Expanding the Museum of Cambridge


Cambridgeshire County Council agrees to consider the idea of having an expanded museum on the site of the existing Shire Hall / Castle Hill site.

Following on from this blogpost, On 17 October I asked a public question to Cambridgeshire County Council about the future of the Shire Hall site – followed by Qs from members of the public on the county’s policies on children’s centres.

Calm before the storm – My Q about the Shire Hall site before members of the public cross-examine the council about the future of Cambridge and county’s children’s centres.

“I didn’t know there was a Museum of Cambridge – I thought it was the Fitzwilliam!”

An easy mistake to make – because if you don’t cross the river, the Museum of Cambridge can be easily missed. The Folk Museum – as longer-time residents remember it as, was opened in 1936. Florence Ada Keynes was the founding president (who else but?!) and for a period of about 30 years, Enid Porter was the curator.  The first two museums I remember visiting in my early childhood were the Folk Museum and the Fitzwilliam. I think it was my mum who took me when I was really young – ending up having tea in the old Arts Theatre restaurant/cafe before it was turned over into a trendy restaurant in the late 1990s. I went there for lunch in 1999 and didn’t like it, and haven’t been back since. Maybe I should?

Although now branded as the Museum of Cambridge, it doesn’t yet function as ‘The Museum of Cambridge”

…and that’s not the fault of the staff, trustees or the volunteers. As a small independent museum they don’t get the sort of support and funding other museums across the country do. Yet when you look at the number of tourists and visitors Cambridge receives (over 7million annually), perilously little of the income that comes from tourism finds its way to the Museum of Cambridge. Essentially, the big institutions of Cambridge – in particular the ones that are making lots of money off of ‘brand Cambridge’ need to start re-investing some of those profits into the civic infrastructure of our city. Again, much as I’d like to see a city-wide approach to tapping into that wealth to improve our civic infrastructure, until we have a competent city-based unitary authority, this is another one of those things that I cannot see happening.

Evolving from a place that has historical objects to view, to a place where stories are shared

In recent times – and in particular since the opening of the Enid Porter Room, the Museum of Cambridge has become a meeting place and an events venue. It’s easy to think that museums are ‘passive places’ where you rock up, look at stuff, say “ooh, that is nice!”, leave and ask what’s for tea. The more proactive museums have moved away from that model and have started providing much more interactive offers. In the case of the Museum of Cambridge, these have ranged from people and organisations bringing in their wares to showcase, as well as hosting talks by local historians and researchers on their work.

This is my talk filmed by museum volunteers introducing the women who made modern Cambridge.

A cramped site with no where to expand?


As you can see from G-Maps above, there is no room for expansion on a very cramped site by a very busy road junction.

Museum of Cambridge Castle Hill Satellite

From G-Maps, the Castle Hill site is a short walk uphill from the existing Museum of Cambridge.

Around the end of the Second World War, the site looked something like this – from north looking southwards.

Cambridge Castle Hill from air southwards

From Britain From Above – https://britainfromabove.org.uk/

You can see what the old law courts used to look like – demolished to make way for a car park. The number of nice town buildings Cambridge has lost to make way for car parks in the postwar era makes me sad.


A beautifully clear photograph from the Museum of Cambridge’s photo archive – this is what I’d love to see rebuilt for an expanded Museum of Cambridge – one that tells the story of our city.

A new, civic historical square for Cambridge?

That’s my vision.

The back of the reconstructed building spills out onto the civic green north of Castle Mound. The existing Shire Hall building is converted into a hotel, and you build a new ‘castle keep’ building similar to Norwich Castle that ultimately gives you some of the best views of the city.


Norwich Castle Keep – could we build this in place of the old registry office? Or something even better and/or more contemporary perhaps? (So long as it’s not bland, international-architecture could-be-built-anywhere max profits-minimum costs style!)

Public transport – making or breaking civic, business and retail centres

The starving of bus services over the past decade or so to the Grafton Centre has (in my opinion) had a hugely detrimental effect on the commercial success of that place. One of the things the likes of the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough will need to consider is how a public transport network could support such a civic centre – in particular having a future light rail underground route stop that means visitors coming in from the railway stations do not need to get into a taxi to access any planned hotel.

That way, you create something that people can both get to easily, and will want to go to. It also has the effect of extending the major tourist route that otherwise stops at the river by Quayside.


One thought on “Expanding the Museum of Cambridge

  1. My suggestion was a little different. I’d be sorry to see that patch of green space go but I’d be happy, once the council have vacated their current building, to see Shire Hall turned into a proper museum. It’d take sums of money to get it up to standard obviously, but I’d much rather it retained some civic use than get turned into an hotel (for example.)

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