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Tag Archives: Cambridgeshire

  • Secret Cambridge by Andrew Sargent

    It is difficult to write something fresh about a place which is as well known and loved as Cambridge. The run of colleges along The Backs are a vital part of our national heritage, and King’s College Chapel is familiar the world over from the televised Christmas Eve broadcast of Carols from King’s.

    Friends asked me to justify offering a new book. The answer is that, while a small slice of the town is a national treasure visited by millions every year, most of its long history passes them by. The focus on the colleges means that much else is hidden in plain sight; more is tucked away and forgotten. I studied and lived in Cambridge for fifteen years, and was aware that even in that time I barely scratched the surface.

    The Mathematical Bridge at Queens' College, originally designed by William Etheridge in 1749, has been rebuilt several times. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    Secret Cambridge is probably unique in its approach. It explores the whole town, not just the famous colleges, and it takes in the whole story of Cambridge from its Roman origins to the present day. But it is not just a history: it also looks for the places where events happened, and traces the surviving physical clues to the past – things you can see and touch. It will be as stimulating for Cambridge residents who want to know more about their town as for visitors.

    There was a town here, beside the Cam, a thousand years before the first scholars made it their home. That town continued alongside the growing university, the two becoming increasingly intertwined and their relationship becoming ever more complex. It is easy not to appreciate today, but for much of history Cambridge was a transport hub. It was an important river crossing and the last bridging point before the fens and the sea. It was also the highest navigable point for seagoing vessels, a place where cargoes could be transferred between road and water. The city arms still show three ships riding at anchor beneath a bridge.

    The Saxon tower of St Ben't's Church is the oldest structure in Cambridge. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    The Roman conquerors were quick to recognize the strategic importance of this crossing point, and a bridge was soon built. A small settlement sprang up on the bluff overlooking the crossing to service passing travellers, while a suburb grew up on the opposite bank along what is today known as Bridge Street. This settlement – barely a town – appears in itineraries under the name Duroliponte. In the fourth century AD the hilltop town, though not its suburb, was surrounded by a wall; its course is preserved in the street plan.

    Despite this Roman history, the settlement disappeared in the succeeding ‘Dark Ages’ – this was true of most British towns. There was no Cambridge at this date, although archaeology has discovered a lot of rural activity within the area of the modern city boundary. The settlement by the river crossing reappears in the documents in 875 when the Viking army over-wintered there. Notably, this was the first use of the place name Granta Brycge. In other words, someone (perhaps King Offa of Mercia) had built a new (presumably timber) bridge at this important location, and it would be reasonable to imagine a small settlement of entrepreneurs had sprung up around it. From this point onward, the town grew. About 50 years later, Edward the Elder, King of Wessex and son of Alfred the Great, cemented its importance by creating a burh (a fortified place) which became the administrative centre for his new shire. The oldest building in Cambridge, the 11th-century tower of St Bene’t’s church, is a relic of the thriving late Saxon town.

    The earthen motte of the first Norman castle offers wide views over the town. Other castle buildings lay beneath the Shire Hill and car park. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    The conquering Normans left their stamp in the form of the castle motte (or mound) which commands the view from the top of Castle Hill. Meanwhile, the Norman town prospered, in common with many market centres across the region. What marked Cambridge out was the annual Stourbridge Fair. Originally granted by King John as a fundraising venture for the leper hospital on Newmarket Road, it developed into the most important fair in England, attracting merchants from across Europe.

    The game-changing date was 1209. Oxford University temporarily suspended itself in protest at an unusually severe outbreak of violence by the townsfolk, and its scholars scattered. Most subsequently returned to Oxford, but a group decided to settle in their quiet fenland haven. At first they were probably unnoticed, but gradually the tensions between the civic and academic communities grew. As the conflict intensified, nobles, and even the King himself, were pressed into service in support of one side or the other. The university gained the upper hand, and it was only in the 19th century that relations began to be normalized.

    The great hall of 1290 and seventeenth-century chapel of Peterhouse, Cambridge's first college. (Author's collection, Secret Cambridge, Amberley Publishing)

    Today the name Cambridge immediately brings to mind the many beautiful and venerable colleges. The early scholars, however, lived simply in rented lodgings. In the 13th century the friars and monks built their own monastic houses in the town where members of their orders could study. The foundation of the first college, Peterhouse, is reckoned from 1284 when Bishop Hugh de Balsham of Ely established a band of scholars in some buildings beside the church of St Peter without Trumpington Gate (now called Little St Mary’s). Even so, it was many years before the small community could afford to erect any new college buildings. Other wealthy and powerful donors followed the Bishop’s lead, resulting in the dramatic remodeling of the town centre which created the Cambridge we know today. A road named Milne Street which ran parallel to the High Street (now St John’s Street-Trinity Street-King’s Parade) was swept away; many houses were bought up and a church was demolished to make way. Unlike today, these first colleges were for graduates only; undergraduates were left to find accommodation around the town. The need to control their unruly behaviour formed part of the drive for students to live in colleges.

    One of the most striking features of Cambridge is the way the countryside seems to wind through the town. It is possible to follow the river from Grantchester to Fen Ditton walking only a couple of short sections on the pavement. This gives the town a unique atmosphere.  Inevitably, it is in part a legacy of the university and colleges’ stubbornness which forced most suburban development to the east of the historic core.

    Today both town and university are growing. The university must add new facilities if it is to maintain its remarkable position as a world leader. As the fields of West Cambridge succumb to these pressures, this flexible town looks towards a new phase in its colourful life.

    Andrew Sargent's new book Secret Cambridge is available for purchase now.

  • Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote by Sue Slack

    Light blue silk Cambridge University Women's Suffrage Society banner, which survives at Newham College. (Courtesy of Newham College, Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote, Amberley Publishing)

    Every schoolgirl knows that it was Emmeline Pankhurst and her Suffragettes who gained some women the vote in 1918, or was it?

    Certainly the stories of their daring protests and their challenge to the status quo, at a time when women were not expected to speak in public, has an appeal to modern advocates of girl power.

    In Cambridge the Suffragettes did not disappoint, planting improvised bombs at Great Shelford station and the rugby club, mutilating volumes at St John’s College Library and allegedly daubing Votes for Women on the gates at St John’s College – which later turned out to be an undergraduate prank.

    Suffragette teacher Miriam Pratt, from Norwich, also committed arson in Storey’s Way, burning two houses aided and abetted by Olive Bartels, the local WSPU organiser and chief aide to Emmeline Pankhurst.

    Olive and Grace Roe, the East Anglian WSPU organiser, were members of the Bodyguard who protected Emmeline Pankhurst from police brutality and from capture. The Bodyguard were trained in jiu jitsu and often acted as decoys to allow Mrs Pankhurst to escape dressed in large hats and veils. They also used weapons to protect themselves from increasingly violent treatment and even sexual assault from the police. Hat pins and Indian clubs were sometimes used and barbed wire could be secreted in their bouquets or muffs.

     

     

     

    The Great Pilgrimage, July 1913, reaches Howfield in Buckingham Road, the home of Agnes Ramsey. (Courtesy of Newham College, Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the Suffragettes were only ever a small but determined group campaigning for the vote from 1903-14.  The numbers of NUWSS members (Suffragists) far surpassed those of the WSPU locally (around 500 members to about 20 known Suffragettes) and were led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, whose statue (as seen on the book’s cover) was unveiled on Parliament Square in April this year, 100 years since some women got the  vote.

    MiIlicent lived with her husband, Henry at Brookside Cambridge where a blue plaque was at last installed in February this year, to commemorate her contribution to women’s education and to women’s rights in Cambridge at the time. Newnham College, the second female college in Cambridge, was developed with her and her husband’s help along with Henry Sidgewick and others. She also began the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Society despite the untimely death of her husband.

     

     

    'Convicts, lunativs and women' could not vote. This poster shows an educated woman to be a disability, with her academic books the other side of the gate. (By kind permission of the syndics of Camridge University Library, Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote, Amberley Publishing)

    The society patiently and determinedly campaigned for the vote for about 40 years until 1928 when all women had the vote at 21, on the same terms as men at last.

    They held meetings, market stalls and marches including the spectacular Suffrage Pilgrimage of 1913 which eventually converged on Hyde Park to show the media that the Suffragists were as determined as the Suffragettes to have the vote, but were prepared to suffer six weeks of hardship to prove their non militant point. Newnham and Girton students and tutors marched alongside the beautiful blue banner with the slogan “Better is wisdom than weapons of War” aptly displaying their pacifist ethos. This banner still exists at Newnham College.

    Colourful pageants and plays were also held to illustrate their aims.

    “Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote” is illustrated with previously unseen portraits of local Suffragettes and Suffragists taken from the Palmer Clarke glass negative collection held in the Cambridgeshire Collection, Cambridge Central Library.

    Recently discovered Suffrage posters at the Cambridge University Library are also included as well as modern day photos showing some of the iconic Cambridge scenes associated with women’s suffrage, which are well known to tourists and students down the ages.

    Sue Slack's new book Cambridge Women and the Struggle for the Vote is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Peterborough by June and Vernon Bull

    West Hall - Longthorpe Tower. (Author's collection)

    Longthorpe Tower and its Mystical murals

    With tales of remarkable characters, unusual events and tucked-away historical buildings, Secret Peterborough will appeal to all those with an interest in the history of this fascinating city.

    Just one, of many examples of our ancient buildings, is Longthorpe Tower and its Mystical murals.

    Longthorpe’s Manor House had a three-storey tower added in 1310 to the fortified house that dates back to 1263. It was a farmhouse for about 500 years from the mid-1400s. The last agricultural occupier of Longthorpe tower and manor house was Hugh Horrell and it was he who found the famous murals (wall paintings) when decorating in 1946. The paintings are said to be the most comprehensive of any domestic medieval building in England (and possibly Europe) and they display a range of biblical, monastic and secular subjects.

     

    Longthorpe Tower taken from the Tower side c.1950s. (Author's collection)

    Many historians and archaeologists believe that Longthorpe Tower represents a unique example of the appearance of the private apartment of a man of means and taste in the early 14th century, and that it gives some indication of the learning and moral ideas of his period.

    The tower section of the manor house was possibly erected by Robert de Thorpe, steward of Peterborough Abbey from 1330, and tenant of the building.

    The paintings are generally dated to c.1330 with the decoration covering all the walls, the window splays and the vault. In the vault are the four Evangelist Symbols and David with his Musicians.

    Mural depicting the seasons. (Author's collection)

    These murals represent the Labours of the Months (e.g. pruning, digging, hawking etc.) along with various birds and animals, the Apostles holding scrolls with the articles of the Creed accompanied by personifications of the Church, a scene involving a hermit, the Seven Ages of Man, the Nativity, the Three Living and the Three Dead, a Wheel of the Five Senses and seated figures of Edward III and Edmund Woodstock.

    There are several other subjects, but the meaning is unclear owing to the loss of the accompanying inscriptions. The reason for the inclusion of Edmund Woodstock (1301–1330), 1st Earl of Kent and half-brother to Edward II, who was sentenced to death for supporting the deposed King Edward II, is ambiguous as he was the most important tenant of nearby Peterborough Abbey (Cathedral). It is generally thought that there may have been some political meaning to his depiction with his nephew, King Edward III. What is known is that the children and widow of the executed Edmund Woodstock were treated as members of Edward III’s Royal Household.

     

    West wall murals St Anthony. (Author's collection)

    All the illustrations combine religious and moral teachings with secular themes - including some unusual representations like the Wheel of the Five Senses. There is a related late 13th-century version at Tre Fontane Abbey in Rome, which depicts a wheel held steady by a King, possibly personifying common sense, with various creatures characterising the senses around its perimeter.

    The West Wall shows St Anthony and the basket maker above, and the philosopher and pupil below.

    Longthorpe Tower was given to the nation by Captain Fitzwilliam under the Ancient Monuments Act 1913. The Tower is presently managed by Vivacity an independent, not-for-profit organisation with charitable status on behalf of Peterborough City Council. The Tower house itself was sold in 1981 along with a single building plot for a bungalow to be built. The remaining agricultural buildings, previously part of Tower Farm and Tower House were sold separately for conversion to private dwellings.

    June and Vernon Bull's new book Secret Peterborough is available for purchase now.

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