Did you know? Facts about Cambridge


Faculty: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
School: School of Creative Industries
Category: Staff

28 May 2020

Did you know? Facts about Cambridge

It’s in the DNA

It’s fairly well known that DNA was discovered in Cambridge by geneticists Crick and Watson at Cambridge University. Less well known is that it was also the iconic double-helix was illustrated in Cambridge, by lecturer Odile Crick, at Cambridge School of Art.

Gamer’s paradise

Cambridge is a tech hub, dubbed Silicon Fen. It’s estimated that 18% of the UK’s computer gaming industry is based here, alongside a host of science and technology companies – some of them valued in the billion-dollar region. The place to be then.

Not just any Tom, Dick or Harry

JK Rowling got the idea for Harry Potter while delayed on a train travelling from Manchester to London King's Cross. Cambridge School of Art graduate Thomas Taylor brought Harry to life in Cambridge as a ‘faint pencil sketch, painted with concentrated watercolour…and then outlined with a black Karisma pencil’ in 1996 whilst drinking a Belgian beer (possibly.) This sketch became the original English cover for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry’s image was set in stone forever.

Have you herd?

Cambridge might be a buzzing 21st-century city, but its pastoral origins are still evident in the herds of cows grazing on common land. The cattle on Midsummer Common are such a part of Cambridge’s identity that they have their own Twitter account and forthcoming art trail dedicated to them.

Expect the unexpected

Where can you find a rare 15-foot-high tequila plant, a time-eating monster, an 800 year old festival, and a complete Iguanodon skeleton? Yes you can. Cambridge is a unique city of history and culture, with over 150 libraries, museums and galleries and a wide range of events and festivals. Plenty to inspire and entertain.

Political puppets

There’s something….in the basement. A very lifelike puppet of former Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi, gifted by Cambridge School alumni Fluck and Law. Nigel Law and Roger Fluck studied at Cambridge School of Art in the 60’s and went on to create the satirical puppet show Spitting Image which ran throughout the 80’s and 90’s and returns to our screens in 2020.


ARU students can choose from 180 original works of art to keep in their room for a year. Kettle’s Yard is a modern and contemporary art gallery and students at ARU and Cambridge can borrow from their Loan Collection. Over the last decade, approximately 100 works of art – paintings, drawings, and photographs – have been borrowed every year. Shhh… don’t tell everyone.

‘Any colour you like’

Said Pink Floyd in 1973. But it was a blue plaque which commemorated former student Syd Barrett, one of the founder members of Pink Floyd, and was unveiled at Cambridge School of Art in 2017. Syd studied and performed along with band member Dave Gilmour, in the 1970’s, and their first ever gig was played from one of the studio balconies.

Reality Checkpoint

Walk across Parker’s Piece from the city centre and you come across a lamppost on which the words ‘Reality Checkpoint’ are written. Legend has it that it was first written there in the 1970’s by students from Cambridge College of Arts and Technology (now ARU) to mark the point of which you entered the real world. It’s probably the only lamppost in the world with its own Wikipedia entry.

Our Cambridge

Reality checkpoint has endured for half a century because it reveals a significant truth about Cambridge. There is another reality, a less well-known Cambridge, and ARU is proud to be at its centre. Our side of reality check point is Mill Road and Romsey town; vibrant, alternative, accepting. Home to independent shops and microbreweries and Europe’s first Eco mosque, with cafés and food shops covering all world cuisines and budgets, it has a strong, community feel. This shared sense of belonging, celebrated in the annual Mill Road Winter Fair, attracts diverse, but like-minded people. Over the years it has been home to Pink Floyd members, Dave Gilmour and Syd Barrett, Douglas Adams, Richard Berengarten (aka Burns), Susanna Clarke, Rajani Palme Dutt, Mary Kingsley, F. R. Leavis, Ronald Searle and Tom Sharpe.

Our values are those of our community and also those of our namesake - renowned art critic and social reformer John Ruskin who opened Cambridge School of Art in 1858.

Inclusive, creative and socially-aware education can transform lives for all.


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