The Curio Collection: Pentacles And Apostles

The Curio Collection: Pentacles And Apostles
‘An exclusive destination with an inclusive spirit’: Part of the Curio Collection, The Fellows House Hotel, Spa, Café and Bar is inspired by the spirits of passion, curiosity, mystery and secrecy.

Located a short walk from the city centre, as well as a stone’s throw from the River Cam and Jesus Green, The Fellows House in Cambridge is the perfect base for exploring lofty local colleges, crossing the Bridge of Sighs, hiding in musty museums and drinking in Botanic Gardens. The resident Café, The Sage of Cambridge, recently gained café scientifique status thanks to its Orators & Storytellers series.

Occurring twice a month, the O&S series aims to showcase talented speakers from a range of industries and institutions. The academics or experts constitute the Orators, while the Storytellers have included creatives such as writers and filmmakers. The sessions are hosted by marketing director Simone Castello, who has been keen to reach out to scientists (humanities, social sciences, science) that are open to sharing insights on their work. Recent topics have included renewable energy, artificial intelligence, medicine and psychology.

A modern gallery and museum in itself, the hotel features unique paintings and sculptures that have been designed locally, with each room being named after a famous fellow, including Kipling, Newton, Gormley and Attenborough. Some highlights include the painting of Aslan Rising – a tribute to C.S. Lewis, fellow of Magdalene College, alongside an original oil painting of Davidson Nicol, fellow of Christ’s College.

C.S. Lewis’ pen captured his imagination, and once put into print it was etched into young minds worldwide. In illustrating the moment Lucy and Susan climb upon the risen lion, artist Diarmuid Byron-O’ Connor shares the archetype Lewis placed within his mind all those years ago. Beside this is the portrait of Davidson Nicol – an academic, diplomat, physician, writer and poet from Sierra Leone. He was the first African to graduate from Cambridge with first class honours and to be elected as a fellow. Nicol also went on to contribute to medical science and was the first person to analyse the metabolism of insulin, which was a breakthrough for the treatment of diabetes.

Dotted around the Café is The Sage Cluster; a collection of artworks celebrating some of the famous traditions, discoveries and lightbulb moments from the university’s colleges, clubs and societies. These include a playful twist on Newton’s theory suggesting that his spectrum of seven colours was governed by the same ratios underlying music’s diatonic scale, and Henry Cavendish’s experiment combining atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen with the crackling passage of electric sparks. Also featured in the collection are the Mathematical Bridge at Queens’ College highlighted in its signature blue, and a planetarium etching of the Solar System.

In the Folio Restaurant and Kitchen you will find Xu Zhimo’s ‘Taking Leave of Cambridge Again’, which serves as a soulful backdrop to this diverse collection. In 1912, Xu Zhimo embarked on a transformative journey to England to study at King’s College, where he immersed himself in the enchanting world of English romantic poetry. Inspired by the likes of Keats and Shelley, he also delved into the works of French romantic and symbolist poets, which he beautifully translated into Chinese. In 1922, he returned to China and became a leading figure of the modern poetry movement. There, he founded the Crescent Moon Society, a Chinese literary society that was part of the larger New Culture Movement, believing in “art for art’s sake.” Xu became one of the first Chinese writers to successfully naturalise Western romantic forms into modern Chinese. To pay tribute to his enduring legacy, a white Beijing marble stone was placed at the Backs of King’s College in 2008, poetically immortalising the connection.

In the Bar area, you’re invited to take a seat in front of a DNA wall panel, and to embark on your own Academic Journey via a carefully crafted cocktail menu, featuring famed flavours alongside custom creations from the Curio team. Each recipe is designed to embody the essence of sustainability, the excitement of discovery, and the culture of the community. The undergraduates list features alcohol-free mocktails based on the classics – the official elixir of all-nighters, library marathons, and academic wizardry; The postgraduate selection explores each (imaginary) School filled with bespoke signatures from expert in-house mixologists; Finally the Fellows selection invites you to experiment on modern and classic favourites with a twist – where each creation is connected to an artwork found around the House.


The First Rule Of Pentacles Club

A unique feature is the framed stack of cards featuring W.W.Rouse Ball, a British Mathematician, lawyer, and fellow at Trinity College. In 1919 he founded the Cambridge Pentacle Club – one of the world’s oldest magic societies. Rouse Ball got the ball rolling by issuing a notice asking for anyone interested to contact him. Well known as a mathematician, he was the author of ‘Mathematical Recreations and Essays’ as well as a book of string figures (cat’s cradles) and had a collection of mechanical toys.

The Club consisted of members of Cambridge University who were interested in magic and the subscription was half-a-crown (12.5p) a term. During the club’s first meeting, the members witnessed demonstrations of rope and card tricks, as well as thimble and billiard ball manipulations. Rouse Ball continued as President and the driving force behind the Society until his death in 1925. The Pentacle Club was the successor to ‘The Mystics’ which was founded in 1909 and lasted until the outbreak of war in 1914. The Mystics emblem was an equilateral triangle inside a circle and there were two classes of members, ‘Inner’ – those skilled in conjuring, and ‘Outer’ – those who could entertain in other ways.

The Mystic’s founders all came from Caius College: George Arrowsmith, eventually a Vice President of The Magic Circle, W.G Arrowsmith who became Chaplain to the Queen, and W.G Gingall, who was killed in the First World War. Jack Hulbert was an ‘Outer’ member that had qualified by doing a tap dance. The group had an annual dinner at the Dorothy Cafe and produced annual entertainment in the Guildhall. There is also evidence to suggest that another club had existed before the First World War called ‘The Cambridge University Magical Society’ or the ‘Cambridge University Society of Magicians.’

In the late twenties, the annual shows always featured playlets written and produced by Harry Rottenburg, a don at King’s College. The most famous of these was ‘The Marvels of Modern Medicine’ in which a golfer had his leg sawn off, and then drilled with holes before being replaced. Another patient was decapitated, and the severed head smoked a cigarette with the aid of a pair of bellows before being restored. This sketch was to feature in many Pentacle Shows both during and after the Second World War, when it was called ‘Bloodless Surgery.’ It was also performed by the original cast as part of The Magic Circle Grand Seance at Maskelyne’s Theatre, St George’s Hall. Other playlets included ‘Dope or the Plastic Art’, in which a clay sculpture came to life and ‘The Skeleton in the Cupboard’ which featured an animated skeleton that smoked.

In the late thirties the Club entered a decline and no public shows were given. These were revived in 1940 when, for three years in succession, shows were given in aid of the Red Cross. The evacuation of London University to Cambridge meant that London students augmented the Pentacle Club membership. The Club reconvened in 1947 and performed on television and at The Magic Circle, and performing visits to The Circle became a regular feature of the Club’s calendar. 1968 saw the last annual show at the ADC Theatre but the Club staged a series of outdoor stunts at carnivals and leisure fairs in the early seventies. These included ‘Cheating the Gallows’, a blindfolded car drive and a straight-jacket escape performed by John Davenport hanging upside-down from a crane 60 feet above the ground on Midsummer Common.


Not So Secret Society Book Clubs

A particularly eye-catching piece is the original oil painting of Alfred Tennyson, Poet Laureate from 1850 to 1892. Tennyson entered Trinity College in 1827 where he joined a Secret Society known as the Cambridge Apostles, but left in 1831 before obtaining his degree owing to the death of his father. Tennyson published his first collection of poems, ‘Poems Chiefly Lyrical’ in 1930. ‘Claribel‘ and ‘Mariana‘, which later took place among his most celebrated poems, were included in this volume.

The Apostles (also known as Conversazione Society) was founded in 1820 by George Tomlinson, who became the first Bishop of Gibraltar. The origin of the Apostles’ nickname dates from the original membership of 12, and it consisted largely of undergraduates from Christ’s, St John’s, Jesus, Trinity and King’s Colleges. The Apostles was essentially a discussion group and meetings were held once a week, traditionally on Saturday evenings, during which one member gave a talk on a book or a topic which was later opened up for debate.

One of Cambridge’s best unkept secrets, the group would meet to discuss small things like truth, God, and ethics. It was customary for members to gather in the room of whoever was presenting, and the host would provide refreshments such as coffee and sardines on toast – known as ‘whales.’ Women first gained acceptance into the society in the 1970s. In the early days election had to be unanimous, and a potential candidate did not know (s)he was proposed until (s)he was accepted. At the initiation a new recruit would be briefed on the Society’s history and traditions, sign ‘The Book’ (a leather bound diary which all previous members had signed) and swear a ‘curse’ or vow of secrecy.

Active (and usually undergraduate) members are known as Apostles, and former members such as graduates or fellows are referred to as Angels. Every few years all the Angels were invited to a secret dinner at a college or London venue. Many members of the Bloomsbury group were Apostles including Keynes, Woolf and Lytton Strachey. The Book set out a list of strict rules enforcing attendance and ensuring consistency, and members who failed to present a promised paper were fined. It was stored in a cedar chest referred to as the Ark, which was paid for and designed by Kingsman Oscar Browning in 1886. The Ark is currently stored in the Archive Centre reading room at Kings College.


“Art is good for my soul, precisely because it reminds me that we have souls in the first place.” – Tilda Swinton