These songs were sung
in the early 1900s by the faculty and students of
the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University after their
In A History of
the Cavendish Laboratory, Sir J. J. Thomson writes, "By
1898 the number of research students had increased so much that
they decided to celebrate the event by a dinner, and the first
of what has proved to be an uninterrupted series of such gatherings
was held in December, at a restaurant in Sidney Street. I remember
that during the songs after dinner, the Proctors came to enquire
what the proceedings were about; they did not, however, penetrate
to the room where we were dining, being, I suppose, impressed
and I have no doubt, mystified by the assurance of the landlord
that it was a scientific gathering of research students."
Brian Cathcart describes
these annual dinners in his book, The Fly in the Cathedral:
"These were raucous affairs held close to Christmas, at
which ribald toasts were proposed and irreverent songs sung
about the personalities of the lab. Peter Kapitza described
one such evening: You could do anything you liked at the table
- squeal, yell, and so on - the general picture was rather wild
and quite unique. After the toasts everyone stood on their chairs,
crossed arms and sang a song recalling old friends and so on.
It was very funny to see such world famous luminaries as J.J.
Thomson and Rutherford standing on their chairs and singing
at the top of their voices. Finally we sang 'God Save the King'
and at midnight we broke up."
The songs were collected
by Prof. John Satterly (1879-1963), of the University of Toronto.
Learn more about Prof. Satterly.
Deepest thanks to
Prof. Arthur R. Quinton of the University of Massachusetts,
Amherst for preserving this collection over the years and for
sending it for posting here.
Many thanks to Gillian
Wotherspoon, Chief Library Assistant at the Rayleigh Library
of the Cavendish lab for research on the history of the annual
of the Cavendish Laboratory
J. J. Thomson was the Cavendish Professor of Physics
when many of these songs were written. He wrote a verse for
one of the songs, and several of the others are about
him. He discovered the electron, and won the Nobel prize
we have posted only one song (below). Over the coming months,
all eleven others will be posted.
by Prof. Gilbert Stead