• Darwin College, Cambridge

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Darwin College, Cambridge

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Darwin College
Established: 1964
University: University of Cambridge
Address: Darwin College,
Silver Street,
Telephone: 01223 335660
Website: www.darwin.cam.ac.uk
Student Union/JCR website: Darwin Student's Association
Graduate/MCR website: no
Admittance: Postgraduates

Darwin College is a postgraduate-only college founded in 1964.



On the corner of Silver Street and Newnham Road. It is 5-10 minutes from the centre of town, about 5 minutes from the Sidgwick site (law, history, languages, English, classics, music and other faculties), and 7-8 minutes from the University Library.

There are three "green" areas nearby (as well as the lawn and island on campus), behind the college on the backs is a particularly nice field with pretty bridges, cows, and trees. Less than a minute away are three pubs and three restaurants. 1-2 minutes away down Newnham road is the petrol station that has the closest cash point. The next nearest cash point is 5-10 minutes walk into town.

The college grounds are not grand by Cambridge standards; rather, they reflect the comfortable, informal character of the college.


Darwin is widely thought of as a friendly, outgoing college with one of the best postgraduate communities in Cambridge. It is noted for its relaxed, unpretentious approach with few boundaries between the students and the fellowship. Even senior college staff such as the Master and the Bursar take great interest in Darwin students, and unlike in many more traditional colleges, grass at Darwin is seen to be an ideal spot for a student picnic rather than the privileged walkway for the few.

In terms of student life, there is an active committee of students (the Darwin College Student Association) who are responsible for helping create and maintain a welcoming and stimulating environment, and if you want to get involved in a club or society you are in luck! In addition to the quintessential Cambridge tradition of rowing, sports societies include basketball, tennis, football, and more. A small sampling of other clubs include a music society, photography, and Cuban salsa. Don't forget the Punt Club! Societies are formed on a regular basis by students and for students, so if you crave a particular activity, get some friends together and create something new.


The college has a mix of both en-suite and shared bathroom accommodation, although the majority is shared. Over 100 rooms are available on-site with a further 150 off-site in which to house 600+ members of the college - so not all students will be able to get college accommodation every year they are here. The college tries to accommodate all first-year students in college properties, but some late applicants may not initially be able to live in college/college houses. A summary of rooms is availiable on the / Darwin accommodation website.

The level of modernisation and quality of facilities can vary between hostels, particularly as there seems to be a perpetual round of updating going on! The accommodation office is not always the most helpful, but the website has been recently updated with details of each room available to students.

Also, be aware that the College charges for activating the Ethernet connection to the college internet.

An account of living in Gwen Raverat
This year I am living in Gwen Raverat. Unofficially it is labelled as the international college, this is supported by a sheet posted in the foyer with names and nationalities, so if you are coming to the UK there is a good chance you'll be living there. There is a good atmosphere - though it depends on how friendly your kitchen is. My kitchen is one of the quietest, in one way this is good as I work a lot of the time, on the other side it can be a bit too quiet as I can go a day or two without seeing people from my kitchen. However, I think I am the exception to the rule as I moved in half way through the year and had already made friends with people outside of my college. There is a smoking area outside. The rooms themselves are nice - you share a toilet and shower with around 2 people and I've never seen a queue as you can use any of the facilities. The kitchens are a good size, with one shelf per person in the fridge and a cupboard for your food. There is an additional large cupboard for pots and pans. There have been occasional "borrowing" of pots, pans, plates etc. which can be annoying, but you can keep things in your room. On each floor there is a washer and dryer, you can buy a card from the porter's lodge in order to use. One important thing to note is there are no freezers! Microwave, toaster, etc., are only present if someone has brought one. The room themselves are of a good size, there is a single bed, large desk across one side of the room, chest of drawers, big comfy chair, wardrobe, loads of shelves, light, shaving point, lamp, and noticeboard. Windows have a safety catch that you can press down so the windows can either lock slightly open or open fully. Rooms can be hot during summer if they are in full sun, but are warm in winter, and have a radiator. I think the building is quite nice, atmosphere is friendly, fire alarm doesn't go off too often, so all in all I can't complain! The best part is the location, close enough to town without being too close to tourists. Next door is the field and its only 25 minutes walk to the train station! **EDIT: In summer it is very warm in the rooms and there is a bit of a wasp problem....

An account of living in Frank Young House
I lived in FYH in 2009/10. It's a four-five minute walk from Darwin, tucked away in the Sidgewick site and looking over Caius' sports field. The house is arranged into flats - 4 or five people sharing a large (and lovely) kitchen, one toilet and one shower. The top flat has rooms built into the roof that also have access to a balcony. I often had a bit of a fight for the shower in the morning - but I lived with two PGCE students and we all needed to be out at the same time! The kitchens have a large table and lots of stools, two fridges and a freezer, and two cupboards per person. As with Gwen Rav, you only get a kettle/microwave/toaster if someone in your flat provides them. My two communicative flatmates and I clubbed together to get these - the girl who lived upstairs didn't want to join in (but still used them - there's nothing you can do in that situation). There's one washer and one dryer (coin operated) in the basement of the house, shared with everyone. Other than on Sunday night, I could always use the washer whenever I wanted it... perhaps the other 27 occupants had a lot of clothes/never washed their stuff/were nocturnal? I found the structure of the house less than conducive to making friends - each flat was self-contained, the doors opened with their own key code. It felt like the college didn't want us to meet the other occupants and make friends. I also found the cleaning staff less than friendly - very, very, VERY fussy about the kitchen (ie drying crockery/cutlery should not be left on the drying rack...) and woe betide they catch you with a "guest" who isn't signed in - you can expect a threatening letter from the housekeeper/head of accommodation.

Officially, you can't express a preference for what accommodation you'd like to be in at Darwin. The general trend is for international students/students with international-sounding names to be placed in the more modern, more expensive accommodation, although this likely has more to do with application timing than intent. However, if you write on the accommodation request form which accommodation (rank them if you have to!) you'd like to be placed in, the accommodation staff will generally try to give you your choice.

Social Spaces

Darwin's bar - DarBar - is very popular and inexpensive, both with current and former students, and outsiders who come as guests. It has an impressive and regularly-changing line-up of whisky and beers, with wine, cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks available as well. It is a members-only bar, staffed by Darwin students (a paid role!), and it is possible for a member to sign in up to three guests. The bar is in the corner of the common room, a large space with table tennis etc., views over the river and Darwin's island, comfy chairs and a wifi hotspot for the college wifi.

Library and Computing

All of the rooms in Darwin have wired internet (don't forget your ethernet cable), with many rooms having wifi access. Within the college site there is a wifi network, which is useful if you want to check your emails while on the move, or if you want to work in the gardens. There is also a combined study centre and library overlooking the Mill Pond, accessed by your student card.
The library consists of:

  • A limited supply of books (with an online catalogue see collages A-N: Newton Library Catalogue)
  • A small DVD catalogue
  • An upstairs with an open area overlooking the pond with desks, lamps, and plug sockets
    • Upstairs there is also a workroom with a large table and plug (bookable for group study sessions)
  • Downstairs there is a set of rooms with computers
    • These house around 1 new imac, 3 new(ish) imacs, 2 older macs, 4 pcs, (these are routinely upgraded), 2 printers, other hardware like scanners etc, and more desks. At times there are is a computer technician available for IT support.
  • A unisex toilet and a disabled toilet.


The welfare provision at Darwin can be variable from year to year, depending on the committment of the DCSA welfare officer(s) and the Dean. If you're having academic or welfare problems, you can go to any of these individuals with your problems. Darwin doesn't provide some of the welfare provisions found at other colleges (e.g., a college nurse, a chaplain, college counselling service) on-site; however, the welfare officers and/or Dean are able to provide students with information about the analogous University-based services.

The College is very happy to deal with welfare issues that pass smoothly through well-established university structures (disability, etc.) but some students complain it remains heavy-handed with College members living in College accommodation. Students are expected to abide by a series of rules regarding accommodation that some may find strict. For example, do not expect to be able to bring your own bed, mattress, or other furniture. In some cases, students who modify their living spaces without prior permission end up in a battle with cleaning staff or the administration.

Facilities on the Main Site

  • There is a dining room and canteen style breakfast, lunch and dinner service, with brunch served on weekends. The food is generally of a good quality and the menu options are extensive and (usually) tasty. The menu and price list are available online, | click here for more information. There are formal dinners on Wednesday and Friday which are booked online.
  • There is a common room with seats and a bar. Opposite the bar is a second room that contains a table tennis table, snooker table (50p), and tabletop footie. This room can be booked out by societies (but is in high demand). The room is of average size, and can accommodate around 20 people doing an active sport (e.g., circuits) or 40-50 seated.
  • There is a Parlour with tea/coffee machines and seating which is open for student use most of the day. Tokens for the machine can be purchased at the porters' lodge or in the dining hall.
  • The porters' lodge is the first point of enquiry for students. Make friends with these people as they are ace! The porters' lodge (or plodge) also contains your pigeonhole for receiving internal and external mail. Any signed mail will be signed for by the porters, they then email you to say a parcel has arrived.
  • There is a very tiny staff kitchen. It is not meant to be used by students, but if you're desperate you can try and ask to use it.
  • Toilets: guys and girls, both with coat hangars and lockers.
  • There is a reading room, which has daily newspapers, books, and board games.
  • A great TV room which can be booked out to clubs and societies with a regular film club.
  • The all important water machine (free) and coffee machine (50p) is close to the TV room.
  • There is a vending machine on the other side of the TV room, this has chocolates, crisps, and fizzy drinks.
  • There are photocopying machines which students have limited access to through the bursar's secretary.
  • There is also a paper slicer and machine for binding if you have the right materials.
  • There is a very small fitness room.
  • There is a laundry room on-site with washers and dryers. You will need a card from the porters' lodge in order to use the machines.
  • The college owns punts, kayaks, and a canoe. See the porter or speak to the current Admiral of the Punts for more information.


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