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.

Cambridge – a brief Cinema History

The recent BAFTAs made me think about cinema history in Cambridge and the number of local cinemas that have vanished in recent years.

In 1896 the first moving film was shown in London. But it was not until 1913 that Cambridge got its first purpose built cinema, the Playhouse.

The Playhouse, Mill Road – now Salvation Army Shop

But Cambridge residents were not unaccustomed to the new technology.  By 1910 several halls in Cambridge had Cinematography licenses.

In an age before television the popularity of cinema was enormous.

The picture houses brought the rest of the world to its audiences. Pathe newsreels of local and national events, film serials such as Dr Fu Manchu in the 1920s, Flash Gordon and Batman and Robin in the 40s and 50s attracted all ages to the excitement of the moving screen.

Local Cambridge undergraduates also sought out the cinemas.   In February 1912 a local newspaper reported that undergraduates had misbehaved, causing seats to be broken. As a result Mr. Hawkins published a notice in the Cambridge Daily News stating that, in compliance with the wishes of the majority of the patrons, the Empire was in future to be open to Townspeople Only.

The Kinema, Mill Road

By the mid 1930s people were in search of a better cinema going experience. Opened in 1937, The Regal was the largest cinema in town seating 1,869 and with a modern café over the entrance. The Victoria could seat 1,500.  They were modern and efficient whereas Halliwell, the famous film writer and critic, described the Playhouse as being ‘knobby, antique little place out in the suburbs, with gas radiators which always smelled dangerous without giving off much in the way of heat.’

The Victoria Cinema, Market Square – now Marks and Spencer

The Mill Road cinemas declined in popularity with people out of town and those wanting a clean, modern experience. Yet they remained well loved and used by those in the immediate area.

The Kinema particularly is still remembered with much fondness. Despite the fact that it was often referred to a ‘the Fleapit’.  It was a kind of mecca for all the poorer children who went there on a Saturday to escape into a fantasy world of cinema heroes.

A post about Cambridge Cinemas now and then coming up.

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.

Fitzbilliies – a sweet passion

Cambridge University is renowned worldwide for it’s architecture and learning, however the town has it’s own acclaimed treasures.

Standing slightly off the beaten track is a small family run business renowned for creating structures of a different kind, with skills that have been passed down through the decades

This shop caused Stephen Fry to tweet about its demise resulting, thankfully, in its restoration as one of Cambridge’s best loved cake emporiums .

A.E. Mason established Fitzbillies, a bakery and patisserie, in 1922.  Recognizable by its distinctive art nouveau frontage, the shop has had five owners to date, all of whom have baked with a passion for traditionally made fine foods.

Mr. Mason ran the establishment until 1951, when W. G. Day took over until 1980.

The shop really took off when Clive and Julia Pledger took over in 1980.

Producing the traditional gooey delights of Chelsea buns steeped in syrup and deliciously chocolaty sachertorten, the shop had local people and undergraduates queuing up outside the shop on a daily basis.

Such an array of traditionally made cakes, breads, meringues, biscuits, and savouries provided the perfect extravagance, all carefully wrapped or boxed by one of the surliest woman I have ever met.  But still we all came back for more.

Under the Pledgers the shop grew and a sandwich shop was opened in Regent Street as well as a small stall in the newly opened food hall at Eaden Lilley in 1984. Too there was a thriving mail order business and outside catering for weddings and College functions.

During that time the Pledgers also starting making award winning chocolates.

It was recorded that in 1984 Fitzbillies were making 3,000 Chelsea buns a week.

In 1988 Fitzbillies was named best British food shop in ‘Courvoisier’s Book of the Best’.

In the same year  the mail order business extended to the Web – receiving two orders on the first day, one from Australia the other from America.

Sadly, after their marriage break up and despite Julia’s tremendous efforts the shop struggled and in 1991 there was a new owner of Fitzbillies – Penny Thompson. Penny had been working in the shop as a general assistant and one can imagine had become as passionate about the place as so many other owners and customers alike.

During her time at Fitzbillies Penny was able to rent the shop next door and turn it into a restaurant (that shop had previously been Heffers Penguin bookshop, closing in 1985 after 28 years of stocking only Penguin books,  after which it was a ladies boutique for a short while).

But the story appeared to end in 2011, when both closed.

Stephen Fry’s Twitter plea to save Fitzbillies was heard abroad. That and his wife, Alison’s fond schoolgirl memories of the delights of their sticky buns lead Tim Hayward, food writer and broadcaster to invest in 52 Trumpington Street – and so a new era began …