A town was established at Cambridge more than 1,000 ago when the Romans built an army camp on a small hill beside the River Cam. In the 5th century the town developed round the bridge over the river and became an important Saxon market. Four hundred years later it was under the control of the Danish army and in the 11th century it became a Norman military base.

The first students arrived in Cambridge in 1209 after fleeing from rioting in Oxford. Cambridge's first college, Peterhouse, was endowed by Hugh de Balsham, Bishop of Ely, in 1284. Clare College was founded by Elizabeth de Clare in 1336 and Mary of Chatillion, established Pembroke College in 1347. In all, there are 33 university colleges in the city.

The effective centre of Cambridge is King's Parade, a street with houses on one side and the wide expanse of King's College on the other. At its north end are three of Cambridge's most important buildings, Great St Mary, the Senate House and King's College Chapel.

Parallel to King's Parade, on the other side of King's College, is a continuous stretch of riverside gardens and lawns linking half a dozen colleges, and a popular place for students and punting parties during the summer.

In 1615 Cambridge University was granted the right to elect two MPs. The vote was given to all members of the senate. Between 1784 and 1806 one of Cambridge's MPs was William Pitt. In 1826 Lord Palmerston, who had been Cambridge's representative since 1811 was defeated as a result of him supporting the proposed Parliamentary Reform Act.

Primary Sources

(1) Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724)

I come now to the town, and university of Cambridge. The colleges, halls, and houses are promiscuously scattered up and down among the other parts, and some even among the meanest of the other buildings; yet they are incorporated together, by the name of the university, and are governed apart, and distinct from the town, which they are so intermixed with. As their authority is distinct from the town, so are their privileges, customs and government: they choose representatives, or Members of Parliament for themselves. As the colleges are many, and the gentlemen entertained in them are a very great number, the trade of the town very much depends upon them, and the tradesman may justly be said to get their bread by the colleges.