Cambridge has always been well supplied with drinking places, and although the University has preferred students to stay in their colleges to enjoy their alcohol, scholars have always found occasions to meet outside, in the town’s pubs. Back in the sixteenth century, the White Horse stood in Trumpington Street, with a narrow frontage, in the row of timber-framed houses and shops, but extending back down the narrow Plots Lane, facing the boundary wall of King’s College. The inn was a discrete distance from the hub of the University at Old Schools, and from the busier taverns around the market.

In 1517 in Germany the theologian Dr Martin Luther challenged certain teaching and doctrines of the Church: it did not take long for his radical ideas and writings to spread to other academics across Europe. In May 1521 the University authorities in Cambridge were instructed to confiscate and burn the reformer's books as heretical. There was great danger in being seen to agree with Luther’s ideas, but nevertheless his works were still discussed. In the early 1520s a group of enthusiasts began to meet in the White Horse Inn, to turn over these ideas that were rocking the Continent. Despite the dangers, the White Horse group persisted, and the inn was nicknamed ‘Little Germany’ on their account.

Amongst the participants were Robert Barnes, the head of the Austin Friary (just up St Bene’t’s Street opposite), ‘little’ Thomas Bilney of Trinity Hall and Hugh Latimer of Clare College. Barnes had studied abroad at Louvain, where Erasmus and the continental reformers influenced him. There he became a Doctor of Divinity and returned to England in 1523 to become the Prior and Master of the Austin community here in Cambridge. Bilney had been converted to reformed views in 1519 as a result of studying the Latin New Testament of Erasmus. (Erasmus had lived and taught Greek for a while in Cambridge.) Bilney then converted the older Latimer in 1524. Contemporaries remarked on the humorous sight of the tiny Bilney and the tall lean Latimer pacing through Cambridge market together in earnest theological discussion.

Discussions in the White Horse transferred to sermons in St Edward’s church, across the road, where Latimer was in charge. (The church was and is a ‘peculiar’ – outside the authority of the Bishop.) On Christmas Eve 1525 Barnes exchanged pulpits with Latimer and preached at St. Edward's, an attack on the Church hierarchy. A few years later Latimer preached the famous Sermon on the Cards, attacking Cardinal Wolsey and the failings of the Church. The little pulpit in St Edwards, with its beautiful linen fold panels, is reputed to have been used by Latimer at this time.

All three men eventually died for their faith (as did many other Cambridge alumni, on both sides of the religious divide): Bilney in 1531, Barnes in 1540 and Latimer in 1555.

As part of his final statement, Barnes exclaimed, "I trust in no good work that I ever did, but only in the death of Christ. I do not doubt but through Him to enter the kingdom of heaven." His words were recorded and soon printed both in England and in Germany where Luther gave his own tribute to Barnes whom he described as, "This holy martyr, saint Robert."

The Inn building survived until 1869 when it was finally demolished. The long-delayed buildings of King’s College arose on the other side of the lane, and in 1968 covered it completely with the Keynes Lecture Theatre.