King's College buildings: How King's College might have looked

December 2012

Elevation of the east front of the Hall. Robert Adam, 1787 (WKB/43/8)

Elevation of the east front of the Hall. Robert Adam, 1787 (WKB/43/8)

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This month we shall see how various eminent architects imagined King’s College looking, as shown by plans which were rejected, altered or simply not completed.

In 1713, Nicholas Hawksmoor created a set of plans for the College which were faithful to the intentions of the Founder, Henry VI (1421-71), who wanted a quadrangle. Despite the efforts of Provost John Adams, the College did not undertake this ambitious scheme. In 1722 sufficient funds were found to begin and James Gibbs was commissioned instead. Work commenced while benefactors were sought; only one building was built and two sides of the great front court were left undeveloped.

Plans to complete the great court were submitted by Robert Adam (1784 and 1787), whose equally renowned Scottish architect brother James (1769) submitted plans for a revised altar in the Chapel. Instead, Provost Cooke commissioned James Wyatt to complete the great court. His plans were drawn in 1795 and a year later he received £200 as payment for his work and a retainer. Wyatt was asked to produce extra drawings to reflect his intended widening of Trumpington St. and show the surrounding buildings. His plans never came to fruition either.

By 1822, King’s College advertised for plans and estimates for the completion of the quadrangle. Entries for the competition were submitted by renowned architects such as Edward Lapidge and Lewis Vulliamy. The competition was won by William Wilkins. His plans were carried out under the scrutiny of a committee of architects which included James Nash and Jeffry Wyatt. Even those plans which were selected were modified, so they are not an accurate reflection of what we see today.

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