Historic walking tour of Pembroke College

The irony of the fact that Pembroke was founded by a woman – Marie de St Pol – in 1342 and yet only began admitting women some 600 years later was hard to ignore as Dr Stephen Halliday provided an enlightening historical tour on Sunday 26 October as part of PemWomen@30.

Dr Halliday’s tour gave a fascinating insight into the myths and forgotten heroes of what is today a thoroughly modern and forward-thinking college. Inviting the group into the Old Library, Dr Halliday used the ability of students to unlock the College gates using their university cards to demonstrate the leaps made in attitudes towards women. The curfew formerly imposed on students made sure that, according to Dr Halliday, women were out of the College ‘before any hanky-panky was likely to occur’.

Elsewhere, Dr Halliday drew particular attention to the chapel as the first threshold over which women crossed in the long struggle towards 1984. The WWII blackouts making the availability of trebles for the choir problematic, the organ scholar at the time took it upon himself to recruit sopranos from Newnham, New Hall and Addenbrookes.

Dr Halliday’s impressive and expansive knowledge of the College history brightened the cold Sunday morning and highlighted both the tremendous achievements and stories of Pembroke, but also, most poignantly, the very absence of women for most of this proud legacy.

The historic walking tour spoke volumes with regard to how much we as students take the College history for granted, as well as the important contributions women are now making to the future of college life.

Lucy Lim (2013, HSPS)


In the following audio clip, Stephen discusses University cards and curfews, women in the chapel choir and the infamous long mirrors installed in bedrooms.