The aim of this study was to quantify a range of MR parameters [apparent proton density, longitudinal relaxation time T1, magnetisation transfer (MT) ratio, MT saturation (which represents the additional percentage MT saturation of the longitudinal magnetisation caused by a single MT pulse) and apparent transverse relaxation rate R2*] in the white matter columns and grey matter of the healthy cervical spinal cord. The cervical cords of 13 healthy volunteers were scanned at 3 T using a protocol optimised for multi-parameter mapping. Intra-subject co-registration was performed using linear registration, and tissue- and column-specific parameter values were calculated. Cervical cord parameter values measured from levels C1–C5 in 13 subjects are: apparent proton density, 4822 ± 718 a.u.; MT ratio, 40.4 ± 1.53 p.u.; MT saturation, 1.40 ± 0.12 p.u.; T1 = 1848 ± 143 ms; R2* = 22.6 ± 1.53 s–1. Inter-subject coefficients of variation were low in both the cervical cord and tissue- and column-specific measurements, illustrating the potential of this method for the investigation of changes in these parameters caused by pathology. In summary, an optimised cervical cord multi-parameter mapping protocol was developed, enabling tissue- and column-specific measurements to be made. This technique has the potential to provide insight into the pathological processes occurring in the cervical cord affected by neurological disorders. © 2013 The Authors. NMR in Biomedicine published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.