Future visions/plans of Cambridge such as the ones listed at https://www.cfse.cam.ac.uk/cambridge_visions_2065_published/view have all too often lacked the ‘human’ element, perhaps being too descriptive or focusing on one particular element. What if it was written in the style of the old ‘Life in the day of…’ columns in the Sunday Times? Noting that predicting the future is notoriously difficult thing to do.
“I’m sitting here writing my memoirs in one of Cambridge’s famous tea houses. They’ve experienced something of a renaissance of late as the popularity of coffee went into decline following Brexit and the great implosion of 2020. Coffee became too expensive so we all switched to tea.
“I’m meeting up with my sister in law to pick up her grand children from school. They are my great niece and great nephew. I never had any children of my own. I never married. Do I regret it? Of course. But that was in the days before they found a cure for my anxiety and exhaustion. It came too late for me, so I give what support I can to the next generations in my family and wider community.
“The school they go to is a nice local school. All of our schools are run by the city council now. We’ve not had private schools since the Great Nationalisation Act brought in under the Commissars – oh, Corbyn and McDonnell. Following Brexit we had a great implosion of our economy. Inequalities were so great and public services so underfunded that civil disorder broke out everywhere. Despite attempts to give the nation-wide privatised security guards full policing powers under the so-called G-4orce Act, day-to-day life temporarily seized up. Rather than risk a full on civil war, the government fell – hence the brief rule of the Commissars.
“Fortunately Cambridge escaped the worst of the disturbances – and before long the people insisted that Parliament remain in power – curtailing somewhat the worst excesses of the rule of the Commissars. The most damaged areas were the shopping areas – mainly the ones selling luxury and designer goods. Funnily enough no one touched the bookshops – which speaks volumes. The colleges remained unscathed give or take a bit of graffiti here and there. Students past and present seemed to make their way to the gates and walls of their colleges to keep out the crowds.
“The students however, didn’t give their colleges blank cheques. In return for saving the colleges, the students demanded some very big changes on how things were done not just inside their colleges, but outside too. The work that the Cambridge Hub had been doing in Cambridge’s council estates had an impact across the colleges – no longer were they prepared to walk on by in the face of the symptoms of what had become one of the most unequal places to live in Europe.
“To their credit, many of the students went out of their way to get us townfolk involved in shaping the future of this new ‘Great Cambridge’. Some bright sparks had gone through my ancient scribblings online about town history (or Herstories as they called them) and resolved to put right the historic wrongs.
“That’s why we have that magnificent Museum of Cambridge up on Castle Hill – essentially the rebuilt courthouse.
“There was a prison on the site before the old county council pulled it down and built Shire Hall on it. It was turned into a hotel before the former Mayor Palmer abolished the county council in the pre-Brexit reforms. Unfortunately for him, the Commissars got rid of his mayoral post. Thus we now have a single council at The Guildhall. Quite unexpectedly though, the Commissars and Mayor Palmer got on splendidly – and Palmer was kept on as Chairman of the light rail delivery company. Thus he spent the next decade working on and delivering the much-needed underground light rail.
“That wasn’t the end of the building either – we also got our guildhall overhauled too. We made good Sir Horace Darwin’s dream of 1898, giving John Belcher’s design a refresh while maintaining much of the structural integrity of Charles Cowes-Vosey’s guildhall built under the chairmanship of the Mother of Modern Cambridge, Florence Ada Keynes.
“You can’t see it in this drawing, but behind the roof is the rooftop cafe and bar and the big glass dome on top. We got the existing chamber behind the facade raised up to the top, creating a void that gave us a new state of the art lecture hall that is extremely popular with academics and the private sector alike. The rooftop cafe bar more than pays its way – tourists and wealthy locals more than happy to splash out with some of the best views in the city.
Built in the style of Norwich Castle, but with far more windows and more colour and patterns in the brickwork, we built a new home for the Cambridge and county archives.
“Local historians and archivists were outraged when developers reneged on a promise to build a new home for the archives in the banking crash just after the millennium. Although the men involved are long gone, there is a big exhibition of the worst culprits who exploited the town over the centuries, culminating in the frenzy of speculative developments completed before Brexit.
“Cam Castle was named after the historian Professor Helen Cam of Girton and later Harvard. Many people still think it’s just an abbreviation of Cambridge Castle, but it’s only when they see the big display and statue of Professor Cam that they realise we named one of our main historical attractions after a history professor. At the top of the Castle is another cafe bar with some of the best views of the city looking south. What it’s done is extend the tourist trail of the city as people head in their thousands to enjoy the castle, museum and parkland on that site.
Cambridge’s new legal quarter
“It wasn’t all ‘smash up the post war concrete blocks’ with this newfound love of Cambridge’s town history. The awful bland and cheaply built offices round the back of the Shire Hall were demolished and replaced by a new quarter for the magistrates, county and crown courts alongside a massive new joint law faculty for the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University – the first of its kind. A number of big legal firms also moved to the quarter that were housed in buildings inspired by the unbuilt court houses of the 1950s and 1960s.
“Despite some complaints from traditionalists, the court houses proved to be very popular with students, lawyers, academics and researchers alike. It was the students that came up with the idea of a joint faculty for both Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University, marking the start of what would be a number of joint activities bringing students from many different backgrounds together. Many people said it couldn’t be done, but the young people proved them all wrong.
Cambridge’s new grand concert hall – Florence Hall
“I described Florence Ada Keynes as the Mother of Modern Cambridge. It wasn’t until after Brexit that Newnham College – where Florence studied when she first arrived here – commissioned a project exploring the local work of their local graduates. From that project spun out a number of different projects, including the construction of a brand new concert hall for over 2,000 people on the corner of Hills Road and Gonville Place. It was ideal – the land was owned by Cambridge University and within walking distance of Anglia Ruskin University on East Road, the railway station, the main underground interchange, the bus routes, car, bike and pod parks and even local hotels.
“Inspired by the Sala Sao Paulo in Brazil, the hall has a movable ceiling allowing the panels to be adjusted to suit the acoustics of whatever show is on stage. It wasn’t all smooth going in the planning. The hotel next door vigorously opposed the scheme due to its size and impact. Or rather, it did until one of the colleges bought the hotel’s holding company, after which the opposition evaporated.
Cambridge Light Rail Underground – a model for other towns and cities
“The one thing the promoters of the light rail didn’t predict was the cultural impact it would have on our small but growing city: It made us more outward-looking to our siblings in the fens. The light rail link to Ely had an extension built – a westward spur that linked it to the towns of Ramsay and Chatteris. Suddenly a whole host of facilities and attractions that were otherwise hidden in the market towns were available to tens of thousands more people. Wisbech and Haverhill benefitted too – Wisbech once again becoming a jewel of the fens.
The three ladies of the three lakes
“The Three Lakes Country Park between Romsey and Cherry Hinton – a nature reserve and before that a large cement works (Cambridge did have some heavy industry once!) has since become a very popular country park. We named each of the lakes after three of the most prominent women in the town’s history – Clara Rackham, Eva Hartree and Leah Manning. Clara was one of the longest serving councillors in our city’s history – starting off her work campaigning against the absolute poverty of pre-WWI Cambridge and finishing up protesting against nuclear weapons in the 1960s. Eva was our first woman Mayor of Cambridge. She also formed the group of women that set up the first civic receptions for refugees fleeing the rise of fascism across Europe – at a time when too many press barons and politicians were going over to the continent to sing their praises. Leah Manning, another anti-fascist who fought in Spain, was one of the first women to be elected to the House of Commons – serving briefly in 1931 and again in Clement Attlee’s government. Despite representing constituencies outside of the city, she maintained her main home here.
Eglantyne Country Park
“One of the problems that Cambridge struggled with for centuries was poor air quality. The great smogs of 2020 seemed to coincide with the riots and civil unrest. The city responded in part by electing a swathe of Green councillors who, taking full advantage of the powers granted by the Commissars forced the new Great Cambridge Council to ban all fossil fuel cars and to shut down the airport at the same time. The move was incredibly unpopular with the business community until they realised just how few people actually used the airport. They had more of a problem with the local flying schools, but the overall result was the transferring of what was left of the aviation industry out to Mildenhall on a new north-eastern spur of the light rail. They got lucky because the light rail system ended up bringing in far more revenue than anyone had expected, thus the extensions were built relatively quickly.
“With the removal of the airport at Cambridge, much of the housing demand was met by the construction of what you can either call South Abbey or North Cherry Hinton. Fortunately it’s all brought together by a very large country park that also links to the Three Lakes. We named the country park after Eglantyne Jebb – the founder of Save the Children, and the woman who transformed modern charity campaigning. Before she became famous for her charity work, she researched and wrote the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge – making her a hero to geography students across the city. Two of her policy recommendations included significantly improved housing design and build, and also for people to have access to the countryside and fresh air. This was also something not lost on the residents of Milton who finally secured for Cambridge a much-needed rowing lake, thus removing a very sore spot in the city of rowers ploughing through wildfowl swimming on the river.
The Coleridge Symbolist Movement
“The secondary school students ran away with this concept after staff at the Museum of Cambridge said to teenagers across the city that big art movements all had to start somewhere. It was an exhibition by some Year 8 students at Parkside Coleridge that came to embody the transformation of a divided and unequal town to a thriving and united city. What was really nice was that it wasn’t affluent ‘opinion formers’ who led the movement, but teenagers from Cambridge’s mainly working class communities.
“The biggest difference they made was persuading the entire city that art and culture wasn’t something only to be passively consumed, but something that we could all actively participate in. Obviously that didn’t suit everyone – there was some kickback from some in their ivory towers who couldn’t think of anything worse than engaging with the general public. Their view was that the public was there to pay, listen, applaud and go home. But the changing ethos of the city meant that hiding away in an ivory tower hoarding knowledge and talent away from the wider public was less and less acceptable.
“Did we get everything right?”
“For a start we didn’t properly crack the inequalities issues. We also got torn to pieces across the piece for being all ‘middle class is magical’. We were an easy target – especially after the turmoil of Brexit. But in the face of those verbal and written attacks, people were more inclined to stand up for each other.
“Brexit as predicted by many, did not solve society’s problems. Brexit was just a symptom that forced us all to accept just how polarised we had become, and how hard the task would be (and still is) to overcome those divisions. Many on the left assumed that the rule of The Commissars would solve it all. ‘Everything will be fine after the revolution!’ they said. It wasn’t – though Corbyn and McDonnell did far far better than anyone had expected – myself included. But such was the pressure on the pair of them that both of them passed away shortly after Parliament reasserted control.
“In the end, we got what we always get with Europe: a bit of a fudge. The UK simply went on being what it always has been: Not quite in Europe but not quite out of it either. But at least the EU realised that it too could not carry on with business as usual. Oh – and the world somehow survived Donald too.