The Founding of Clare Hall
The College
Richard Eden, Clare Hall, 2009. Follow the link for more details and how to order.

Clare Hall was founded in 1966, but the motivation for its founding began much earlier with the remarkable developments of research in Cambridge after the Second World War. The growth of research in the University and the broadening of graduate teaching during the 1950s led to an increase in senior posts that was not matched by the growth in fellowships in the Cambridge colleges. This imbalance encouraged the founding of new colleges: Churchill College in 1960 and then a series of graduate colleges.

Clare College began to explore the idea of setting up a new centre for graduate students in 1961, but this was in conflict with the desire to bring more senior members of the University into the College fellowship. The Master of Clare, Sir Eric Ashby (later he became Lord Ashby of Brandon), argued the need for action, but he could not get any agreement from the Clare Governing Body on what action to take and the discussions in Clare became very complicated and controversial.

In a lecture given in 1976 on the tenth anniversary of the founding of Clare Hall, Lord Ashby described how the dilemma was resolved by a document which he received from Richard Eden in January 1964, two days before a meeting of the Clare Governing Body, with the title ‘Proposal for an Institute for Advanced Study having a special relationship with Clare College’. He explained: ‘If you read the minutes of the meeting, they run: ‘that the Governing Body approved in principle the attached paper by Dr Eden and appointed the Master, Dr Eden and Dr Northam to work out further details’.

Conversation Piece in Clare Hall, celebrating the Royal Charter, 1984; Brian Pippard (left), Richard Eden (centre), Eric Ashby (right); Drawing by Bob Tulloch.

Lord Ashby continued ‘ a second paper he (Richard Eden) said ‘the aim should be to establish a Society of Fellows primarily engaged in advanced study, to bring together an international community of scholars and Cambridge University lecturers and professors’. Lord Ashby observed, ‘Well, that is precisely what Clare Hall has become’.

The full transcript of Lord Ashby’s Lecture is available on the next page of this section of the Website: Founding Texts and it may be downloaded if desired.



In 1965, Brian Pippard, a Professorial Fellow of Clare College was elected to be the first President of Clare Hall, and in February 1966 Clare Hall became a new college in the University, initially with Clare College as its trustee. In 1984, on the initiative of the third President, Sir Michael Stoker, Clare Hall received its own Royal Charter as an independent college in the University of Cambridge.

The First Buildings

Viewing the Clare Hall apartments after the opening of the new buildings in September 1969, the Chancellor, Lord Adrian (right), the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Eric Ashby (centre) and the President of Clare Hall, Professor Brian Pippard (left).

In addition to the gift of its ancient name, Clare College provided Clare Hall with a generous gift of land and buildings in Herschel Road and an initial endowment, which was complemented by a substantial endowment from the Old Dominion Foundation (now renamed as the Andrew Mellon Foundation). The distinguished architect Ralph Erskine was appointed to design the buildings for Clare Hall, and to include common rooms and dining facilities, offices and studies, a house for the President and twenty apartments for Visiting Fellows.

In 1967, Clare Hall converted a neighbouring house, Elmside in Grange Road, to provide rooms for the initially small number of graduate students. In September 1969, Sir Eric Ashby, Master of Clare College and Vice-Chancellor of the University, formally opened the new buildings of Clare Hall. The Pippard family had already moved into the President’s house, twelve research students were living on the College site in Elmside and a number of Visiting Fellows with their families were living in the newly built College apartments. Amongst the early Visiting Fellows was Ivor Gaever, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1973. Joseph Brodsky, a Visiting Fellow and poet in residence at Clare Hall in 1977, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987.

The Presidents of Clare Hall

The President’s term of office is fixed at seven years and in 1973 Robert Honeycombe (later Sir Robert), Goldsmiths Professor and Head of the Department of Metallurgy, succeeded Brian Pippard as President of Clare Hall. Subsequent presidents were: Sir Michael Stoker (1980-87), Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society and a former Fellow and Medical Tutor at Clare College, who had taken early retirement from his post as Director of the Imperial Cancer Research Laboratories; Anthony Low (1987-94), Professor of Commonwealth History and formerly Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, who had been a Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall in 1971; Professor Dame Gillian Beer (1994-2001), King Edward VII Professor of English Literature;  Professor Ekhard Salje FRS, Head of the Department of Earth Sciences (2001-08). In 2008, Sir Martin Harris, formerly Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, became the seventh President of Clare Hall.

The late Lord Ashby was elected as the first Honorary Fellow of Clare Hall in 1975, on his retirement from the Mastership of Clare College. Honorary Fellows have included former Visiting Fellows: Kim Dae-Jung, President of the Republic of Korea; David Gardner, President of the University of Utah and then the University of California, and Lee Bollinger, who later became President of the University of Michigan and then Columbia University. Honorary Fellows have also included the retired Presidents of the College, together with Ralph Erskine, architect of the early buildings, and Richard Eden.

New Horizons

The visiting fellowship programme and family friendly design provided the perfect atmosphere to enable Clare Hall to become a major contributor to international scholarship. The programme of visiting fellowships began even before its official foundation, when members were guests in Clare College, and the earliest Visiting Fellows included Luigi Radicati, director of the Scuola Normale in Pisa, Maurice Goldhaber, director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Stephen Adler from the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. At the beginning of the 21st century, there are over forty nationalities amongst the graduate students and Fellows, for whom the social and intellectual environment of the College complements the University's facilities.

Shared occasions within the community of Clare Hall include concerts and recitals, research seminars, lectures and discussions for specialist or non-specialist audiences, formal dinners and informal celebrations, and a wide variety of sporting activities. Formal occasions include the annual series of lectures sponsored by the Tanner Foundation, in which Clare Hall organises and hosts the contribution from Cambridge University. With its excellent facilities and a non-hierarchical, fully integrated society, Clare Hall provides the ideal base for broadening intellectual, social and cultural horizons.

Notably, in the year 2000, Clare Hall was the host to the special week-long Tanner Symposium on Calendars to celebrate the millennium year. The Calendars Symposium was organised in Clare Hall and held in a large marquee in the garden of West Court. The fifteen speakers came from the nine universities that participate in the Tanner Foundation's lecture series, and the symposium was attended also by the Presidents or heads of those universities: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Michigan, Stanford, University of California, Utah, and the Master of Brasenose College representing Oxford, while Gillian Beer, President of Clare Hall, represented Cambridge. Special thanks for the organisation were due to the bursar, Ed Jarron, and the development administrator, Imogen Holbrook. The distinction of the speakers was matched by the range of the programmes and included two Nobel Prize-winners. The Symposium opened with a lecture by Stephen Jay Gould on problems relating to our lack of understanding of cosmic and geological evolution.

Cultures and Calendars, chaired by Nicholas Lash: this session included talks by Lawrence Sullivan, Michael Loewe and Mary Miller, Liba Taub, and Silke Ackermann, on topics that ranged from religion, through Chinese, Maya, Greek and Roman history, to magic and mathematics.

Science and the Measurement of Time, chaired by Geoffrey Hawthorne, with Steven Chu on atomic measurements of time, Michael Hastings on the clock in our brain, Craig Heller on clocks and calendars in the brain, Malcolm Longair on time in the universe, Joseph Taylor on astronomical time, and Joseph Vining on unmeasured time.

The Performance of Time, chaired by Malcolm Longair, with William Bolcom on musical time and real time, Peter Jeffery on time and eternity in Gregorian chant, with Samuel Barrett and singers, followed by a programme of music organised by John Woolrich with singer Eileen Hulse and pianist Catherine Edwards.

A Panel Discussion on the Sunday afternoon was chaired by Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish, daughter of Obert Tanner, the benefactor who founded the Tanner Lectures. The concluding session of a lecture and readings by the Nobel prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison, on The Loss of Lost Time was chaired by Gillian Beer, President of Clare Hall.

Growth and Development

In 1969, when the new buildings were first occupied, Clare Hall already had 95 members, with about equal numbers in the three groups: Fellows, Visiting Fellows, and graduate students. By 1990, the numbers had more than doubled, and there were 95 graduate students. Although there had been a smaller increase in the number of Fellows, there were additional senior members of the College from Associates and former Fellows still living in Cambridge. In 1978, a second neighbouring house, now called Leslie Barnett house, was obtained for graduate student accommodation. This also allowed the Michael Stoker and Brian Pippard Buildings to be built in the College grounds, providing further student rooms.

In the summer of 1996 the College purchased a substantial property, formerly the Cambridge family home of Lord Rothschild, which is about five minutes walk from the College at the western end of Herschel Road. This provided an opportunity to increase the number of apartments for Visiting Fellows and rooms for graduate students. After further development the property was renamed Clare Hall West Court and it now provides meeting rooms, studies, apartments, study bedrooms, a fitness centre, a swimming pool and an attractive garden.

Soon after he became President of Clare Hall, Ekhard Salje began to develop the idea of establishing a new international study centre in the College – an idea that had been in our minds since the founding of the College. By the end of his presidency in 2008, his wide ranging international contacts with industry, governments, and universities had led to the first stages for this study centre, financed through partnerships with a small number of distinguished universities in China, Japan and South Korea.

The International Study and Research Centre will begin with a building in West Court to provide a focus for the Visiting Fellows associated with the Centre. A central feature of the ISRC is an arrangement for partner universities to nominate senior academics to come as Visiting Fellows in Clare Hall, an arrangement which will assist the participating universities and broaden the international associations of the College. In time, associated with this Centre, the College hopes to develop a series of study and research programmes involving Fellows of Clare Hall and specially invited Visiting Fellows and students in a number of selected inter-disciplinary study areas.

In addition to the development of the ISRC, the President’s wide ranging research interests led to sponsored fellowships that bring visiting academics to Clare Hall from Poland, Russia, Asia and Africa.

In 2008, the President, Sir Martin Harris, took over the leadership of Clare Hall’s Development Programme, ably assisted by the staff of the Alumni and Development Offices, and by Life Members of Clare Hall in different parts of the world.

In August 2013 we welcomed our current President, David Ibbetson FBA.  A world leading legal historian and Roman lawyer.  As the Regius Professor of Civil Law, he holds one of only eight Regius chairs in the University. 




Updated  Mar.16.2009