The Campaign for Old Court

Preserving the heart of Clare College for future generations

Old Court, Clare College

Celebrating seven centuries

Dear alumni and friends,

In preparation for Clare College’s septicentennial in 2026, the Governing Body of the College has committed to restoring and renewing Old Court. The purpose is to protect and conserve this vibrant centre of Clare life, ensuring that the Grade I listed building is equipped to meet the needs of a twenty-first century education.

Updated spaces for dining, living, teaching, performing and socialising are all essential. The renewal and restoration of Old Court will ensure that Clare will remain a strong collegiate community at the heart of Cambridge.

Initial work has begun and will take 4-5 years to complete. Generous commitments have already been made and the College needs more alumni and friends to support this historic project and help Clare celebrate its 700th anniversary.

Our objective is to complete a £25 million fundraising campaign for Old Court by 2021. By doing so, the College will then be ideally placed to consider other important initiatives in the final years leading up to 2026.

We invite you to learn more about this historic project and join us in helping to make it a reality.

Tony Grabiner (Master) & Alan Gillespie (1969)

Campaign Co-Chairs

Old Court in summer

"I will always remember walking to Old Court along the backs after Finals and realising that I would probably never again live somewhere so beautiful and so intellectually vibrant."

a recent alumna

Quintessential Cambridge

Clare is the oldest surviving foundation to have been placed within the medieval city walls, and the buildings of Old Court are among the most iconic in Cambridge. It is the thriving intellectual and social centre of Clare where all members of the College come together to study, meet, worship, perform, dine and forge friendships that last a lifetime.

Since its completion in 1715, Old Court has nurtured successive generations through ages of industrial progress, social reform, world war, and technological transformation. The designers are unknown, but their inspirational pairing of golden sandstone and Collyweston slate gives a unity of vision at the heart of the Cambridge Backs.

However, the College has now reached an inevitable moment in its history. Old Court is in need of fundamental conservation, restoration and renewal. The work required is complex and expensive. It is on a scale required only once in a century.


Working in harmony with the existing architecture, the restoration will achieve modern levels of energy efficiency and improve disabled access. In addition, the project will at last equip the College to provide spaces fit for today and generations to come. While doing this critical work, Clare will be able to create new and better spaces for the College community to eat and to learn together, including the creation of a beautiful extension to the Buttery, directly overlooking the river.

Old Court is not just a Grade I listed building: it is subject to the highest level of Historic England’s architectural scrutiny, considered by the same committees as the nation’s royal palaces. Unlike many national treasures, Old Court receives no state funding. Nevertheless, the conservation work must be completed to the most exacting standards, and we are required to use the most authentic materials and the most skilled craftsmanship.

The River Room Cafe

A brand new social space in the heart of Cambridge

The North Passage between Old Court and Trinity Hall currently houses a warren of inefficient and underutilised spaces. This will be transformed into a brand new River Room Cafe, providing additional dining and social space seating 76, with a terrace on the Cam which will operate throughout the day. Combined with improvements to the existing buttery, casual dining will be dramatically improved at the College.  In turn this will help ensure that the College remains a desirable base for students at the centre of Cambridge. The reorganisation of this space will also include a new lift servicing three levels of the North Range of Old Court. This lift, combined with a hidden stair lift at H entry, will make Clare’s most public spaces, especially the Hall, fully accessible for the first time in the history of Old Court.

Greener Clare

New boilers, insulated piping and systems that control climate and lighting will begin to generate immediate returns to the College estimated to reduce energy usage by 20% per year and contribute to helping the College maintain its leadership as a “green college”. Additionally, the 15 new shower rooms will end the charming sight of students in robes crossing Old Court for morning ablutions and will make the letting of Old Court rooms a much more attractive proposition for the College’s profitable Conferencing programme.

The Facts

  • Over 2,300 square metres (more than half an acre) of slate will be renewed
  • 29 WCs will be replaced
  • 23 showers will be renovated or built
  • 240,000 working hours will be put in by plumbers, carpenters, roofers and electricians on the project over 3+ years
  • 27 gyp rooms will be provided or refurbished
  • 2 new high efficiency boilers will be installed, along with insulated piping, resulting in an improvement in energy efficiency of more than 20%
  • 1.4 miles of pipe replacement
  • 76 additional seats will be created for casual dining in the new River Room Cafe
  • 6.2 miles of new wiring
  • 4 new lifts will be installed to improve disabled access, making Hall fully accessible for the first time in Old Court's history
  • 1,500m2 of lead gutters, valleys and hips to be replaced
  • 285 windows will be inspected, repaired and renewed
  • 11 chimneys will be repointed and repaired, each with up to 9 flues
  • 31 sets will be renovated, including new wiring, fire safety and heating, including over 160 new radiators
  • £300,000 of fire safety improvements including new detection systems, 40 upgraded historic doors and improved compartmentation

The Costs

The renewal and restoration of Old Court will cost £41 million. The designs have been fully costed by Gardiner and Theobald LLP Consultants.

  • £11 million roof replacement/repair and external walls conservation
  • £5.1 million building systems replacement
  • £9.1 million North Range and River Room construction
  • £6.7 million internal refurbishment and alteration
  • £1.4 million access and logistics
  • £1 million contingency
  • £6.7 million VAT (VAT relief is no longer available for historic building renewal, and is severely limited even for charities)

The Need

Through careful financial planning, Clare College has committed £16 million to fund the project from its existing resources.

For the remaining £25 million, we depend on the generous support of our alumni and friends to make this project a reality.

We have received pledges of £19 million to date.

Our challenge is to raise a further £6 million.

If you would like to support us, please get in touch with Clare's Development Office by contacting development@clare.cam.ac.uk.