image: Matthew Bartholomew banner



Susanna Gregory will be adding exclusive articles on the background to the Chronicles of Matthew Bartholomew on this page. We begin with a look at the origins of the college at the heart of the stories, Michaelhouse.

Please click on a heading from the menu on the left for further information.


Apart from the new ranges raised in the 1380s, Michaelhouse's documents suggest that the College tended to concentrate on acquiring new properties and sites than on developing what it already possessed. It was a small Society, and its scholars came from humble beginnings. To begin with, at least, their expectations would not have been great - unlike the pampered clerks and scribes who were sent for training in the comparatively luxurious surroundings of King's Hall.

By the end of the 14th century, however, Michaelhouse was wealthy by University standards. It owned all the land in a great square between King's Childer Lane in the north and Garrett Hostel Lane/St Michael's Lane in the south, and between the navigable stream in the west and Foule Lane/Milne Street in the east. It also owned a chunk of land and three shops further north, plus two houses and their land on the High Street. And there were also properties outside Cambridge, including the advowsons of Tittleshall in Norfolk, Cheadle in Staffordshire, Grundisburgh in Suffolk, and Barrington in Cambridgeshire. There is no reason to suppose that the scholars did not put some of their considerable funds to providing themselves with some comfortable lodgings.

The statutes laid out strict guidelines for the sharing of rooms in order of seniority, suggesting that at least some of the Fellows had rooms to themselves - an almost unprecedented luxury in medieval times. It is likely that they were shared with students, but Michaelhouse was slightly different in that its records suggest that - unlike King's Hall - teaching took second place to personal study. And the spacious conclave also suggests that Michaelhouse had abandoned its shabby beginnings and was moving on to better things.

So, how did Michaelhouse's relentless acquisition of properties between the High Street and the river affect the Trinity College we know today? The western range of the Trinity's Great Court follows exactly the projected outline of the old hall of Michaelhouse (now the Essex range), while the southern range follows the line of the buildings raised in the 1380s. The north range probably ran where the central north-south footpath is, while the wall that separated Michaelhouse from Foule Lane would have run along the route of the main east-west footpath. Trinity Great Court is divided into sections, and the south-west part is exactly where Michaelhouse's main court would have stood.

Meanwhile, New Court and Neville's Court stand completely on land acquired by Michaelhouse. In fact, although King's Hall was the larger and better known of the two Colleges surrendered to Henry VIII, it was Michaelhouse that provided it with most of its land. It is still possible to walk down St Michael's Lane (now called Trinity Lane) to Milne Street (now called Trinity Hall Lane and a quiet backwater). To reach the river, Garrett Hostel Lane is taken - another of Michaelhouse's properties.

Michaelhouse might be long gone, and its only surviving stones buried beneath the 18th century Essex building, but its legacy survives.

Copyright © Time Warner Books UK