New Museums Site

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New Museums Site
Free School Lane entrance (Old Cavendish Laboratory)

The New Museums Site is a major site of the University of Cambridge, located on Pembroke Street and Free School Lane, sandwiched between Corpus Christi College, Pembroke College and Lion Yard. Its postcode is CB2 3QH. The smaller and older of two university city-centre science sites (the other is the Downing Site), the New Museums Site houses many of the university's science departments and lecture theatres, as well as two museums.


New Museums was the second university departmental site, after the Old Schools (near the Senate House), and the university's first science site.[1] Several important scientific developments of the 19th and 20th centuries were made at the New Museums Site, mainly at the Old Cavendish Laboratory, including the discoveries of the electron by J. J. Thomson (1897) and the neutron by Chadwick (1932), splitting the atom by Cockcroft and Walton (1932), mechanism of nervous conduction by Hodgkin and Huxley (1930s–40s), and DNA structure by Watson and Crick (1953).[2][3]

The area now forming the site was at the centre of medieval Cambridge. The King's Ditch, possibly a Saxon structure, cut through the south-east corner until the early 19th century. An Augustinian Friary was founded on the site in 1290; some of its buildings remained in the late 16th century and they form part of the fabric of the Old Cavendish Laboratory. The Free School, later the Perse School, was built in the 1620s in the south-west; Mortlock's house followed in the 18th century in the north of the site. In 1762, a Botanic Garden was developed over much of the site. In 1832, anatomy buildings were erected, designed by Charles Humfrey.[4]

The foundation of the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1848–51, as well as the expansion of laboratories at new universities and colleges, provided the stimulus for the provision of university science facilities.[4][5][6] When the University Botanic Garden moved to its current location between Hills Road and Trumpington Road in the south of the city in 1846–52, the university acquired the site for "new museums and Lecture Rooms".[4] A proposal for the new site was developed by Robert Willis and others, with Anthony Salvin as the suggested architect, but delays ensued over multiple issues, particularly the budget of £23,000.[5][6] Construction did not start until 1863; the first building, to cut-down plans by Salvin, opened in 1866, and housed museums of botany, mineralogy and morphology.[4][5][6]

The original Cavendish Laboratory (experimental physics) followed in 1870–3, funded privately by William Cavendish, the university chancellor,[4][6][7] and designed by W. M. Fawcett.[8] A building serving zoology, comparative anatomy and physiology, designed by William Fawcett, opened in 1878, and the biology facilities were extended in 1882 and 1884.[6] Chemical laboratories and lecture rooms were built in 1886–88.[4] The Perse School building had been converted into an engineering laboratory by 1890[4] and a temporary mechanics (engineering) building was erected.[6] A physiology building was in use in 1891.[6] Overcrowding of the site was already a major problem by the mid-1890s, and nearby land was purchased for a second science site, which became the Downing Site.[6]

The early 20th century saw the completion of the Zoology Building, Examination Halls (1909) and Arts School (1911) on the New Museums Site.[4] The Mond Laboratory, funded by the Royal Society and designed by H. C. Hughes, was built in 1932–33 as a physics laboratory,[5][9] and was extended later that decade with the Austin Wing.[8] Several other buildings were erected in the early-to-mid 20th century.[4] By the mid-1950s it was obvious that the substantial problems with the New Museums Site's accommodation were going to require a "radical" re-evaluation of the site's use.[10] The centre of the site was redeveloped in the late 1960s, with the loss of most of the original buildings by Salvin to accommodate the Arup Building (now the David Attenborough Building).[4] In the early 1970s, the Cavendish Laboratory moved to a new science site to the west of the city, now known as West Cambridge.[10] Further major redevelopment started in 2011.[11]

Arup Building, housing the Zoology Museum, in 2011
Mond Building


The New Museums Site is an eclectic mixture of grand Victorian and Edwardian buildings erected between 1863 and 1911, such as the Old Cavendish Laboratory;[4] brown-brick buildings from the 1930–40s, largely utilitarian with the exception of the Mond Building; and modernist glass-and-concrete buildings dating from the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Arup Building and the Materials Science and Metallurgy tower. Five of the buildings are listed at grade II: the Mond Building,[9] Zoology Building, Old Physical Chemistry, Cavendish Laboratory and the Arts School.[4]

Institutions and buildings[edit]

Entrance to the Old Examinations Hall, demolished in 2016


  1. ^ Richard Gray (1956). The Future of the Backs: University Development in Cambridge. The Town Planning Review 26(4): 195–210 JSTOR 40101577
  2. ^ Barnabas Calder (2013). Representing Science: the Architecture of the New Museums Site, Cambridge, 1952–71. Twentieth Century Architecture 11: 166–179 JSTOR 24644447
  3. ^ A Hundred Years and More of Cambridge Physics (3rd edition), Cambridge University Physics Society, 1995 ISBN 0 9507343 1 4
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s The New Museums Site: Development Framework: Supplementary Planning Document, Cambridge City Council, December 2018 (accessed 15 September 2022)
  5. ^ a b c d Brooke et al., pp. 153–55, 190–91
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Helen J. Blackman (2007). The Natural Sciences and the Development of Animal Morphology in Late-Victorian Cambridge. Journal of the History of Biology 40(1): 71–108 JSTOR 29737465
  7. ^ a b Dennis Moralee. The First Ten Years, in: A Hundred Years and More of Cambridge Physics, Cambridge University Physics Society
  8. ^ a b Brooke et al., pp. 176–77
  9. ^ a b Mond Laboratory, National Heritage List for England, Historic England (accessed 17 September 2022)
  10. ^ a b Brian Pippard (1998). Sir Nevill Francis Mott, C. H. 30 September 1905–8 August 1996. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 44: 314–328 JSTOR 770247
  11. ^ a b c Student Services Centre on New Museums Site now fully operational, Estates Division, University of Cambridge (accessed 15 September 2022)
  12. ^ Overview of the Department, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge (accessed 15 September 2022)
  13. ^ Library and Reading Room Records, Cambridge Philosophical Society, ArchiveSearch, University of Cambridge (accessed 15 September 2022)
  14. ^ History of CEB, Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology (accessed 15 September 2022)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°12′13″N 0°07′11″E / 52.2035°N 0.1196°E / 52.2035; 0.1196