Cambridgeshire County Council cannot serve North Cambs and Cambridge City at the same time – it must go.

Summary: 

Conservative councillors voted for cuts to children’s centres in Cambridge City, voted against council tax rises and have now voted down an arts and music programme that the Arts Council had already said it was willing to put £1million towards in Arbury ward, Cambridge. The Conservatives have ***zero councillors*** in Cambridge City and have imposed their will in the face of opposition from their political opponents who make up all of the council seats in Cambridge City. This is unsustainable.

On 17 October the majority Conservative County Councillors on Cambridgeshire County Council voted through cuts of £900,000 to the county’s children’s services. Despite all of the councillors representing Cambridge City voting against these cuts, there are more councillors representing rural wards than those in Cambridge City. Thus by 31 votes to 22, the cuts passed.

Neil Perry, Chief Executive of the Romsey Mill in Cambridge speaking out against the cuts

I’m going to try and not make this blogpost personal as I’m not directly affected by the Conservatives’ votes to cut services to children’s services in Cambridge or block the proposals that would have attracted a £1m Arts Council grant. I’ll leave that to the politicians and the campaigners who are directly affected. What I want to focus on is how the current set up of local government ill-serves a politically and economically divided county.

Cambridge City as a lost aristocratic inheritance for the Conservatives

In the 20th Century, Cambridge only ever had four non-Conservative MPs:

  • Stanley Buckmaster KC (Liberal – 1906-10)
  • Major Arthur Symonds (Labour – 1945-50- noting a number of MPs were elected while still in wartime uniform)
  • Robert Davies (Labour – 1966-67)
  • Anne Campbell (Labour – 1992-2005)

Otherwise, Cambridge town only ever returned Conservative MPs. One of the things that I’d like to see a young career researcher look at is why the party declined and is now just a shadow of itself inside the city.

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Even the local newspaper the Cambridge Chronicle was openly partisan for the Conservatives.

“Yeah, so why to the young-people-hating, tuition-fee-rising, health-service-cutting evil Tories hate Cambridge so much?”

Interestingly when you listen to elected Conservative politicians – ministers or MPs whose constituencies border or contain small parts of the city within it, they sing its praises. The city is an economic powerhouse and is a net contributor of tax receipts to The Treasury. You just won’t hear them mentioning that as far as democracy is concerned, the good people of Cambridge have no time for Conservative politics. Given the apparent wealth of the city, this is somewhat surprising. Roads where the average house price is measured in seven figures are often seen with far more Labour or Liberal Democrats’ boards at local/general election time than blue boards.

But then forty miles north you will find Fenland District Council where there is not a single Labour councillor – the Corbyn and Momentum machine having had zero impact in what has one of the most economically deprived towns in the UK, Wisbech. My point being that the same issues would apply if say a Labour-controlled county council imposed for example massive increases in council taxes on a district council area that had the makeup that Fenland currently has.

“So…what kicked off today’s call to scrap Cambridgeshire County Council?”

This:

I met up with Cllr Nethsingha this afternoon to find out more about what this was all about.

It relates to item 6 at today’s Commercial and Investment Committee. The members of that committee are listed as:

  • Councillor Josh Schumann (Chairman) (Cons – Burwell)
  • Councillor Anne Hay (Vice-Chairwoman) (Cons – Chatteris)
  • Councillor Ian Bates (Cons – The Hemingfords & Fenstanton)
  • Councillor David Jenkins (Lib Dems – Histon & Impington)
  • Councillor Linda Jones (Labour – Petersfield)
  • Councillor Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dems – Newnham)
  • Councillor Paul Raynes (Cons – Soham North and Isleham)
  • Councillor Terence Rogers (Cons – Warboys and Stukeleys
  • Councillor Mike Shellens (Lib Dems – Huntingdon North and Hartford)
  • Councillor Tim Wotherspoon (Cons – Cottenham and Willingham)

The minutes when published will indicate who voted for the scheme and who voted against. You can find out the details of who represents which divisions/wards here. For those of you who want to lobby individual politicians, note Puffles’ house rules on this blog. You’re not bound by them, but me and the dragon are – and we recommend the ‘don’t be violent and evil’ theme to all.

“So…what did the Conservative councillors vote down according to Cllr Nethsingha?”

According to the papers, this:

“[A] project to convert a Council-owned community arts building in North Cambridge into a state-of-the-art National Centre for Research and Engagement in Arts, Technology and Education (CREATE) facility from which to develop and promote innovation in arts education, arts therapy, talent development, research and community participation.”

As set out in Agenda item 6 of this, councillors had the choice of going ahead with the scheme above in italics, for which the Arts Council had allocated £1million, or to designate the site as surplus to requirements.

The site is “St Luke’s Barn” for which the county council commissioned this access study.

What intrigues me with these screenshots from Google is that the barn – a WW2-era Nissen Hut, is branded as Cambridge City Council (which council owns it vs which council operates it?), and also its location which similar to my neighbourhood on the opposite side of town, is one close to the apex of three parliamentary constituencies. The barn is in Cambridge City on the edge of Arbury, one of the most economically deprived wards in the county. To the north west is Girton, in South Cambridgeshire. To the north/north east is Impington – in South East Cambridgeshire. Thus as the dragon/crow flies, it’s within easy access for people living in three different constituencies.

“So why would county councillors vote down the scheme?”

That’s for them to account for – but it sounds like they split on party lines. I’m assuming it would have been a 6-4 vote on the committee, six Conservatives defeating the three Liberal Democrats and one Labour councillor – the facility being in Cllr Dr Jocelyn Scutt’s Arbury ward.

Following the vote, Cllr Nethsingha sent out this press release:

“Lucy Nethsingha, Lib Dem leader at Cambridgeshire County Council has expressed her disgust at a decision by the Conservatives on the County Council’s Assets and Investment Committee to turn their backs on £1 million of funding from Arts Council England.  The funding had been allocated towards the CREATE project, a proposal for a state of the art facility in north Cambridge, which would allow pupils across Cambridgeshire access to educational opportunities usually only available to those in the city centre.

Many musicians, scientists, and world leaders in all fields visit the city every year.  They are often willing to give a small amount of their time for masterclasses or lectures, but are not able to fit a visit to the more distant parts of the County into a busy schedule. The new digital facility would have created a space where masterclasses or performances could be streamed out to schools around the County, enabling far wider access to pupils in far flung areas.

However the Conservative have instead decided to put the building to which the grant was linked up for sale, despite the fact that there is no clear view on the value of the site.

“I am horrified that the Conservatives have made this decision in the same week that they have voted to close a huge number of the counties children’s centres.” said Councillor Nethsingha

“Time and again the Conservatives seem to put the needs of children and young people at the bottom of the list.  The value of this site to the county council in terms of a capital receipt is minimal, and there is no guarantee they will be able to sell it at all, given the constraints of the site.   The value to educational opportunity in Cambridgeshire could have been huge.  The committee was told of the support of the Arts Council, and head teachers from across the County had written to the Chair of the Committee expressing support for the project, and still the Conservatives choose to sell. They are selling off our children’s educational opportunities for a short term gain.  I am disgusted!”   

“How much economic activity would have been generated by the conversion of the site?”

According to the meeting papers, the following:

  • Public Income (CCC) £500k – approved in principle
  • Loan Finance: £500k – approved in principle from CCC or potentially an alternative arts development loan provider.
  • Contributions from Cambridgeshire Music year-end Reserves during the build period not used toward activity delivery. £80K – reserve build up approved per year for 5 years.
  • Public Income (ACE) £1 million – awarded June 2017
  • Public Income (Cambridge City Council) £100k – under discussion
  • Corporate Sponsorship: £700k – under discussion
  • Grants and Donations: £350k – under preparation
  • Founder Partners’ Investment (from arts organisation stakeholders): £200k – under discussion
  • Individual donations: £200K “

“What is the alternative?”

Selling off the site – which, given the repeated council tax freezes that have been passed by the combination Conservative, UKIP and Independent councillors in the 2013-2017 council, and the current Conservative-led one, means that the county council is under huge pressure to balance the books.

“But councillors for places like Wisbech have said that their constituents on low incomes cannot afford council tax rises”

Wisbech and Cambridge have very different political cultures. It’ll be interesting to see what impact the proposed Wisbech rail link will have in the longer term given the otherwise very poor transport links between the two places.

The problem with the existing model of local government – set up in the mid-1970s with the local government taxation regime set up in the aftermath of the poll tax riots of 1990, is that it has not kept pace with the changing face of the county or country. You’d like to think that with the technological advances we have, we could have come up with a more effective and socially just system of funding local services – one that also reflects the political persuasions of constituents.

“Isn’t this also letting off Labour and the Liberal Democrats for their past campaigning strategies in elections?”

The structures of their local political parties means that the city branches of both parties expend a huge amount of resource and effort fighting each other in Cambridge to little effect at county council elections while allocating much less in comparison in the county. Having spoken to activists in both parties in South Cambridgeshire, it’s a source of irritation that the much better resourced and connected city parties have not been co-operating nearly as effectively as they could be.

“What do you mean by that?”

There are a small number of hubs where tens of thousands of commuters and young people travel into Cambridge to during the day: Addenbrooke’s, Cambridge Railway Station, the sixth form colleges, Drummer Street, Cambridge Regional College and the Science Park. All of these are in Cambridge City but many people from South Cambridgeshire and beyond travel in almost every day into the city. Why the city parties won’t help out their sister parties in surrounding areas by regularly targeting these places is beyond me. I’ve suggested it every year for the past few elections but I’ve not seen any action. Given how small some of the majorities were in rural areas, could some transport-hub campaigning have swayed the results? At some stage, activists inside the Cambridge City bubble are going to have to do something different and break out if they want something different to the long-term domination by their Conservative opponents.

“Finally, you called for the county council to be scrapped”

I’ve been consistent in my call for a unitary council for Cambridge and district/Greater Cambridge for want of another term. All of the MP candidates for the city also called for this in the 2015 general election. Comments by the winner of the county mayor election, James Palmer that he would not work with county council transport officers on new infrastructure projects indicate just how little confidence some politicians have in the institution. Schools have been hived off under the academies system – a reflection that ministers didn’t rate local councils in their previous roles with schools. Personally I think this actually reflects ministers bottling the more difficult task of improving local government generally, and making the time-old mistake of centralising everything. The fragmentation of public services doesn’t suit anyone interested in improving public services.

The question that Mayor James Palmer will have to answer with his review of local governance arrangements in the county is where to draw the lines for any new councils.

 

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On the joy of new old books on Cambridge the town

Summary

On books that are ‘new’ to me but were published and printed ages and ages ago

For those of you following my Lost Cambridge project, you may be aware that I’ve acquired ***all these books*** to help me figure out what the real story of my home town really is. Much as been written, typed, published and printed in Cambridge but outside of university circles, perilously little of it has much to do with the town of Cambridge. Paradoxically you have all of these ‘Cambridge histories’ published by Cambridge University Press, but what we don’t have is a ‘Cambridge history of Cambridge’.

Shortly after Brexit when I got depressed again and sort of gave up on seriously commentating on national politics to spend more time pointing and laughing at it, I wandered up to the top of Castle Hill in Cambridge to begin filming a series of short videos trying to explain bits of how Cambridge grew.

But that was back in the days when I had only read a few books.

A shocking lack of books about Cambridge on sale in the big book shops

OK, so London has something like 60x more people in it, but that doesn’t mean it should have an entire section of its own while Cambridge has a poxy little set of shelves with little more than tourist guides, college biographies and the very specialist publication.

For me, part of the solution is for publishers and sellers to get together and republish some of the older books that don’t necessarily date. Charles Darwin’s Granddaughter Gwen Raverat wrote Period Piece about her childhood with three of Darwin’s high-achieving sons & daughters-in-law. Look closely enough in charity shops and you can get it second-hand for a pound. In places it is rip-roaringly hilarious, in particular Gwen’s attempts to avoid having to go to church. I should have followed her example as a teenager but got brainwashed by fear and trusted that those in authority (school/adults/church) knew what they were doing. Oops. Thus I find myself fascinated by the history of an institution and how it shaped my home town while at the same time wanting to smash the institution to pieces along with the patriarchal mindset that goes with it. I can’t be the first person to feel this way about a religious upbringing and won’t be the last. I just don’t have plans to go around firebombing everything.

“What was the history of the churches in Cambridge?”

Complicated.

Any social historian of the 19th Century will have spent many an hour trying to get their head around who ran which sect of which non-conformist movement at which time in any given town. The splits within the far left had nothing on the splits within the non-conformist movement in the 19th Century because the latter had a habit of building new buildings or mission halls every time they had a split. Or that’s the stereotype I get. And then it took a talented woman like Ellice Hopkins in the 1870s to remind the men they were spending too much time splitting hairs over abstract theological concepts while the poor of the town were starving.

Every so often I’ll stumble across a piece that talks about a meeting that took place in a prominent church or church hall in town and I’ll be like: “Ooh! I had a music rehearsal in there not so long ago!” or something similar. I was strangely pleased to find that one of the halls I learnt ballroom and salsa in was also a regular meeting hall for Cambridge’s women’s suffrage movement. Ditto my old primary school hall being used regularly by the then growing Labour Party where Hugh Dalton, who’d go onto become Chancellor of the Exchequer under Attlee spoke on more than one occasion.

Few of the really interesting people spent their entire lives in Cambridge – thus tracking them down can be quite time-consuming.

Take Hugh Dalton MP as an example. Labour activists with more than a vague knowledge of Attlee’s 1945 Cabinet will know about Hugh Dalton’s Parliamentary and ministerial record. What they may not be aware of is what he was doing before he was famous. I.e. being active round these parts. So I found out what he felt about his days in Cambridge in the first part of his memoirs in this book. Things in here then allow you to cross-reference things in the British Newspaper Archive or local archives. In Dalton’s day, Cambridge newspapers were properly partisan in ways that would make today’s tabloids blush.

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Not biased at all: Vote for your friendly local neighbour Sir George Douglas Newton. Advert from The Cambridge Chronicle 1922 in The Cambridgeshire Collection.

The ***really interesting stuff*** – what the writers thought of things at the time they were happening

This is where our generation has the benefit of hindsight – for example knowing that Cambridge Labour Cllr Dr Alex Wood‘s proposals for disarmament in the mid 1930s was probably not his best idea, though completely understandable at the time given the huge losses communities faced as result of the First World War. Even now I still get the sense that our generation does not realise just how unpopular Chamberlain’s government was when war was finally declared. Nor do we acknowledge just how popular Chamberlain was less than a year before when he came back having signed the doomed Munich agreement of 1938.

“One man saved us from the greatest war of all” runs the title screen. Note the cheers from the crowds.

Women of action in action

At present my top three are (L-R) Anti-fascist fighter, Communist activist, historian and musicologist Frida Stewart (later Knight); author, charity campaigner, Liberal Party activist and founder of Save The Children, Eglantyne Jebb, and the Mother of Modern Cambridge who was the first woman to serve on Cambridge Borough/City Council, Former Mayor of Cambridge and the woman who gave us our current Guildhall in Market Square, Florence Ada Keynes.

Frida Stewart, Eglantyne Jebb and Florence Ada Keynes all in their late teens/early 20s before they went onto greater things. I’ve picked up a number of old books written either by them or about them. For some strange reason I’d like to think that an animated Puffles would have gotten on like a house on fire with Frida and Eglantyne, but perhaps less so with Florence. But I can’t put a finger on why this is.

The missing political histories 

I’m finding it a bit of a struggle finding any books or biographies about the Conservative MPs that Cambridge the town had. Almeric Paget, who Eglantyne fought tooth and nail to stop being re-elected, turned out to be a bit of a right wing extremist in his later years. Well…a lot of a rightwing extremist writing articles praising the fascist dictatorships of the 1930s…while still holding is party membership. But then he wasn’t the only Conservative politician to hold such views. Or Labour for that matter with Mosley. But in the grand scheme of things, Cambridge escaped the worst of the right-wing disturbances give or take a talk or a dinner organised and hosted by (and also opposed by) the students.

Old maps, old plans and long lost dreams

For me, John Belcher’s guildhall plan of 1898 – championed by Mayor Sir Horace Darwin (one of Charles Darwin’s three knighted sons) was the most heartbreaking one.

Guildhall1898

We didn’t get this, so when it comes to revamping our current guildhall for its centenary, I want Belcher’s design above to be the inspiration for a new facade – while not compromising the structural integrity of the interior.

Funnily enough it was going through the photo archives of the Museum of Cambridge that got me interested in how some buildings got knocked down and others didn’t.

Guildhall designs were always controversial. St Trinian’s author Ronald Searle – a local who went to what we now call Parkside, and Anglia Ruskin University, lampooned it all in the Cambridge News in the 1930s.

350105 Guildhall designs cartoon pleasing everyone

Nothing’s changed as far as an opinionated population is concerned. Just look at the public backlash every time the City Deal/Greater Cambridge Partnership gets something wrong!

Why councillors and council/public officials should consult the history books before planning new infrastructure.

Chances are their predecessors have grappled with the issues before.

For example, how should we reform local government in and around Cambridge? It’s back on the agenda with County Mayor James Palmer’s review of local government, and comments from former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Hestletine in Cambridge very recently. (My late grandmother always called him Tarzan).

In terms of grappling with Cambridge’s traffic problems that we’ve had since the end of the First World War because the inventor of the motor car forgot to invent the parking space and the car park amongst other things, post-war Cambridge grappled with this too. This was Cambridge in 1956 – a map I found in an antique shop for £1.50.

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All that road traffic heading from London to Ely, King’s Lynn and Norwich would have to head through the centre of town over Magdelene Bridge by Quayside or Victoria Road Bridge in order to get through the city. There were no motorway bypasses and no Elizabeth Way Bridge in Chesterton. Sir William Halford’s report in 1950 also had drastic plans, such as this major road bridge completing the north-eastern section of a ring road in red.

cambridge-development-plan-holford-1950-barnwell-rd-detail

The planned road would have ploughed over Stourbridge Common and have ruined the whole area. Fortunately locals threatened to have a proper riot if work went ahead and Halford backed down. Other parts of his plan that didn’t get built but are shown on the map include:

  • The footbridge linking Rustat Road to Cambridge Railway Station directly, thus giving Cambridge Station a separate entrance from the South and East – decongesting Station Road.
  • The bus stop for the above
  • The road linking Mill Road and East Road ploughing through Gwydir Street – which would have made a future Simon Fraser select somewhere else for Hot Numbers Coffee.

The one bit that did get built was Elizabeth Way Bridge – but that bridge, completed in the early 1970s & opened by Mayor Jean Barker (today Baroness Trumpington) already had an Act of Parliament authorising its construction. The Cam Bridges Act 1889. We were going to build the bridge in 1914 but war got in the way. We also found out at an open house event at the Museum of Cambridge that the little icons in the top left by the lightly marked paths were all military storage areas for D-Day!

“So…what else didn’t we get? And what didn’t the University and colleges get?”

Good question. There’s this on Emmanuel Street.

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Much less private for the students and members of the college, the space opened up (especially given the buses) would have made the road feel a lot less crowded. Below is what the otherwise dark and unwelcoming southern entrance to Hobson Street by Lloyds Bank in town could have looked like.

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…but the Masters of Christ’s College rejected it in 1937 – which I think is a shame as all there is on one side of the road is a high wall and a narrow footpath that no one wants to go down because of all of the buses. Personally I’d like to ban motor traffic down that road once we get the underground light railway that the County Mayor has lined up for Cambridge & District.  Basically if we don’t get something like an underground through the city centre, Cambridge will be crushed by demand from motor traffic.

The Lion Yard redevelopment in the 1970s was incredibly controversial. Looking back at the old photographs of what was there before (have a look here) it just feels that the heart of the town was ripped out. It had so much more potential than that.

A shame given the amount of time that was spent trying to come up with ideas, as described and illustrated by F.A. Reeve in his book from over 40 years ago, The Cambridge that never was. Note the plans for small and large concert halls and a new music school for Cambridge University.

The plan below, I think from Clark’s history of Cambridge is a wonderful little plan of what was on the site of the Guildhall before Florence Ada Keynes got the current one built. I ordered a modern day reprint but only a small portion of the book came through out of the 500+ pages that should have been there.

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Inevitably with the very old histories of Cambridge, the writers focus on the colleges rather than the town. The first person to tell the story of Cambridge from the town’s perspective in the modern sense, was Eglantyne Jebb, mentioned up top. I’ve now got my own original copy of her book of 1906 and I’ve transcribed what she wrote on the history of Cambridge 1800-1900 in part 1 here, and part 2 here.

The official history of Cambridge the town

It was another woman that wrote the history of the town of Cambridge as part of the Victoria County History project. While the splendid chaps divided up the colleges and the University of Cambridge between them (minus Girton & Newnham), the only person who took on the role of writing our history of the town was the wonderfully-named Professor Helen Cam.

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Professor Helen Cam – Cambridge civic legend and also sometime benefactor of Romsey Labour Club.

Because she took the time to write our history – all 150 pages of it which you can read here, I have this crazy idea of rebuilding Cambridge Castle on the site of Castle Hill where the registry office is, and naming it after her. “Cam Castle” – harmless enough? I put this to Cambridgeshire County Council in a public question yesterday after the council announced it was looking to move out of Shire Hall and do something else with the site. I said if they were going to turn Shire Hall into a hotel, please could we have the car park to rebuild the old courthouse and turn it into an expansion for the Museum of Cambridge with the castle next door, thus creating a nice historical civic square ringed by museum, castle, hotel and castle mound, with the top of the castle being an outdoor expensive bar that you charge lots of money for drinks that then pays for and subsidises everywhere else because you get the best views of the city from up there.

OldCourtHouse2

From the Musem of Cambridge – our old courthouse where proclamations of new monarchs were made.

It’s not the greatest castle, so why not open up a new castle design to a competition of architects? (And ensure competing architects have engaged with the city *before* they submit their designs as a criteria of the competition?)

It’s not all pretty local pictures

I stumbled across this series by Penguin/Pelican in a number of charity shops on Burleigh Street, Cambridge. They date from the Second World War.

With both I get the sense that Britain was in a very different place intellectually. In the run up to the 1945 general election, the country had quite possibly the biggest conversation in its history about the sort of society it wanted to become after the war. It’s part of a series of cheap reads printed to be affordable for the many, hence the quality of paper they were printed on not being brilliant. That plus the impact of wartime restrictions on paper anyway. The list of the books is here. More than a few of the titles are incredibly dense and intellectual. But many of the authors are literary titans.

It got me wondering what a modern day equivalent of let’s say the above two would look like. Would they work for a commuting market? Teenagers doing Duke of Edinburgh courses / NCS / Scouts / Guides / Woodcraft Folk? Any thoughts?

To conclude, the one common theme with all of these books is that despite their age, there’s still a huge amount to learn from them. I also think past schemes even in this day and age are worth another look in terms of their original concepts. After all, they can’t do much worse than the current lot going up!

On events and parties and nights out of old – and as we get older

Summary

A wander through nights out of old – and their decline in the face of a growing city

I’ve started writing manuscripts of times gone by to fill in some of the gaps in the various diaries I’ve kept over the decades as a parallel stream to my current research project on Cambridge’s history. The reason being that as we get closer to the modern day, this was a history that I lived – irrespective of how ‘detached’ I felt to what was happening in Cambridge civic life during my childhood. For all of its reputation of being this seat of learning, young people in and around Cambridge outside of Cambridge University have generally gotten a raw deal from both town and gown.

I was talking to a couple of friends recently about a small group of us going to a club night before realising that the only places that run them are smaller than The Junction in Cambridge. The reason why I mention this is because in the 1990s The Junction used to host regular club nights for a host of different music tastes. My last club night there was in September 1999 with a couple of friends just before I left Cambridge to go to university – I was the last of our cohort to leave bar those going to Cambridge University from Cambridge in that year. A week before we’d seen off one of my childhood close friends who is now a headteacher in one of our schools. Turns out that for the music night out we’d spotted, the venue was The Q-Club, where I went for his birthday bash in the mid-1990s. Since then, I’ve lived through a generation and more in terms of years. Hasn’t Cambridge grown to sprout some newer premises?

Cambridge has grown by a town the size of Haverhill since I left to go to university

…or about 30,000 people. So in my book this means that the civic amenities and infrastructure that Cambridge should now have should be the equivalent of what Haverhill already has plus more. That means there should be at least one reasonable-sized night venue that is additional to what was there. That’s not to say it’d be guaranteed to succeed. It was poetry-slammer Sally Jenkinson who spoke about the joys of the single market-town night club at Hammer and Tongue in Cambridge recently.

So…why haven’t we got anywhere that’s high profile new?

This is something I’m examining in the context of Cambridge’s history. Young people in Cambridge in the 1980s had an occupation at a former bike shop on East Road in 1986 in order to persuade Cambridge City Council that it might be a good idea to build a new venue for young people – hence The Junction getting built. You can see by the materials alone how it was a minimum cost job – the outlines of the concrete blocks being visible on the outside as well as the inside. This being before the J2 and J3 were added after the Millennium.

Showing my age – the big four-zero is getting bigger

This also means that the nights-out of my mid-teens are not the sort of thing I could even hope to replicate.

One diary entry from the mid-1990s is from one epic night out at the start of Year 11, GCSEs year. Me and my friends from school were going to the indy night ‘Supersonic’ and were introduced to people from other schools en masse through mutual friends. Many of us paired off and we didn’t get back in until 3.30am. Not only that, none of us felt the effects of the alcohol we’d consumed earlier that evening the following day. These days it takes me a good 2 days to recover from a drinking session! (I’m more picky on what I drink too). Looking back now, there are a number of things that stand out.

Everything we saw was in the context of school

And school isn’t great for everyone. I was watching First Dates on C4 recently and one chap who hadn’t been on a date in his life got an outpouring of sympathy from Twitter because it was a really rough time at school that scarred him long into his adulthood. A couple of the teachers – some of whom I still see in our neighbourhood today, remark that my year group / cohort was polarised like no other they had experienced. By the time we got to Year 11 different groups disliked each other to the extent that they wanted to see the back of each other as soon as possible. Fast forward a generation and in my voluntary and community work I discovered that young people’s desire to meet and interact with children and teenagers from other schools is just as strong. Which then makes me ask why us adults are not facilitating more of this.

Alcohol (plus narcotics too) and how we deal with it has a massive impact

It’s a national policy area that has a massive impact locally. I had no idea that Cambridge City Council and the police had been pressured by other local civic institutions to clamp down on underaged alcohol sales. This led to the side-effect of driving under-18s into the hands of dealers because the latter don’t ask for ID to check if you are over 18 or not.

It was also the difference between getting drunk round the house of a friend who had open-minded parents, a pub that turned a blind eye to the law, or on the streets in a park somewhere. (Funny how as I write this, Liam Gallagher is singing on telly). My parents at the time not being liberal-minded at all meant that I had to acquire booze from elsewhere, though it was often my place after a late night/early morning at The Junction that friends would crash over, followed by a cooked breakfast afterwards. So it wasn’t all bad! The lesson I learned from those days was from the open-minded parents who let us drink on their premises simply because they said it meant they could step in before things got really out of hand, and also we’d all talk to them and they’d listen. After however many cans of beer they probably found out far more about us as a group of teenagers growing up in the mid-1990s than all of the other parents put together.

It was only when I turned 18 that I didn’t have to worry about getting ID’d all the time – which meant I stopped going out at a time when everyone was. But the other thing that didn’t help (especially with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder at the time) was the low level aggression and violence. It was by sheer luck that I avoided the two beatings that some of my friends from school got in the mid-late 1990s. Both of them were alcohol related, and dare I say it had a vague school or college link. Funnily enough, one of the pubs where one of the violent teenage gangs that carried out one of the attacks – and was known for serving underaged drinkers, has since been demolished.

One of the things venue owners and proprietors tell me is that teenagers today are far more ingenious about getting hold of alcohol underaged than we were. So much so that in Cambridge it they hit the headlines recently. A decade before that, The Varsity Newspaper investigated the drugs scene in Cambridge.

“Wouldn’t having one big venue just concentrate all of your problems in one place?”

In one sense The Regal in Cambridge – formerly a cinema and concert venue – is more than well-known as being that sort of place. Big, spacious and lots of cheap alcohol. But as a building I still think it is splendid, and during the day it serves a purpose of providing cheap, hot meals in an otherwise expensive city. It’s also one of the few venues in Cambridge that is wheelchair accessible.

Fashions change, and towns and cities have to adapt to them

The history of rollerskating in Cambridge is one such illustration of it – as I explored in this blogpost. In the late 1800s there was a huge rollerskating craze. Then new sound and cinema technology was invented and a number of old rinks were built over for new cinemas and theatres. (That plus changes in laws removing the University’s veto on new theatres & cinemas).

In my case I stopped going clubbing in my early 20s because I got involved in one of Cambridge’s large dance societies. In that decade we were big enough to organise our own events that could more than match what was happening in town anyway. Then I left Cambridge to live and work in London where you are more than spoilt for choice. Thus between leaving Cambridge in 1999 to leaving the civil service in 2011 I was more than pre-occupied in terms of nights out. In the time that has elapsed, the one thing that is more prominent – not surprisingly, is the growth of international student parties and club nights. A few years ago local police were reporting on the increased case load associated with alcohol-fuelled incidents at these places too. On the bus back from town one evening we spotted one such incident between two groups of males that had spilt out onto the main road. It has also become a planning issue in Cambridge too. But then if irresponsible firms are going to cram in lots of young people from all over the world and not give them either enough to do, enough facilities and/or enough supervision especially in the evenings, it can hardly be surprising that bad stuff happens. Don’t blame the kids for problems designed in by adults.

Land prices distorting what gets built and where

To be honest, I don’t really know where you’d put a new venue or a new cluster of venues in Cambridge as it currently is outside of the ones I’ve moaned about (eg the old bingo hall/art deco cinema). Also, at the same time I don’t want the whole debate to become ridden in social class splits. Let’s face it, with Cambridge’s history we’ve got form when it comes to rich aristocrats rocking up and trashing places. When the Cambridge Corn Exchange was opened to the public in 1875, large numbers of Cambridge University undergraduates (all men in those days) smashed up the opening ceremony – such was the violence that a dozen or so were hauled before magistrates (after which their chums smashed the windows of the former mayor’s house), and led to headlines and grovelling apologies in The Times.

So…complaining about not feeling safe at night in the centre of Cambridge in that regard is not a new thing. Question is what urban design changes can we make in order to change this? Ditto with a cultural change? That also goes for the colleges who own the land in Cambridge as well: What would it be like if you all functioned as if you were responsible for everyone in Cambridge rather than just your college members?

 

 

Frida Stewart – a Cambridge woman of action

Summary

The inspiring story of Cambridge town hero Frida Stewart and how she evaded two fascist dictators – while never forgetting those who helped her

The book Rosie’s Warwritten by the daughter and son-in law of Rosemary Say, an escaped prisoner of the nazis in occupied France and later a British diplomat in Spain, arrived very recently. By sheer chance I discovered that Rosemary was the woman who Cambridge anti-fascist fighter Frida Stewart (later Frida Knight) escaped with as they evaded the Gestapo and prison camp guards in occupied France in 1941-42.

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Cambridge hero Frida Stewart before her internment in occupied Francein Rosie’s War

I first stumbled across Frida’s story in early 2017 where I wrote up this article following a tip off on my Lost Cambridge Facebook page. The story has snowballed ever since.

What quite often happens with me and historical research is that it is a photograph of someone or something that connects with me somewhere in my heart that then spurs me onto find out more. For example looking at these photographs from the Museum of Cambridge’s collection featuring many lost buildings of the past got me wondering why they were knocked down and whether anyone tried to save them. Given the amount of redevelopment going on – and the approval of the demolition of East Anglia’s former WWII Regional Headquarters yesterday by Cambridge City Councillors (see last blogpost) means that this is a bit of a sore point.

Connecting with their personalities

I think it was either Dr Janina Ramirez or Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock who I discussed online about connecting with the personas of the people that historians research. Some such as Eglantyne Jebb and Frida Stewart I have found easier to connect to when reading of their writings, actions and speeches compared to others, such as Florence Ada Keynes, who is much much harder to ‘read’ in terms of feelings and emotions.

What’s great about ‘Rosie’s War’ is that I’ve got the first real sense of the persona that was Frida Stewart. Absolutely hard. as. nails. Definitely one of the bravest and most courageous daughters of our city. A tribute to Noel and Julia Holland’s interviewing of Rosie, and of Rosie’s answers too. Rosie also comes across as one of the nicest and most fun people to be around. I guess it is in times of extreme difficulty & duress that we find out what what and who we really are. I have to confess that in the past, under such times of difficulty and duress I’ve not been pleased to find out who and what I have been as a person – using that as a driver to change things about myself.

Wishing they were around today

I often wonder what Cambridge would be like if Frida, Eglantyne, and Florence were around and active in Cambridge in their primes, along with say the likes of Eva Hartree, Leah Manning and Clara Rackham. I was talking to Gabrielle Hibberd at the G1000 Cambridge event earlier about the women who made modern Cambridge. She asked if we were at a similar point in history where there is space for a group of high calibre women to step forward and transform Cambridge once again – to which I said there was. That was after reflecting on the number of low calibre politicians (and now more prominently, businessmen) that I have seen in both Westminster and locally. Having seen a number of heads of big firms being grilled by select committees in recent years.

Although Frida was around and active a generation or two after the likes of Leah and Clara, and thus not directly part of their network or that of Eglantyne and Florence, the one thing that Frida had as a member of the Communist Party – she was a lifelong communist even after the fall of the Berlin Wall – was that she had a rock solid network. Your network had to be if you had fascists on your tail with a death warrant with your name on it. As I’ve mentioned before, the women that made modern Cambridge were also a rock solid network. Rosie brilliantly describes how Frida was able to tap into her international network of communists that enabled them to escape.

Frida’s confidence in strange surroundings

Rosie describes how in their bug-ridden prison camp (Caserne Vauban, Besançon as illustrated here) her and a younger group of women from all over the world had managed to get a more spacious room in their prison camp in Besançon. They had formed a nice little clique when Frida rocked up with a Nigerian companion called Ronka, also detained by the nazis. I dread to think what life was like for her. Rosie hints that Ronka was released and sent to Nigeria on the grounds that Nigeria at the time wasn’t interning German civilians. Rosie says this was at a time when civilians from third countries in the prison camp (even British colonies) were being released. But not Frida or Rosie. In their room they also had the daughter of a Jewish leathermaker and a Polish immigrant who happened to have been born in Palestine – where her birth was registered by the British authorities. This was Shula Przepiorka – who I discovered died as recently as 2014, aged 90. Thus she would have been in her teens in the prison camp. Despite not being able to speak a word of English, and having never set foot in England, Shula was detained. Despite objections to anyone new settling into their room, Frida was having none of it and batted off all objections and thus Frida and Ronka moved in. Rosie and Frida were both fluent in French – Rosie almost able to pass as a native speaker. Frida was also conversational in Spanish due to her time fighting Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

“Yeah but Frida was a communist and communism killed millions more than anyone!”

Angela Jackson put that very point to Frida in an interview late in Frida’s life after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“We should not blame Communism for the evils of Ceau¸sescu or Stalin any more than we blame Christianity for the Inquisition, or for Cromwell’s crimes, or the Crusades . . . Can you imagine turning your back on the Ninth Symphony just because it has been badly performed? Well I can’t! What is great and good and beautiful does not turn out to be paltry and rotten just because the wrong people got hold of it and misinterpreted it! Communism has not yet had an adequate performance, and we’ll have to work for it long and hard before this can happen.” (p197 of British Women & the Spanish Civil War)

I’ll leave you to judge her response.

What a number of people from Cambridge who knew Frida in her lifetime have written in online exchanges is how sharp her mind was, even when she became very frail in old age. Frida Stewart in 2003 article by Angela Jackson Photo

Frida Stewart via Angela Jackson.

“Why wasn’t Frida invited to talk to local school children about her wartime experiences?”

Because I was one of those schoolchildren who she might have met. Frida died in the mid 1990s when I was taking my GCSEs. A local resident who busted out of a nazi prison camp after defying Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War would have been one fascinating visit, that’s for sure.

Rosie made the point that if they had been soldiers, they’d have got medals for escaping from their prison camp.

420316 Frida Stewart Rosemary May Daily Record Photo

From the British Newspaper Archive – this was also on the front page of the Evening Standard.

What Frida was able to do just before they left Marseilles was to pick up a secret message from a communist resistance fighter to take to General de Gaulle in London – the message hidden on the inside of the paper of a cigarette! Rosie describes how Frida was absolutely buzzing on having picked it up, but knew that put her at even greater risk had she been caught. Fortunately, and despite being strip-searched at the Spanish border, Frida was able to smuggle through the message which she was able to give to de Gaulle himself. She spent the rest of the war working for the Free French in London. I’d like to think that this act alone would have been worthy of some award, even if Frida might not have accepted it.

Being a lifelong communist, I’m not sure Frida would have accepted an honour from an institution that she wished to overthrow. In fact, we know that she was viewed with suspicion by the British authorities – here’s her MI5 file now deposited in the National Archives, and it contains 128 pages of documents! I paid to view the files – turns out she was compromised by the security services who were tapping her phone and intercepting her mail in the late 1940s. The one piece that caught my eye was this one.

Frida Stewart Political puppet show Cambridge villages National Archives 086

From The National Archives (Crown Copyright) – Frida Knight’s security service file 086

If you thought Puffles was the first cuddly political creature in and around Cambridge, well it turns out Frida’s political puppet show got there long before. The other thing that’s of note is that she married biochemist Bert Knight (who also has a security service file archived here) shortly after returning to the UK – with two children born before the end of the war. An obituary of Bert Knight and his life of science can be found here. It turns out that they both retired to Cambridge in 1970. Originally I assumed she returned to Cambridge on his death rather than his retirement.

Browsing through the rest of the file there doesn’t appear to be anything that would concern national security, and by the early 1950s it appears the security services had ceased their close surveillance of her. We get a sense from her file of her day-to-day political organising with the communists in the UK. Of the local names that are mentioned in her file is that of Rajani Palme Dutt, also a lifelong communist who was born on Mill Road and went to The Perse. One for the Mill Road History Society?

 

 

 

Cambridge City Council recommends demolishing East Anglia’s WW2 headquarters

Summary

How come no one spotted this?

The flats are currently owned by Clare College, Cambridge, and the College has applied to demolish them and replace them with a different set of student flats.

In the council’s briefing pack, it states:

“The existing buildings are prominent in the street scene along Chesterton Road and Hamilton Road by virtue of their scale and massing, however they are not Listed and are not identified as Buildings of Local Interest and are excluded from the conservation area.

The demolition of the buildings is acceptable in principle and they have not been identified by the Urban Design and Conservation team as being of particular architectural merit or cultural importance. Moreover, the buildings could be demolished under permitted development, subject to prior approval as to the method of demolition only.”

http://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/documents/s39993/170970FUL%20-%20Report.pdf paragraph 8.6.

Not of cultural importance? ***Really?***

Let’s have a look at the history shall we?

390513 St Regis Flats Advert Air Raid Shelter.jpeg

These were some of the first flats built in Cambridge with air raids in mind. They came purpose built with air raid shelters designed in.

St Regis as East Anglia’s regional headquarters during World War 2.

Local historian Mike Petty MBE writes as follows:

During the Second World War the building became the base for the Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence, Sir Will Spens, the Master of Corpus, from which plans were made on how to cope in the event of invasion. They were responsible for emergency civil defence throughout East Anglia, being particularly active during the extensive bombing of Norwich”

The building was kept on as a regional resilience headquarters. Hilda Reed describes what it was like working in the building here.

“Meh – just a dumb block of flats – let it go”

Could do – nod it through and not make a fuss about it.

I mean, it’s not like they’re demolishing King’s College Chapel or something like that. And think of all of the money that goes on community facilities.

How and why did the conservation officers miss this one out?

Who knows, but it’s something English Heritage may want to take a view on. Either way, I’d be interested to know if there is a method of submitting information to a planning committee prior to its consideration of a matter where key pieces of historic information have not been considered by and/or available to officers when making their recommendations.

Furthermore I’d be interested if councillors are able to consider information on a planning application that is not put in front of them by council officers but where they are aware of other material considerations about a site where they are due to make a decision.

“Should they demolish it or not?”

In this specific case, I’m more annoyed that they have not properly considered the historical aspects rather than on the merits or otherwise of the building as is. I guess my case is that we’ve got to call out the council on the stuff that’s not picture-postcard stuff as well as the things that are, so that due processes catch the really nice things that might otherwise fall through the net.

“Can I do anything?”

You can email your city councillor via https://www.writetothem.com/ or contact any of the city councillors on the planning committee who will ultimately have to decide on the case – see http://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/mgMeetingAttendance.aspx?ID=3266 for those councillors. But please ****keep your correspondence polite****.

So…how is the current planning and political system going to provide Cambridge with the civic amenities it needs?

Summary

…and if the current planning and political system can’t provide it, what changes to both need to be made?

Cambridge hero Eglantyne Jebb wrote about the problems Cambridge’s municipal authorities faced in the 19th Century in her book about Cambridge’s social problems – I transcribed part of one of the chapters covering it here.

In terms of what Cambridge needs as a rapidly growing city, Eglantyne’s analysis and conclusions are worth studying, not least because her writing on 19th Century Cambridge was at a time when no one was really in control of how Cambridge ‘the town’ expanded, least of all with a very strong sense of public interest. For the first half of the 19th Century Cambridge was a proper stinking rotten borough as far as democracy was concerned. Another Cambridge hero, Professor Helen Cam of Girton described just how rotten we were in her history of Cambridge – see the final two paragraphs here.

“In July 1852 the Conservative candidates were returned by an exceedingly narrow last-minute majority, and a select committee of the House of Commons after a brief investigation declared the election void. In response to an address from both Houses a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices in the Cambridge elections.”

Note this corruption by the Conservatives happened before the Labour Party was even invented. It was the Liberals that lost out at a time when the franchise was still very limited. But if we get the expanded Museum of Cambridge that I want for the city, the Rutland regime will inevitably feature!

“Yeah – how are you going to pay for it?”

…is the inevitable question that always applies to any civic idea. Because at the moment it feels like local councils have absolutely no money to pay for new amenities – whether through raising money through any form of local taxation or government grants.

“Have local councils ever had sufficient powers to raise such funds?”

In Eglantyne Jebb’s time in Cambridge, the biggest restraint was that of ‘rate payers’ – what would ultimately become council tax. The WikiP page on local government rates and their history is here. Then as now, ‘the rates’ were based on property. Thatcher made a disastrous attempt to have a single flat rate – the dreaded Poll Tax, which brought her down. It wasn’t just the principle of ‘the Duke paying the same as the dustman’ that people opposed, but also that the first bills ended up being far higher than politicians had anticipated. Finally there was the boycott.

It was the backlash from the rate payers that meant Cambridge did not get:

Personally I think it’s a shame we got neither, but having some sort of democratic oversight was not wrong in principle. I can’t help but wonder whether Sir Horace, given how prominent he was in society at the time, could not have launched an appeal fund to help reduce the burden on rate payers.

Revamping The Grafton Centre – again

This will be the third revamp it’s had since it was completed in 1984. See Josh Thomas in the Cambridge News here. Why another revamp? And are architects to blame?

They’re right about the demolition of the Victorian slums. You only have to read what Eglantyne wrote about Wellington Street and surrounds, or what local teacher Leah Manning (who later became a Labour MP), wrote about New Street School on the other side of East Road to know what a hole that part of town was 110 years ago.

My comment on the design failures was more to do with people’s walking route into and out of the centre rather than on whether it looked nice or not.

170928 Existing GraftonPlan

The current plan of the site shows too many ‘dead end’ or underused routes – essentially everything with a thin dotted line. Stagecoaches reduction of services over the past couple of decades has not helped at all – the purpose-built bus-stop of 1995 is now hardly used. In part because East Road is one big traffic jam for several hours a day.

The massive historical context with The Grafton 

I wrote about it here. Politically it was a very controversial move to turn the area into a major regional retail area, one that had first been discussed by the Holford Wright report in 1950. It took 35 years before it was completed. Imagine living under the shadow of that much insecurity in your neighbourhood for such a length of time. One former councillor attributes the decision to the decline of the Conservative Party in Cambridge in the 1980s & early 1990s – something from which they show no signs of recovering from locally.

1980 was also when the Co-op sold their iconic building on Burleigh Street to Grosvenor, which also entailed the loss of the co-operative hall.

“You’ve identified a massive concert hall & conferencing venue, a revamped Guildhall, an expanded civic museum, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and leisure centre and a metro system/light rail-underground as major needs for Cambridge”

Yep.

“Who pays?”

Somebody else.

“Such as?”

****Tourist day trippers. Buy to leave property buyers, foreign investors buying property pricing out locals, people who drive loud, noisy polluting vehicles, the 1%, cram colleges, multinational corporations and generally anyone I don’t like.****

Therein lies part of the problem proponents such as myself face on the ‘who pays’ front. You can’t design a structure of payments based simply on people one individual (me) happens to have issues with. In anycase, those on the receiving end of such charges one way or another find their way around them.

Even under the existing regime for business rates and council tax, Cambridge has to surrender the vast majority of what it collects to be redistributed to other parts of the country that could never hope to raise the sorts of sums Cambridge can raise from its local economy. So even though Cambridge can raise the money nominally, the current system doesn’t allow Cambridge to keep what it collects. Despite rhetoric from Conservative ministers about allowing local councils to do just that, they never answered the question of what happens to those local areas that would struggle to raise revenue to pay for services the law requires them to – especially in the face of ministers planning to scrap central government support for local services.

Thus we’re back to relying on the goodwill of developers and/or pleading with the use of Section 106 developer contributions. Or through private philanthropy. Just because The University of Cambridge is nominally a state institution does not automatically mean it and its member colleges & institutions act in the interests of the whole of the city. For example they have effectively shut out the low-paid staff they employ from living on one of their newest, biggest developments.

“But Cambridge is such a great city!”

No it’s not.

Great cities have powerful, competent municipal authorities that run public services, administer planning and manage the city’s transport. Cambridge’s current structure of local government designed by Conservative ministers currently looks like this.

CambridgeGovernanceStructure

Yes, I’m giving Tory ministers a kicking but given that they have been in office for the past seven years, the buck stops with them. That does not absolve the previous Labour administration from their failure to overhaul local government structures in particular in Gordon Brown’s years. Also, if it was a Labour (or Lib Dem) administration that had overseen the above mess, I’d have given them both metaphorical barrels too. As far as I can tell, there is no ideology that underpins the diagram above, constructed by Edward Leigh of Smarter Cambridge Transport.

Thus not only is Cambridge City Council extremely restricted on revenue raising and borrowing, it cannot even:

  • influence, let alone run its own hospitals
  • have full oversight of the local police and other emergency services
  • run its schools and colleges
  • run the transport system

Cambridgeshire County Council run the transport system, and most of the schools are en route to being run direct from the Department for Education via the academies system. The gripe Cambridge has on transport is that the Conservatives have a majority on the county council (thus complete political control) yet don’t have a single county councillor representing anywhere inside Cambridge city itself. Thus the model of local government completely disenfranchises residents that live within the city.

One example of how this split materialises on public services is with nurseries – the county council planning on big cuts. Yet the residents of Cambridge City in their entirety elected councillors from parties that are against said cuts.

One of the two parties protesting above. Thus Cambridge is in this strange position of having cuts imposed on services such as libraries and nurseries which not a single city-based councillor stood on a platform for election supporting.

Re-discovering some of the useful things we did in the past

IMG_3866

I found this on Cambridge Market recently. I wonder why we stopped producing them because having such an official guide for the city – in particular for new residents (esp given the increased level of population churn) would be really useful for people. This version from the 1960s now reads as a really useful historical document.

IMG_3871

For me this page is brilliant: These are the people that run Cambridge.

This was before the restructure of local government in the mid-1970s that took schools & libraries out of the city council’s hands. Who are the equivalents of these officials today? What are the structures that hold them to account?

“So…who has that grand vision for municipal government then?”

I can tell you who doesn’t – Eric Pickles

Recall this in 2010 – certainly a controversial appointment following the 2010 general election. After four years, Lawrence Hardy of the University of East Anglia had this to say about the impact of Pickles’ planning policies. Note his point about the spread of standard corporate developments. That’s not to say previous eras didn’t have their own identikit designs. But then as Sid Moon sketched in the Cambridge News in the mid-1930s, with design there is no pleasing everyone.

350105 Guildhall designs cartoon pleasing everyone

Sid Moon in the Cambridge News via the Cambridgeshire Collection’s Newspaper Microfiche Archive – on the furore of designing a new guildhall in Cambridge.

One name mentioned in the history books is Joe Chamberlain for his work in Birmingham. The reason why having positive ambitions for local councils and cities matters is because of the challenges of things like climate change. In the USA it’s particularly acute as some states and cities find themselves diametrically opposed to the policies of the incumbent in the Whitehouse. But cities have unique responsibilities – in particular on emissions. Hence why that question is now a global one. As far as Cambridge is concerned, what’s the point of Cambridge City Council having climate targets when it doesn’t have the powers to achieve them? Because some of those civic amenities such as a light rail underground will be needed to deal with greenhouse gas emissions – especially if it is to grow at the rate ministers and senior politicians want it to in these very uncertain times.

My Cambridge 2050

Summary

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.

Shire House Law Courts

“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.

Guildhall1898

“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.

Cam Castle

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.

norwich_castle_keep2c_2009

“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?”

“Hell…No.

“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.

Some important decisions looming on the future of Cambridge

With a series of important decisions coming up, I’m going to be filming and reporting from a number of meetings in and around Cambridge over the next few months. I’m grateful for the support I’ve had from members of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations – in particular for the local plan and the Greater Cambridge Partnership meetings. I’ll also be reporting from a number of local committees and meetings of full council which are outside of this. Please consider supporting my work.


Donate

Please see the video below where I explain why I need your support

Greater Cambridge Partnership

The new name for the Greater Cambridge City Deal, they have just launched The Big Conversation. Part of me is like “Yeah – what http://www.smartertransport.uk/ said”. The agenda for the meeting on 20 September in Cambourne is here. Note the item on the 10 year strategy and look at it closely. The strategy document is here. What I want to see is a systematic timetable of consultation events with school children and students at our further education institutions. I don’t want it to be ad hoc and piecemeal, I want it to be properly planned and considered – and one that involves the staff and perhaps the parents of those institutions too. I also would like to see something that gets participants in touch with their local councillors to help reinvigorate local democracy.

Cambridge City Council

A relatively quiet September (See the calendar here), 19 October is the next meeting of the Full Council – though do check closer to the time to see they have not moved the time. The Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s latest newsletter (see here) has some interesting updates on local council issues – in particular on planning applications. If you are interested in local planning applications in Cambridge, sign up to their planning portal. You can find out which planning applications have been submitted. Note to self, ask the council to produce a video guide on how to use the portal. (Failing that, produce it myself).

Cambridgeshire County Council

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are lining up their activists to challenge the Conservative-led council over proposed cuts to nursery services and also further looming threats to the libraries service. They’ve got no room for manoeuvre on archives as they have said publicly that the service is currently being run at a statutory minimum. (See my video of my Q to the council here). 17 October is the next full council meeting – have a look at the calendar of meetings here.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor and Combined Authority

They finally have a website up at http://cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk/ with their list of looming meetings listed here.

Outside of Cambridge City – parish councils in South Cambridgeshire

For those of you in South Cambridgeshire, outside of Cambridge City, the list of meetings at South Cambridgeshire District Council is here. The extensive list of parish councils that surround Cambridge City is here.

Mayor James Palmer’s speech on the future of Cambridge Transport

One of the more notable speeches that took place over the summer was that by the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer. You can watch it in full below.

The list of videos from the event, including an extended Q&A session with The Mayor, local councillors and representatives of Smarter Cambridge Transport and Cambridge Connect Light Rail can be seen here.

Civic campaign groups

Groups and individuals within these groups have over the years supported my community reporting in and around Cambridge, for which I am extremely grateful. I am listing them because they have been taking an active part in the processes and meetings on the future of Cambridge. Therefore they are more likely to be informed about what is going on than most. They also state on whose behalf they are campaigning for. It is up to you to make your own judgements on their statements and representations to our elected institutions.

Cambridge Connect Light Rail

Cambridge Cycling Campaign

Cambridge Past, Present and Future

Federation of Cambridge Residents Associations

Rail Future

Rail Haverhill

There are also a number of neighbourhood-specific campaign groups organised online such as the Coton Busway Action Group and Save the Westfields.

Furthermore, there are also a number of Cambridge City-based neighbourhood groups and forums such as the Queen Edith’s Community Forum (also covering south Cherry Hinton and south Coleridge wards). In East Cambridge there is also Abbey People. There are also a number of smaller groups hosted under the umbrella of the Cambridge and District Council for Voluntary Services.

Local political parties

At some stage we have to engage with the political system. Some people choose to do that through campaign groups. Others through political parties. The four parties represented on Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council are:

Cambridge and South Cambs Conservatives

Cambridge Green Party

Cambridge Labour Party

Cambridge Liberal Democrats

Alternatively write to your local councillors or local MP via https://www.writetothem.com/. If you don’t get in touch with them, they won’t know what your opinions are.

Local reporters and journalists

It’s not just me who goes along to meetings. Cambridge is blessed by a number of very talented and hard working reporters who go to some very long meetings on cold, wet, windy nights in November to provide much-needed scrutiny of our public bodies. You’ll find the following worth a look:

Josh Thomas – Cambridge News

Ben Comber – Cambridge Independent

Hannah Olssen – BBC Cambridgeshire

Tara Cox – Cambridge News

Richard Taylor – independent cameraman & blogger

John Elworthy – Cambridgeshire Times

They can also all recommend colleagues who also report from council meetings and on local democracy.

I’ll finish it here for now – chances are I’ll be doing a further posts with more groups and organisations – and independent bloggers and commentators too.

 

Eglantyne Jebb shoots Rees-Mogg’s foodbank comment clean out of the water

Summary

It’s lovely when one of your heroes demolishes arguments from a contemporary politician from beyond the grave.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s words are below.

Interestingly, The Trussell Trust who run many of the country’s foodbanks countered Rees-Mogg’s claim that foodbank use had risen due to Jobcentre referrals in this statement below:

i.e. 95% of claims were not as a result of referrals from the Job Centre.

Senior Labour MP Angela Rayner wasn’t impressed.

Then there’s the ‘Christian Charity’ argument.

And to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are.”

As quoted in The Guardian above.

Now, I’m not going to go down the road of saying that religious people would have to invent the poor to enable them to do good things. That would be stupid and also historically inaccurate. Certainly at a local-to-me-in-Cambridge level anyway.

Recently, Jacob Rees Mogg was in hot water with the liberal media over his comments on abortion, taking the line of the Catholic Church on that specific issue. Two lines of challenge have been both opposition in principle to his views on women’s rights, and also his selective quotations of his political red lines based on the bits of a religion he agrees with. Paragraph 1947 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church effectively repudiates Rees-Mogg’s neo-liberal economic policies given the impact such policies have had on growing wealth inequalities over the past few decades. Talking of inequalities, he is one of the most highly paid MPs in terms of ‘extra curricular activities’ – check out those entries in his register of interests.

“What’s Eglantyne Jebb got to do with this?”

Eglantyne Jebb founded an organisation called Save the Children. You may have heard of them.

IMG_3708

Cambridge hero Eglantyne Jebb as an undergraduate at Oxford in the late 1890s

When Eglantyne came to Cambridge with her widowed mother, Tye, to live close to Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, the Cambridge Classicist, Eglantyne was nominally Conservative in her politics. By the time she left Cambridge for good just after the outbreak of the First World War, she had transitioned through to liberalism all the way to being a supporter of the co-operative movement at a time the Co-operative movement (and the Co-op Party) were reaching their peak. People familiar with Eglantyne Jebb’s charity work are generally less familiar with her political work that preceded it. This article that she wrote in December 1914 asking what the war will result in, demonstrates her conversion to the belief that our economic future would be a co-operative one.

Prior to that, the only significant parliamentary opposition to the Conservatives were the liberals – in fact they were in power from 1906 through to 1916. Her switch to the liberals – and to the Cambridge Liberal Party in particular, was driven by her social circle which included the Keynes family – in particular Florence and two of her three children, John Maynard the economist, and Margaret who prior to the latter’s marriage to Archibald Hill was also Eglantyne’s partner. The view we get of Eglantyne’s opinions stem in part from this article written in the run up to the December 1910 snap general election. The liberal-supporting Cambridge Independent wrote about how Eglantyne single-handedly ran Stanley Buckmaster KC’s campaign to get re-elected. He lost his seat to the Conservative Almeric Paget – who would later go onto become a fascist sympathiser. (According to that link in the referenced footnotes, he wrote the forward to this propaganda piece published just before the outbreak of WWII).

Helping the poor to become independent, not dependent on charitable handouts

Eglantyne, like a number of Christians in Cambridge, were struggling with entrenched poverty and deprivation in town. Ellice Hopkins in the 1870s was already raising issues in the local halls of power – and published a book shortly before leaving Cambridge on her findings. The nature of Cambridge in those days was that many areas where poor people lived were side-by-side streets where dwellers in expensive town houses lived. This is still visible today. Cross the road from St Barnabas Road into Gwydir Street and you move from town houses to terraced working class houses even though all you’ve done is cross Mill Road.

Being intellectually talented and very hard working, the women of Cambridge that Eglantyne socialised and worked with weren’t just providing relief for the poor in Cambridge through the Cambridge Charitable Organisations Society, they were also asking the people in power why the poor had no food in the first place. One of the first things that Eglantyne did was to establish a baseline. No one had done this before – we didn’t know what provision for the relief of the poor was already out there. So Eglantyne carried out a survey and published the results.

TheCambridgeRegisterEJebb

If you look closely above 82 Regent Street in Cambridge, you’ll see a blue plaque with Eglantyne’s name on it. I’ve written more about the publication here.

What she then did was revolutionary: She undertook the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge. You can read it on line in full here. Remember that there was still a school of [Christian] thought that blamed ‘ladies with loose morals’ as being a major cause of general bad stuff happening in town. That’s not to say she was the only person examining these issues. A number of her policy recommendations were already in place, for example slum clearances under the first of a series of Housing Acts. What her study did do was put policy rocket boosters onto attempts to deal with poverty and multiple deprivation. One result was Sedley Taylor setting up the country’s first municipal dental clinic in Cambridge and giving free treatment to all children at council-run schools. We named a primary school and a road with expensive houses on after him. The primary school got knocked down but the road with expensive houses on (Sedley Taylor Road) is still there.

It was on the back of all of this work that she got involved in local politics – elected to the board of education of Cambridge Borough Council. (The district/town/city councils had responsibility for schools in those days, and women could be elected by councillors onto such boards). It was this quotation that explains why Eglantyne switched to the liberals.

“I was a long time realising that social reform on the part of the Conservatives is like charity in the hands of Lady Bountiful – everything is to be made nice and pleasant, but the upper class [is] to be respected and obeyed’. The corruption at elections first opened my eyes and I came to believe that no social reform could be of use which did not promote the independence of the people”

Eglantyne Jebb in the Cambridge Independent Press, 08 July 1910. (Scroll to screenshots at end)

Rees-Mogg’s point about foodbanks is precisely the issue Eglantyne takes issue with. It may be good to see some people doing their ‘Christian duty’ to help the poor, but in Cambridge the Christians here that I’ve met over the years also have a habit of asking those in power why the poor have no food. Sir Brian Heap hosted a meeting on food security nearly 110 years after Eglantyne’s book was published, interestingly in the same church that Florence Ada Keynes attended in Cambridge. I went along to hear more than a few members of the church really going after a couple of speakers from the big food industry about their practices.

As the Trussell Trust has said on many occasions, food banks can only help alleviate the poverty that people face. They are not a long term solution to poverty – especially a poverty made worse by flawed government policies. This too was Eglantyne Jebb’s point in her campaigning. At the Cambridge Charitable Organisation Society they did a mixture of things – including finding jobs for the unemployed to providing limited financial handouts to those destitute. At the same time they were also lobbying politicians. This shows why history is ever so important: it means we don’t have to learn the same lessons again the hard way.

As a postscript…

Because of her work and legacy, the Church of England dedicated 17 December to her memory.

A hotel at Shire Hall? Only if we can rebuild the castle and courthouse as a city museum as well

Summary

Some thoughts on what to do with the Shire Hall site assuming Cambridgeshire County Council sell off the Shire Hall building to a hotel company

Some of you may have spotted Cambridge Independent’s front page.

170830 CambridgeIndyFrontpageShireHallHotel

Shire Hall currently looks like this

DemocracyCambridge Screengrab

So lovely I’ve used it as an image on my Democracy Cambridge FB Page.

Now, the site used to be many things. For centuries, it was a castle. Romans, Saxons and Normans all occupied it.

Ye olde Cambridge Castle

Then it was a prison

Images from the Cambridgeshire Collection and the Museum of Cambridge. 

…and not all of the prisoners came out alive.

CambridgeCountyGaolExecutionShed

An archival gem – and a morbid one. The last executioners of Cambridge County Gaol from the Cambridgeshire County Archive.

In the mid-1800s a lovely courthouse was built.

OldCourtHouse2.jpg

From the Museum of Cambridge – this should never have been demolished, least of all for an effing car park. But hey, 1950s architecture and all that…

 

Shire House Law Courts

An etched version from A history of Cambridge Architecture

So whatever happens to the Shire Hall building, one thing we can say is that the use of the site has changed, ebbed and flowed throughout history.

Others had plans for the site too. New law courts from 1956

New Shire Hall Courts Models

From the Cambridgeshire Collection’s microfiche archive, as buildings go I quite like this. 

But it never got built. So they tried again in 1967.

I only found these a couple of hours ago in the newspaper archives. Many tried tall towers after the construction of The University Library – only Addenbrooke’s Chimney managed to get away with it until after the Millennium.

“Where will the county council go?”

Somewhere less expensive. Personally I think it’s an opportunity for local government reform – and to get a unitary authority for (Greater) Cambridge. Personally I’d recommend relocating a ‘North Cambridgeshire Council’ to somewhere like Wisbech – if only to help provide jobs and ‘concentrate the minds’ of councillors to improve transport infrastructure up there.

“Will the site be sold of in its entirety?”

God I hope not, but I wouldn’t put it beyond the wishes of a Conservative-led council. Personally I’d prefer to see the site staying in public hands so that a local council could benefit from the long term rent that would come from it. Personally I think it would be a scandal if it were sold of – simply because the site is ripe for turning into a proper heritage site.

“What would you like to see?”

I’d like to see an expanded Museum of Cambridge alongside a restaurant, bar, and cafe. My premise is this:

Build an expansion to the Museum of Cambridge

The Museum of Cambridge – AKA The Folk Museum was the brainchild of local folk historian of Cambridge and the fens, Enid Porter. While Enid was very much the historian for the people of the rural fens, I like to think that founding trustee Florence Ada Keynes (yes, her again) represented us townsfolk. The problem is that the site the museum is currently on is far too cramped for what it wants to do. There is no room for new exhibits.

My plan is to rebuild the old courthouse as an expanded Museum of Cambridge, maintaining the existing site as ‘The Cambridge & County Folk Museum’. Keep the latter doing what it does well, and have this new Museum of Cambridge as the museum that tells the story of our city. For a start we could house the only remaining tram in existence that trundled the streets of Cambridge – currently at the East Anglia Transport Museum in Ipswich. It could also be a wonderful place to display photographs from the archives, and artwork from the past. Furthermore, it could also host video/film displays from archives such as the East Anglian Film Archive – such as this one on proposals to redevelop Cambridge in 1962.

A rebuilt Cambridge Castle?

My take would be to rebuild a castle tower inspired by the drawings of the past, but have it designed and constructed so that it becomes taller than the top of Castle Mound – itself an ancient monument. That way you divert some of the crowds from a site at risk from erosion while putting a rooftop bar at the top that charges expensive prices for small glasses of wine like the Varsity Hotel does. Splendid views across the city and the building pays for itself.

A restaurant too?

Why not have two in competition with each other? One at ground level where the courthouse is, and another in the new castle building? With the other two venues nearby – The Castle Inn and The Architect Pub, it then becomes a place to go in its own right due to the choice available. Assuming the hotel gets built, the eateries have a new, built-in market every night of the week.

And a cafe?

The risk with the bars and restaurants is you price people out. Personally I’d like to see a cafe run in partnership with Cambridge Regional College or similar, effectively serving as a training venue that they have on their King’s Hedges Road site as well as being something that can serve the less affluent end of the market too. It may also be an outlet for the Cambridge Food Cycle team for things like making cakes and salads as a revenue earner for them.

Like the idea?

Feel free to share, comment and also let your county councillor know via https://www.writetothem.com/

Because I would love to see an expanded Museum of Cambridge to tell the story of our growing city.