King’s College is perhaps Cambridge’s most iconic and well-known college. Trinity, Queens’ and St John’s may be larger and richer but King’s boasts unquestionably the finest building in Cambridge in the form of the college chapel, one of the great masterpieces of English architecture dating from the fifteenth century. The chapel took almost a hundred years to build and it shows in the way that it towers magnificently over every other building in central Cambridge, a symphony in Late Gothic design. It has a world-famous choir to boot, whose Christmas Eve service is broadcast across the world to an audience numbering in the hundreds of millions each year. For connoisseurs of supernatural literature this college is best known as the home of M R James, whom many regard as the author of the best ghost stories in the English language, but King’s also has an additional claim to fame in the realm of the paranormal: The Gibbs Building, one of the most haunted locations in Cambridge.
I’ve been looking forward to this one…
Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) is generally acknowledged as the founding father of the ghost story as it is known today. The son of a clergyman raised in rural Suffolk, England, M R James attended prep school at Eton and it was here that he discovered traditional ‘gothic’ ghost tales full of the old trappings of antique castles, terrified maidens and spectres clanking chains. He decided to try his own interpretation of the genre – one of plausibility, actuality and malevolence more suited to 20th century readers – when he later became a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. The publication of his first collection of ghostly tales in 1904 met with an enthusiastic public response. An antiquarian by nature, James was a master of topography, scholarly detail and seemingly authentic documentation, which appealed to the audience of sophisticated modern readers that he sought (even the least of his stories exhibits a craftsmanship and attention to detail that must be the envy of more hasty and prolific writers). James also inspired countless other ghost story writers, who to this day owe a debt to his conception of the form (in his own words – “Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way… and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage”).
In what will become a regular feature on this site, I will be reviewing some of my favourite places to visit, including coffee shops, restaurants, museums and more, both all over this country and beyond. As a special treat you get three reviews for the price of one today!
I’ve lived in Cambridge for about fifteen years but it’s only recently, much to my own surprise, that I’ve discovered that as well as being a famed university town and centre of technology, it is also reputedly one of the most haunted locations in the British Isles and has been the setting for a wide variety of supernatural phenomena over the centuries!