In 2009, the University of Cambridge reached a special milestone – 800 years of people, ideas and achievements that continue to transform and benefit the world. Celebrating the best of Cambridge’s rich history and looking forward to the future, the University reflected on the myriad achievements and world-changing ideas born within its walls, from the establishment of the fundamentals of physics to the discovery of the structure of DNA; from the transformative thinking of great Cambridge philosophers, poets and artists; to the groundbreaking work of its many Nobel Prize winners.

The 800th Anniversary was marked with a variety of events and projects throughout the year. We invited staff, alumni, students, the local community and our fellow universities to celebrate with us during 2009.

An overview

The opening Ringing in the Year event attracted over 10,000 visitors to central Cambridge to watch a bespoke lightshow – a first for Cambridge. In addition to this, the streets of Cambridge were adorned with banners depicting imagery and a selection of dates from the University, another first for the city.

By time of the Summer Garden Party in July, a train had been named by the Chancellor to commemorate the Anniversary, the lightshow had been repeated in China, the Science Festival had celebrated 800 years of science and hundreds of universities around the world, as well as local school children, were busy writing Letters to the Future. The Garden Party attracted over 9,000 members of staff and their families.

Four days later, the Cambridge concert at the BBC Proms featuring Cambridge composers, musicians and singers from 16 Colleges was held in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales. By the autumn, several new events had taken place. Highlights included: a specially commissioned play performed by local school children entitled 0-800 in 60 Minutes and a visit from HM The Queen, during which she conferred the new Regius Professorship of Botany. Quentin Blake, the famous illustrator and alumnus, contributed a brand new series of works featuring well known figures from the University's past. In December, the Empire State Building was lit up for a night in Cambridge blue.

On 18 January 2010, exactly one year on from our first event, the Anniversary was concluded with a bigger lightshow showcasing current University research. The show incorporated King’s, Clare, and Gonville and Caius Colleges into a walking route that started at Senate House and attracted at least 20,000 people.

Other aspects

Two major strands of smaller-scale activity threaded through the year. The first was the 2009 Fund, which was the main vehicle for 42 “bottom-up” partnership events. Most of these were student-led; they included choral music in chapels, new print journals and educational websites, new theatre and a solar-powered eco-racing car that competed in Australia.

The second strand running through the year was Cambridge Ideas, a series of audio and video podcasts featuring Cambridge academics tackling major problems of today. This was just one aspect of a major new presence in new media, including YouTube, developed specially for the 800th Anniversary but continuing as a legacy into the future.

In addition to the 800th Anniversary, Cambridge was also host of the Darwin Festival, at which the life and work of Charles Darwin was celebrated as 2009 marked 200 years since his birth and 150 years since the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’. The festival, which took place in the summer, featured talks, discussions, performances, workshops, exhibitions and tours.