Downing College, Cambridge

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Downing College, home to a wide variety of students, is often referred to as being the oldest of the new colleges and the youngest of the old colleges. This is reflected in its unique and beautiful architecture, consisting of a large number of columned buildings, in particular the chapel and library (which may or may not have a purple stain outside it...)

Total Undergraduates in 2007-8 = 439 (232 men + 207 women)Student Statistics

  • Total Undergraduates in 2006-7 = 440 (230 men + 210 women)
  • Students admitted to their current course in Oct 07: 144 (76 men + 68 women)
  • Students admitted to their current course in Oct 06: 131 (69 men + 62 women)

Source: The Reporter Special Issue: Student Numbers 07-08

Downing Application Statistics See College applications and admissions statistics

Downing Application Statistics per subject See Appplication Statistics

  • The proportion of state school students to private school students is approxinately 50:50 at Downing (52% of acceptances in 2007 and 48% in 2006 came from state schools (source)).


Downing has the best possible location for NatScis, Medics and Geographers, being adjacent to the Downing site, home of Medic, Geography and some NatSci lectures and practicals, as well as backing onto Lensfield Road, across which is located the Chemistry Department where yet more NatSci lectures and practicals are held. It's a 15-20 min walk (or five min bike ride) from the Sidgwick site, where all the arts lectures happen. Downing room keys open gates to allow easy access to these areas, making Downing perhaps the only college where you can leave your room at five to nine and not have to rush to your 9am lecture. This remains true through second and third years, as all accommodation is also located in the vicinity of Downing.

It is also near enough to everything - Sainsbury's is 10 minutes away, Cindies is 7, the Bus station is 5 etc - but its slightly out of the way location means that you can get your breath back, not be stuck constantly in the Cambridge bubble and you can separate your life outside college with inside easily.


Downing is, on average, amongst the best Cambridge colleges with respect to accommodation.

First years live mainly in:

  • the Kenny buildings (image 1image 2) Well equipped kitchens with ovens and freezers.
  • Howard Court (all of which are fully en-suite and hotel-like; Howard Court has double beds). Well equipped but very small kitchens with ovens and freezers.
  • Main court (a few), which with their oak-panelled rooms have a more traditional Cambridge feel.

In the first year you get to choose which rent band you want to live in, the lower band rooms (£114-133 a week for October 2014) are in J staircase, formerly L staircase but freshers will be moving into H instead (£133-142) for the first time in 2014 and certain rooms in the Kenny buildings. J staircase is shared bathroom, though there are 1 or 2 en-suite rooms, but J and Griphon house are the only 1st year accommodations with dining tables; J staircase has a very nice kitchen with ovens and freezers on the 2nd floor which is shared by the whole staircase. The Kenny buildings (and now H) are the intermediate priced rooms with weekly rents of £133-142. Kenny is en-suite and occupied by 30 first years, they're effectively the social centre for freshers after the ents, though the kitchens are quite small they do all have ovens, fridges and space for microwaves, toasters and kettles. Griphon house is the most 'out of the way' of first year accommodations. However, it is adjacent to the Butterfield cafe & bar which makes for an easy stumble back to your room. It's also worth mentioning that access to Griphon is on a key-card basis, which, unfortunately, means that friends in other accommodations can't just wander in to come and get you, they need a Griphon resident to let them in. Griphon is, on the other hand, home to the nicest kitchens! The kitchens have dining tables, two ovens each and freezers. Howard lodge is the final and joint-most-expensive of the first year accommodations, all rooms are rent band 2 (A by the system prior to 2014) with rents of £151 a week. The rooms are all en-suite and the kitchens are relatively well equipped, though they lack ovens.

Second and third years live in:

  • Main court
  • Houses on Lensfield Road (these houses back onto college so are almost like being on site). Some of the houses are joined together on the inside. Some of the houses have no common room and only a very small kitchen. Others have better facilities.

Lesnfield Road houses are all very near the college so that you can still use all the college facilities really easily, unlike many other colleges. In the houses, you have your own bedroom but kitchen and bathroom facilities are shared (although some Lensfield houses have enough bathrooms for one each anyway). The rooms for the second year are decided by a ballot in Lent (second) term. You can either enter the ballot with a group of friends or on your own, and the positions on the ballot are reversed for the third year so that you will get good accommodation for at least one of the two years. The quality of accommodation in the houses vary from excellent to not so great - but the experience of living in student houses with your friends will probably make this less of a bother than in your first year.

In short: First year rooms are mostly en-suite with some hotel-standard rooms. Second year more variable. Third year very good. I'll have en-suite all three years, for example. Also you can live on-site for all three years.

Social Spaces


Downing's main open area consists of the main court, enclosing several lawns (with unwalkable grass...). However, one of the best things about Downing is the Paddock, which extends from the Hall down to Lensfield Road and gives the college its unique open and unclaustrophobic feel. The Paddock is used for sports practice and for relaxing in the summer. There are also more quaint and picturesque gardens, mostly the private college gardens behind T and V staircases, as well as some lovely patches of grass in Howard Court and Kenny Court.


Catering facilities: We have the hall or canteen (called 'slops' - don't worry, it's name is more historical than accurate!); the Butterfield cafe (open till about 4pm, which doubles as the bar from about 7pm, and also has a vending machine) and kitchen factilities in individual staircases.

Frequency: Dinner every day. Lunch Monday-Friday; on Saturdays and Sundays we have brunch instead. No breakfast served in hall apart from brunch, but there is the Butterfield cafe that sells breakfasty things if you want (good value for money) - and most people are never awake enough to attend breakfast even if we had it!

Options & quality: At both dinner and lunch there are 3 main options - two meats and one vegetarian option; they often do curry/casserole type things too. With this they always have jacket potatoes, pizzas etc that are never on the menu but always seem to be there. Then you have 2 types of potatoes and 2 types of veg as a side. There are 2 hot desserts and a cold desserts bar (with cakes, yoghurt etc), as well as an ice cream freezer. There is also a cold foods and salad bar. In general, I'd say that the food is very good having been ranked as having the second best food behind Robinson in a recent survey (but also much cheaper) The hall is in the form of a self-service cafeteria and is payed by your university card, which appears on your college bill in the next term.

They've started to put up weekly menus online towards the middle of last term, if it helps:

Attendance: It is quite well attended; those who always cook for themselves are probably in the minority (although most people sometimes cook and sometimes go to slops, rather than one extreme). In first and third year when the kitchen facilities are generally excellent (multiple fridges, oven, hobs, microwave, freezer etc) so people probably cook more in those years compared to second year where kitchen facilities are more variable. In exam term nearly everyone comes to dinner - which is actually a very nice atmosphere!

Formals: Formal hall is three times a week, Wed/Fri/Sun and costs £9.50 quid (correct in April 2012). The food in general is quite good; it's often rather formulaic (it's always meat, potatoes, veg on side) so you may get a bit bored of it after a while, but then so are formals at most colleges, and sometimes they are really good. Desserts are usually really nice. It's candlelit and you wear gowns so there is a nice atmosphere - plus they give us free Downing chocolates with the coffee You can buy wine at the college before you go in, or you can bring your own and pay corkage of £1. Formal tends to be a good place to go for birthdays or special occasions, and is a very good three course meal for the price!


Downing Bar has recently been completely refurbished meaning that it is one of, if not the, best bars in Cambridge. Many events are held all term in its stylish decor. Most students' timetables revolve around bar opening hours as it dictates Downing's social calendar. As one of the few student-run bars in Cambridge, it's cheap (£1.50 for a spirit and mixer as of 2013/14) and has a nice atmosphere. Staff and committee are freely hired for good pay £6.80 and £8 respectively.


I'm not sure whether this section is meant to refer to the JCR (Junior Common Room) committee and its activities, or the physical JCR room! If the latter, the bar (during the daytime) serves as the JCR with Butterfield cafe, and there's also access to the 'party room' in the basement of the bar building when it's not booked for activities. There's also a TV room with comfy sofas.

The JCR Committee are students elected to organise things and represent all the undergrads in dealings with the college. The positions are: president, vice-president, treasurer, accademic officer, womens' welfare and equal opps, mens' welfare and equal opps, communications, services, ents, Lesbigay, Access, green, international students, sports, freshers' reps, college magazine editors, internet officer (in charge of the jcr website and bar president. Each has responsibilities in their areas and sits on the relevant college committee.

Library and Computing


Open 8:30am-2am with university card access from 8pm onwards. The library is pretty. I personally like the ceiling but think some of the floor decoration is a bit odd - not that it really bothers you when you're frantically trying to get work done! It has copies of the main books you'll need for your course (and multiple copies of key text books etc) and if there's a book that is not there, they'll happily order it for you. The Downing library also has the biggest collection of law books in any Oxbridge college library, probably due to the fact that Downing is traditionally very strong in law. There is wireless connection to the internet in the whole library, although there are designated areas for laptops so as not to disturb others working. There are individual desks with plenty of workspace, and you can leave your work there for days if you just leave a note. Like all college libraries it is packed during Easter term and some people virtually camp out there as they prepare for their exams!

Computer Suite

There's a computer room behind T staircase. It's long and narrow and has about 20 computers in it with a couple of printers. Most people use their own computer though.

Room Connection

Apart from Gonville Place, which has wireless internet access, all of Downing's rooms are equipped with a high speed ethernet connection more than sufficient for most users. Downing's policy on internet usage is more relaxed than most colleges (e.g. Skype and limited p2p sharing are available), but heavy usage is frowned upon. If you're an average internet user (i.e. do not download high bandwidth videos and streaming) you should have no problems at all.

Academic Performance

Downing's ranking in the Tompkins Table (which ranks colleges by Tripos exam results): 15th (2010), 15th (2009), 12th (2008), 3rd (2007), 11th (2006), 15th (2005), 17th (2004), 12th (2003), 8th (2002), 10th (2001), 8th (2000).


There's lots of welfare. You will be very well looked after! The workload (and playload!) is immense at Cambridge and since terms are very short if things go wrong you need to check it's sorted out as soon as possible. When you arrive you're assigned a tutor, a fellow in a different subject to yours, who is in charge of your welfare. You have to go and see them for 5 mins at the begining and end of each term just to check that everything's ok. Something along the lines of 'Hello, is everything ok? Yes. Good. Sign here. Thanks. Bye'. If everything isn't ok you can arrange to see them, or any other tutor if you don't like yours, during their weekly tutor hours. You truly appreciate how well looked after you are when you fall ill - when I got the flu halfway through my very first term at Cambridge, the Director of Studies and Tutor were as helpful as they could be, and they will be able to authorise extra supervisions if you have missed any.

Alternatively the college nurse and chaplain can provide basic counselling. Or you can talk to people in the JCR like the women's officer or the LesBiGay rep who are always happy to help, confidentially. And there's always the uni counselling service if you don't want to approach anyone in college.


It's a friendly place with a good mix of people. You'll be welcomed into the community whoever you are! Also, the Downing porters are really great, friendly and helpful people. If you're ever in doubt about anything they'll know what to do and who to contact because they know EVERYTHING - and even if you aren't, they're always up for a friendly chat. And they also have a stock of free light bulbs for when yours blows, which is important too. Every week there is also free food (!) outside the chapel with the chaplain, where you can catch up with people you haven't seen for the week.

Downing Ents

There's 3-4 ents per term, each themed, usually held in Downing Bar. It's no Clare Cellars or Queens' Ents, but it's all about the people you're with, I suppose, and dressing up can be fun. Ents aren't the biggest thing at Downing, though, and I think a lot of people start off at the ent, then go into the bigger clubs (Fez, Cindies, Soul Tree etc) in town.


  • Chapel (image 1image 2image 3image 4)
  • Library (image)
  • Canteen (affectionately called slops) and Dining Hall (image)
  • Butterfield cafe and Bar
  • MCR (Graduate Common Room, image 1image 2)
  • 24/7 Computer room
  • Music Practice Rooms / Areas with pianos
  • Howard Theatre with 184 seats
  • Party Room
  • TV Room
  • Gym
  • 2 Tennis/basketball/netball courts (image)
  • The Paddock (grass area in college where you can sit/play volleyball/football/frisbee)
  • Nurse's clinic
  • Laundry Room
  • College sports ground with football and hockey pitches (only 45 minutes walk from student accommodation)
  • Boathouse on the river (image)


Downing is known for the strength of its rowing and football. Although other sports such as netball, lacrosse, hockey and badminton also thrive. Downing's football is also exceptionally strong, winning the Division 1 league title in 2011/12. In 2012/13, they reached cuppers semi-final whilst also narrowly finishing 2nd. Four teams are often fielded and the club has a strong social scene. The two clubs are closely linked meaning sportsmen do not feel out of place.

Rowing is a pastime many pursue at Downing. There is a massive boathouse, gym and one of the largest fleets on the river. Ian Watson, the former Olympic rower, is also Boatman. Downing can claim to have the strongest fleet with Downing Men consistently second in M1 but the women are almost entirely dominant, having the headship virtually all the time.

At college there are a couple of tennis courts/basketball courts, a gym on-site and sports pitches to the south.

For those who don't have the fitness for rowing, Downing has one of Cambridge's best Ultimate frisbee clubs, which is great for a more relaxed approach to fitness and is very friendly.

So yeah, lots of sport at college level, and even lessly-participated-in sports (e.g. archery) are done by uni-wide groups, so whatever you're interested in you can probably do.


Music is up and coming and Downing. Recently, Open Mic nights have started in the bar along with regular music nights. As of 2010, the Downing Jazz Band has also been revived. The opening of the Howard Theatre has prompted a number of dramatic productions that have had excellent reviews.

Student-eye view

The subjects that Downing is often seen as being particularly good at include Law, Natural Sciences and Medicine, something reflected by the large intake in each of these. Downing also takes five or six Classicists each year - a lot for a small subject. There's also a bit of a linguistics speciality going on with two linguistics fellows, which is a lot for linguistics.

Overall, Downing is a friendly college with a good community spirit, though sadly Robob's face tends to detract from the atmosphere.

Few thoughts on Downing:

  • It is the law college, and there are an awful lot of lawyers around - but it doesn't mean that it's overrun by them; there are more natscis then lawyers for a start. (We have about ~25 natscis per year)
  • It's not particularly old - f.1800 while Emma is somewhere in the 1500s.
  • Our hall's interior was recently restored to the Regency style that it'd have been in when it was built in the 1810s. It's pretty and of architectural note, but it's probably not the typical 'old' hall that you find in places like Pembroke or Peterhouse.
  • Bar is OK, nothing special. Ents aren't great. It's fine socially although it doesn't have any kind of special reputation like Clare Cellars, Queens' ents etc.
  • It's very sporty with rowing and football excelling.
  • Its proximity to the science sites can never be overvalued. Especially to the Chemistry department!
  • Food is was ranked as second best in the university in 2011

Look up Downing in the CUSU Alternative Prospectus



Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic
Modern and Medieval Languages
Natural Sciences
Politics, Psychology and Sociology


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