Kings College Chapel, Cambridge


There is a danger in graffiti hunting that you focus so much on the details on the walls and columns that you can fail to appreciate the wider beauty of the structures you are visiting. Here’s a tip, if you go looking for graffiti in King’s College Chapel, before you do anything else, go and stand with you back to the west door and look up! All the graffiti in the world will not compensate for missing that glorious and joyous ceiling of late medieval fan vaulting.

Kings College are happy with photography in the chapel, but not flash photography. This may explain why one of the volunteer guides asked me to put my torch away after a couple of minutes of me graffiti hunting. She also told me that there wasn’t much of ‘that sort of thing’ in the chapel. She was wrong, and, even without a torch, there is much to see and enjoy.

It is also lucky that some of the most intriguing graffiti can been seen without the benefit of a raking light. During the English Civil War, Parliamentarian troops were stationed in Cambridge and complaints were made in 1647 about bands of Soldiers training and excercising in the Royall Chappell of King Henry the sixth… These bands of soldiers left their mark in the form of painted graffiti on the chancel walls. There is a rider on a horse, a design that most looks like a ragged staff, a sword, a face, names and three pentagrams. There are no other visible symbols – no crosses, no circles, no daisy wheels, just three pentagrams in a protestant context datable to the mid 17th century.

If the New Model Army wasn’t interested in compass drawn circles, they do exist in the chapel. By the west door there’s a grouping of intersecting circles and another set of concentric circles.
There are several sets of dot patterns.
There is one set of drawn merels and one possible merel pattern consisting of grid and dots.
There are engraved pentagrams in the nave, one double traced. There is also a very faint five pointed star below the two pentagrams in the second picture.
There are not a huge number of Marian marks. There are a lot of initials, however, and I have erred on the side of caution before labelling a ‘W’ as a Marian mark.
There are several small mason’s marks repeated throughout the chapel. There is a single instance of a mark (a W with a line through it) which closely resembles another in St Mary’s church in Charminster, Dorset.
The notable ‘other – please specify’ graffiti include a post-mill, names scratched into the glass in the south chancel wall, a shield, some script and an advertisement for the glaziers who cleaned the windows one time.
As you can imagine with a shifting population of students and a history of tourists in the chapel, there are a huge number of tourist and memorial graffiti.

King’s College Chapel
King’s College

Tickets are £10 (as at 2018) for adults and can be bought at the King’s College Visitor Centre opposite the college on King’s Parade. Check the website for opening times.

Report by Anthea Hawdon


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