How successive Mayors of Cambridge could potentially raise large sums of money for large individual civic projects alongside the two named charities chosen by each new councillor elevated to the mayoralty each year.
Some of you will have seen this photograph of Mayor Gawthrope holding court as part of the Memorial Remembrance Ride for ex-service personnel.
I hope someone in the council is saving these photos for the county archive as they will be civic gold dust for local historians in 100 years time! When someone writes a school play on Cambridge’s civic history, who will get to play the part of our motorcycling mayor?
Cambridge City Council put together the guide here with brief summaries of past Cambridge Mayors since 1835. For those of you familiar with my historical research on Cambridge the town, I have written about the first two women mayors – Eva Hartree (1924-25) and Florence Ada Keynes (1932-33).
It was the latter of the two, Florence Ada Keynes, who founded an unemployed workers fund at the height of the depression. She made it clear in her inaugural speech at The Guildhall that something was going to be done about it.
“We in Cambridge are fortunate in having a smaller proportion of unemployed than most other places. But something like 1,300 men and women standing idle in this town constitute a serious situation, bringing grievous loss to the workers and waste of the resources of the community. I hope and trust that during my year of office we shall adopt every sane and reasonable method we can devise to mitigate this situation.” [From ‘Mrs Keynes elected Mayor‘ in 1932]
The snapshot below from the Cambridgeshire Collection is from February 1933
Given the large number of unemployed labourers at the time, the council used the money to employ men directly on council projects to improve local infrastructure – this article mentioned improving paths across Coldham’s Common, and carrying out remedial works and levelling sites in preparation for public building works.
85 years later and Cambridge has a shortage of workers in the construction sector
The nature of local government – in particular its relation with central government – has also changed. It’s very unlikely you would get a fund of a similar nature off of the ground. We also have the Cambridge Community Foundation in place which has a number of funds that cover what the Mayor’s former fund used to cover regarding unemployment. We also have organisations such as Form the Future that looks for volunteers to stop forward for specific half-day and one-day events to help young people in their career choices. At a general level, there is the Cambridge CVS, who have recently opened their new premises in Arbury.
“So…why do we need a new fund?”
This is not so much about needs but about going beyond the basics. And it’s not easy to make the case for a long term fund for large civic projects like museums and concert halls when walking through Cambridge today you see so many homeless people by Cambridge’s shop fronts. This video by Cambridge University students Joe Cook and Abdullah Shah that interviews people from across town and gown is an excellent introduction to inequalities in Cambridge.
“A choice to look”
The issue certainly isn’t under control by any means – dare I say it, it is now beyond the powers, finances and the competency of Cambridge City Council due to restrictions on their competencies from successive legislation from Parliament. Homelessness is political, and the solution requires movement from Whitehall – which means lobbying your local Member of Parliament. (Yet another reshuffle in the post of Housing Minister doesn’t bode well in what has been a shambles of a day for the Government with so many ministers resigning over Brexit).
“You didn’t answer the question – why do we need a new fund?”
For me, this is about financing the under-funded civic buildings that help our city function. It is also about generating the finances to pay for things that Cambridge either currently does not have, or has but doesn’t serve the city as well as it could.
Furthermore, the fund is also paying for things that go beyond the basics – that might be described as luxuries in some cases. That’s not to say community projects and pieces of art funded through developer contributions to local councils could not be better used or better spent. (See the Cambridge football monument here, shortly after its unveiling). Given the money being spent on new housing, it may also give extra funding for where new sites are acquired, and/or help in the acquisition of land needed for new community buildings.
Would the site of the old Ridgeon’s depot be one that could benefit from a permanent mayoral fund?
“You just want a big fund to get lots of money from wealthy people making lots of money in Cambridge to pay for your massive concert hall and civic museum!”
“No really – you do!”
I know. (See my concert hall proposals here, and here, and on creating a large civic museum of the city here) But what such a fund could do is provide a very visible alternative to donors giving money to Cambridge University.
Sam Davies above made the point in response to an article I found about one of Cambridge’s greatest modern day philanthropists, Sir David Robinson.
Robinson is a very distant relative by marriage of mine – one of his nephews married my mother’s late sister just before I was born. A Freemason according to this article, it mentions just how generous he was with his wealth – in particular in Cambridge. At the same time, he never sought publicity – preferring to make his donations anonymously.
Having a Mayor’s Permanent Fund provides a single central point for people who want to donate to large projects that benefit the city as a whole. And there are more than a few things that Cambridge is either not making the most potential of, or needs an expanded version of an existing facility given the planned large increases in its population.
A civic museum of the city
When you see that Oxford’s civic museum is incorporated into its magnificent town hall (see here), while Cambridge’s is the re-branded Cambridge and County Folk Museum housed in a disused pub (a very magnificent and ancient disused pub, but still), you can see the difference between the two.
Oxford has a castle – a proper castle with battlements and turrets – but ours was dismantled by the colleges for re-use in college buildings
Oxford Castle and Prison: No nonsense imposing edifice that looks like a castle and prison (Photo by Geograph)
Cambridge Castle: A muddy mound with a crumbling gatehouse – by the 1700s.
The site of Oxford Castle – which like Cambridge has a castle mound. It has two trees on the top and so may be bigger than Cambridge’s one.
Cambridge did have a proper castle-shaped castle – once.
Cambridge Castle, above from a bygone era
But then the early colleges ‘acquired’ the stone from the castle for use on their own buildings – or so the legend goes. As a result, by the 1700s, we were left with a crumbling gatehouse which was demolished to make way for a prison.
Cambridge County Gaol – from the Cambridgeshire Collection
…and The old Assizes Courthouse
…which the old County Council demolished despite objections from Cambridge City Council. A car park replaced it.
My proposal is to rebuild and enhance the old courthouse and castle site for a civic museum that tells the story of the city. But I cannot see it happening without some sort of long term fund with the backing of successive Mayors, High Stewards and Lords Lieutentant. For those of you on Twitter, the three civic figures all have corporate Twitterfeeds at:
Essentially my plan brings together the restoration of parts of the castle, the expansion of a civic museum to tell the story of the city, and the creation of a few more cafes and restaurants to help meet an anticipated growth in numbers. (Note the plan also includes a possible underground light rail stop as a means of extending the King’s Parade tourist trail over the road from King’s Parade, the Round Church, over the Great Bridge/Magdalene Bridge, over the junction to and passed Kettles Yard.
A revamped Guildhall
When you look at how small and pokey the old Guildhall used to be, and the fact that 80 years had passed before Florence Ada Keynes was able to get building work going, you can understand why she wanted to get cracking on the thing. (Also, she was in her 70s so had good reason to). Yet the townsfolk were horrified by the design that we got – on the outside at least. Read the metaphorical kicking her committee got in the 1930s. The problems her opponents had is that they had no alternative that they could all unite behind. She got it built just in time for the outbreak of war in 1939.
The guildhall we didn’t get because Mayor Horace Darwin (son of Charles, the botanist) didn’t win support from councillors and a referendum of local rate payers.
A very rare find in the Cambridgeshire Collection – a photo of John Belcher’s painting of his planned guildhall in colour. We’re still trying to find the original which we believe is in the vaults somewhere…unless a very skilled artist wants to repaint it?
All of the above requires big money – far more than can be raised through local taxation and developer contributions. But as things stand, the town does not have the institutional structures to solicit donations to pay for such things. Can the Mayor of Cambridge change this? Over to you!