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A Short History

A seat of learning for many centuries, Cambridge extends a welcome to the world. Many Americans have studied at the famous university and left their mark. The county is also home to stately homes, market towns and villages where you can trace the origins of our transatlantic friendship.

The Eagle pub in Cambridge is not only home to memorable graffiti inscribed there by American and British airmen. It has a further claim to fame. On February 28, 1953, Two Cambridge scientists, Englishman Francis Crick and American James Watson, announced in the pub that they had “discovered the secret of life”. The pair’s research had helped to uncover the structure of human DNA. Chicago-born Watson was aged just 24 at the time, and went on to a great career in Britain and the USA. There are so many things to see in Cambridge. An Official Green or Blue Badge guided tour of Cambridge, the University and the Colleges is the best way to see the highlights of the city.

Billy Fiske’s all-too short life story reads like a work of fiction. A double Olympic champion, Cambridge student and road race record holder, he was the first American to die in the Battle of Britain. Aged just 16, he won gold with the US bobsleigh team at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St Moritz. Four years later, he did it all over again on home soil in Lake Placid. A man of principle, he refused to take part in the 1936 Games in Nazi-run Berlin. While studying at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Fiske held the unofficial Cambridge-London road race record in a supercharged Bentley. Perhaps it was unsurprising that he should volunteer to fly in the Battle of Britain. He was killed on August 17, 1940, when his RAF Hurricane was shot down during the height of that air campaign. Fiske is buried at Boxgrave Priory, Sussex.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston, is the home of Harvard University, founded in 1631. Cambridge University is Britain’s leading university for graduate studies in American history. In the 2015-16 academic year there were more than 850 US students there. A number of prominent Americans have been associated with the university. Liberal economist and public intellectual John Kenneth Galbraith, originally from Canada, took a year-long fellowship at Trinity College in 1937; he went on to play an active role in the Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the US. Historian Arthur M Schlesinger Jr spent the academic year 1938-9 at Peterhouse.

Three of the people who signed the United States Declaration of Independence studied law at Cambridge. Thomas Nelson Jr is considered one of the Founding Fathers. Born in Yorktown, Virginia, this planter, soldier and statesman studied at Christ’s College from 1758. He was one of the 13 committee members appointed to the Continental Congress in 1776. Nelson was involved in the 1781 Siege of Yorktown, which effectively ended British rule of America, and became Virginia’s Governor in that year.

South Carolinians Thomas Lynch Jr and Arthur Middleton were also Cambridge alumni, studying the law there as young men. Later they were leading American Patriots during the War of Independence (known as the Revolution in the USA). Middleton was an ancestor of Charles B Middleton, who played Ming the Merciless in the 1980 movie Flash Gordon.

Huttleston Broughton (1896-1966) was heir to a huge American fortune. His father had made his money from mining and railways, while his mother, Cara Leland Rogers, was daughter of the multimillionaire Henry Huttleston Rogers. Although born in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, Broughton moved to Britain with his family at the age of 16. He fought as a Life Guards lieutenant during the First World War. During the mid-1920s, by which time he had been elevated to the peerage as Lord Fairhaven, he bought a dilapidated house and estate near Cambridge. Anglesey Abbey can trace its roots to a medieval institution, but the brilliant gardens and house you see today are all Fairhaven’s work. On his death in 1966, he left Anglesey to the National Trust, and modern visitors can enjoy its vistas, avenues, rare trees and statues.

In Britain we say: “Every man’s home is his castle.” The phrase comes from a Cambridge-educated barrister and judge called Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634). Born in Mileham, Norfolk, he studied law at Trinity College and went on to be an influential legal figure during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. He often incurred the displeasure of the latter for his independent views and defiance of Royal prerogative. His court rulings later influenced opposition in America to the 1765 Stamp Acts (no taxation without representation) which led to the War of Independence. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures by the State without a warrant, was inspired by Coke’s assertion that our home should indeed be a castle.

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