The College Archivist has been supporting the work of the Black Cantabs Research Society, established to document and celebrate the early history of black students at Cambridge University, by researching Downing’s own early students.


Research has been hampered by the poor survival of early student records and photographs prior to WW2, but some fascinating stories have been uncovered so far, including that of Downing alumnus James Vivian Clinton.

The following is based primarily on the research of Dr David Pratten of the African Studies Centre at Oxford University, with thanks for his assistance.


James Vivian Clinton, OBE (1920, History and Law)

James Vivian Clinton was born on 6 February 1902 at Axim, Gold Coast, the son of Charles Warner Clinton, Barrister-at-Law, and his wife Muriel (nee M’Carthy), later of Accra, Gold Coast. His father was a Ghanian lawyer of Caribbean ancestry and his mother, born in Sierra Leone, the daughter of the Chief Justice of the Gold Coast. He was educated at a private preparatory school in East Sussex and Taunton School. The photograph below was taken in 1918 at Taunton School and shows the members of Thrones House. Clinton is seated 3rd from left on the second row. (Reproduced with permission of Taunton School)

James matriculated at Downing on 22 October 1920. He took Part I in History before changing to Law Part II, graduating with an Ordinary BA in 1923. Sadly, no photographs of his time at Downing have survived. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn Field in 1924. However, an illness rendered him totally deaf soon afterwards and he turned instead to a career in journalism, working on the Sierra Leone Daily Mail from 1932 to 1935 before settling in Calabar, Nigeria, as Editor of the Nigerian Eastern Mail established by his father.  He is pictured below with the editorial staff of the Nigerian Eastern Mail in 1937 (J. V. Clinton is seated, second from right, and his father, the proprietor, is seated, third from right).  In 1949 he was awarded an OBE for ‘services to Nigeria in the field of journalism’.

After the Mail folded in 1951, Clinton held a number of posts in the Nigerian civil service throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Struggling to make ends meet, he began a new career writing short stories, often for women’s magazines under various pseudonyms.  In 1971 he published ‘The Rescue of Charlie Kalu’ under his own name with the Heinemann Secondary Readers series for schoolchildren. He died in 1973.

Urhobo Progressive Union and the Downing connection

Interestingly, James Clinton’s family had close ties with the Urhobo Progressive Union in Nigeria which, in 1945, raised funds to send two students from the local community to university in England so that they might return after completing their degrees to run the newly-established Urhobo College. One of these students, Ezekiel Norukior Igho, matriculated at Downing in 1945 – perhaps because of this family connection – studying Natural Sciences.

After graduating in 1948 and obtaining his Diploma in Education in London the following year, Igho returned to Urhobo to take up his position as Vice Principal at the new College. He is pictured here in the 1945 matriculation photograph (centre of the second row. DCPH/2/1/9: Image courtesy of Lafayette Photography Ltd).


Newell, Stephanie, The Power to Name: A History of Anonymity in Colonial West Africa (Ohio, 2013) p.150

Pratten, D, ‘Creole Pioneers in the Nigerian Provincial Press’ in Peterson, Newell and Hunter (eds), African Print Cultures: Newspapers and Their Publics in the Twentieth Century (University of Michigan Press, 2016)