Senior Wrangler (University of Cambridge)
Specifically, it is the person who achieves the highest overall mark among the Wranglers – the students at Cambridge who gain first-class degrees in mathematics. The Cambridge undergraduate mathematics course, or Mathematical Tripos, is famously difficult.
Many Senior Wranglers have become world-leading figures in mathematics, physics, and other fields. They include George Airy, John Herschel, Arthur Cayley, James Inman, George Stokes, Isaac Todhunter, Morris Pell, Lord Rayleigh, Arthur Eddington, J. E. Littlewood, Frank Ramsey, Donald Coxeter, Jacob Bronowski and Ben Green.
Senior Wranglers were once fêted with torchlit processions and took pride of place in the University's graduation ceremony. Years in Cambridge were often remembered by who had been Senior Wrangler that year.
The annual ceremony in which the Senior Wrangler becomes known was first held in the 18th century. Standing on the balcony of the University's Senate House, the examiner reads out the class results for mathematics, and printed copies of the results are then thrown to the audience below. He no longer announces the students' exact rankings, but he still identifies the Senior Wrangler, nowadays by tipping his academic hat when he reads out the person's name.
Others who finished in the top 12
The difficulty of the examinations is illustrated by the identities of some of those who have performed well, but less well than the Senior Wrangler.
Those who have finished between third and 12th include Karl Pearson and William Henry Bragg (third), George Green and G. H. Hardy (fourth), Adam Sedgwick (fifth), John Venn (sixth), Bertrand Russell and Nevil Maskelyne (seventh), Thomas Malthus (ninth), and John Maynard Keynes (12th).
Between 1748 and 1909, the University publicly announced the ranking, which was then reported in newspapers such as The Times. The examination was considered to be by far the most important in Britain and the Empire. The prestige of being a high Wrangler was great; the respect accorded to the Senior Wrangler was immense. Andrew Warwick, author of Masters of Theory, describes the term 'Senior Wrangler' as "synonymous with academic supremacy".
Since 1910, successful students in the examinations have been told their rankings privately, and not all Senior Wranglers have become publicly known as such.
Of those who have become publicly known, the only female Senior Wrangler was Ruth Hendry in 1992, but women were not allowed to receive degrees at Cambridge until 1948.
The youngest person to be Senior Wrangler is probably Arran Fernandez, who came top in 2013, aged 18 years and 0 months. The previous youngest was probably James Wilkinson in 1939, aged 19 years and 9 months. The youngest up to 1909 were Alfred Flux in 1887, aged 20 years and 2 months and Peter Tait in 1852, aged 20 years and 8 months.
Two individuals have placed first without becoming known as Senior Wrangler. One was the student Philippa Fawcett in 1890. At that time, although the University allowed women to take the examinations, it did not allow them to be members of the University, nor to receive degrees. Therefore they could not be known as 'Wranglers', and were merely told how they had performed compared to the male candidates, for example, "equal to the Third Wrangler", or "between the Seventh and Eighth Wranglers". Having gained the highest mark, Fawcett was declared to have finished "above the Senior Wrangler".
The other was the mathematics professor George Pólya. Having contributed to reforming the Tripos with the aim that an excellent performance would be less dependent on solving hard problems and more so on showing a broad mathematical understanding and knowledge, G H Hardy asked Pólya to sit the examinations himself, unofficially, during his stay in England in 1924–5. Pólya did so, and to Hardy's surprise, received the highest mark, an achievement which, had he been a student, would have made him the Senior Wrangler.
Derived uses of the term
Senior Wrangler's Walk is a path in Cambridge, the walk to and along which was considered to be sufficient constitutional exercise for a student aspiring to become the Senior Wrangler. The route was shorter than other walks, such as Wranglers' Walk and the Grantchester Grind, undertaken by undergraduates whose aspirations were lower.
Senior Wrangler is also the name of a solitaire card game, alternatively known as Mathematics and Double Calculation, played with two decks of cards and involving elementary modular arithmetic.
Fictional Senior Wranglers appearing in novels include Roger Hamley, a character in Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, and Tom Jericho, the cryptanalyst in Robert Harris's novel Enigma, who is described as having been Senior Wrangler in 1938.
The two most successful 19th-century coaches of Senior Wranglers were William Hopkins and Edward Routh. Hopkins, the 'Senior Wrangler Maker', who himself was the 7th Wrangler, coached 17 Senior Wranglers. Routh, who had himself been the Senior Wrangler, coached 27.
Senior Wranglers and runners up, 1748–1909
|Year||Senior Wrangler(s)[note 1]||College||Proxime Accessit||College|
|1748||Bates, JohnJohn Bates||Gonville and Caius||John Cranwell||Sidney Sussex|
|1749||Greene, JohnJohn Greene||Corpus Christi||Francis Coventry||Magdalene|
|1750||William Hazeland||St John's||John Gooch||Gonville and Caius|
|1751||John Hewthwaite||Christ's||William Cardale||Pembroke|
|1752||Henry Best||Magdalene||John Cay||Clare|
|1753||William Disney||Trinity||William Preston||Trinity|
|1754||William Abbot||St John's||Samuel Hallifax||Jesus|
|1755||Thomas Castley||Jesus||John Hatsell||Queens'|
|1756||John Webster||Corpus Christi||William Bearcroft||Peterhouse|
|1757||Waring, EdwardEdward Waring||Magdalene||Jebb, JohnJohn Jebb||Peterhouse|
|1758||Thorp, RobertRobert Thorp||Peterhouse||Wollaston, GeorgeGeorge Wollaston||Sidney Sussex|
|1759||Joshua Massey||St John's||Watson, RichardRichard Watson||Trinity|
|1760||George Cross||Clare||Anthony Hamilton||Corpus Christi|
|1761||Wilson, JohnJohn Wilson||Peterhouse||Timothy Lowten||St John's|
|1762||Richard Haighton||Christ's||Jeremiah Pemberton||Pembroke|
|1763||Paley, WilliamWilliam Paley||Christ's||Frere, JohnJohn Frere||Gonville and Caius|
|1764||Luke Heslop||Corpus Christi||John Fairfax Francklin||Emmanuel|
|1765||John White||Gonville and Caius||John Clement Ives||Gonville and Caius|
|1766||William Arnald||St John's||John Law||Christ's|
|1767||Turner, JosephJoseph Turner||Pembroke||George Dutens||Queens'|
|1768||Kipling, ThomasThomas Kipling||St John's||George Fielding||Trinity|
|1769||Parkinson, ThomasThomas Parkinson||Christ's||William Burslem||St John's|
|1770||Lewis Hughes||St John's||William Smith||St John's|
|1771||Thomas Starkie||St John's||Roger Kedington||Gonville and Caius|
|1772||Tomline, George PretymanGeorge Pretyman Tomline||Pembroke||Mark Anthony Stephenson||Clare|
|1773||John Jelland Brundish||Gonville and Caius||George Whitmore||St John's|
|1774||Milner, IsaacIsaac Milner||Queens'||George Mounsey||Peterhouse|
|1775||Vince, SamuelSamuel Vince||Gonville and Caius||William Henry (or Henry William) Coulthurst||St John's|
|1776||Oldershaw, JohnJohn Oldershaw||Emmanuel||Wakefield, GilbertGilbert Wakefield||Jesus|
|1777||Owen, DavidDavid Owen||Trinity||Thomas Cautley||Trinity|
|1778||Farish, WilliamWilliam Farish||Magdalene||William Taylor||Emmanuel|
|1779||Jones, ThomasThomas Jones||Trinity||Marsh, HerbertHerbert Marsh[note 2]||St John's|
|1780||St John Priest||Pembroke||Frend, WilliamWilliam Frend||Christ's|
|1781||Ainslie, HenryHenry Ainslie||Pembroke||Montague Farrer Ainslie & George Henry Law||Trinity & Queens'|
|1782||Wood, JamesJames Wood||St John's||Hailstone, JohnJohn Hailstone||Trinity|
|1783||Wollaston, Francis John HydeFrancis John Hyde Wollaston||Sidney Sussex||Richard Buck||Magdalene|
|1784||Ingram, Robert AcklomRobert Acklom Ingram||Queens'||John Holden||Sidney Sussex|
|1785||Lax, WilliamWilliam Lax||Trinity||John Dudley||Clare|
|1786||Bell, JohnJohn Bell||Trinity||Edward Otter||Jesus|
|1787||Littledale, JosephJoseph Littledale||St John's||Algernon Frampton||St John's|
|1788||Brinkley, JohnJohn Brinkley||Gonville and Caius||Edmund Outram||St John's|
|1789||William Millers||St John's||Joseph Bewsher||Trinity|
|1790||Bridge, BewickBewick Bridge||Peterhouse||Fletcher Raincock||Pembroke|
|1791||Daniel Mitford Peacock||Trinity||Gooch, WilliamWilliam Gooch||Gonville and Caius|
|1792||John Palmer||St John's||George Frederick Tavel||Trinity|
|1793||Thomas Harrison||Queens'||Thomas Strickland||Trinity|
|1794||Butler, GeorgeGeorge Butler||Sidney Sussex||Copley, John SingletonJohn Singleton Copley||Trinity|
|1795||Woodhouse, RobertRobert Woodhouse||Gonville and Caius||William Atthill||Gonville and Caius|
|1796||Kempthorne, JohnJohn Kempthorne||St John's||William Dealtry||Trinity|
|1797||Hudson, JohnJohn Hudson||Trinity||John Lowthian||Trinity|
|1798||Thomas Sowerby||Trinity||Robert Martin||Trinity|
|1799||Boteler, William FullerWilliam Fuller Boteler||St John's||John Brown||Trinity|
|1800||Inman, JamesJames Inman||St John's||George D'Oyly||Corpus Christi|
|1801||Martyn, HenryHenry Martyn||St John's||William Woodall||Pembroke|
|1802||White, Thomas PennyThomas Penny White||Queens'||John Grisdale||Christ's|
|1803||Starkie, ThomasThomas Starkie||St John's||Hoare, Charles JamesCharles James Hoare||St John's|
|1804||Kaye, JohnJohn Kaye||Christ's||William Albin Garratt||Trinity|
|1805||Turton, ThomasThomas Turton||St Catharine's||Christie, Samuel HunterSamuel Hunter Christie||Trinity|
|1806||Pollock, FrederickFrederick Pollock||Trinity||Henry Walter||St John's|
|1807||Henry Gipps||St John's||John Carr||Trinity|
|1808||Bickersteth, HenryHenry Bickersteth||Gonville and Caius||Miles Bland||St John's|
|1809||Alderson, Edward HallEdward Hall Alderson||Gonville and Caius||John Standly||Gonville and Caius|
|1810||Maule, William HenryWilliam Henry Maule||Trinity||Brandreth, Thomas ShawThomas Shaw Brandreth||Trinity|
|1811||Dicey, Thomas EdwardThomas Edward Dicey||Trinity||William French||Caius|
|1812||Neale, CorneliusCornelius Neale||St John's||Joseph William Jordan||Trinity|
|1813||Herschel, JohnJohn Herschel||St John's||Peacock, GeorgeGeorge Peacock||Trinity|
|1814||Richard Gwatkin||St John's||Henry Wilkinson||St John's|
|1815||Charles George Frederick Leicester||Trinity||Frederick Calvert||Jesus|
|1816||Jacob, EdwardEdward Jacob||Gonville and Caius||Whewell, WilliamWilliam Whewell||Trinity|
|1817||John Thomas Austen||St John's||Chevallier, TempleTemple Chevallier||Pembroke|
|1818||Shaw-Lefevre, John GeorgeJohn George Shaw-Lefevre||Trinity||John Hind||St John's|
|1819||King, JoshuaJoshua King||Queens'||George Miles Cooper||St John's|
|1820||Coddington, HenryHenry Coddington||Trinity||Watkin Maddy||St John's|
|1821||Solomon Atkinson||Trinity||Melvill, HenryHenry Melvill||St John's|
|1822||Hamnett Holditch||Gonville and Caius||Mitford Peacock||Corpus Christi|
|1823||Airy, George BiddellGeorge Biddell Airy||Trinity||Charles Jeffreys||St John's|
|1824||John Cowling||St John's||James Bowstead||Corpus Christi|
|1825||Challis, JamesJames Challis||Trinity||William Williamson||Clare|
|1826||William Law||Trinity||Hymers, JohnJohn Hymers||St John's|
|1827||Gordon, Henry PercyHenry Percy Gordon||Peterhouse||Thomas Turner||Trinity|
|1828||Perry, CharlesCharles Perry||Trinity||John Baily||St John's|
|1829||Philpott, HenryHenry Philpott||St Catharine's||Cavendish, WilliamWilliam Cavendish||Trinity|
|1830||Charles Thomas Whitley||St John's||James William Lucas Heaviside||Sidney Sussex|
|1831||Earnshaw, SamuelSamuel Earnshaw||St John's||Thomas Gaskin||St John's|
|1832||Douglas Denon Heath||Trinity||Laing, SamuelSamuel Laing||St John's|
|1833||Alexander Ellice||Gonville and Caius||Joseph Bowstead||Pembroke|
|1834||Kelland, PhilipPhilip Kelland||Queens'||Birks, Thomas RawsonThomas Rawson Birks||Trinity|
|1835||Cotterill, HenryHenry Cotterill||St John's||Goulburn, HenryHenry Goulburn[note 3]||Trinity|
|1836||Smith, ArchibaldArchibald Smith||Trinity||Colenso, John WilliamJohn William Colenso||St John's|
|1837||William Nathaniel Griffin||St John's||Sylvester, James JosephJames Joseph Sylvester||St John's|
|1838||Thomas John Main||St John's||James George Mould||Corpus Christi|
|1839||Cowie, Benjamin MorganBenjamin Morgan Cowie||St John's||Frost, PercivalPercival Frost||St John's|
|1840||Ellis, Robert LeslieRobert Leslie Ellis||Trinity||Harvey Goodwin||Caius|
|1841||Stokes, George GabrielGeorge Gabriel Stokes||Pembroke||Henry Cadman Jones||Trinity|
|1842||Cayley, ArthurArthur Cayley||Trinity||Charles Turner Simpson||St John's|
|1843||Adams, John CouchJohn Couch Adams||St John's||Francis Bashforth||St John's|
|1844||George Wirgman Hemming||St John's||William Bonner Hopkins||Gonville and Caius|
|1845||Parkinson, StephenStephen Parkinson||St John's||Thomson, WilliamWilliam Thomson[note 4]||Peterhouse|
|1846||Lewis Hensley||Trinity||John Alfred Airey (or Lumb)||Pembroke|
|1847||William Parkinson Wilson||St John's||Robert Walker||Trinity|
|1848||Todhunter, IsaacIsaac Todhunter||St John's||Charles Mackenzie||Gonville and Caius|
|1849||Morris Birkbeck Pell||St John's||Henry Carlyon Phear||Gonville and Caius|
|1850||William Henry Besant||Corpus Christi||Watson, Henry WilliamHenry William Watson||Trinity|
|1851||Ferrers, Norman MacleodNorman Macleod Ferrers||Gonville and Caius||William Charles Evans||St John's|
|1852||Tait, Peter GuthriePeter Guthrie Tait||Peterhouse||William John Steele||Peterhouse|
|1853||Thomas Bond Sprague||St John's||Robert Braithwaite Batty||Emmanuel|
|1854||Routh, EdwardEdward Routh[note 5]||Peterhouse||Maxwell, James ClerkJames Clerk Maxwell||Peterhouse & Trinity|
|1855||James Savage||St John's||Courtney, LeonardLeonard Courtney||St John's|
|1856||Hadley, Augustus VaughtonAugustus Vaughton Hadley||St John's||Rigby, JohnJohn Rigby||Trinity|
|1857||Gerard Brown Finch||Queens'||Thomas Savage||Pembroke|
|1858||George Middleton Slesser||Queens'||Charles Abercrombie Smith||Peterhouse|
|1859||Wilson, James MauriceJames Maurice Wilson||St John's||Frederick Brown & Anthony William Wilson Steel||Trinity & Gonville and Caius|
|1860||Stirling, JamesJames Stirling||Trinity||Walter Baily||St John's|
|1861||William Steadman Aldis||Trinity||John Bond||Magdalene|
|1862||Thomas Barker||Trinity||John George Laing||St John's|
|1863||Romer, RobertRobert Romer||Trinity Hall||Leeke, Edward TuckerEdward Tucker Leeke||Trinity|
|1864||Henry John Purkiss||Trinity||William Peverill Turnbull||Trinity|
|1865||Strutt, JohnJohn Strutt||Trinity||Marshall, AlfredAlfred Marshall||St John's|
|1866||Robert Morton||Peterhouse||Thomas Steadman Aldis||Trinity|
|1867||Charles Niven||Trinity||Clifford, William KingdonWilliam Kingdon Clifford||Trinity|
|1868||Moulton, John FletcherJohn Fletcher Moulton||St John's||Darwin, GeorgeGeorge Darwin||Trinity|
|1869||Hartog, Numa EdwardNuma Edward Hartog[note 6]||Trinity||John Eliot||St John's|
|1870||Pendlebury, RichardRichard Pendlebury||St John's||Greenhill, Alfred GeorgeAlfred George Greenhill||St John's|
|1871||Hopkinson, JohnJohn Hopkinson||Trinity||Glaisher, James Whitbread LeeJames Whitbread Lee Glaisher||Trinity|
|1872||Robert Rumsey Webb||St John's||Lamb, HoraceHorace Lamb||Trinity|
|1873||Thomas Oliver Harding||Trinity||Edward John Nanson||Trinity|
|1874||George Constantine Calliphronas||Gonville and Caius||Ball, W. W. RouseW. W. Rouse Ball||Trinity|
|1875||John William Lord||Trinity||Burnside, WilliamWilliam Burnside & George Chrystal||Pembroke & Peterhouse|
|1876||Joseph Timmis Ward||St John's||William Loudon Mollison||Clare|
|1877||MacAlister, DonaldDonald MacAlister||St John's||Frederic Brian De Malbisse Gibbons||Gonville and Caius|
|1878||Hobson, E. W.E. W. Hobson||Christ's||John Edward Aloysius Steggall||Trinity|
|1879||Andrew James Campbell Allen||Peterhouse||George Francis Walker||Queens'|
|1880||Larmor, JosephJoseph Larmor||St John's||Thomson, J. J.J. J. Thomson||Trinity|
|1881||Forsyth, AndrewAndrew Forsyth[note 7]||Trinity||Robert Samuel Heath||Trinity|
|1882||Robert Alfred Herman||Trinity||John Shapland Yeo||St John's|
|1882[note 8]||William Welsh||Jesus||Turner, Herbert HallHerbert Hall Turner||Trinity|
|1883||Mathews, George BallardGeorge Ballard Mathews||St John's||Edward Gurner Gallop||Trinity|
|1884||Sheppard, William FleetwoodWilliam Fleetwood Sheppard||Trinity||Walter Percy Workman||Trinity|
|1885||Arthur Berry||King's||Love, Augustus Edward HoughAugustus Edward Hough Love||St John's|
|1886||Dixon, Alfred CardewAlfred Cardew Dixon||Trinity||William Charles Fletcher||St John's|
|1887||Baker, H. F.H. F. Baker, Sir Alfred William Flux, John Henry Michell & John Cyril Iles||St John's, St John's, Trinity & Trinity||James Bennet Peace||Emmanuel|
|1888||Orr, William McFaddenWilliam McFadden Orr||St John's||William Edwin Brunyate||Trinity|
|1889||Walker, GilbertGilbert Walker||Trinity||Dyson, Frank WatsonFrank Watson Dyson||Trinity|
|1890||"Above the Senior Wrangler" Philippa Fawcett; Geoffrey Thomas Bennett[note 9]||Newnham; St John's||Hugh William Segar||Trinity|
|1891||James Goodwillie||Corpus Christi||David Beveridge Mair & Robert Hume Davison Mayall||Christ's & Sidney Sussex|
|1892||Cowell, Philip HerbertPhilip Herbert Cowell||Trinity||Francis Robert Sharpe||Christ's|
|1893||George Thomas Manley||Christ's||Gilbert Harrison John Hurst & Charles Percy Sanger||King's & Trinity|
|1894||Walter Sibbald Adie & William Fellows Sedgwick||Trinity & Trinity||William Edward Philip||Clare|
|1895||Bromwich, Thomas John I'AnsonThomas John I'Anson Bromwich||St John's||John Hilton Grace & E. T. Whittaker||Peterhouse & Trinity|
|1896||William Garden Fraser||Queens'||Barnes, Ernest WilliamErnest William Barnes, George Edward St Lawrence Carson & Algernon Charles Legge Wilkinson||Trinity, Trinity & Trinity|
|1897||William Henry Austin||Trinity||Whipple, Francis John WelshFrancis John Welsh Whipple||Trinity|
|1898||Ronald William Henry Turnbull Hudson||St John's||John Forbes Cameron & James Hopwood Jeans||Gonville and Caius & Trinity|
|1899||George Birtwhistle & R. P. Paranjpye[note 10]||Pembroke & St John's||Samuel Bruce McLaren||Trinity|
|1900||Joseph Edmund Wright||Trinity||Arthur Cyril Webb Aldis||Trinity Hall|
|1901||Alexander Brown||Gonville and Caius||Herbert Knapman||Emmanuel|
|1902||Cunningham, EbenezerEbenezer Cunningham||St John's||Frank Slator||St John's|
|1903||Bateman, HarryHarry Bateman & Philip Edward Marrack||Trinity & Trinity||James Sidney Barnes, Ernest Gold, George Frederic Sowden Hills and Sidney Hill Phillips||Trinity, St John's, Trinity and St John's|
|1904||Eddington, Arthur StanleyArthur Stanley Eddington[note 11]||Trinity||G. R. Blanco-White||Trinity|
|1905||Littlewood, John EdensorJohn Edensor Littlewood & James Mercer||Trinity & Trinity||H. Smith||Trinity Hall|
|1906||Arunachala Tyaga Rajan & Clarence John Threlkeld Sewell||Trinity & Trinity||W. J. Harrison||Clare|
|1907||Watson, G. N.G. N. Watson||Trinity||Herbert Westren Turnbull||Trinity|
|1908||Brodetsky, SeligSelig Brodetsky & A. W. Ibbotson||Trinity & Pembroke||H. Minson||Christ's|
|1909||Daniell, Percy JohnPercy John Daniell||Trinity||E. H. Neville||Trinity|
Senior Wranglers since 1910
|1914||Brian Charles Molony||Trinity|
|1930||Bronowski, JacobJacob Bronowski||Jesus|
|1940||Bondi, HermannHermann Bondi||Trinity|
|1953||Nash-Williams, CrispinCrispin Nash-Williams||Trinity Hall|
|1973||Lee Hsien Loong||Trinity|
|1992||Ruth Hendry [self-published source?]||Queens'|
|2001||Ganesalingam, MohanMohan Ganesalingam||Trinity|
|2008||Le Hung Viet Bao||Trinity|
|2009||Thomas Beck||Trinity Hall|
|2011||Sean Eberhard||Gonville and Caius|
Senior Wranglers since 1910 also include:
- David Hobson (Christ's College) (1940s)
- Peter Swinnerton-Dyer (Trinity College) (1940s)
- Michael Hall (Trinity College) (1950s)
- Colin Myerscough (Churchill College) (1960s)
- In years where there was a tie, individuals tied have been shown as Senior Wrangler, with the next placed candidate(s) as Proxime Accessit; strictly speaking, if n individuals are tied as Senior Wrangler, any runner up is (n+1)-st Wrangler .
- Thomas Jones, the Senior Wrangler that year, acted as his tutor.
- Also senior classic.
- According to legend, Kelvin was so confident he had come top that he asked his servant to run to the Senate House and check who the Second Wrangler was. The servant returned and told him, "You, sir"! Kelvin was reportedly beaten largely on the basis of Parkinson's superior exam technique. The result was reversed in the Smith Prize.
- Routh found more fame subsequently as a coach of other Senior Wranglers. Indeed for twenty-two consecutive years from 1862, one of his pupils was Senior Wrangler, and he coached twenty-seven in all. His first pupil in 1856 was Third Wrangler, and in 1858 both the Senior and Second Wrangler were coached by him.
- First Jewish Senior Wrangler. A special grace was passed to allow him to be graduated using a special form of the wording in order to not offend his religious beliefs.
- Forsyth was one of the men who were principally responsible for the reform of the Tripos system that led to the end of the Tripos ranking.
- Regulations were changed to split the class list into Parts I & II, and Part III. The examinations for the former were held in June and retained the ordered class list (in contrast to Part III), so two sets of results exist for this year.
- Actually placed second to Philippa Fawcett.
- First Indian Senior Wrangler.
- Eddington was the first person to be Senior Wrangler after only two years of study.
- Forfar, David (1996). "What became of the Senior Wranglers?". Mathematical Spectrum 29 (1).
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- Classical Tripos established.
- Founded Hymers College.
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