Peas Hill – A Fishy Tale

Peas Hill – ‘A fishy tale’

The past five years have seen the Peas Hill area of Cambridge turn into a popular foodie quarter.   First Jamie’s Italian, then CAU, Aromi, Zizi’s and new kid on the block The Pint Shop, opening its doors in November.

Yet food and Peas Hill have had a close connection for many centuries

The street housed the fish market from 1572, when it was moved from the Market Square.  The street’s name deriving from ‘piscaria’, the Latin for fish market.

The fish market was important, and dealt in a great variety of fish: salmon, Colchester oysters, as well as mackerel, herrings, sprats, eels, jacks, and other fresh-water fish and thrived until the 1930s.

Peas Hill looking towards the Market

Peas Hill looking towards the Market

B.Pea.K3 31883 B.Pea.K30 4329

However, that was not the end of fish selling in Peas Hill. The Sennitt family, a well-known Cambridge butchers, poulterers and fishmongers, had a shop in Peas Hill selling wet fish, pheasants, partridges, pigeons and rabbits in the 1950s and 1960s. Followed by a branch of MacFisheries was still trading in the 1970s.

Of course Peas Hill is not a hill, but rising 50 foot above the rest of the town it was selected, along with Market Hill, as a good location for a market because it was higher and drier than the rest of a damp and generally low-lying town.

Being in a central part of the medieval town the Peas Hill area is steeped in history.

An Augustine Friary once dominated the landscape. Bounded by what are now Wheeler Street, Bene’t Street and Free School Lane. The Friary played an important part of town history for over 250 years.  Founded in 1290 and suppressed in 1538. A casualty of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.

The Perse Boys School, originally called the Free School, was founded within the site in 1615. Hence Free School Lane.  The Whipple Museum is partly housed in the large hall of the original Jacobean Free School. The school moved to new premises in 1890.

In 1760 the Vice Master of Trinity bought up much of the Friary land presenting it to the University as a Botanic Garden.  The Gardens were to remain there until they moved to their current home in 1831 and the site was used to build University Departments and took on the name of the ‘New Museum’s Site’.

In the 1800s Mayor Mortlock, a banker, and 13 times Mayor of Cambridge, bought land facing Peas Hill.  He went on to build what was until recently Barclays Bank, in Bene’t Street, now Zizi’s.

In 1807 Edward Gillam, also a banker, leased land from Mayor Mortlock and built 10 Peas Hill, a find merchants house.  Soon to open its doors as The Pint Shop.  He went on, rather contentiously, given its proximity to Mortlocks Bank, to open a room in his house to found The Cambridge Bank.

However, Edwards’s banking aspirations were not realized as he died in 1815.

Various local bankers then leased the building, although not run as a bank and a variety of people rented the property.

In 1912 Francis and Co Solicitor a renowned local law firm leased the building and stayed there until 1986 when they merged with Mills and Reeve.

The Cambridge Arts Theatre, founded in 1936 by John Maynard Keynes, has a major presence in the street and was once ‘the’ place to have afternoon tea looking over the rooftops of Cambridge.

However, one of the street’s most unusual features cannot be seen: its extensive cellars running beneath the street, covering a quarter of an acre. Two of the tunnels are 100yds long. They were once used as wine vaults and during the Second World War as an air-raid shelter. Another blog piece will cover this secret history.


Donkey Common or Donkey Green?

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So just to put you right it is Donkey Common or Donkey (‘s) Common.

This was originally a piece of common land near Parkers Piece.  Some of it got made into Petersfield; the green on the other side of Mill Road. Part of it was built on and what remains is where MRWF erect a marquee to welcome people to the fair.

 

Large_Map_of_Cambridge

During World War II there were temporary A.T.S. huts on the common.

War time memories of Donkey Common (taken from BBC Archive)

Eventually we were given our postings and I was sent to Cambridge where there was a Holding Unit on a common called Parker’s Piece, and our section was Donkey Common.

The idea was that people would be sent there before going on to somewhere else … 

Our huts were wooden with wooden beds, and we slept on biscuits — a kind of mattress divided into three. There was a stove pipe in the middle of the hut and hut blocks were in an ‘H’ formation with washing facilities in the middle. As we lived on Donkey Common our C.O. decided that we ought to have a donkey so one was acquired. Two of us used to have to take the donkey to the blacksmith’s just off the main road near the station to be shod.

After the war when housing was in short supply there was a request to use these temporary shelters for much needed housing.

This extract comes from Hansard:

Surplus Huts, Cambridge

HC Deb 21 June 1949 vol 466 cc8-98

15. Mr. Symonds

Asked the Secretary of State for War if he will subdivide the campsite at Donkey’s Common, Cambridge, and hand over those huts, which are surplus to military requirements, to the local authority for emergency housing purposes.

 

In 1963 a swimming pool was built on the Common, followed by a multi story car park in 1971, YMCA in 1974 and Kelsey Kerridge Sports Hall in 1975.

A skateboarding facility was built in 2006.

Cambridge is surrounded by beautiful open spaces. Each one has a rich history that reflects the social and economic conditions of several centuries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mill Road Winter Fair

As the countdown for Mill Road Winter starts I thought it timely to give Mill Road a bit of a ‘shout out’.

It is hard to remember the early days of the Winter Fair when just a trickle of local residents curiously ventured along the road wondering what all the fuss was about.  However, behind the scenes local resident Suzy Oaks had a vision for an all-encompassing community celebration and was working tirelessly to put Mill Road on the map so others could experience its unique diversity.

Up until 3 years ago the fair was still relatively low key.  However, the break through came in 2010 when, finally, after a tremendous amount of work from the Mill Road

Fair Committee, a partial road closure was permitted. What a liberating experience that was, and helped to encourage more people to visit shops and events ‘over the bridge’ in Romsey Town.

At last years Winter Fair the road closure was extended, closing Mill Road from Donkey Common to Romsey Mill.  But that year the Fair was tinged with sadness as Suzy died earlier in the year after a brave battle with cancer.  As a tribute to her the community got together to create ‘Shhh … for Suzy’, and at 11.00am hundreds of people linked up, holding hands along the length of Mill Road to remember a remarkable woman.

2011 also saw the first year of the new Food Hall at Gwydir Street where local independent food producers set up stalls to showcase their goods.

This year we see the first parade, collaboration between Parkside Federation and Artichoke. This is going to be real visual treat.

So what makes this annual event such a success?

It is the coming together to celebrate neighbourhood friendship and the rich diversity of an independent road that is proud of its history.

Historically Mill Road was seen as being ‘out of town, and did not come under the jurisdictions of the University.  Remote enough to risk the sitting of the Cambridge Union Workhouse at one end in 1838 and the Infectious Diseases Hospital in 1884 at the other.

The railway workers, who came to live in Mill Road after the building of the railway in 1845, who were proud of their independent community.

Over the years, Polish, Chinese and Indian communities have also made their home in the Mill Road area and left their mark.  All giving Mill Road its distinctive cultural flavour.

It is the cultural mix, together with a growing number of local residents passionate about preserving and celebrating ‘real Cambridge’ that makes Mill Road Winter Fair such a huge success.



Buildings tell a story

I am not sure how many people walking along the Haymarket off Northampton Street, look up at the building just past the Punter public house that is inscribed ‘ Free School – Supported by voluntary subscription.’

For several years I have been intrigued by this building and wanted to know more.  Over the summer I did some research on the building and although information was in short supply did manage to find out more about when and why the it was erected.

In the 19th century, mass education was hotly debated nationally and locally. Funded by a combination of charitable subscriptions and governmental grants, school buildings sprang up all over the county.  By 1857 the government were alarmed to note that the Education Grant had increased to about half a million. By comparison the Crimean war had cost about £70 million and the Royal Stables were granted tens of thousands of pounds. A review was set up to find a cheaper way of delivering mass education.

Looking at the Castle Hill area in Cambridge, Boy’s School, the building of which survives today, was built on Pound Hill in 1812.  This started life in the Friends Meeting House in Jesus Lane in 1808. Known at St Peter’s, Castle End, then Pound Hill Boy’s School and later St. Giles and St Peter’s Junior Mixed School, it closed in 1924 with pupils moving to St Luke’s.

Photo from Cambridgeshire Collection

Enid Porter said ‘Castle Hill was popularly known as The Borough – the burgh or fortified place – and anyone born within its boundaries was called a ‘Borough Boy’ (until 1912 a public house of that name stood at 19 Northampton Street).

St. Giles’ Infants school opened in Albion Row in 1826, closing in 1938. Children were admitted to the Infants school at 2 years old, child care being very useful for working parents with large families, moving to the boys or girls school at 6 years.   To gain admittance children had to be accompanied by a parent or guardian and have an admission paper issued by a ‘subscriber’ or Clergyman of the Parish of St Peter or St Giles.  Children were required to come to school clean and neat.  We do know that ‘subscribers’ to the schools’ insisted that all pupils attend Church on Sunday.  Scripture and the learning of the Catechism formed a prominent part of the curriculum.

St. Giles’ Girls School opened on Pound Hill, opposite the Boy’s School, in1845 and closed in 1930.

The Log Books are not very helpful about the school days of the children of Castle End but are pretty revealing of the life of the area.  They are most particular in listing punishments (generally for lateness and unauthorised absence) and those reasons for absence. Exclusion from school was a regular form of punishment.

Castle End was a close-knit community.  Its mainly working class residents crowded into insanitary houses in airless courts and yards. Infectious diseases could spread easily in the closely packed housing in St Giles and St Peter’s.  Measles, scarlet fever even smallpox caused children to be absent or parents kept children at home for fear of catching anything.

Attendance was also affected by the weather. Wet boots dried rock hard in front of the fire overnight. When children tried to pull them on over chilblains caused by the cold, the pain was exquisite. Many poor families did not have enough boots for all the children at the same time.  No good excuse in the school teachers’ eyes.

A very common cause of regular absence was due to children helping out at home.  At the girl’s school, numbers reduced every Friday afternoon and Monday morning as children of local laundresses helped fetch and carry linen from the Colleges.

Children would not return promptly after the summer break as they were helping with the harvest.  Children would help fetch and carry food or drink to parents working in the fields or even assist with gleaning and caring for smaller siblings whilst parents worked.

As Castle End was on the rural outskirts of the town there is mention of trips to Madingley Woods to gather bluebells and half days picking blackberries.

Children are also noted to  ‘absent’ themselves to attend other local events such as the Volunteers’ Review (troops passing through Cambridge), fireworks on 5 November and parades.

However, Sunday School treats were a regular feature of the year with tea and games being organised in nearby fields such as those of Mount Pleasant and at Trinity College Cricket ground.

The poverty of the 19th century Castle Hill area seems in stark contrast to today. Boasting several fine dining establishments and two nationally renowned museums the area has lost its densely populated and insanitary yards.  Yet this is the area where Cambridge began – bridging the town and the countryside and playing host to a Roman fort and a medieval Castle.

Those ill shod children whose parents were scrapping a living could never have imagined that two centuries later Kettles Yard would be an internationally renowned modern art Centre and the old White Swan Inn a museum telling the social history of Cambridge.

Although if they were to sit, once again, on the seats in the ‘old bar’ of the Folk Museum they might just be able to conjure up memories of story telling on cold winter nights as they warmed their feet by the large open fire.


16th Century Food

Mrs Beeton documented the domestic and culinary aspirations of a Victorian household, but what rules and regulations were in force prior to that I wonder?  And what were people in Cambridge eating?

Two questions with somewhat elusive answers unless one has the inclination to take on a huge research project.

However, some fairly speedy research did uncover a 16th century cookbook, reproduced by Corpus Christi College.  A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye was compiled around 1557-8 and written by Margaret Parker, the then Master’s wife.

The book gives us an insight into the daily routine of a medieval kitchen, albeit a College kitchen.  Books of that period were more like broad lists of ingredients and suggestions without detailed instructions for preparation and cooking.

However these were the days when there was elaborate protocol for ceremonial meals.  Etiquette was observed in the seating order and in the placing of the salt which divided the more important guests from the rest.

Care too was taken in the order in which dishes were to be sent out to the tables. In an age without refrigeration  seasonal local produce was essential to health and digestion. The main meal was usually served around midday, with a light supper in the evening.

Not surprisingly the cooks in the 16th century used a large variety of fresh produce, combined with spices such as ginger, cinnamon, rosewater and saffron from the fields of Essex.  Only the wealthy used sugar.   Dried fruits such as raisons, prunes and dates were imported and an extraordinary variety of fish, meat and birds were prepared in the kitchens of the well to do.

 

Fish was always served on Fridays during Lent.  However, during Elizabeth 1’s reign Wednesday was also declared a fish day to encourage the fishing industry.

The seasons dictated what was on the table. Mrs Parker set the tone of the book with the following opening lines:

Declaring what manner of

Meats be best in season,

for all times of the year,

and how they ought

to be dressed, and

served at the table,

both for flesh

days and fish

days.

 

So we learn that ‘Brawn (usually wild board meat) is best from a fortnights before Michaelmas (about mid September) until Lent (between February and March). Beef and bacon are good all year round.  Lamb and young kid (goat) are best between Christmas and Lent, and good from Easter to Whitsun (April to June).’

‘Peacocks are always good and when young and of a good size are as good at pheasants.  Cygnets are best between All Hallows Day (1 November) and Lent.’ The list goes on and includes: blackbirds, thrushes and robins.

It seems that anything fury or feathery was a candidate for the cook-pot.

Cambridge’s proximity to the Fenland waterways meant that fish was also plentiful.  Herring, Ling, Conger, Shad, Mackerel, Perch, Tench, Mullet and Bass are some of the fish that were regularly eaten.

A fish recipe:

 

‘A Pyke Sauce for a Pyke, Breme, Perche, Roche, Carpe, Eles, Floykes, and al maner of Brouke Fyshe

Take a posy of rosemary and thyme and bind them together, add a quantity of unbound parsley and put it in a large pot of water.  Add salt and yeast to the herbs and boil for a good period of time.   Then put in the fish with a good quantity of butter and bring back to the boil, and you should have a good pike sauce.’

A meat recipe:

‘For to Stewe Mutton

Take a neck and a breast of mutton to make a strong broth and skim it clean.  After it has boiled for a while, take out some of the broth and put into another pot with a pound of raisins and boil until tender.  Then strain a little bread with the raisons and the broth and chop thyme, savory and parsley with the other small herbs.  Add these to the mutton and then put in the raisons and whole prunes, cloves and mace, pepper, saffron and a little salt.  If you like, you may also stew a chicken or else a sparrow or such other little birds.’

Like Mrs Beeton  much later, Mrs Parker’s cookery book was aimed at those could afford the luxury of  a regular meal and imported goods to flavour their food.

but also shows us how people relied on seasonal, trapped and foraged foods.  That sounds very topical at the highest end of haute cuisine in the 21st century.

 

 

 

 


A Coronation Dinner

Queen Victoria’s Coronation Dinner – Parkers Piece 1838

With the Queen’s diamond jubilee almost upon us, I am tempted to compare the famous Coronation Dinner that took place on Parker’s Piece on Thursday 28th June 1838.

Early that year the great and good of Cambridge formed a committee to discuss how the town would celebrate the Coronation of Queen Victoria. Despite the fears of Rev Mr. Hose that ‘moral evil would attend the plan of having so many on Parkers Piece’, it was soon agreed “that the dinner, to be given to the poor, to celebrate the Coronation of her Majesty, be conducted on Parker’s Piece”. Each Parish in the town was tasked with selecting suitable adults and Sunday school children to invite and providing Stewards, Carvers, and Waiters to attend the dinners.

The day began with a service at Great St Mary’s. Then between 12 and 1pm Sunday Schools from all the local parishes, waving their parish flags, started their processions to the Piece. 2,700 Sunday School children, attended by 300 Sunday School teachers, marched from all over the town to Parker’s Piece where they were joined by the 12,000 local people who had been invited to attend the dinner.

Who exactly attended the dinner we are unsure but, given that others paid to watch the dinner and that the workhouse poor were excluded (although the children were allocated a shilling per head to have meat on Coronation day) we can assume that it was the respectable and deserving classes that were invited.

Class was no embarrassment to the Victorians. With the lower classes accommodated at over 70 tables on The Piece, the upper classes that had ‘subscribed’ to the fundraising were invited to purchase tickets to watch the event. The event cost £1,767 14 shillings 10 pence.

So where did the ‘better’ classes sit to watch the diners?

The Independent News reported that ‘A spacious and lofty wooden orchestra was raised in the centre of The Piece, capable of holding 100 musicians. An extensive framework, with seats on all sides, encompassed the orchestra from whence the more respectable inhabitants could have a commanding view of the dinner. Surrounding this was a green area, forming a Promenade for the accommodation of the humbler classes.’

Dinner was served to 15,000 at 2pm, and included:

1608 plum puddings

1029 joints of meat

72lbs of mustard

140lbs salt

125 gallons of pickles

4500 loaves of bread

99 barrels of best ale

100lb tobacco

6lbs snuff

 

It is a relief to hear that the behaviour of the poor was exemplary.

After the dinner, at 5pm, people progressed to Midsummer Common for ‘Rustic Games.’

I am not sure how much be can believed from the account of the games but it is documented that these included:

‘The Newmarket Baulk or How to Rise in Life – well soaped scaffold poles, stuck up indifferently out of the perpendicular, will be climbed for, by youthful and unsophisticated Cantabs, for Breeches, Legs of Mutton etc.

Jumping in Sacks – A distance of 50 yards, by six men. Each man to jump in a 4-bushel sack (to be provided by himself for the occasion). The winner to received a new pair of boots, second best a hat, the third a pair of shoes.

Bobbin for Oranges in Wash-Troughs – By twelve youngsters with hands tied behind them, to be approved of by the committee at the time. No one need apply whose mouth is more than 12 inches wide – or who can drink a bucket of water at one draught.

Races – Twelve men (not less than 14 stone weight) to run 100 yards. All complexions eligible (no bandy legs). First a new pair of boots, second a pair of cord trousers.’

At 7pm a Helium Balloon ascended from Butt Green, much to the amazement of all – the wind taking it to Fulbourn from whence it was somehow got back, by air, to Cambridge.

At 10pm fireworks were let off on ground adjoining the Town-Gaol (where the current Queen Anne car park stands today).

The display consisted mainly of rockets ‘displaying gold and silver rain, coloured fires and golden snakes, terminated by a rich and splendid design in the pyrotechnic art representing the imperial crown surrounded by an appropriate inscription ‘ Long Live the Queen’.

A grand and memorable day for all. How will Cambridge do on 5 June 2012?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Clone Town – for those who haven’t read it!!!!

Cambridge the ‘worst clone town’ in Britain

Cambridge, the ancient university town, has been named the worst “clone town” in Britain by a think tank.

Cambride City Centre

…Cambridge… Photo: Alamy
Harry Wallop

By , Consumer Affairs Editor

7:00AM BST 15 Sep 2010omments

Despite its sumptuous colleges and impressive architecture, the town has the least diverse high street in the country, according to the New Economics Foundation.

The think tank examined 117 town centres across Britain, surveying the shops on their main high streets. The NEF then calculated the number of independent shops and the variety of shops into a simple formula.

On Petty Cury, one of Cambridge’s main shopping streets which runs from the medieval Market Square to Christ’s College, there are 57 shops. All but one, according to the report, are chain shops, with just a single independent. And there are just nine different types of shop, with half of all the shops selling clothes.

Paul Squires, the co-author of the report, said: “Cambridge’s distinctive character still remains, but its high street is now no different from that in Exeter, Reading or Oxford.

“Cambridge’s IT success has brought in money and people to to the area, and these are the two things that attract the chain coffee shops, who need high footfall.”

He added that the lack of choice for Cambridge shoppers was partly brought about by the recession. Most of the shops are owned by the colleges, who have either increased rents or sold off property, to raise money – pushing out, for instance, an independent tobbaconist that had been there for 30 years.

Whitstable, the fishing port on the Kentish coast, was named as the town with the most diverse high street.

The report said that local, independent shops were crucial for local economies. “Although apparently economically healthy, clone towns have very little local retail left. This means that less money is likely to be circulating in the local economy, the social glue that holds the economy together will be weak, and the town is likely to have little left of the enterprise and infrastructure that supports economic resilience,” it said.

NEF added that the diversity of Britain’s high streets had not materially deteriorated since 2005 when it last conducted its survey. However, that was partly because many of the big names, including Borders, Woolworths and Zavvi had collapsed into administration.