Explore hidden curiosities at city’s open event

PUBLISHED: 17:02 28 August 2019 | UPDATED: 17:02 28 August 2019

Christopher Marlowe failed to pay his buttery bills as a Cambridge student

Christopher Marlowe failed to pay his buttery bills as a Cambridge student


Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the dramatists, Christopher Marlowe and John Fletcher will be celebrated at this year’s Open Cambridge.

Every year, over a September weekend, the university opens its college doors, free to the public.

Marlowe was a student at Corpus Christi and his work and student life will be celebrated in the college's Parker Library. (Though it might be more appropriate to mark it in a hostelry).

After King Henry VIII closed the monasteries, Matthew Parker, an Archbishop of Canterbury, and a master of the college, saved the monks' books, including The Anglo Saxon Chronicle.

On Friday, September 13, poems by Marlowe will be read out in the library as the light fades. You can also see Marlowe's student record and his unpaid buttery bills.

The playwright John Fletcher was also at Corpus. He followed Shakespeare as house playwright for the King's Men and, during his lifetime, was the more famous of the two.

He wrote a sequel to The Taming of the Shrew, called The Tamer Tamed, where the women take back control from the men (on view at this exhibition). Usually, the two plays were performed together and contemporary critics rated Fletcher's more highly than the Bard's.

Open Cambridge takes place on 13-14 September and offers the public a chance to visit a range of ancient buildings and hidden curiosities. There are more than 80 events in this year's programme. Some need booking in advance, for others you can just turn up.

The programme includes tours of the colleges and the city led by the Cambridge Blue Badge guides. Among the themes for the tours are Women in Cambridge.

The first women's colleges, Girton and Newnham, opened in the 1870s. Women took the same exams as the men and often got higher marks, but only received a certificate. They did not get degrees until 1948.

The men's colleges did not admit women until the 1970s. The last one was Magadalene in the 1980s and the men wore black arm bands.

Another tour focuses on the young Charles Darwin, who was a student at Christ's. He said his three years in Cambridge were "the most joyful of my happy life."

Another tour offers the history of Great St Mary's Church. This was where the first Cambridge students studied when they came to the town in 1209.

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The story of Cambridge begins in Oxford and it starts with a murder.

Oxford University is older than Cambridge University by about 70 years.

There was always conflict between students and the townspeople. When a woman was killed in Oxford in 1209, two students were hanged for the offence.

The students and their teachers were alarmed. The university was closed for five years. The students went elsewhere. They could study anywhere in Europe because academics all studied in Latin.

Some went to Paris, some to Italy, some to Reading and some to Cambridge. Some 800 years on, Great St Mary's is still used by both town and gown.

Over the years, people who have spoken there, include Elizabeth I, Duke Ellington, Mother Teresa and Cliff Richard.

An event at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Madingley tells the story of the American air crews who helped the Allies win the Second World War. Nearly 4,000 young Americans are buried there. Another 5,000 names are on the Wall of the Missing.

Many aircrews set off for the air war over Europe, and just disappeared. But some left another memorial. In The Eagle pub in Benet Street, in the heart of Cambridge, both RAF and United States Airforce crews wrote the names and numbers of their squadrons on the ceiling of what is now known as the RAF Bar.

They used lipstick, charcoal and cigarette lighters. They also drew the outline of a naked woman. She has impressive curves.

Bookings are open online at www.opencambridge.cam.ac.uk or call 01223 766 766. Lines open 11am-3pm, Monday to Friday.

Open Cambridge is part of the national Heritage Open Days scheme. Designed to offer special access to places that are normally closed to the public or charge admission, the initiative provides an annual opportunity for people to discover the local history and heritage of their community.

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