Midsummer Common has been home to Cambridge's cows for centuriesAlex Parnham-Cope for Varsity

In 1953, The Eagle’s lunchtime punters were interrupted mid-sip by two blokes claiming to have discovered the “secret of life”. Every Cantab knows that these men were Watson and Crick, credited with finding the structure of DNA. But this is old – and fake – news. Not only does it demote the central role of Rosalind Franklin, whose unpublished research was used by Watson and Crick without her consent, but even freshers are clued up on this origin story, which conveniently justifies The Eagle’s steep prices. 

But don’t panic, there’s plenty more Cam-trivia to flog to visiting friends and relatives. If you’ve been feeling like a deadweight on the pub quiz team or are looking for some niche and neeky knowledge to flaunt at formals you’ve come to the right place…

1. Bearing Up

If you miss your family pet while at uni then you’re not alone. While studying at Trinity in the early 19th century, Romantic poet Lord Byron felt the rule prohibiting dogs in college was unfair. Unable to face eight-week terms without a furry friend, he exploited a loophole and kept a bear instead. Next time you want to stick it to the man, channel Byron and go grizzly.  

2. Moving the Goalposts

Cambridge played an important role in football's pastLouis Ashworth for Varsity

The women’s football blues saw off the Oxford competition with a 3-0 win in March, but did you know that Cambridge students helped shape footie as we know it? In 1848, footballing Cantabs posted rules for the game on Parker’s Piece which were adopted in the Football Association’s 1863 rulebook. To commemorate this, a granite structure inscribed with the original rules in seven languages was installed on Parker’s Piece. The men’s blues may have lost out at this year’s varsity, but without Cambridge would the game be quite as beautiful?

3. Lights, Cam-era, Action!

Who didn’t see Cillian Murphy traipsing through King’s in Oppenheimer? I would warn against mentioning Oppenheimer actually went to Christ’s as it might elicit looks of disgust from siblings, and leave an aftertaste of self-loathing. But what should be said is that Cambridge has been the backdrop of films across the Rotten Tomatoes spectrum. The 1982 Oscar-Winner Chariots of Fire, and equally praiseworthy Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides were shot among our sleepy spires. Meanwhile, Netflix’s The Crown used Ely Cathedral as a substitute for Westminster Abbey for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip’s wedding scene. 

4. Fiddlers on the Roof

College roofs are a frequent spot for night climbersAlex Parnham-Cope for Varsity

Cambridge rooves are a hot topic. From romantic tales of night climbing, to the mysterious appearance of Santa hats atop chapel  statues at St. Johns, Cantabs like to get creative with the city’s skyline. Most notably, on June 8th 1958, Cambridge residents woke to find an Austin Seven car hoisted onto the roof of the Senate House. Years on, a dozen-strong group of Caius engineers, led by Peter Davey, outed themselves as the masterminds behind it. Davey’s Eleven, many of whom went on to have distinguished engineering or military careers, reunited 50 years later to commemorate the stunt, and in 2013, members of the Cambridge Austin Seven and Veteran Car Club restaged the feat on Jesus Green. Value-for-money, employability and the ability to lift a car 70 feet high in the dead of night: a STEM degree offers a world of opportunity.

5. Reality Check

Not only the birthplace of football, Parker’s Piece is also home to the historic 'Reality Checkpoint' lamppost. This Grade II listed lamppost dates back to around 1860, but it wasn’t until the early 1970s that the lamppost was inscribed with the name 'Reality Checkpoint'. The origins of this inscription are debated, but it is commonly believed to be the work of students at what is now Anglia Ruskin University, drawing a line between the pretentious 'bubble' of Cambridge University and the rest of the city. Other theories suggest the name refers to the lamppost’s role as a lighthouse, guiding drunken students back to their beds, or that 'Reality Checkpoint' is a reminder to behave soberly, so as not to attract the attention of the nearby police station.  

6. Moove Over Cantabs!


Mountain View

Cow wars: The legend of an inter-collegiate beef

Though Cantabs take over Jesus Green on C Sunday, there’s another herd that lay claim to the land: Cambridge’s cows. Midsummer Common has provided grazing ground for animals since the 12th century, and an 1861 Common Seal of the Borough codified the “Rights of the Common on Midsummer Green or Jesus Green for geldings, mares and cows from Old May Day to Candlemas Day” (April 1st to November 30th). A staple of the city, the Twitter account @CambridgeCows offers a Bovine Big Brother where you can keep up with these local celebrities. 

7. A head’s up…

Did you know, Oliver Cromwell's decapitated head lies beneath his alma mater, Sidney Sussex? The exact location remains a secret, but next time you’re in Sid Bar, mind your step!

So, if you ever feel your college puffer isn’t cutting it, why not level up your nerdability by dropping some Cambridge trivia into conversation? Likely to deaden chat, it will kill sexual tension and solidify our university’s geeky reputation. Warning: enjoy with caution. Fun facts can be a gateway drug to hours ‘wasted’ on Sporcle and in severe cases can result in registration for University Challenge trials. Please quiz responsibly.