Proctors & Constables

The Proctors

This page is intended as an answer to all the people who ask me what it is that Proctors actually do...

Proctor means literally "One who looks after the affairs of others", being a contraction of procurator. So a Pro-proctor, or pro-pro-curator, is "One who looks after the affairs of the one who looks after the affairs of others".

The office of Proctor dates back to the first statutes of the University, in the middle of the 13th Century. There have always been two Proctors in any given year, a Senior and a Junior. It is possible that originally the two Proctors were to represent the North and South of the country, as there was considerable (and sometimes violent) friction between the two factions in the early years of the University. In later years the post was conferred by election - the candidate with most votes being the Senior, the runner-up being the Junior. Nowadays, the distinction is made by seniority, ie the length of time since the gaining of an M.A. (only Cambridge M.A.'s are eligible).

As well as the two Proctors there are also two Pro-Proctors and two Deputy Proctors. After one year the Pro-Proctors proceed to become Proctors, and after another year they proceed to become Deputy Proctors. Proctors are nominated by the colleges, in a cycle originated in 1514 (but modified since as newer colleges have appeared) - Trinity Hall provides a Proctor in case a vacancy occurs during the year.

The duties of the Proctors have decreased in recent years: In earlier times it was their duty to regulate the hours of disputing and lecturing, of burial services, inceptions and festivals, and to act for the University in all kinds of business. They destroyed bad herrings exposed for sale, bought vestments, bell-ropes, and candlesticks, and had charge of the University Chest. They also patrolled the streets to repress disturbances, and exercised jurisdiction over improper persons. Dr.Tanner, The Historical Register of the University of Cambridge.

Disputing was the medieval equivalent of an examination - a formal debate on a given subject. In order to qualify for a degree a candidate had to take part in a number of such disputes. Proctors still regulate examinations.

Originally, and for a considerable period, the jurisdiction of the Proctors extended over the townsfolk, as well as anyone associated with the University. Since the invention of the Police (a newfangled institution) it has been limited to members of the University. The practice of patrolling the streets in search of improper persons, or misbehaving University members (frequenting public houses, or out of college without a gown) has ceased relatively recently.

Colleges are responsible for maintaining order within their own premises amongst their own members. Any incidents on University property or involving members of other colleges is, by invitation, the concern of the Proctors. In addition the Proctors office regulates the University Societies, maintains order at University Congregations, Ballots and Ceremonies, and at Examinations. The Junior and Senior Proctors also serve on a wide variety of University Committees.

Proctors & all Constables

The Proctors (centre, front), Esquires Bedell & Constables

The Proctors Office

The Proctors office is situated at 1 St.Mary's Passage, Cambridge CB2 3PQ.

Telephone: 33314 (Internal University number, add 012233 from outside Cambridge). It may one day soon be capable of receiving email (shortly before flying pigs crash land on the Senate House lawn).

The Proctors Secretary is present 9.30 - 2.30 (not Wednesday)


A document entitled Notes for Guidance of Junior Members on the Formation and Running of University Clubs and Societies is available from the Proctors Office. An extract is online.

Application Forms for Grants and Guarantees from the Societies Syndicate are available - an explanatory page.