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The Night Climbers of Cambridge

The Night Climbers of Cambridge were a group of students who climbed the colleges and town buildings of Cambridge, England, in the 1930s. Their adventures were catalogued into a book by their leader under the pseudonym "Whipplesnaith".

While one of the other members of the “club” was the designated photographer and another in charge of lighting. Whipplesnaith was photographed in the most precarious positions, as high as 50 or 60 metres high, without a climbing rope, sometimes wearing a jacket and tie.

“As you pass round each pillar, the whole of your body except your hands and feet are over black emptiness. Your feet are on slabs of stone sloping downwards and outwards at an angle of about thirty-five degrees to the horizontal, your fingers and elbows making the most of a friction-hold against a vertical pillar, and the ground is precisely one hundred feet directly below you. If you slip, you will still have three seconds to live.”

- Whipplesnaith

After its first publication the book became rare and throughout the century its legend grew, becoming highly sought after in later years, especially in Cambridge, where it was considered the holy grail of guidebooks on local urban exploration. Whipplesnaith himself, who we now know as Cambridge student, Noël Howard Symington, wrote comprehensive rooftop travelling tips to accompany the photographs, providing true and practical information in his notes for anyone else brave or foolhardy enough to climb the ancient university buildings– and is quite likely the cause for why nocturnal climbing is still a thing on campus to this day.

In 2007, marking the 70th anniversary of the original edition, a new authorised edition of The Night Climbers of Cambridge was published, bringing to light once again the forgotten nocturnal antics of students climbing the English university buildings in the inter-war years. Despite major book stores deciding not to stock it, the 2007 edition of the cult climber’s guide has still sold several thousands of copies.

"At this very moment there may be a dozen climbers on the buildings of Cambridge. They do not know each other; they are unlikely to meet. And inadvertently they will find what we found, a love for the buildings and the climbs upon them, a love for the night and the thrill of darkness."

- Whipplesnaith



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