As Christopher Morris reports in his 'King’s College: A Short History', the building of Wilkins' new Provost’s Lodge between 1823 and 1828 necessitated the moving of the Provost’s stables from their old position south of what we now know as the Back Lawn to a site nearer the river, and in 1836 across the river to what is now the Fellows' Garden. Max Walters noted in his 'King's College Fellows' Garden' the Congregation’s decision, in October 1836, to create a garden in the nearest field on the west side of Queen’s Road. King’s had been granted this field by the Enclosure Award of 1804.
Walters’ description of the emerging Fellow’s garden suggests a period of transition, with the space being used by both horses and Fellows for a short time. He quotes Saltmarsh.
The Fellows thus gained the privilege of walking around a shrubbery and contemplating the four horses which drew the Provost’s coach, as they grazed within the iron fence. But this did not satisfy them for long; and on March 20 1851, Provost Okes having ‘consented to commute the Close now assigned to him for some other as soon as one becomes vacant’, the original field was to be ‘laid out as a pleasure ground for the Fellows of the College'.
Gardens require certain expenditure, not least on planting and maintenance. In 1851, Mr Fuller was paid for the work he carried out in creating a ‘Fellows’ pleasure ground’.
It is difficult to know what the original planting scheme was but clues exist both in the garden itself and in the archives. Two invaluable records for that purpose are a ‘Handlist of Trees and Shrubs … grown in the gardens and grounds of King’s College, Cambridge’, created by Arthur Tilley (Fellow and Tutor) in 1904, and a copy of the 1888 ordnance survey map showing the Fellow’s Garden and the Backs, annotated by Arthur Hill (who went on to become Director of Kew and an Honorary Fellow of King’s) in 1907. The archives also contain receipts for garden expenses such as plants, although it is hard to identify where these were planted.
Despite being called the ‘Fellows’ Garden’, this space is popular with all members of the College, including undergraduates. Access was first given to students in 1935, with Garden Hostel being built in 1950.
Tilley’s Handlist of Trees and Shrubs, 1904 (KCAR/3/1/2/4/3).
1888 ordnance survey map, annotated by Arthur Hill (CAM/204).
Receipt for trees bought from William Coleman in 1788-9 (KCA/236).
Bill for plumbing and glazing for King’s College garden by Thomas Stevens, 1789 (KCA/236).