Wednesday, February 27th 2019
Cambridge is famous worldwide for its university which is second in age only to that of Oxford, having been founded in 1209. Important as its academic prowess may be, Cambridge is a charming city worth visiting on its own account. We have visited it before (see, for example, A few pictures from Cambridge) and, I hope, will return many time more in future. The map below shows our path through Cambridge today. You can click on it to see a live Google Map of the area. Or click here to see the location of Cambridge relative to London.
We first took a bus to the City where we had breakfast of coffee and croissants in a Costa Coffee shop before making our way to Liverpool Street Station.
Before entering the station I took this photo looking along Bishopsgate. London is being subjected to a plaque of ever taller buildings that spoil the skyline and turn our streets into dark and windy canyons. All so that devlopers can enrich themselves while degrading our environment.
We caught the Cambridge train and in due course reached Cambridge Station. From here we set out on a random ramble through the town and I include an equally random set of photographs of things we saw and perhaps stopped to investigate.
Cambridge railway station was built in 1842 (altered 1863) and was designed by Sancton Wood. It is now Grade II listed. The station’s façade is very long which makes it difficult to photograph. The above photo is a composite and is slightly distorted as a result. The façade is flat, not curved.
We walked up Station Road to where it meets Hills Road. This important junction was chosen as the site for the Cambridge War Memorial.
The monument, unusually for British war memorials, shows a naturalistic figure, a walking soldier. His demeanour is relaxed, compared with the more formal pose of a marching soldier and the figure is known as The Homecoming or Coming Home. Unusually too, the sculpture is by a Canadian, Robert Tait McKenzie (1867-1938), who was something of a polymath, also achieving distinction in other fields besides sculpture. The memorial was first unveiled in 1922 to commemorate the First World War and, sadly, had to be modified to take account of the Second World War. The monument is Grade II listed.
On one side of the plinth is the motto ‘ALMA MATER CANTABRIGIA’ and on the other ‘PER UNDAS PER AGROS’. The latter was the motto of the coat of arms of Cambridgeshire up to 1965 and means ‘By sea and by land’. (see here for more information on Cambridgeshire’s coats of arms.) The other motto is one that is easy to understand but hard to translate. One’s alma mater (literally ‘nourishing mother’) is the euphemism applied to the place of learning from which one receives one’s education. Cantabrigia is the Latinized form of the name of Cambridge and this motto is informally associated with the University of Cambridge.
Since we have mentioned the Latin name of the town, here might be a good place to speak of the etymology of Cambridge. The name of this town appears around the year 745 as Grontabricc and in Domesday Book (1086) as Cantebrigie. These milestones help trace the evolution of the name from Granta, the Celtic name of the river on which the town stands, and Anglo-Saxon brycg, meaning ‘bridge’. The change from Granta- to Cam- is thought to be owing to the influence of Norman scribes who greatly revised the spelling of the developing English language (not always to the benfit of future generations of English readers and writers). Usually it is the town that takes its name from the river but in this case, the modern name of the river, Cam, was formed by popular etymology from the name of the town. The meaning of the original name of the river, Granta, is unknown.
This church strikes me as rather unusual for the Victorian era in which it was built. Its shape and proportions are pleasant enough and it perhaps makes an interesting change from the typical Gothic Revival style. The church was not built as a piece but experienced three phases of building. Historic England’s Grade II listing text explains it thus:
The nave and (liturgical) W tower are 1841 by Ambrose Poynter. An aisle chancel and N vestry were added in 1864, possibly to designs by H G Elborne. The N and S transepts were added to the eastern two bays of the nave in 1893 to designs by Temple Moore, when galleries were removed. The interior was converted to a multi-use space in 1996.
This building attracted me with its rather antique but beautifully proportioned figure. The tower situated at the point where the two wings meet adds character. It is obviously not an actual Tudor structure but a more recent one done in Tudor style.
The building adjoins the Catholic Church of Our Lady and the Englidh Martyrs of which it is the rectory and parish office. Both church and rectory date from the last decade of the 19th century and it is, unsurprisingly, Grade II listed.
We did not visit the church itself, which is Grade II*. Perhaps we should have.
This is the latest iteration of the University Arms Hotel. An 1834 coaching inn once stood here but that is now just a distant memory. More recently, a building of I think sixties vintage occupied the site until architects John Simpson were called in to carry out an £80-million, 4-year programme of renovation, both inside and out. I cannot say anything about the interior, not having entered the premises. As for the exterior, it is quite out of harmony with the neighbourhood in which it resides and there is something comically preposterous about the massive atrium and curved columns of this pastiche of a Classical Greek temple.
A little further along the road (just after Regent’s Street becomes St Andrew’s Steet, if you are keeping tabs on our route), we came upon this building. Sadly,I have to say that I know nothing about it, neither its history nor its current purpose. The gate is fastened with a chain and padlock which suggests that it is not occupied at present but that may not be the case. It too has columns, Ionic style ones, but of reasonable size for the scale of the whole. It looks as if it might be residential or an office block. More than that I cannot say except that I like it and wish I knew more about it.
According to their Web page, what was to become the St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church started as a small gathering in a stable and granary in 1721. Inspiring leadership led to the building of a proper church in 1764. This was was enlarged in 1791 but needed to be replaced again in 1836 with a larger church. The present building succeeded the latter in 1903. Se their history page for more details.
Like churches, cinemas also attract a ‘congregation’, albeit for a different purpose. Cambridge’s Regal Cinema first opened its doors in 1937 when it was the most up-to-date ‘picture palace’ in the town. As well as films it also presented live entertainment and the Beatles appeared here twice in March 1963. The Regal, by then an ABC cinema, closed in 1997. Today. the ground floor is occupied by a Wetherspoons pub operating under the old name. The building has not been entirely lost to cinema, however, as the upper floor houses the Arts Picturehouse. Wetherspoon’s, who have a reputation for taking over old venues and tresting them fairly kindly, provides a detailed history of The Regal on this page.
Foreign tourists have been known to search Cambridge, frustrated at not being able to find ‘the University’, not realizing that, as with London and Oxford, the ‘University’ consists of a collection of colleges. Each has its own design and history and if they have one thing in common (apart from academic excellence) it is that they are, in the main, very old. That is true of Emmanuel College which was founded in 1584 by Sir Walter Midlmay, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Elizabeth I. The college was built on the site of a Dominican priory of which parts were incorporated into its structure. Apparently, the priory’ fish pond is still extant.
A typical college is entered by a gatehouse which incorporates the porter’s lodge. This one has been designed in Classical style with four Ionic columns, elegantly styled and beautifully proportioned. Unsurprisingly, the buildling is Grade II* listed. For a more detailed history of Emmanuel, see the college’s history page.
Cabridge’s market is held in the appropriately named Market Square also known as Market Hill. It has been held since Anglo-Saxon times and, unlike those in many other towns, opens seven days a week. On a previous visit, I bought a handbag here and as this gave me good service for several years, we looked for the merchant in the hope of buying a new one. Unfortunately, he was not to be found but the market seemed very busy and active and set to survive for many years to come.
King’s College was founded in 1441 by Henry VI but not finished in his reign because of disruptions and shortages of money caused by the Wars of the Roses. The work was taken up again later by Henry VII and continued into the reign of Henry VIII. The complicated, if magnificent, Gothic Revival gatehouse, so different in style from the simple elegance of Emmanuel, was built in 1824 to a design by William Wilkins (1778-1839) and is Grade I listed.
For many people, their imagined picture of Cambridge is warm summer days spent on the river in a punt, a square-ended shallow boat propelled by means of a pole. As well as hiring a punt inndividually, people can go on guided tours by punt. This CambridgeshireLive article probably tells you more than you want to know about punting.
And now it was time to turn our steps away from the delights of Cambridge and back towards the railway station where we had not long to wait for a train to London. Shall we return to Cambridge another day? Oh yes, I think so!