Fitzwilliam has a history unlike that of any other Cambridge college. 

Fitzwilliam was founded in 1869 by the Non-Collegiate Students Board to provide access to a Cambridge education for students who otherwise were unable to afford College fees. This was crucial, as membership of colleges was expensive – many students even had to buy their own furniture! The cost of being a non-collegiate student at Cambridge was less than half that of being a member of a college. Almost 150 years later, that founding ethos still remains at the heart of the College.

The first eight non-collegiate students were admitted in 1869. At least six were mature students, including two schoolmasters and a surgeon. At that time, and for the next century, the students lived in lodgings with landladies. The building known as Fitzwilliam Hall was purchased in 1887; situated on Trumpington Street opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum, it was where they socialised and received some teaching. The name Fitzwilliam House was adopted in 1924.

Student numbers grew, with a post-WWI peak of over 300 recorded in 1920. In 1944, it was decided that a new and larger building was needed, and by 1960 land had been purchased by the University and an architect – the celebrated modernist Sir Denys Lasdun – appointed. Fitzwilliam House moved to its current site in 1963, and in 1966 it was granted a Royal Charter and became Fitzwilliam College.

Today, Fitzwilliam is among the largest of the Cambridge colleges, with a community of around 450 undergraduates, 350 graduates, 55 Fellows and 120 staff.

In 2019 we marked 150 years of Fitzwilliam’s unique history with a series of events, including our Access and Widening Participation Conference in September. You can read the full story of the College’s history in Fitzwilliam: The First 150 Years of a Cambridge College.


'Ex antiquis et novissimis optima' (The best of the old and the new)
The College’s motto

Access and Widening Participation Conference video

Video highlights from Saturday 14 September, 2019, at the culmination of our 150th anniversary celebrations.