Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by Professor David Thompson, Life Fellow of Fitzwilliam and Emeritus Professor of Modern Church History.

Fitzwilliam became a College by Royal Charter in 1966, though it had existed since 1869. In a piece delivered during the 50th anniversary service in Chapel on 8 July, Professor David Thompson reflects on the history of the Chapel.

I was invited to offer a short reflection this evening on the Jubilee of the College’s Charter, being reasonably confident that it will survive until the actual anniversary in September!  At the time we were all delighted that the Charter received the royal seal a week ahead of our neighbour, Churchill, which had always been regarded as setting the pace for the ‘new colleges’ in mid-1960s Cambridge. And that was right because Fitzwilliam was not in that sense ‘a new college’; we already had almost a century of history and tradition behind us.

We are long way now from the original expectation in 1869 that all students should attend public worship regularly and report termly on their attendance. After services in St Michael’s Church and later in a side chapel of King’s, by the end of the nineteenth century there was a strong feeling among both Anglican and Nonconformist undergraduates that there should be permanent provision in Fitzwilliam House; and the Library was converted for this purpose in 1913. The fact that it was ‘full to overflowing’ with 25 shows that it was clearly inadequate for Sunday services. In fact, until Fitzwilliam moved to its present site in 1963, there was no place in the House large enough for even half the undergraduates to gather. The boom years of the 1950s (religiously speaking – there are just over seventy people in a photograph of the 1960 chapel congregation in John Cleaver’s History) saw a return to St Michael’s for three years, and then the regular use of Ridley Hall chapel on Sunday evenings.

It is therefore significant that when the first new college buildings were opened, provision was made for a ‘temporary chapel’, in the sure and certain hope that a permanent building would be eventually constructed.  Initially this was an ex-RAF prefabricated building of asphalt-impregnated fibreboard set in a sea of mud just the other side of the archway into what became New Court.  (I always thought of it as two portakabins joined together.)  It was a striking contrast to Bodley’s brick Gothic of Queens’ new chapel (1889-91) from which I had come.

1963 Chapel

The temporary Chapel in 1963











It was striking in other ways. On this site our three buildings or rooms have either been square or, like this, a circle and a square. This is more of a community space than a hierarchical one – and it has always encouraged worship ‘in the round’, as this space was designed to do. The striking feature of the traditions established in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a succession of three charismatic chaplains of different kinds was that of a community open to other Christians and to new ideas. It had already been the practice of Cambridge College chapels since 1948 to admit Christians of all denominations to communion, so there was no change there – except that scarcely anyone anywhere else in the country was doing it. Fitzwilliam also had a Roman Catholic member of the Chapel Committee from 1961, i.e. before the Second Vatican Council began; and as liturgical experiment was permitted in the Church of England, a new order of worship for Holy Communion was devised by members of the College and used regularly. The visit to the Taizé Community (which I remember for the overnight train journey from Paris to Maçon and a glass of red wine at 6.00 am) introduced us to Gelineau psalms and a new spirituality, very different from the Taizé services we still have today.

Chapel at sunset

The Chapel, designed by Richard MacCormac in 1991.

All this is a reminder that, like any church, the College Chapel is a gathering of people before it is a building. I like to think that this chapel tells us something about the kind of Christian, or even religious, presence we have always sought for the College. I say ‘we’ with some caution, because it has not been a vision shared by all. The Statute ‘Of divine worship and the Chaplain’ was contentious (or so I understand – Research Fellows were spared the labours of the new Fellowship in drafting them), and it was the openness of the provisions that was ultimately decisive, providing the first Cambridge statute that opened the office of chaplain to (Protestant) non-Anglicans. In the fullness of time both David Horrell and Simon Perry benefited from that. Furthermore the generosity of old members in supporting the endowment of the College Chaplaincy in the first decade of this century spared the Governing Body the agony of continuing discussion of the principle.

I will not comment on the contributions of particular chaplains, even though there is much I could say. We have been fortunate in all of them, in so many different ways. We were one of the first colleges to appoint a woman chaplain; and even before the introduction of co-residence here, we developed a relationship with New Hall (now Murray Edwards), leading to several marriages. In the end Murray Edwards never built the chapel originally intended; and now a Japanese benefaction has taken over the site reserved for it.

Finally, the chaplains of Fitzwilliam were some of the first in Cambridge to develop a ministry to the College Assistant Staff – something that became increasingly necessary as more and more of the population are detached from any regular contact with a Christian church or minister. Indeed it has gone further: this building has been used from time to time by Muslim members of the College for prayer, and the discreet symbolism of Richard MacCormac’s design makes it a very useful meditative space, even for the Women Fellows’ yoga.  In short, there is a sense that the chapel has become the heart of the total college community: former students have married here, and had their children baptized here; there have been vigils at times of national crisis, and services after sudden student deaths; and former Fellows have had funerals and memorial services here. One thing we do not do is to admit new Fellows to their fellowships here, as many colleges do. As a characteristic representative of late twentieth-century attitudes, I still believe that to be right: indeed as the first Fellow to be admitted after the Charter (when I moved from a research fellowship to a teaching fellowship) Dr Grave asked me whether he should do so in Latin or English. ‘English’ I replied, and he did. But I must have given the wrong answer, since he admitted no-one else in English for the rest of his Mastership!


David Thompson is a Life Fellow of Fitzwilliam and Emeritus Professor of Modern Church History.

David Thompson was elected to a Research Fellowship in 1965, was the first holder of the Leathersellers Fellowship (1966-70) and then a teaching Fellow linked to his posts within the Faculty of Divinity from 1970. As well as being (successively) Praelector, Tutor, Director of Studies and Bursar, he served on the General Board (1988-92) and University Council (1994-2000).  He was also a member of the Churches Committee of the Historic Buildings Council, a School Governor, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church (1996-97) and a QAA assessor in Scotland and England. He became a Life Fellow on retirement in 2009, and was the College Archivist from October 2009 to October 2014.

More information about the Chapel here>>



Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog
Posted by on 14 July 2016 · Tags: , , · · comment »

This guest post is by Dr John Cleaver: Life Fellow, Archivist, and editor of ‘Fitzwilliam: the first 150 years of a Cambridge College’.

Remember 1 July 2016, a day on which so much was written and said about the centenary of the Battle of the Somme?  It’s a fortnight ago, so probably you have forgotten it already, particularly if you are preoccupied with the depressing events of the present day – but the men who took part did not have the luxury to forget: from a hundred years ago today, the battle still had about another seventeen weeks to run.

Ten Fitzwilliam men died in the Battle of the Somme – the first exactly a century ago on 14 July 1916, towards the end of the relatively active phase of the battle.  The other nine died in the area over the following four months, as the battle degenerated into an exercise in attrition.

The battle of the Somme put to a very substantial test the New Army introduced by Kitchener. Its establishment had been a remarkable experiment.  The mass army was improvised rapidly and, although there had been significant improvements to both Regular and Territorial forces in the period after the Boer War, there was rather little provision for expansion and a very small cadre of trained men as a basis.  Tactics reflected the limited competence that was expected from the recruits.

An illustration of the poor understanding of training requirements is given in a letter in May 1915 from a Fitzwilliam man, Second Lieutenant William Carter, to William Fiddian Reddaway – the Censor of Non-Collegiate Students, the principal officer of Fitzwilliam Hall – claiming of his rather basically trained recruits that

as discipline is now becoming more and more pronounced, by the time we have finished our musketry course we shall be just about ready for service in any part of the world.

It speaks volumes for the men that they still show considerable keenness in their work, when consideration is made for the fact that their training has been hindered by lack of equipment and material.  The routine here is rather monotonous but it is now and then varied by a few ceremonial parades.

Such provision, which was all that was practicable, could not meet the requirements for men who were to tackle well-prepared defensive positions.  The emphasis in training was to instil discipline rather than intelligent competence and, consistent with that, the new recruits spent a high proportion of their training time on close-order drill.  This was a particular failing of the British army, and contrasted strongly with what could be achieved in the German army (which had based its pre-war system on much higher quality conscript recruits: before the war the British army had recruited predominantly from the unemployed, and had to reject a high proportion as they failed to meet even basic physical standards).  The disregard for initiative was consistent with the belief that orders simply needed to be passed down and followed by the lower ranks, such control in turn necessitating a higher proportion of junior officers and non-commissioned officers to men than in the German army, and resulting in inactivity or severely-degraded performance when officers and NCOs were incapacitated.  Indeed, this did not apply solely to the management of private soldiers; at all levels amongst the officers there was an inflexible emphasis on top-down command without delegation of responsibility for decision-making, and grossly inadequate provision for the feedback either of long-term practical experience or of urgent information.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme: its 56 engraved stone panels bear a total of 72,246 names.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme: its 56 engraved stone panels bear a total of 72,246 names.

William Carter – by that time Lieutenant Carter – was to be the first Fitzwilliam man to be killed in the battle of the Somme, on 14 July 1916.  He died without identifiable trace and, like so many others, is commemorated on Sir Edwin Lutyens’ great arch at Thiepval, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

The south-east section of the British sector on the Somme, showing the German trench system.  Mametz Wood and Bazentin-le-Petit Wood are at top centre.  Note the map scale: in peacetime, from Fricourt to Bazentin-le-Petit Wood via Contalmaison is a gentle half-hour stroll.

The south-east section of the British sector on the Somme, showing the German trench system. Mametz Wood and Bazentin-le-Petit Wood are at top centre. Note the map scale: in peacetime, from Fricourt to Bazentin-le-Petit Wood via Contalmaison is a gentle half-hour stroll.

Temporary Lieutenant Frederic Scott wrote to Reddaway with an account of other action on 14 July.  A week previously, on 8 July, he had

moved up to Contalmaison where we completed the capture of that place by surrounding and demolishing three houses at its northern end, capturing about 100 of the Prussian Guard.

After four days consolidating and holding on there, we were withdrawn to Fricourt , where our Brigade was concentrated.  There we were told that to us had been given the honour of making the first attack on the German second-line system.  The 13th was spent in preparing for our attack by carrying up bombs and ammunition to the northern edge of Mametz Wood, from which we were to debouch and attack.  Our task was to take Bazentin-le-Petit Wood and village, and hold a line north of them.

We attacked at dawn on the 14th, ‘France’s Day’, and by 8:00 am we had captured the wood, with five lines of trenches in it, every tree acting as a staple for barbed wire, and by 8:50 we had taken the village (and 600 prisoners) and reached our objective.  We had the supreme satisfaction of seeing the cavalry come through us into the open, and then we resisted five massed counter-attacks, in which the Huns suffered enormously.

I was hit about noon and left the fighting line about 4:00 pm, when we had lost about 75% of our strength.  However, our line held strong, until the night of the 15th when the remnant of the Leicestershire Brigade was relieved.  It was a great fight – hand to hand, mostly, and the enemy fought desperately. ‘Bazentin, c’est la gloire anglaise’ say the French, and my wound seems a trivial price to pay for the honour of having a hand in it.

Actually, his action was recognised more tangibly.  He was awarded a Military Cross, and the citation read

For conspicuous gallantry during an attack.  Although badly shaken by a bursting shell, he collected thirty men and dug himself in in a forward position, holding it under heavy fire for a day and night.  He was wounded, but refused attention until he had withdrawn his party.

Scott survived the Somme, but was to die in May 1918.

Overall, the Somme offensive achieved an advance of about 13 km on a 30 km front, with more than a quarter of that area captured in the first two-week period.

In the later attritional phase nine more Fitzwilliam men were to die – identifiable remains of four of them were never recovered so, like Carter, they are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial:  Allan Alford, Cyril Allison, George Stout, and John Swallow.  The bodies of the other five men – Alec Boucher, Bernard Downman, Oswald Elliott, Eric Player, and William Shaw – were recovered and buried in various cemeteries in the area.

Captain Eric Player and Second Lieutenant Oswald Elliott are both buried at Bécourt Military Cemetery, 2½ km east of Albert.

Captain Eric Player and Second Lieutenant Oswald Elliott are both buried at Bécourt Military Cemetery, 2½km east of Albert.

The Somme deaths between July and November 1916 represent about a quarter of the Fitzwilliam deaths in the Great War.  During the war a total of forty-four men died, out of about 300 from the Hall who served abroad – about 230 of them as combatants, and about 13 as members of the Royal Army Medical Corps. There were also about 46 chaplains, and about 14 provided welfare for troops through the YMCA.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This blog is in two parts: the first by Adam Drew (Geography 2013), Fitzwilliam College Cricket Captain 2016, and the second by Andrew Powell, Fitzwilliam’s Bursar. The Cricket Varsity match takes place at Lords on Friday 1 July. Tickets on the gate.

Part 1:  Cricket Cuppers Champions 2016

As a second-string Fitzwilliam side were roundly thumped on an overcast April afternoon in a friendly against a Magdalene team devoid of proper cricketing attire, I did not instinctively think this was a cuppers winning team in the making. Let me start by telling you what cuppers is. Cuppers are intercollegiate sporting competitions. Each sport holds a cuppers competition each year, which is open to all colleges. Back in April, I didn’t really think we’d win. The cricket season is horribly short, and we have to fit in things like exams. The Master tells the story of when Hon Fellow Sir Dennis Byron (Law 1962) came to Fitz as a young man from St Lucia, he couldn’t believe that he wouldn’t be playing cricket in October…  It may not be a year round sport, but cuppers is a prize which every College wants to win – to be the best…

There are huge challenges for a College cricket team. There are weekly essays to fit in, and some of the team are playing or training with the University team (the Blues) whilst others have represented the Crusaders – the University second team.

But we focused – and two weeks later we had a replay against Magdalene. This time it was a serious ‘cuppers’ match and this time we had a near-to-full strength side. We won comfortably by 80 runs.

Our other group match was against Clare Hall who boasted an Australian first-grade cricketer. Our 10-wicket win saw us qualify for the quarter-finals and we were now dreaming of a day at Fenner’s, the glorious University cricket pitch. Our quarter-final was a home tie against Emmanuel. Our semi-final was once again at home, our wonderful pitch in Oxford Road, close to College, this time against Robinson.

During pre-season our Blues wicketkeeper Patrick Tice (Theology 2013) had informed me that one of three colleges could win cuppers: Fitzwilliam, Robinson or Girton. Girton had secured a semi-final tie against Jesus so we knew we would likely have to beat both favoured teams to win cuppers. First, Robinson.  Henry Warne (HSPS 2013) bowled perhaps the spell of his life to soak up the runs, remove their star batsman, and ultimately win us the match. However, just as the match appeared won, Henry delivered a no-ball off what should have been the last ball of the innings which was dispatched for six meaning Robinson could still win the match with another six. Thankfully Henry kept his composure and we won by five runs. We now had the chance to win cuppers for the first time since 1972. We had our day at Fenner’s.

Wednesday 8 June was a glorious, hot and sunny day. A crowd of perhaps 100 – weighted in Fitzwilliam’s favour – turned up for what was a match for the ages. I won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. By the half-way stage of our innings things were far from ideal. On what appeared a glorious batting track we had scored at barely a run-a-ball for the loss of two wickets including Patrick Tice. The next 10 overs saw the birth of a new Fitzwilliam batting hero, however, as fresher Tom Corner (Natural Sciences 2015) played what must be one of the greatest cuppers-final innings to score 81 and, with a quick-fire cameo from Oli Taylor (History 2015), push the innings score to 167 which was widely felt to be just above par.

We started brilliantly restricting Girton in the early overs with Sam Strong (Geography 2009) – representing Fitzwilliam for the seventh year – picking up a crucial early wicket. Can he make his PhD extend another year?! Girton’s captain counterattacked with a rapid innings of 49 until being brilliantly caught on the second attempt by Dan Mehlig (Engineering 2013) at Cover. And so it continued until we eventually squeezed out a 3-run victory to end a nail-biting contest. The 44-year wait was over. Fitzwilliam were champions. It felt fantastic.

Cricket is a funny old game. I love it because it is an individual game within a team sport. It can turn in a moment and conjures up such a wide range of emotions throughout just a few hours. Also, it’s played in the sunshine (most of the time)! And I can’t quite express the pleasure of winning cuppers. It feels a bit like finishing my degree – not obtaining the grade but actually finishing that final exam knowing you’ve done all you can and (hopefully) having achieved everything you’ve been working towards for the past year.

And now a couple of members of the College team will be playing in the Varsity match at Lords over the coming weeks. I’ll be attending: will you?

Part 2:  A view from the boundary – and beyond

I am the proudest Senior Treasurer in Fitzwilliam this year. The first in 44 years to win Cricket Cuppers! I am taking as much credit as I can, from the provision of the kit, to the pre-season friendly against my old club in which the College made the village team look like internationals, to the staff & Fellows against the students game in which we just gave the College enough of a run out to make the difference in the semi-final against Robinson!

Seriously it was a privilege just to be associated with this great achievement. I managed to get to one of the group games (opposition bowled out for 19, mostly extras), and the latter part of the semi-final, against Robinson at Oxford Road. This was not a team dependent on one or two stars and a bunch of journeyman: from where I saw it, it was a whole team effort. Sure we had our stars – every team needs them – but whenever someone failed, someone else stepped up to fill the gap. We batted deep, bowled long and fielded like demons. Every one was a hero. On the field we looked a well organised outfit. The captain was in charge looking as though he had a plan for all situations and the team followed instinctively. The new ‘Baggy Red’ caps (now surely destined to be more popular than Manchester United football shirts) reinforced the impression of a strong and focused team, inspired confidence in the supporters and fear in the opposition; somehow you never felt they were going to break even though every game was a tight one.

And yet they never made it easy; who but Fitz could contrive to make a cliffhanger out of a situation in which the opposition needed 14 to win off the last ball (semi-final against Robinson)?

Of course this squad is not a flash in the pan. I’m sure they would be first to acknowledge the efforts of those captains over the last three years who have brought Fitz cricket back from the brink. I’m especially pleased for Sam Strong who has played for Fitz for seven years, and done two stints as captain and really pulled us through some difficult times.

Those of us who failed to get to the final had to make do with various methods of communication. At the Past v Present match on Saturday, I heard tales of alumni following the match via Twitter feeds in the office. Back in the College, we had to make do with unreliable text messages. The final message before contact was lost was “Girton 88 for 12 – looking a bit better”. We didn’t even know whether this was the first or second innings, so we were very confused for the rest of the afternoon! When the news came of the eventual victory by three runs, the Fellows were gathering in the Upper Hall for a meeting of the Governing Body. Others will tell the tale of the game, but the JCR President had the pleasure of informing the Governing Body of this historic achievement which drew a round of applause (another first?).

Four years ago we were proud to host the 1972 cuppers winning team holding their 40th anniversary back in College. We look forward to the return of the 2016 champions, and watch out for Fitz Cricket 2060!

Top row from left to right - Tahawar Hussain (12th man); Patrick Tice; Rory Sale; Sam Strong; Oli Taylor; Joe Painter; Dan Mehlig - bottom row from left to right - Tom Corner; Nikhil Patel (vice-captain); Adam Drew (captain); Henry Warne; Christian Moffat.

Top row from left to right – Tahawar Hussain (12th man); Patrick Tice; Rory Sale; Sam Strong; Oli Taylor; Joe Painter; Dan Mehlig – bottom row from left to right – Tom Corner; Nikhil Patel (vice-captain); Adam Drew (captain); Henry Warne; Christian Moffat.

Posted in Master's blog

I spent a couple of hours this week in the House of Lords, courtesy of Lord Bradley, discussing Tamara Pattison’s research project carried out under the umbrella of the Griffins Society on why prisons should not be seen as ‘a place of safety’ for women with complex mental health needs. Tamara, a governor at HMP Low Newton, has a powerful but depressing message: everyone who works in prison is convinced that mentally ill people should not be detained in prison, and they can come up with endless depressing ‘stories’ (too often ending with suicide and self-harm). But why does nothing change? Indeed, why does the situation continue to deteriorate?

Tamara’s first solution is better advocacy for mentally ill offenders. Far too often mentally ill suspects in police stations do not ask for legal advice. And they find themselves swiftly remanded in custody. It is a slow road out, as they queue for a hospital bed. Then there’s the need for better screening, better training: we have heard it all before and Tamara is to be congratulated on keeping these vital issues on the agenda.

Why does the ‘system’ let people down so badly? It is difficult to answer that question. Partly it is the ‘silo’ mentality, everyone working away in their own little part of the system. Magistrates, who make bail decisions, need to understand why prisons are not the best place for the mentally ill: understanding can be helped by better guidance, but nothing beats spending time talking to people in prison. Listening to Tamara, and to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) is certainly enriching.  Should magistrates be encouraged to join Independent Monitoring Boards, to see for themselves the consequences of their decisions?

More than one voice in the House of Lords discussion suggested that the current fixation with ‘contracts’ consolidates the status quo, and stifles innovation.  There are some very good things going on diverting women from police stations, but the news from Women’s Centres was less encouraging, as some are losing out in the contractual world of ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’. Good learning and continuity of provision are both lost as contracts change hands.There’s even a fragmented approach to commissioning in health care. How difficult it is to provide a good service for prisoners. It would certainly be easier if we could halve the prison population and provide better mental health care in the community.

I was reminded of my blog of 17 April 2015 ‘You can’t learn to swim without water’, where I proposed that every prisoner at the very start of his or her sentence should have a ‘ champion’, a key worker… who “would have the lead as the offender’s advocate, arguing loudly for measures and interventions which support rather than impede desistance. Pushing the prisoner’s case for reintegration, for progress through the system, at every corner”. We have a long way to go before we reach that point. What sort of tools and incentives can be offered to prison staff to help them achieve what they so clearly want to achieve – moving those with severe mental health needs out of the prison environment?


Posted in Master's blog

Two important Bills were promised in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month and are coming very soon:  the Higher Education and Research Bill, and the Prisons and Courts Bill.  And important background papers on education in both the HE and prison sectors have been published very recently.

First, the higher education White Paper – Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice .

This reflects the government’s declared determination to drive up standards and the status of teaching. No bad thing, but this endless emphasis on creating a competitive market and choice for students doesn’t sound very innovative to me. Nor is it obvious how it encourages social mobility… We have had a competitive market in HE for all the years I have worked in it.  Whether or not the Teaching Excellence Framework lives up to the Government’s expectations remains to be seen.  Widening participation in HE requires decent funding for poorer students and much better encouragement and support for them throughout their school careers.

Then there was Unlocking Potential: A review of education in prison by Dame Sally Coates on behalf of the Ministry of Justice.

This tells us that 42% of adult prisoners report having been permanently excluded from school. What a statistic. Dame Sally perfectly sensibly wants to put education at the heart of the prison regime: “education in prison should give individuals the skills they need to unlock their potential, gain employment, and become assets to their communities. It is one of the pillars of effective rehabilitation. Education should build social capital and improve the well-being of prisoners during their sentences”.  One of the most challenging parts is what is often called  ‘through the gate’ support – helping individuals continue to progress through education, training and employment through different prisons and then on release. The big idea of the moment is to give Prison Governors autonomy – but how and why would you hold them to account for the educational progress of all prisoners?  Perhaps Masters of Cambridge Colleges should be held to account for the exam results of their students?

Dame Sally wants a new ‘people’ culture in prisons to support leadership, to build routes to attract new talent into working in prison, and to ensure professional development for all staff.  How shocking that this is currently lacking. Of course the prison regime should be personalised and concerned with raising aspiration. Of course it should enable more prisoners to move into sustained employment and/or continue education on release. The idea is a “prisoner learning journey”, with a dynamic Personal Learning Plan.  Let’s see how it works out.  The evidence of recent years in prison has been fewer resources, and more fragmented services.  Reducing the prison population by half would help.

In an article published last week, Peter Dawson, one-time prison governor and now Deputy Director of the Prison Reform Trust wrote: “The condition and performance of your local prison should be as important to you as that of your local hospital or school. The people it holds have the capacity to make a significant impact on your quality of life”.

I suspect he’s right: until everyone worries more about what goes on in prisons, nothing much is likely to change.

Posted in Master's blog

This term is obviously a really challenging one for students…  exams and exam pressures are every where.  So it is useful to remember that there are other things going on too.

First, an illustration of a recent tandem outing: five tandems loaded with Fitzwilliam graduate and undergraduates gathering behind us on the top of a Cambridgeshire mountain (some of the hills feel big when you’re lugging your partner up the hill – funny he thinks that’s what he’s doing too!).  I love these regular wanderings just a few miles away from Cambridge, but nonetheless an eternity away, as none of the students we’ve had on these trips had any idea that there were real rural landscapes within easy reach, where the pressures of the Cambridge bubble fall away for a brief interval.  It’s a joy to listen to undergrads and grads in conversation, often apparently for the first time ever, even though the two communities intermingle physically within the College.  Too often they seem tacitly to assume that there’s no mileage trying to strike up friendships across such a massive gulf in maturity – all of 3 years, perhaps!  But sitting outside at lunchtime at a pub somewhere, eating a spartan picnic, the tethered tandems grazing peacefully close by, barriers of seniority fall away.  And we get back to Storey’s Way exhilarated by a crumb of exercise in the open air.





The College has had many other wonderful events:  the highlight recently has to have been the debate in London, as a variant on the regular format of our “London Dinner”, between Andy Burnham (English 1988), Vince Cable (Economics 1962) and Norman Lamont (Economics 1961), on the issues of the EU referendum.  I am not sure they changed anyone’s mindset (don’t we all know how we are going to vote by now?), but the evening was terrific.  The three main speakers all showed their well-honed but nonetheless remarkable skills of oratory, and were followed from the floor by Marina Wheeler QC (Law 1983) and Professor Catherine Barnard (Law 1986) and others.  Real quality, and all home-grown Fitz!

With the speakers at the London Dinner, from left: Vince Cable (Economics 1962), Andy Burnham (English 1988), and Norman Lamont (Economics 1961).


As ever, my two working worlds reflect interestingly on each other.  I spent a day in HMP Altcourse last week reflecting on ‘Understanding and Preventing Suicide within the Criminal Justice System’.  Whilst it is clear (of course) that those who run the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) are deeply committed to new initiatives to support all prisons, both public and private sector, I am still depressed by the failure to join up work between different prisons, and between prison and community criminal justice agencies.  It was the prisoners there who had the best ideas – stop late evening arrivals in prison, don’t lock new arrivals behind the cell door too quickly, allow more than a two-minute phone call on your first night… The decency agenda is so basic.  It is not just a question of resources: as someone said, a smile is powerful, and free.

Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

Kiana Thorpe (Geography 2012) and Nicky Padfield report on one of this term’s Master’s Conversations

On 2 February the College enjoyed an extraordinary ‘conversation’ on the vast subject of ‘stability’ in the Middle East (with a special focus on Jordan and Palestine). The three speakers had only ten minutes in which to outline their arguments, but packed in an enormous number of thought-provoking ideas.

The first speaker was Ardi Imseis (Fitz 2014), a UN lawyer currently studying for his PhD on the gulf between international law and international legitimacy in the work of the United Nations. Having worked with United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), his interests lie in political, legal and humanitarian issues in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. He argued that peace was rather more important than stability, exploring the reality of political power, the power imbalance between Palestine and Israel which he saw as central, crucial to any peaceful settlement.

The next speaker was Edward Chaplin (Queens’ 1969), who had been the Foreign Office’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and between 2004-5 Ambassador to Iraq. He agreed that the quality of the stability (peace) is what matters, and that feelings of injustice drive radicalisation.  He suggested that good governance and strong leadership is the Middle East’s biggest problem, and cannot be solved externally.

Finally, Jonathan McIvor (Diploma in Applied Criminology and Police Management, Fitz 2000). A former soldier and policeman turned security reform consultant, he presented a view from the perspective of change, particularly in relation to community policing structures in Lebanon and Jordan. He explored the practical problems created by the concentration of refugees in the north of Jordan, arguing that the dual imperatives of stability and change stand somewhat in contradiction.

From left: Nicky Padfield, Jonathan McIvor, Ardi Imseis, Edward Chaplin.

From left: Nicky Padfield, Jonathan McIvor, Ardi Imseis, Edward Chaplin.

By the end of the discussion it was less clear that peace should rank above stability as an objective, since the two concepts were so inter-dependent.  The prospects for both seem to be increasingly remote as atrocity builds upon injustice, and the mixed communities living in close proximity seem to be inexorably extinguished. The taxonomy of difference is complex and the emotion associated with different identities and belief systems apparently impervious to rationality.

The three speakers were at one in believing that neither peace nor stability would be achievable in the region until solutions were found to the cohabitation of Israel with its neighbours.  While that prospect seemed remote, the human calamity unfolding in the region was now so great that it ought nonetheless to rank amongst the highest priorities for global leaders. The cynical lens of national interest is disgracefully inhumane.

There was a fascinating debate, which ranged from the broad perspective of international diplomacy to the small picture of life in a refugee camp.  There were no easy answers, but plenty of challenges:  an erstwhile police officer calling for more popular protest and an erstwhile diplomat asking the international community to recognize its limits.  The influence of religious leaders was set against the frightening absence of women in the peace process, and in public life more generally.  The need for good governance, trust, fairness, and respect for human dignity at all levels is so obvious, and yet seemingly impossible to achieve.  Worth having the discussion even when the issues seem intractable?





Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest blog is written by current students Jack Philipsborn (HSPS 2014) and Conor Monighan (English 2014) in collaboration with Bye-Fellow Dr Matt Neal (History 2003). The debate ‘This house believes the perceived threat to campus free speech has been exaggerated’ was held at Fitzwilliam on 26 January.

Free speech is why universities thrive; cross-pollination of ideas happens when people can interact freely. So when the idea gains traction that campus free speech is under threat, alarm bells everywhere should surely start ringing. And what if the expected ringing is oddly subdued? It may be perhaps because the threat seems be coming not from government, but from students themselves. Recent student initiatives such as ‘no platforming’ (for example the high-profile no-platforming of Germaine Greer at Cardiff University), ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’ provide the context for this important debate.

The debate began with the proposition arguing that a true threat to free speech would require an individual to face the fear of death, and therefore no threat to campus free speech can possibly exist. The proposition then argued that controversial speakers could speak elsewhere should they be denied access to a particular platform. Their central point was that the student-led initiatives mentioned were all critical for student welfare and must trump any trivial perceived threats to free speech.

The opposition were quick to point out that no-platforming is not only a threat to free speech, but is also counterproductive. They urged that controversial people should be allowed to speak in order that we might challenge views that are offensive or upsetting. Withholding platforms merely maximises publicity for bad ideas, and as there is often only one aspect of a speaker’s beliefs that might offend, the blanket denial of speech prevents the speaker from being heard on other issues.

The proposition then raised a point of information, asking whether this principle still applies to speakers who incite hatred. The opposition responded by arguing that government anti-hate and defamation laws are in place to prevent this already. On safe spaces, the opposition argued that safe spaces are not ‘safe’, and are rather an attempt to exclude as many people as possible from often-reasonable dialogue.

Throughout the debate there was a deep-seated sense of irony that it was students rather than government who were responsible for the perceived threat to free speech. Perhaps this why the issue has only just become apparent: government clampdowns on university free speech are widely reported, but it is commonly assumed that students know what is good for them.

In fact, this issue lay at the heart of the winning questions from the floor. Grayson Elorreaga noted that some students might choose to limit free speech in order to create a position of wilful ignorance for themselves. Chinedu Ugwu drew a distinction between the situation in the UK and his home country, Nigeria, where university authorities had only recently granted students the right to form a student union. When so many students in authoritarian states from China to Saudi Arabia are forcibly silenced, the perceived threat in the UK might be seen as exaggerated.

Nevertheless should we allow no-platforming and safe spaces to gain momentum, we might wake up to a university not dissimilar to those in authoritarian regimes. The slippery slope argument is too often used, but well-intentioned initiatives such as those described tend to become the basis for intolerance. Additionally, should students fail to be concerned by the curtailing of university free speech, there might be a greater government willingness to intervene – indeed arguably this has already been seen in the form of the enhanced discretionary powers created by the ‘Prevent Programme’.

The opposition won the debate with 23 votes to 8. Many thanks to Kirill Lasis, Harry Stovin-Bradford, Sourav Roy, Matthew Kellett, Sarah Collins and Carlo Lori for participating. Congratulations to our winning speakers Sarah Collins and Sourav Roy.

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Winners Sarah Collins and Sourav Roy.


Group debating

Group debating







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Sourav Roy speaking

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Sarah Collins speaking

We would like to thank the Master, who chaired the debate, and Dr Iacovou and Mr Middleton for judging. In addition, we would like to honour Lester Brewster who enables this debate to take place each year. He matriculated at Fitzwilliam House in 1948 reading history, and was a founder director of the Fitzwilliam Society Trust Ltd in 1974 (having been President of the Society in 1972-3). He died on 21t March 1996, and the Brewster debate is just one part of the legacy he left the College.

 Anyone interested in attending other events hosted by the Fitzwilliam College Debating Society is welcome to visit


Posted in Guest posts · Master's blog

This guest post is by graduate student Hannah Bennett (currently doing an MPhil in Social Anthropology and hoping to do a PhD studying the evolving golf course culture in modern China). She writes on the Foundation Lecture given by Professor Maurice Bloch at Fitzwilliam on 19 November 2015.

Since completing his PhD at Fitzwilliam College in 1968, Maurice Bloch has become one of the most renowned academics working within British anthropology, an Emeritus Professor at the LSE and a Fellow of the British Academy. He has published extensively on topics ranging from kinship and ritual, to the relationship between anthropology and cognitive science. While it was this extensive back catalogue, and his prominence within the discipline, which attracted such a large audience to his recent Foundation Lecture at Fitzwilliam College, it was his humble but powerful message about the importance of anthropology which made it so memorable.

When working within anthropology, as with any other discipline, it is easy to become sidelined by, and focused on, the problems and limitations of your own research and to lose sight of the bigger picture. Namely, what initially made the discipline appealing as well as its broader utility. What made Maurice Bloch’s lecture so enlightening was the manner in which he reminded us of the continued relevance and significance of anthropology. For Bloch, what makes anthropology so crucial is also that which traditionally distinguishes it: the practice of undertaking long-term field work to produce ethnographies which draw heavily on participant observation. Simply put, this involves spending a prolonged period of time living within the culture of study, observing and participating in the social life of the group, and cultivating personal relationships with local informants as a means of learning about a culture. Bloch, and many others, argue that as the knowledge most of us live by is implicit, the only way to properly understand a culture is by being around people.

Maurice Bloch working with Merina people in Madagascar

Maurice Bloch working with Merina people in Madagascar


Throughout the lecture, Bloch stood beside a projection of a photograph taken of him while in his 20s doing field work among the Merina people in Madagascar. The image shows him outside with a group of people preparing maize so that it can be hung from the rafters. In his description of the scene and his life in Madagascar the unique benefits of fieldwork became clear. When the woman in the photograph told him to “take a rest!”, Bloch knows – having learnt about her life and Merina rules of politeness – that this simple utterance is an indication that he is doing the task wrong. Certainly participant observation is flawed in many ways, the most obvious of which is implicit in its name; the observer being actively involved in a manner that can negate the ever-elusive concept of objectivity. However, from these difficulties also arise interesting levels of interaction between observer and subject which foster ever-changing and ever-intriguing relationships. Arriving in Madagascar Bloch’s relationship with his hosts was originally one of perceived superiority; it was assumed that he was rich, or associated with the one large institution which penetrated their daily life, the Catholic Church. However, as Bloch gradually became integrated within society this relationship transformed into one of dependence; dependence on his hosts for food, shelter, and perhaps most interestingly for the tools of sociality. He was a learner, and they were his teachers. It was in this way, not just from nights spent in the library, that Bloch added depth to his understanding of the Merina – an understanding forged in a continual process of interaction and engagement.

While working in Madagascar Bloch was involved in negotiations with international development professionals trying to convince locals to switch to transplanting as a method for growing rice. It was not that locals were unaware of this method; most knew very well how to employ it, but rather preferred their existing method of planting rice through broadcasting. Bloch’s attempts to present each party’s point of view fell on deaf ears; he hypothesized that the complexities of living one’s own life were preventing each side from understanding the other. Accordingly Bloch argues that while an understanding derived solely ‘from the outside’, such as through medical science, can certainly help us know the actions of humans (just as we can understand other living beings by a similar method), this method will always be incomplete without including a view ‘from the inside’, a personal point of view of the people studied. For this reason, to this day, Maurice Bloch, now in his 70s, continues to undertake field work. And the message he brings from it is simple: “Shut up, listen and learn”.


Posted in Master's blog

The criminal justice statistics published in August 2015 state:

“There were 12,000 sexual offence proceedings in the 12 months ending March 2015 and 6,400 convictions over the same period; an increase of 3% on the previous year. Both the volume of proceedings and of convictions over this period are the highest in a decade.

The number of defendants proceeded against for sexual offences, in the 12 months ending March 2015, was 3% higher than in the previous year. In our previous quarterly publication, we reported a 9% increase between the 12 months ending December 2014 and the previous year. The apparent discrepancy between these figures over a three month period is due to the large and sustained increase in the number of defendants proceeded against for sexual offences occurring between the first and second quarters of 2013. The increase in the number of defendants proceeded against is likely to be partly due to the Operation Yewtree investigation, connected to the Jimmy Savile inquiry and the resulting media attention.

The number of convictions for sexual offences increased by 10% between the 12 months ending March 2015 and the previous year. The differences between changes in convictions relative to the change in proceedings may be due to the length of time between the proceeding and conviction of a sexual offence case. Therefore the changes in convictions tend to lag slightly behind the changes in proceedings for sexual offences.”

I have written elsewhere about the implications of this: a growing prison population (more prisoners, serving longer sentences) and a huge number of registered sex offenders in the community. There are now a number of prisons which only hold sex offenders. It’s probably easier to serve your sentence in a prison which only holds those convicted of sex offences than in the ‘vulnerable prisoners’ wing of an ‘ordinary prison’. But it is by no means easy.

I was lucky enough to be invited to chair a fascinating event in Cambridge this week, Living among sex offenders: Identity, safety and relationships in prison, hosted by the Howard League for Penal Reform. The focus was the work of Alice Ievins, who won the Howard League’s Sunley Prize in 2013. She discussed her research for her PhD on sex offender identity – she’s just spent several months in HMP Stafford carrying out lengthy interviews, and observing ‘life’. She discussed important questions of shame, guilt and self-disgust, as well as the interactions between prisoners and between prisoners and staff, suggesting that being labelled a ‘sex offender’, and living with other such offenders, might be painful and even contaminating in ways which aren’t necessarily the case for other types of prisoners.

Two other speakers also helped make this an evening to remember. First, Lynn Saunders, the governor of HMP Whatton, who spoke passionately about what Whatton could achieve. A few decades ago typical sex offenders might have been either a young man convicted of rape (an offence which appeared as much a crime of violence as a sexual offence) or an older child abuser: two different sorts of offender. But now the population is very much more complicated. Much older, of course, and the majority have no contact with their families: hence the innovative palliative care centre in Whatton.

Finally Dr Victoria Lavis, from the University of Bradford spoke about her research in three Yorkshire prisons on equality and diversity issues. She presented a fascinating argument that the Equality Act 2010 with its focus on the nine protected groups has had a ‘singularisation’ impact: it separates out different aspects of personhood. But people are more complicated than this: and they shouldn’t have to prioritise one aspect of their personhood. I shall be exploring intersectionality theory now, to see how it might help us (here in College as much as in a prison?) recognise difference and treat people according to equality of need, not output (no point unlocking all prisoners at the same time, if those with walking difficulties can’t get to the gym before it closes….).

What was the message of the evening? Different for all of us. For me, some more depressing recall stories. A sex offender is taught in prison to tell staff if he thinks he has a challenging situation to confront. So a sex offender on license tells his probation officer that he feels tempted to hang around outside a school play ground. The reward for doing what he has been encouraged to do? It is perceived as a sign of increased, not lowered, risk: so it’s recall to prison, for the rest of his sentence. See my Understanding Recall 2011 report.