latest UK Government advice is available on the Government Response webpages here.

Communications from The Mistress:


Published: 18 March 2020 (updated: 13/05/2020)

Girton’s Festival of Poetry: National Jane Martin Poetry Prize winners are announced for 2020

May 16, 2020 News

Girton College is pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 Jane Martin Poetry Prize, a national poetry competition for young poets, established in 2010 in memory of Girton alumna, Jane Elizabeth Martin. The College has been a longstanding supporter of poetry and this announcement marks the 10th Anniversary of the prize.

As part of Girton’s Festival of Poetry fortnight (11-22 May 2020) you can watch the winners give a special reading of their winning poems below:

First prize: Annie Forbes for ‘Crossing’ and ‘Inisbofin’ 

Congratulations to Anna Forbes from Edinburgh. She studied at King’s College London, where she received a degree in Comparative Literature. She is currently working towards an MLitt at the University of St Andrews.

Alex Houen, one of the Judges for the prize comments:

“Anna’s entry is beautifully focused on the visual, and I thought the mini-sequence poem ‘Crossing’ is really fascinating for the way that it ‘develops’ rather like a photograph (or series of photos) so that in the fields ‘resolving as we pass’ we can hear resolution to be about clarity of image and one’s relation to things. The poem pointedly does not ‘resolve’ as a narrative does, for its vision is focused on how images can be striking precisely because they keep things in tension — as with ‘softened light’ shivering around the halo-ish ‘brightness’ of a sleeping sister. There is a gentle poetic confidence about ‘Crossing’, and there is in ‘Inisbofin’, too, in the way that it develops a ‘strange relief’ (visual and emotional) with its chiaroscuro imagery. It’s not easy to be clear about shadowy things, especially when what’s shadowy extends to mood, but such clarity is what these two poems achieve, and they do it with a very impressive feel for line-breaks, prosody, and image.” 

Second Prize: Aayushi Jain for ‘Whale Song’ and ‘Night Swim’ 

Congratulations to Aayushi Jain, a 24-year-old writer and musician from Birmingham. She is currently studying English Literature at the University of Exeter, and after spending a year abroad in Ottawa her short story ‘Lighthouse’ was recently published in the Write Across Canada Anthology.

Judging the prize with Alex Houen was Holly Corfield-Carr, who comments:

“What a euphoric, euphonic thing it is to read ‘Whale Song’. It is awash with sound, from the gong of the tongue to that ‘blood bassoon’ and I had an appropriately cetaceous species of a time singing along. When ‘Whale Song’ is paired with the delicate smallness of ‘Night Swim’, the scale shifts, both in size and song and the whale-mother, who in ‘Whale Song’ swallows the poet whole, in ‘Night Swim’ shrinks to the size of plankton, suspended in the belly of a jellyfish.”

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Jane Martin Poetry Prize Girton will be publishing a special anthology, including a selection of poems from eminent Girtonian poets, both past and present, as well as the winning poems from the Jane Martin Poetry Prize winners from the past decade. Watch this space!  However, for a sneak preview here are some of our current students reading a selection for our ‘Festival of Poetry’, watch on YouTube here.

From 18 – 22nd May, members of the current Girton Poetry Society will be reading their new poems on GirtonLockdown, one on each day. Do listen to them, or catch them later on our YouTube channel here.

VE Day: Girton Remembers

May 8, 2020 News

At 3pm on 8 May 1945, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that war in Europe had come to an end. Today marks 75 years since VE Day. World War 2 had ravaged continental Europe and beyond and not a corner of British life was left unaffected.

At Girton corridor windows were painted dark blue and blackout curtains were hung in student rooms. The grounds were turned over for the growing of vegetables and for keeping pigs. The College worked hard to become self-sufficient in vegetables and students volunteered both in the gardens and in the kitchens. Crops included onions, carrots, lettuce, cauliflower, celery and tomatoes, and vast numbers of potatoes, over 19 tons in 1941–1942.

Students raking and collecting potatoes in the College grounds, taken by Fox Studios, 1942 (archive reference: GCPH 10/12/15)

Students raking and collecting potatoes in the College grounds, taken by Fox Studios, 1942 (archive reference: GCPH 10/12/15)

During the war the College welcomed new residents who were either escaping danger or working for the war effort. In 1939–1940, Girton gave a new home to 56 women students and two staff evacuated from Queen Mary College in London until they found more spacious accommodation in Cambridge. In 1939 the Girton College Refugee Fund was established, which would help three Czech and German student refugees to attend College. It also supported the war-time residence of Dr Elsbeth Jaffé (1889–1971), a scholar from Germany. The Grange was occupied by the army during some of these years, and from 1943 Girton also provided a home for a small number of women of the Voluntary Aid Detachment [VADs].

Queen Mary College, Union Society headed note paper, 1939–1940 (archive reference: GCPP Blacklocks 2)

Queen Mary College, Union Society headed note paper, 1939–1940 (archive reference: GCPP Blacklocks 2)

In time students took a two-year degree under War Emergency Regulations, and many students and Fellows postponed study and research to help the war effort, providing valuable work that spanned the civil service, military, medical and scientific appointments and counter-intelligence. Alison Duke (1915–2005), who later became a Fellow in Classics at Girton, worked in Greece helping refugees, while Eva Hartree (1873–1947), a student in the 1890s and the first woman Mayor of Cambridge, helped support Jewish refugees in the city. One of the many bound by the Official Secrets Act, who rarely spoke of the war, was brilliant mathematician Mary Cartwright (1900-1998), Mistress of Girton from 1949 to 1968. Despite her important scientific contributions, above all to the effectiveness of radar, she modestly reported that her most useful war work had been packing parachutes for men sent into enemy territory. Baroness Platt of Writtle (1923–2015) was one of Britain’s first female aeronautical engineers, who went on to chair the Equal Opportunities Commission, her war work took her to the Hawker Aircraft Company where she was instrumental in developing fighter planes at the company’s experimental flight test department in Langley, Berkshire.


More than a dozen Girtonians worked at Bletchley Park, the top-secret British code-breaking establishment. Some paused their degrees to join the war-effort, others were recruited as graduates. The Official Secrets Act silenced Bletchley memories for many years, but in later life Girtonians would recall their work and lives in the Bletchley huts. Some were machine operators, setting and re-setting keys on replica German ‘enigma’ machines; others listened to enemy radio broadcasts, tapping out jumbles of words and starting the deciphering; others focussed on decoding and analysis. Some recalled periods of boredom, others fascinating work spliced by fear that a small error could risk lives.

Bletchley Park personnel, at work in the Hut 6 machine room in Block D, probably early 1945 (image reproduced courtesy of Bletchley Park)

Bletchley Park personnel, at work in the Hut 6 machine room in Block D, probably early 1945 (image reproduced courtesy of Bletchley Park)

On this day the College recognises all those whose sacrifices and service led to VE Day. Thank you.

Girton’s Lockdown Scrapbook

May 7, 2020 News

Girton Lockdown Scrapbook

For the first time ever, Girton is effectively closed for the term. Most of our students have left, Fellows are working from home, teaching and learning is mainly online and staff are largely furloughed.  Neither past pandemics nor two World Wars have had the same far-reaching effects on College life as coronavirus today.

To capture this unprecedented moment, all members of the Girton Community – students, Fellows, staff and alumni – are invited to submit a paragraph, a photograph or both, to create our lockdown scrapbook.

‘Lockdown’ is that period (from late March in the UK) when anyone who is not a keyworker stayed at home, except for essential journeys, to reduce the effects of coronavirus. What did you do? How did you manage, what changed, were there new opportunities, different ways of working, important take-aways, or is most of it best left behind?

We know that all lives have been touched, and many lost, by this crisis, and it may not be the right time for you to take part in this project. However, if you are willing to share one memorable moment from your work or life during lockdown, please click the link below.

We are interested in every aspect of the way coronavirus has impacted on our Girton community: home working and schooling, being furloughed, online activities, business ventures, family life, friendships, exercise routines and more.

We will make a real and online scrapbook with a selection of submissions, and deposit all materials received into the archive, for future generations.

Submit your photograph and/or story here via WuFoo.

Published: 7 April 2020

Girton150 Profiles: Nursing at Girton

April 24, 2020 Girton150News

L-R: College Nurses (Lisa Jones 2018 Jacqui Isbister 2008)

L-R: College Nurses (Lisa Jones 2018 Jacqui Isbister 2008)

The role of the Nurses at Girton College has changed over the years. After looking back through the archives and asking as many people from the College community as possible the first records were found dating back to 1896 and recorded a nurse, A.L Clark, who was employed by Girton Village including the College. She was paid by the teachers and students at the College and as well as her nursing duties helped in the village with “mothers’ meetings for needlework, reading and general conversation”.

A hospital wing was first added to the College in 1876 and this included a ‘hospital’ with patients room and accommodation for a nurse. Index cards recording nursing work done by Girtonians during the first World War, have been uncovered along with publicity photos, dating back to the second World War showing students enacting the role of nurses at the time.

Nursing at Girton, as in society has evolved over time, but the first actual nurse that could be located, who worked for the College, started in 1986. This role was filled by Gill Sore; Penny Whittle joined her in 1991. The following is a brief outline of their experiences then:

“In 1986, when I joined Girton College, we were employed to be on call 24/7 – we had bleeps – and were paid 50p/hour and worked alternate weekends.

The ‘sick bay’ as it was called then, had just moved to its present location in the Old Labs (Old Wing). It was previously located in the Admissions and Tutorial Offices. Back then we wore uniforms and were often called nurse or nursey!

We looked after students, post grads, staff and during interview seasons, the candidates, as well. We held surgeries every morning and evening including Saturdays mornings.

A great deal of our information would come from staff, especially the ‘Bedders’, who would call to alert us of any students who were ill, or causing concerns in other ways. We used the University Counselling service as Girton did not have a dedicated counsellor, but we were always there to lend a listening ear for all Freshers and students alike.

The process was such that all students had to physically go to a GP to enroll in the practice. One of our busiest times was Easter term due to exam stress. We ‘guarded’ those who had to be held incommunicado for medical reasons and who took exams at different times. Students often went AWOL during exam times and it was our job to locate them. Sometimes even the police were involved, and one student was found hiding in the Grange Cellars. We always attended Graduation day and provided first aid at the March Ball.”

There have been a lot of changes over the years, both in nursing in general and the role of the College nurse. The focus now being much more on Health promotion and prevention of ill health. The change of our name from ‘Sick Bay’ to Health and Welfare Centre reflects this. We now run daily surgeries and this academic year have had over 300 consultations. We deal with a wide variety of conditions – minor illness, sports injuries, sexual health, anxiety and depression.

We are members of the Cambridge College Nurse Association (CCNA) and attend regular twice termly meetings. This is a good opportunity to support the University nursing community and work towards improving professional standards and job satisfaction.  The CCNA also arranges training. This year, so far, we have done Annual resuscitation update, Mental health, sexual health and contraception, clinical supervision to name but a few. We attend reflective practice sessions in smaller groups in order to support each other and some of us sit on other University committees such as the Committee for Communicable Diseases and Health and Wellbeing.

Our role as nurses has changed dramatically in the former part of 2020 due to the global pandemic (COVID-19). As the country has gone into lockdown, with schools and universities closing countrywide as well as working from home being encouraged, we have had to adapt to a new and very different style of working. As nurses, we can no longer run our usual surgeries or have face to face consultations with our students. As a result, we have started to work remotely, learning how to use Zoom and other online communication tools to consult with our students and other Girton faculties.

Girton College is really pulling together in this very difficult time, where teamwork has shone through. We may still be in the middle of the pandemic, but as nurses we have risen to the challenge, continue to support our students albeit remotely, and look forward to the day we can open our surgery doors again.

The current nurses, Jacqui Isbister (2008) and Lisa Jones (2018) are always looking at continued improvements that can be made to fit in with the needs and wishes of the students. One common theme running through every nurse that has worked at Girton is that it is a lovely place to work and they have all loved their roles.

For more information about Health & Welfare at Girton, visit here.

Published: 24 April 2020

Honorary Fellow and alumna Her Excellency Dame Karen Pierce new appointment

February 12, 2020 News

Dame Karen Pierce DCMG

Dame Karen Pierce DCMG

We are delighted that Girton alumna (1978 English) and Honorary Fellow, Dame Karen Pierce DCMG, currently Ambassador to the UN in New York and Permanent Representative at the UN Security Council, has been appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the United States of America, the first women in this post.

Last year Dame Karen was one of the 5 Honorary Fellows elected to mark our 150th anniversary. She was admitted on the opening day of the Girton150 Festival, which celebrated the foundation and future of the College. She concluded the Girton150 Anniversary Lectures with an engaging lecture ‘The UN Today: Parliament of Man or Parliament of Futility’. You can read the Mistress’s account of these events here.

For more information, please visit:

Published: 12 February 2020

Girton College’s National Jane Martin Poetry Prize opens for 2020

February 7, 2020 News

JaneMartinPoetryPrize -NowOpen

Girton College is delighted to invite entries for the 2020 Jane Martin Poetry Prize. Now in its 10th 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 Alex Houen and Holly Corfield Carr. 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.

This year we will be publishing a very special anthology ‘Ten Years of the Jane Martin Poetry Prize’ which will include poems both from previous winners, as well as this year’s winners, and from eminent Girton poets, past and present.

The competition opened on 5 February 2020 and closes on 6 March 2020.

Please find the 2020 information pack and entry rules here.

Enter the 2020 Jane Martin Poetry Prize here >


Published: 07 February 2020