We are in the process of assembling short biographical notes about many of Peterhouse’s famous members. As time allows this list will grow substantially, so please revisit this page in the future. If you have any suggestions for the list please contact the Peterhouse webmaster at .
- Charles Babbage (his difference engine the forerunner of the modern computer)
- Richard Baker (musical expert and news reader)
- William Brewster (Pilgrim Father)
- Henry Cavendish (scientist)
- Christopher Cockerell
- Richard Crashaw (poet)
- James Dewar (scientist)
- The Duke of Grafton (Prime Minister, 1768–1770)
- Thomas Gray (poet)
- Colin Greenwood (Bass player of Radiohead)
- Michael Howard (politician)
- Lord Kelvin (scientist)
- Sir A Klug (Nobel Prize winner)
- Archer Martin (Nobel Prize winner)
- James Mason (British film star)
- Sam Mendes (film director, producer)
- Andrew Perne
- Max Perutz (Nobel Prize winner)
- Michael Portillo (politician and journalist)
- Godfrey Washington (great-uncle of the first President of the USA)
- John Whitgift (Archbishop of Canterbury)
- Frank Whittle (inventor of the jet engine)
In 1812 Charles Babbage, while an undergraduate at Peterhouse, has his first ideas for a calculating machine and later starts work on his ‘difference engine’, which he never completed but which heralds later inventions leading to the modern computer.
Colin Charles Greenwood (b. 26th June, 1969)
Whilst at Abingdon School, Colin and a group of friends formed the band that was to become Radiohead. The ‘intellectual’ member of the band (the lead singer, Thom Yorke, is quoted as saying that Colin has ‘downloaded a library’), he followed these interests up whilst reading English at Peterhouse between 1987 and 1990 and acting as Peterhouse Ents Officer. Thom Yorke made regular visits to Peterhouse, and has consumed a number of meals at Peterhouse formal hall. It’s not known whether or not this made him fitter, happier or more productive.
It was only a short time after Colin’s graduation that Radiohead had their first major break, and they are now widely regarded as one of the most original and significant forces in ‘90s music. Colin Greenwood’s fan club have a website at http://www.colingreenwoodfc.cjb.net/.
James Mason (1909-1984)
James Mason was born on May 15, 1909, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. He came up to Peterhouse to study architecture, but after graduation he abandoned his career as an architect and took to the stage with the Old Vic. His successful transition to film made him one of Britain’s major film stars of the 40’s. In 1948 he moved to Hollywood where his distinctive voice and frequent portrayals of men with a dark side brought him three Oscar nominations. In 1977, he was awarded the Golden Seal, Britain’s highest film honour, in recognition of his many classic films including Odd Man Out, The Seventh Veil, A Star is Born, Georgy Girl, Lolita, and The Shooting Party. He died in 1984 at his home in Switzerland.
Andrew Perne (1519?-1589)
Andrew Perne became Master of Peterhouse in 1553. In the University he was Proctor and five times Vice-Chancellor. He took his degree at St John’s College, of which he became a Fellow in 1540. In the same year he moved to Queens’ College, where he was successively Bursar, Dean and Vice-President.
His career in the Church during the reigns of Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth was firmly founded on what the DNB describes as ‘his pliancy in matters of religion’. The substantial catalogue of his preferments culminated in the Deanship of Ely.
In Cambridge he is remembered as a benefactor of the University, of Queens’ College, and particularly of Peterhouse, to which he left the greater part of his library, reputed to be the finest private collection in England, together with the funds required to house it in what is now the westernmost portion of the present Perne Library.
In 1934 Flight Lieutenant Frank Whittle is sent to Cambridge as a mature student by the RAF and enters Peterhouse. He is encouraged to pursue his innovative idea of jet propulsion, patented three years earlier but ignored by the Air Ministry.