Tim EntwisleA mile & a half to the west of Trinity College

As would have been clear from my last post, I spent last weekend in Cambridge. I was staying in a house once belonging to Gwen Raverat, granddaughter of Emma and Charles Darwin, next door to a spring that used to feed this fountain in Trinity College.

The link to plants is Darwin’s wonderful idea – evolution by natural selection – and even more tenuously in my passion for algae which undoubtedly grow in the exposed parts of the conduit. This, I gather, is where the well for the spring dwells, behind a locked door to which Trinity College own the rather large key.

Trinity College fountain

And this, is from Cambridge’s Trinity College website: “In the centre of Great Court is a large fountain originally built in 1601 and rebuilt to the original design in 1715. Until recently the fountain had its own water supply from a spring a mile and a half to the west of the College, via a conduit laid for the Franciscan Friary in Cambridge in 1325. The fountain is believed to be where earlier students would have washed; many student rooms now have en-suite facilities.”

The locked building that houses the source of the spring

I won’t document the precise location of the house and the spring, but let’s just say it’s on the pretty rural fringe of Cambridge.

Marker post for the Trinity College conduit

While staying in the ex-Darwin, ex-spring-that-fed-Trinity-College-fountain home we were able to browse through Gwen Raverat’s memoir on her early years in Cambridge and check her pedigree…

Pedigree showing Gwen to Charles Darwin’s granddaughter

Plenty of famous scientists frequented Trinity College, including Newton who I featured in my last post.

Botanically there was John Ray (1627-1705), author of Historia Plantarum. He was one of the first to classify plants using careful and methodical observation and to use a species concept based on common descent – the kernel of an idea that Charles Darwin, who studied at Christ’s College in Cambridge (famously writing to his cousin that ‘the only evil at Cambridge was its being too pleasant’), developed into a fully blown theory.

Gwen Raverat’s book ‘Period Piece’

In his Historia Plantarum John Ray classified 18,600 plants based on their leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds – pretty much what we do today, with the addition of DNA and a few other bits and pieces. Ray includes ‘The apple tree, Malus‘, perhaps after visiting a rather famous specimen at Woolshorpe Manor. But that’s another story, I’ve already told.

Thanks to Julie Berkman, one of the present day inhabitants of the house next to the spring, for inviting and looking after us for the weekend.

From Talking Plants

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Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

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