Jesus College Gatehouse, Cambridge
Watercolour: A. Webb (1873)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection
Founded in 1497, Jesus College was built on the site of a former nunnery. The college incorporated many of the convent’s existing buildings. However, its founder, Bishop Alcock of Ely, was determined that its entrance would be new and memorable.
Cambridge is noted for its splendid brick gatehouses, and Jesus has one of the finest and earliest. At the tower’s top, red and yellow brick patterns create a trellis effect; with the battlements above, this looks more like a patterned rug. Below, the gate has a graceful ogee arch flowing into a decorated niche with a statue. Impressive now, the gatehouse would have looked even more splendid when it had lower blocks either side.
This watercolour, by the young architect Aston Webb (1849-1930), picks up on this splendour. Webb plays on the scene’s contrasting elements: the sober walls approaching the gate; the gatehouse’s lively detailing and the garden’s verdant growth. Usefully, the sketch records the entrance before restoration; it also reveals Webb’s early appreciation of brick, a material that features prominently in his many buildings.