Downing College and its history

Since 2014, the Oliver Prior Society has held its annual meetings at Downing College, Cambridge. Like all Cambridge colleges, it is an institution with a fascinating history. Its stunning neo-classical architecture is of particular note.

Downing College

The College was founded in 1800 under the will of Sir George Downing, Baronet (1685-1749), and the Royal Charter was issued on 22 September of that year. Sir George’s gradfather gave his name to Downing Street in London and parts of the house which he built still survive in the present number 10. The highly respected Georgian architect, William Wilkins, designed the College around a great quadrangle of 300 feet square.

To plan the College on a spacious campus layout was innovatory, and Downing was the first example of this type of collegiate architecture. Building of the College made a complete break with the very enclosed, traditional monastic courts of the older foundations. The whole feeling of Wilkins’ College was to be one of space with buildings set in a landscape. However, only part of Wilkins’ scheme was executed, comprising the West range and majority of the East range, built 1807-21.

In 1876 the northern two staircases of the East range were completed to Wilkins’ design by the architect E. M. Barry. Much building activity took place during the last century. Between 1929-32 the north corners of the quadrangle were built by Sir Herbert Baker; the north side was completed by A.R. Scott with the construction of the Chapel and two adjacent accommodation blocks in the early 1950s.

Kenny Court, named after Courtney Stanhope Kenny, Downing Professor of Law (1907–18), was completed in 1963 (also by Scott), and the award-winning Senior Combination Room followed in 1969 (by Professor W.G Howell), at which time the Hall was also enlarged.

More recently, the Howard Building (a gift of the Howard Foundation) was opened in 1987, and the Junior Combination Room (JCR) – named the Butterfield Bar and Café after Lord Butterfield, a former Master – was opened in 1989. In 1993, the award-winning Maitland Robinson Library was opened, and subsequently Howard Court comprising 32 high quality student rooms was completed in 1996, all designed by Quinlan Terry.

Howard Theatre

The Howard Theatre, Downing College

Quinlan Terry are also responsible for the beautiful Howard Theatre: an exceptional building on the main College site that is sure to develop its own special history. OPS meetings take place in this unique setting, which combines the latest technologies with traditional classic architecture. Inside the theatre, the decorative ceiling evokes the spirit of Georgian theatre, while the front-of-house curtain (not pictured) has been designed by Francis Terry as a Grecian street scene, portraying the College among images of classical Greek architecture.

Standard Single En-Suite

A Standard Single En-Suite room at Downing

Superior Double En-suite

A Superior Double En-suite room at Downing

Elsewhere in the College, our overnight delegates are housed onsite at Downing and enjoy facilities available in double, single, and twin rooms furnished to the highest standard. En suite rooms are available on request at an additional cost. Breakfast is included and is served in the impressive Dining Hall.

Centrally located on Regent Street, Downing is well-placed for delegates travelling by car, rail, and bus. A limited number of parking spaces are available onsite for OPS delegates, while Cambridge Rail Station is a direct 20-minute walk away. Drummer Street (local) and National Express (national) bus stations are also within easy walking distance.


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