Home > Profiles

“Rascal Student” Climbs Gothic-Style Chapel to Hang Santa Hats

Nobody knows who left the hats on the statues and gargoyles, but there's a history in Cambridge of climbers doing this

A photographer named Martin Bond noticed something festive about statues found high on the exterior of the cathedral at St John’s College in Cambridge, England, this week. His photos have led to a lot of speculation as to how the prankster pulled it off.

Bond, who’s been taking photos of Cambridge every day for more than 10 years, said he believes it was a “rascal student” that was likely responsible. He said that the rooftop key was never signed out, so rappelling down wouldn’t have been possible.

He also said that there’s no way someone used a drone, as the hats are tucked into tight areas. The Gothic-style chapel was built 150 years ago and rises to over 50 metres. Bond saw at least three hats resting on the heads of statues and gargoyles.

From a climber’s point of view, it’s more likely that someone rappelled in, possibly after climbing up, as the locations of the statues are quite isolated away from obvious features. Rope access technicians have used drones to fly tag lines over buildings that allow them to pull static ropes up and over, which are fixed on the opposite side.

The three Santa hats

We may never know who put the Santa hats on St John’s College’s cathedral, as this sort of thing has happened before. In November 2009, someone climbed King’s College Chapel, over 25 metres, and placed four Santa hats on opposing pinnacles. And in June 1958, an Austin 7 appeared on the roof of the Senate House overnight.

In the 1930s, a book called The Night Climbers of Cambridge was written under the pseudonym “Whipplesnaith.” It focused on night climbing on the colleges and buildings of Cambridge in the 1930s. To this day, several new students at Cambridge University will try to get their hands on a hard-to-find-copy.

Here in Canada, we have a long history of urban climbing. In 1980, Gripped’s co-founder David Smart climbed the exterior of Toronto’s CN Tower using aid techniques with Gerry Banning. Smart wrote about it in his book A Youth Wasted Climbing. And in Squamish, the famous University Wall was named by four climbers who spent a lot of their time climbing the walls of their Vancouver university. For more history on urban climbing see here.

Night climbing at Cambridge University 100 years ago