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Document of the Term: Matriculation


Michaelmas Term is the term of matriculation, the act of registering at the University. It usually occurs a few days after new students arrive in Cambridge and is the beginning of a lifelong relationship with your College. For many centuries, matriculation was conditional on the taking of oaths, or making of declarations of allegiance to the crown and of assent to the established religion. Today it is only necessary to subscribe to the following declaration:

"I promise to observe the Statutes and Ordinances of the University as far as they concern me, and to pay due respect and obedience to the Chancellor and other officers of the University."

The term comes from the requirement that undergraduates enter their names on the matricula  (register) of a master, later of the University. Until 1962, matriculation was performed publicly, but it now entails only the signing of a form. 

As part of the celebration of matriculation a photograph is taken of the new members of the College. The Archive at St. Catharine's has an almost complete set of photographs dating back to 1898. It is believed photographs were taken before 1898, but none have survived in the collection. Information from other College Archivists indicates the oldest surviving matriculation photograph in Cambridge is one in the Downing College Archive, dating from 1887. 

Reference: PHOT/8/1898

The oldest matriculation photograph at St. Catharine's features from the back row and left to right:

W. B. Soole, A. J. Smith, F. L. Burch, L. F. R. Dowdall, G. H. Hine

H. A. M. Cox, W. G. Dunn, H. D. Hanford, C. H. Barton, W. Hesmondalgh, H. L. Firkins

G. Wiles, W. P. C. Sheane, A. E. Noble, S. Rivers-Smith, A. D. B. Scott, A. C. H. Duke, S. T. Adams

A. B Herbert, F. W. Gerrish. 

All bar the clergyman on the right wear College ties, but unlike today, no gowns are worn in the photograph. It is not known when the tradition for wearing gowns was introduced but by the Second World War it was common.

The only matriculation photographs missing from the College collection are any that were taken pre-1898 and those for the years 1901-1908. If you have such a photograph within your possession, the Archivist would be pleased to hear from you (