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Donkey Common or Donkey Green?


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.



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.

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



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.

The Nine Hills of Cambridge

The Nine Hills of Cambridge


Someone recently reminded me that there are 9 street names ending with hill in Cambridge.  Strange for a notoriously flat town.


So where are these hills?


Castle Hill

The hill is the site of the original Cambridge settlement, north of the River Cam. The Romans created a town called Durolipons here. It was a convenient place to cross the river. At the time it was at the head of the navigable part of the river, then known as the River Granta. As any local cyclist will know this is a ‘hill’.


Honey Hill

Possibly a joke about a muddy area.   Locals also mention the name as alluding to the Honey wagon – a euphorism for the vehicle that used to collect the night soil

It is located southwest of Castle Hill on the other side of Castle Street. To the south is Northampton Street.

Gogmagog Hills

Gog Magog Hills are a range of low chalk hills, extending for several miles to the southeast of Cambridge in England. A real hill – especially when trying to cycle up it!

Lime Kiln Hill

Another real hill. Running along a chalk outcrop near Cherry Hinton where there used to be a Limekiln.

A hoard of Roman coins were found around Lime Kiln Hill.

Market Hill

It is thought that this might have been called Cooks Row prior to being named Market Hill. Market Hill (aka the Market Square) is the location of the marketplace in central Cambridge.  Operating as a marketplace since Saxon times, a daily outdoor market with stalls continues to run there.

Peas Hill

This was the home of the fish market ‘peas’ may have come from the Latin pisces, a fish. Records state that this hill was once at the top of a hill that led from the River Cam.  Prior to the arrival of Kings College, and other Colleges along the famous Backs, the area along the river front was teaming with wharves and warehouses and bustling locals using the river for trading purposes.

Pound Hill

Was near the former Pound Green where stray animals were rounded up by the ‘pindar’.  Part of the old outer ring of the Roman settlement.


Senate House Hill

This is where the Senate House, designed by James Gibbs in 1722, stands.

King’s Parade, with Trinity Street, was the High Street in the C16 when it was lined with shops and tenements, even after King’s College Chapel was built. In 1828, King’s

College screen was erected, sweeping away the humble buildings, and creating a

dividing line between the colleges on the west and the town on the east.

St Andrew’s Hill

Hard to find evidence of this Hill! It runs along the side of St Andrew the Great 1842-3 built on the site of a medieval church.






Naughty Nuns

The origin of the Priory of St Radegund is not clear.During the 12th century nuns were granted land and property to support ‘the nuns of cell newly founded outside the town of Cambridge’.   The new Priory accumulated a healthy property portfolio that included farms in the local villages,houses in Cambridge and two churches (All Saints in the Jewry, now All Saints Passage, and St Clement Danes, in Bridge Street) as well as fishing and river rights along the Cam.

However, such benefits although numerous were small scale and the convent was never wealthy.

When, in 1277 their bell-tower fell in and fire twice, 1313 and 1376, destroyed their home and possessions , the shortage of funds was pressing. On a visit by an Archbishop in 1373 the prioress was accused of failing in her duties as she had allowed the building to deteriorate, let the nuns go out of the cloister with little excuse, failed to make one of the sisters get up to attend matins and welcomed friars and scholars to visit her at inopportune times.

Another Archbishop visiting the Priory in 1389 found one of the nuns living in sin and a secular habit.

Things were no better in the 15th century. A Bishop Alcock visited in 1487 and declared that all the nuns were unfit.  By 1496 the priory was in utter ruin.

It was suggested that, the priory, its lands and assets:

‘through the negligence and the imprudent and dissolute character and incontinency of the Prioresses and religious women of the said house, caused by its proximity to the University of Cambridge, are to such an extent dilapidated, destroyed, devastated, alienated, diminished and removed and the women themselves are reduced to such great want and poverty that they do not have the means to maintain or support the divine offices, hospitality or other matters of mercy and piety there to be practised according to the original foundation and ordinance of their founders or in any way to sustain or support themselves’.

Whatever the truth of this, in June 1496 Henry VII gave Bishop Alcock permission to found what was to become Jesus College on the site. The master, fellows and scholars of the new college were to inherit:

‘the said house or Priory and of all and each of its lands, tenements, rents, services, fees, portions and other possessions bestowed of old upon and gathered in the same Priory, both spiritual and temporal, and the jewels and any ecclesiastical ornaments whatsoever belonging to and pertaining to the same’

This still meant the rents from property in the surrounding villages and houses in Cambridge, sale of corn and stores, tithes,payments from the vicar of St Clements, receipts for dues payable in the market and profits from the fair which the nuns were allowed to hold on the Festival of Assumption.

This was the Garlick Fair, celebrated annually within the walls of the nunnery in what was the Nuns’ Close, now the Master of Jesus College’s garden.  Later the College moved the fair to the western part of the Close, where it gave its name to Garlick Fair Lane, now Park Street.

The Garlick Fair was never grand and few details remain in written records. Nevertheless, its longevity must mean that it had some economic and social significance in the Cambridge area. It continued into the 19th century.

Whether the nuns of St Radegund were as decadent as was accused or were simply struggling to survive in a male dominated world, we will never know.  They certainly fell foul of the trend to endow colleges at Cambridge, shared by kings and other wealthy benefactors with an eye to the immortality of their souls.

Vintage ‘do’ at Grantchester

Cambridge Folk Museum is a bit of a hidden treasure.  Tucked away at the top of Northampton Street in an old Coaching Inn it is full of fascinating treasures, delicious cakes and a funky shop.

Find out about Fenland history, see old Cambridge artifacts, look at old toys and kitchen equipment.  It is a real treasure trove.

As the only independently run Museum in Cambridge it does really well supporting itself – but of course as ever it needs more funding as some grants it relied on have been cut.  The staff there are amazingly dedicated and there is a fantastic programme of talks taking place:  Cambridge Women and Work – from ladies of discussion to women of action.  Look at their website for more details

And do come to a fun vintage fundraising for the Museum in the quaint thatched Village Hall at Grantchester.  Fun for all ages and a true vintage tea from the delightful Miss Sue Flay.

The Lost Cinematic Palaces of Cambridge

The Playhouse, Mill Road

Cambridge’s first purpose built cinema opened in 1913, closing in 1956, in part due to the Entertainment Tax.  It became Fine Fare in the 1960s and is currently a Salvation Army shop.

In 2012

Initials carved into the soft red brick by people queuing along Covent Garden

The Tivoli, Chesterton Road

Cambridge’s second purpose build cinema opened in 1925, closing in 1956 as a consequence of the Entertainment Tax.

The Rendezvous – later the Rex, Magrath Avenue

Part of the roller skating rink was converted to the County Rink Cinema in 1911. It closed in 1972 and was demolished in 1979.

Kinema, Mill Road

Build in the mid 1800s as Sturton Town Hall; it opened in 1911 as The Empire Cinema.  In 1916 it was renamed The Kinema and became purely a cinema.

It showed its last public film in 1979 and has been demolished to make way for student flats.

The Central, Hobson Street,

Open 1929 showing Cambridge’s first ‘talkie’ it closed as a Cinema in 1972.

The New Theatre Cinema, St Andrew’s Street

The New Theatre converted to a theatre cinema in 1938, closing in 1956 before being demolished in 1960/1.

Arts Cinema, Market Passage

In 1933 trading as The Cosmopolitan cinema.   This cinema closed in 1999 and is now ‘B’ Bar.

The Regal, St Andrew’s Street

The Regal opened in 1937 and was the largest Cinema in Cambridge.  It closed as the Regal in 1997. It now houses Wetherspoons on its ground floor and the delightful Picturehouse Cinema on its upper floors.

The Victoria, Market Place

The Victoria opened in 1930; however, it seems to have traded as a cinema prior to that.  It closed in 1988.  Fortunately its Art Deco façade was retained when Marks and Spencer demolished the rear of the building for its new store.

Frozen Cam

It may be frosty outside but Britain has largely escaped the savage winter weather that affects much of Europe at present.

Yet some British winters have gone down in the annals.  Of those, in Cambridgeshire 1895 and 1963 stand out.

Reporting the icy conditions in 1963, The Cambridge News recalled the ‘freeze-up of 1895’, ‘which lasted for six weeks, beginning in January.  A tremendous blizzard with snowdrifts hedge high was followed by a sudden but short thaw and then six weeks of severe frost.  There was skating on the Cam from Midsummer Common to Ely and skating on the roads.

Living on the edge of the Fens, where winter skating has a long tradition, many local people had their own skates – either proper boots or just blades that fixed to their shoes.  So on the few occasions when the Cam has frozen over sufficiently to allow safe skating, everyone took advantage.

Skating on the Cam near St John’s College 1963

It is hard to imagine that on the same ground where Jack Hobbs played cricket, ice skaters would pirouette in 1963.

Skating on Parker’s Piece 1963

The 1963 freeze-up didn’t please many.  Angry letters to the Cambridge News complained about people not clearing the pavements in front of their shops and houses.

‘Disgusted Ratepayer of Cambridge’ complained in a letter to the paper, ‘When I came to Cambridge in 1926, it was an offence if your frontage wasn’t cleared by 10 o’clock.’  He went on to say, ‘I was managing a shop on Mill Road at the time, and I had not got round to clearing the frontage by 9.50m.  A policeman came into the shop, looked at his watch, and politely reminded me that the pavement was to be cleared by 10am.’

The Cambridge News of January 1963 reported ‘ Children and Shoppers’ having to walk into the City as the weather ‘stopped buses and transport throughout Cambridge’ and ‘Many Building Workers’ being laid off.  William Sindal Ltd, builders, had apparently already been forced to lay off 70 men due to the conditions ‘with more to join that number if the current conditions prevail’.

That same year the WRVS came to the rescue of ‘Villagers Stranded in the City’ one weekend, most of whom had come into the City to go to dance halls and the Cinema.  They took 50 blankets to the Police Station where a canteen had brewed tea for those marooned.

Being temporarily stranded in the City Centre last Saturday night I did wonder what would happen to those people who were struggling to get back to the villages.  Taxis were in short supply and the night buses suddenly became most popular option.

Camaraderie quickly springs up amongst people trapped in such a situation.  Like the baker who survived the icy waters when the Titanic sank, strong spirits helped warm the soul and other parts.