Darwin College was founded in 1964 as the first College in Cambridge exclusively for graduate students, on the initiative of Trinity, St. John's, and Gonville and Caius Colleges. It is located in the very centre of town and backs on to an attractive part of the river Cam. Two small and picturesque islands, which belong to the College, give it a uniquely charming atmosphere.
The College takes its name from the family of Charles Darwin, the famous biologist, whose second son Sir George Darwin (1845-1912, from 1883 Plumian Professor of Astronomy in this University) bought Newnham Grange, now the oldest part of the College, together with the adjoining Old Granary in 1885. Newnham Grange had been built in 1793 for the family of Patrick Beales, a local corn and coal merchant. The house was extensively remodelled for George Darwin and in due course it became the house of Sir Charles Darwin, son of Sir George.
Sir Charles died at the end of 1962, and during early 1963 those concerned with the foundation of the new College learned that this property was to become available. Lady Darwin and her family were warmly receptive to the idea of their home providing the nucleus for the new College, and to the suggestion that, in the circumstances, the name Darwin College was appropriate.
In 1966 the College acquired from St. John's College the Hermitage, a house on the west side of Newnham Grange and on the corner of Silver Street and Newnham Terrace. This house was built in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The College was then designed around these houses and the new additions consisted of the main dining hall on the Newnham Terrace side of the Hermitage and the linking building (the Rayne Building) between the Hermitage and the Grange. Later, in 1978, the Grange was extended on the east side towards the Old Granary and now all the houses in Newnham Terrace have been purchased. In 1994 a new and attractive Study Centre was built on the further side of the Granary. The Centre houses the library and computer work stations.
Besides the initial generous grant, the founding Colleges have continued their support of the College in several ways. However, the new buildings would not have been possible without generous benefactions from the Rayne Foundation. The Darwin family has also been most kind in lending many family portraits, which adorn the walls of the main entertaining rooms of the College and in enabling the College to purchase the fine alabaster bust of Erasmus Darwin, Charles' grandfather. Many individuals, including College members, and organisations have also made gifts to Darwin.
Darwin was the first college in Cambridge to have both men and women as fellows and students.