The story of Cambridge – Histories through local news headlines


On the challenges & considerations of writing a local history book – the importance of context

Go into one of the main bookshops in Cambridge (Waterstones or Heffers) and you’ll find that they have more books about the history of London than of Cambridge. And by that I mean Cambridge the town as opposed to Cambridge University and its colleges.

The biggest challenge I have with Cambridge is that a series of books/publications that would otherwise have helped me along the way haven’t actually been written yet. Take Clara Rackham below – featured in the Cambridge Independent’s series on Women Workers in 1930.

300404 Clara Rackham Photo.jpgCllr Clara Rackham JP – in partnership with Mayor Florence Ada Keynes did more than any other pair of people to shape modern Cambridge over a course of half a century. Source: Cambridgeshire Collection’s Newspaper Microfiche Archive.

No one has written a biography of Clara. One of the projects I am suggesting for the CamVote100 project is to fund an early career researcher to work with us in order to research and write that biography.

Books aimed either at the mass market or the general local market include the examples below.

Stephanie Boyd’s book you can find in the Cambridge University Press Bookshop next to Great St Mary’s, and the Memory Lane one both locally and in charity shops. Local historian Mike Petty has also written a number of books narrating his favourite photographs from Cambridge and County – see here.

The first book is a light read, colourfully illustrated. I’ve commented previously that every single primary school, if not secondary school should have a copy of Stephanie’s book.

The second book follows a pattern of photographs with captions organised either chronologically (eg by decade) or geographically – going through council ward by ward. But it doesn’t tell a story. This is because each neighbourhood has its own story to tell. One of our roads – Mill Road, has its own history society! Note we also have:

Mike Petty’s subject lists of newspaper headlines

Mike Petty’s new online lists of Cambridge Newspaper headlines are also now up on the Internet Archive. You can access them all here.

“What is the ‘internet archive'”?

Primarily an American project, it is what it says – a massive free archive and digital library of all things online. There are two really useful features for researchers. The first is that it allows anyone to create research guides as Mike has done, for others to use. Secondly it enables anyone to digitise documents and upload them to the archive to make them accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Cambridge Newspaper Subject Guides

Originally a series created by Mike and maintained during his many years in the Cambridgeshire Collection, these were essentially manual indexes kept for anyone who was interested in researching anything about the county. What’s really useful for anyone interested in local politics is that it shows just how long Cambridge has been dealing with its problems of today. Let’s take Housing.

The Cambridge Housing Scrapbook 1888-1990

The above-link pulls up text  that looks something like below:

1920 Mike Petty Housing.jpeg

Year, headline, publication (CDN = Cambridge Daily News, today’s Cambridge News) and the date. This means you can go to the microfiche collection to pull out the often quite detailed articles. It was only after World War 2 that we saw a major decline in the detail of news articles. If you are lucky, the British Newspaper Archive will have digitised the newspaper articles concerned and, for a £subscription you can access them here. Most of the Cambridge newspapers that they have already digitised are pre-1920. Very few from that period onwards have been digitised – 25 million into over 700million pages thus far for their entire national archive!

There are a whole host of other headline lists Mike has created that could easily fall into/provide content for a history of Cambridge:

…and that’s just for starters.

Part of the fun is also learning how to use those lists as well, because the lists themselves are not ‘the history’ so to speak. More, they are sectional encyclopaedias organised chronologically rather than alphabetically.

Clara Rackham and Florence Ada Keynes as Cambridge’s twin civic pillars

If we take Clara and Florence’s lives as our reference points, we can build the story of our city around the lives that they led – or rather, around the history that they and their group of friends made.

Florence Ada Keynes Dissenting Forbears NevilleBrown

Florence Ada Keynes in the late 1880s, in ‘Dissenting Forbears.’ 

Both Florence Ada Keynes and Clara Rackham arrived in Cambridge as students of Newnham College. While Cambridge University didn’t seem to want women students to have anything to do with them, Cambridge the town, did. Florence was elected Mayor in 1932, while Clara, so urban legend has it, turned down the offer of the mayoralty. Florence maintained her political independence throughout her life, although described her politics as ‘progressive liberal’. Clara on the other hand left the pre-war Liberal Party to join the Labour Party, becoming Cambridge’s first woman Labour Party councillor in 1919. Clara’s political life started with Votes for Women and ended with the CND, marching 8 miles in her late 80s in one protest in Essex, against nuclear weapons.

Naming roads after prominent locals.

We did this with Clara (and Harris (her husband, a classicist and brother of the illustrator Arthur Rackham) – the pair often campaigned together)

Rackham CloseCambridge

Rackham Close off Histon Road, Cambridge, above. From G-Maps.

Spalding Way (two mayors Spalding), Tillyard Way (Alfred and Catherine Tillyard), Keynes Road (Take your pick – John Neville, Florence, John Maynard, Margaret, Sir Geoffrey), Darwin Drive (again, take your pick – Sir Horace, Sir George, Sir Francis, Maud and Ida Darwin could all have had individual roads named after them – only Ida Darwin got the hospital named after her).

The awkward thing with naming residential roads after high-achieving locals is that they risk becoming notorious in later years due to the anti-social behaviour of even a small number of misbehaving residents. I remember being at a talk at the Friends Meeting House on communities, and hearing how it only takes a very small number of people to completely disrupt a local community and make it hell for everyone else. Which was why I was delighted to see this article in the Cambridgeshire Collection:

610901 Lady Bragg jails scumball

Lady Alice Bragg – our third woman mayor, as a magistrate, jailing a local suspect. 

Click here to view the video of Lady Alice bestowing the Freedom of the City to the Cambridgeshire Regiment – the latter only recently having been liberated from the horrific prison camps in the Far East in WW2, the First & Second Battalions having been captured in their entireties in the humiliating surrender of Singapore in early 1942. Lady Alice was our third woman mayor, Florence being our second, and Eva Hartree, later an anti-fascist campaigner, our first.

Why writing any historical book on a town is a team effort

One of my top political heroes, Eglantyne Jebb taught me that in her book about Cambridge’s problems at the turn of the 19th/20th Century.

Note Clara and Florence are both mentioned in the acknowledgements at the start of the book (which has been digitised here in the internet archive) – as is Mary Paley Marshall, one of the most prominent economists in Cambridge’s history.

EglantyneJebb in MahoodLinda

Cambridge hero Eglantyne Jebb during her Cambridge Years – she later founded Save The Children.

The calibre of women who worked with Eglantyne on her book were incredibly high. As far as a history of Cambridge in the 1800s goes, Eglantyne in the first couple of chapters in her book on ‘New Cambridge’ pretty well summarises the social history. A result of her education – she studied history at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. It was going through the online newspaper archives that revealed her very political history (see my blogpost here) that is all too easily forgotten as history understandably remembers her charity work and campaigns. But yes, Eglantyne would have made one outstanding Member of Parliament for Cambridge. But Parliament still maintained their ban on women standing for election and voting in general elections.


What the newspaper headlines and articles tell us

That local newspapers are important? This article on the BBC was published last month (Feb 2018). For those of you who are journalists, do you see yourselves as journalists or writers of history? Politicians and activists – do you see yourselves as politicians or activists, or as makers of history?

One of the things the women of Cambridge who I read about were very good at was organising their letters and writing down who was doing what – eg in the minutes of their society and campaign meetings. For me there is no way we can work out what will be important for future historians. With the centenary of votes for women, the politicians in Parliament in 1917 & 1918 were certainly not thinking about how the centenary of the first votes for women would look to the generation of 2018.

“I say Winston – how do you think they will brand our concession of the suffrage to the property-owning ladies in 100 years time? The centenary for votes for some women doesn’t really cut the mustard for me!”

But that’s what we’re stuck with.

On the Votes for Women issue alone, the number of public meetings alone gives us a picture of just how exhausting all of that campaigning was for those that took part.

The other thing that clear is the impact of changing technology. Take music for example. In the space of 100 years we’ve gone from classical music orchestras of various sizes at one end of society, to pianists in music halls at the other end, through to the early days of playing back recorded music on gramophones through to the development of electric amplification, to the rise of consumer music systems – MIDI systems and ghetto blasters at the large end to the Walkman/personal stereos at the small end, all the way down to music players the size of postage stamps and palm-sized gadgets that you can play from an almost infinite choice of recorded music streamed ‘online’.

And yet…some women columnists from the 19th Century are still today years ahead of their time. Or rather the media publications today are years behind the time they should now be at. Step forward Catherine Tillyard

21 years worth of local newspaper columns on local democracy and how women were influencing what was happening in Cambridge in the run up to the First World War. There has not been a local newspaper reporter or columnist like her since. For a start, no local newspaper would give any journalist the print space for such a column. From a historian’s perspective, Catherine was just wonderful for bequeathing Cambridge with such a wonderful treasure of reports. One of the possible projects for the CamVote100 centenary is to commission an early career researcher to go through all of Catherine’s articles and bring them to a wider audience. Furthermore we can also raise Catherine’s profile as an example for a new generation of women journalists to cover a field even today still dominated by men.





Cambridge City Council to vote on annual spending – 22 Feb 2018


Councillors to set the City Council’s budget – along with a vote opposing the proposed closure of Cambridge Magistrates Courts. Plus some updates from the other forums and organisations that have powers over the city. (And a bit of civic history)

More scrutiny of local democracy in Cambridge awaits – so for those of you that can afford to, please help cover my costs if you can.

Quite often the exchanges go on late into the night as the ruling Labour Group put their proposals to the vote, along with an alternative budget from the opposition Liberal Democrats Group. See the agenda here. There’s also a debate on the proposed closure of the magistrates courts – something I personally oppose, and wrote a blogpost about here.

Public Question Time

You can table a question for this meeting – see the council’s guide here. It’d be great to see some new faces cross-examining the council on the decisions it has made – whether in support or opposition.

Greater Cambridge Assembly

Less than seven days later is another City Deal/Partnership Assembly – scheduled for 28th Feb – see here for details. At the last pair of meetings of the Assembly and Board, the Partnership Board voted to back the recommendation for the Cambridge Autonomous Metro scheme as reported by Josh Thomas of the Cambridge News here. It’s caused some controversy locally given the lack of time the Assembly had to scrutinise the report. On 21st Mar in Cambridge is the corresponding board meeting – which is scheduled for Shire Hall.

Combined Authority and the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough

We’ve had the first two public questions put to the Mayor at the last meeting in Cambridge.

The video of the full meeting is here. (minus a couple of administrative issues following the dissolution of the Greater Cambridgeshire & Greater Peterborough LEP). One thing that also caught my eye was the proposals to extend the M11 up to Peterborough and beyond to Hull. As some roads enthusiasts have pointed out, we’ve been here before. Personally I prefer the Yes Prime Minister legend that the M11 was built because the Department for Transport once had a permanent secretary who went to Cambridge and thought the journey back to college dinners could be improved.

Keep tabs on the Combined Authority’s meetings here.

Cambridgeshire County Council – what should be done with Shire Hall?

I’m assuming this will come up at the next full council scheduled for 20 Mar. My hope is that councillors won’t sell off the site. Should they choose to move out, I hope that at least part of it can be turned into a heritage site, accepting that the existing Shire Hall building makes for a prime candidate for conversion into a hotel. A similar plan has been suggested for another former civic building – the old police station on Regent Street.

Why is Cambridge selling off so much of its civic family silver?

In the grand scheme of things this is one of the results of seven years of austerity and public spending cuts. The way the administrations since 2010 chose to wield the axe was to cut the central government grants to local councils, and let the councils decide which services should be cut. My take is that most councillors didn’t go into local democracy to cut services and make public service worse. One other thing the coalition did was to bring in ‘local referendums’ where local councils wanted to increase council taxes beyond the minimum that ministers stated. So far I can’t think of any local authority that has won such a referendum, let alone proposed one.

Losing both Shire Hall and the Magistrates Courts would, for me be a serious setback to civic life in Cambridge. Even more so the ministerial pretentions that Cambridge is this wonderful global city. A global city that cannot even administer justice for ‘petty crimes’? Really? And having a county council with no civic presence in Cambridge, the city from which the county gets its name? It stands in stark contrast to the plans for a new set of law courts / legal quarter on Castle Hill suggested in the 1950s below, and the 1960s.

560203 New Shire Hall Courts Models

Above – from the Cambridgeshire Collection, proposed new law courts on Castle Hill

That said, it’s not the first major county council building that has been sold off and taken out of public access. This is the old County Hall.

160607 OldCountyHallLandscape

It was completed and formally opened in 1914 (despite the carving of the year at the top of the building)

140206 Opening Ceremony County Hall

The impact of the First World War saw the huge increase in the public sector and of state-funded public services. As these were delivered primarily through local councils, the county council found itself with new premises that were too small. Hence the building of Shire Hall on the Castle Hill site in the early 1930s. County Hall is now part of the Christ’s College estate.


CB1 development throws open its doors


Meeting our neighbourhood’s new neighbours – and popping into the newly re-opened Kettle’s Yard following their £11m+ makeover

About 10 months ago I blogged about a local council meeting where the police raised issues of rising crime and disorder on the CB1 estate. A couple of months later, The Guardian’s architecture correspondent Olly Wainwright wrote this article slamming the development. It clearly touched a nerve with 1,400 comments posted in response on their website alone. Tom Pilgrim of the Cambridge News visited shortly after, the paper having followed up The Guardian’s report finding that their readers broadly agreed with The Guardian’s post. The ‘controversial’ developer Brookgate responded here.

The lesson Labour learnt in 2008.

In the dark gloomy depths of Gordon Brown’s premiership (remember him?), Cambridge Conservatives snatched one of the Coleridge seats from Labour in the Cambridge City Council elections, with Chris Howell being elected. One of the reasons why Cambridge Labour failed in that election was because a new development had just been completed and many new arrivals had just moved in. Yet the party’s campaign message was still focused on some of the controversial elements of the development. Quite understandably – and especially with the background mood musing in the media being hostile to Labour in Government, people voted with their feet having read about their new homes being criticised.

“Puffles – come to our open day!”

So off I went

The simple reason being that the developers will soon be gone, and the residents are now here and quite understandably want to make the best of things. This is where for me, anyone who is or claims to be a community activist, has a moral duty to help our new neighbours settle in and integrate into the life of the wider city. And vice-versa with the longer-time residents (my family has lived in Cambridge for over half a century – the last two generations born & brought up here) to get to know our new neighbours and the wider neighbourhood.

At an institutional level, there is much to be said for formal reviews and evaluations of new large developments in any village, town and city. I don’t blame the people who bought properties in the five developments listed here and have made them their homes. What struck me listening to the residents who turned up yesterday was how the issues that they were listing to the estate management staff was actually really useful for local councillors and politicians to be aware of, and incorporate into future guidance in planning, development and building control. A case of ‘Let’s not repeat the mistakes and errors of the development at [insert name of development].’

Going in with two ears and a closed mouth

You don’t go into these events with a big open mouth saying how ‘orrible everything is and how everything would have been better if you had been in charge. (Chances are if I had been in charge things would have been even worse! I’ve learnt my limitations the hard way!)


So I went in there and listened.

We were blessed with spectacularly bad weather – cold windy rain. Hence not nearly as many people came along as we’d hoped, despite the presence of the Cambridge food park vans and the discounts. But what interested me were the post-it notes that people had put up on the right of the photo above.


Looking at the second photo, there are some things that the wider community can help influence, other things that are for residents only, and other things that we’re all just stuck with for now.

The issue of the Great Northern Road for example is something that has been featured in the Cambridge News following injuries to local residents. The Cambridge Cycling Campaign in April 2017 invited its members to suggest design improvements to that road.

The state of the flats and residences in the grand scheme of things is one for residents and their landlords/estate managers. Such is the way that the ownership of the site has become fragmented that the CB1 Community has developed this interactive map to show who is responsible for what. <<– Something for other developers to follow, or even the city council to make such a map for the whole city regarding freeholders of blocks of flats?

The CB1 Community had to have a comprehensive response to dealing with anti-social behaviour following the police’s criticism last year. Part of their response is this web page. Cambridge City Council also have their noise & environmental issues pages here.

Volunteering, local societies and civic life

Despite the big banner in the room, one group of people that were not mentioned were local councillors. The map below from Cambridge City Council here shows that the railway station area sits at the meeting point five different council wards – each with three city and one county councillor – and two Members of Parliament! You can find out who represents you by typing in your postcode into or come along to South Area Committee on 23 April if you’re on the CB1 estate/ in Trumpington or Queen Edith’s wards. For Coleridge, Petersfield & Romsey it’s East Area Committee on 05 April. Turn up and question your councillors – and have free tea & cake too.

Cambridge Station Ward Map

Trumpington ward is on the left, Queen Edith’s, in South Cambs constituency (not Cambridge City) is the bottom right with Homerton College in it. Coleridge Ward with Coleridge Rec in it is just above it – and is in Cambridge City. In the top right is Romsey Ward – sometimes called Romsey Town or the People’s Republic of Romsey due to its long history of left wing working class activism. You can get your People’s Republic of Romsey t-shirts here. Trumpington is the title Jean Barker, former Mayor of Cambridge (the 4th woman to hold office) took when raised to the peerage as Baroness Trumpington. The first woman mayor of Cambridge, Eva Hartree also lived in Trumpington ward. Top centre is the ward that the second woman mayor of Cambridge, Florence Ada Keynes lived in. For those of you interested in local history around the station, both the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History and the Mill Road History Society host regular local events, normally on a monthly basis.

Given the number of new homes built in recent years, could The Junction host a community/societies fair similar to what the Freshers have at the universities?

Back in 2012 (Crikey, nearly six years ago!) I suggested the idea of a Cambridge Communities Fair. Essentially it adopts the model that the students have at Anglia and Cambridge Universities, and one that in recent years has been adopted by the local further education colleges. (In the late 1990s when I was doing my A-levels we didn’t have such societies fairs. Had we had them I can imagine it would have had a huge positive impact on a lot of us).

The above for me was the big takeaway point from the event.

Kettles Yard

Given the various articles in the liberal-left media about the lack of diversity in the arts and media industries, there was a bit of me that wanted to break out into this number on arrival.

The thing is, I can’t recall ever having been inside before, and knew nothing about its history until I read Will Gompertz’s review here. What people may not know is that the Castle area of town used to be one of Cambridge’s most notorious slums.

030804 Kettles Yard Castle Hill Slum

From the British Newspaper Archive’s digitised copy of the Cambridge News in 1903.

Hence one of the best features of the revamped Kettles Yard is the basement learning room that has upper windows that spill out onto the street.

CLore Learning Studio.jpg

Clore Learning Studio, Jamie Fobert Architects, Photography (c) Hufton+Crow

Interestingly the Daily Telegraph gave the new collections 4/5 – given their political stance, although the Spectator described the collection “Actions” as underwhelming. Personally I disagree with the Spectator – I thought Melanie Manchot’s photographs were brilliantly provocative.


Melanie Manchot’s “The Ladies” in The Wren Library (via here) I thought was brilliantly provocative. Some Cambridge locals may have spotted Shahida Rahman dressed in the black and gold garment. It was only in 1976 that Trinity College, in whose grounds the Wren Library is in, only started accepting women as students. I’m also mindful of the current struggles women (and Muslim women in particular) face. I can imagine one or two squeals of outrage coming from the ‘Gentlemen’s clubs’ on Pall Mall! (Recall it was only 70 years ago that Cambridge University finally started awarding degrees to women.) Channel 4 highlighted the displays by a renowned London artist Caroline Walker who died at Grenfell Tower, and Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj who included pages from his expired passport. I found that particularly powerful. Both those displays linked art to contemporary news and problems in the world.

Expanding the tourist path up the hill to Castle Hill

The mini-motorway/traffic jam that is the Northampton Street/Magdelene Street junction is something that I’d love to see pedestrianised, with motor traffic directed away. I can’t see that happening until the underground metro is built. In the longer term for other parts of Cambridge to benefit from the ‘walking tourist traffic’, Bridge Street and Madgelene Street need the bus route through town redirected so that road is completely pedestrianised. Crossing Northampton Street/Chesterton Road should be a pleasure than a death trap. Because there are a number of underused/under-patronised attractions in that area.

Above – an exhibition from the treasury of the Church At Castle, Cambridge.

The Church at Castle – covering St Giles amongst five other churches are for me a group of community buildings that would benefit from the pedestrianisation of that junction. Again, I can’t see that happening until we get both an underground metro to take some of the east-west traffic off, and provide an alternative for the north-south buses. But if we can achieve this, then the case for expanding the Museum of Cambridge onto Castle Hill becomes stronger.



Save Cambridge’s Magistrates Courts


Ministers want to close Cambridge Magistrates Courts. No. Just. No.

We would welcome responses to the following questions set out in this consultation paper.” (Scroll down to the two papers & click on the consultation doc). “This consultation ends on 29 March 2018

“1. Cambridge Magistrates’ Court:

  • Do you agree with our proposals to close Cambridge Magistrates’ Court?
  • If we close Cambridge Magistrates’ Court what are your views on the proposed options for re-allocating the work?
  • What other options do you think might work?
  • Would these closure and re-allocation proposals have any particular impacts for you or any group you represent?

2. Do you think our proposals could be extended to include other courts?

3. Do you have any further suggestions for improving the efficiency of the criminal court estate in Cambridgeshire?

4. Do you think we have correctly identified the range and extent of the equality impacts?

Do you have any other evidence or information concerning equalities that you think we should consider?”

“Um…why do ministers want to shut down the magistrates courts?”

Actually, I get the sense this is a proposal from officials implementing an overall strategy set by an earlier set of ministers who signed off those principles. Using the various formula and criteria in that policy, Cambridge Magistrates Courts came top of the list as ripe for closure. The new ministerial appointees – including South East Cambridgeshire MP Lucy Frazer QC – who has got policy responsibility for this decision, would have had little if any input into this. But because they are now ministers responsible, the buck stops with them.

‘Efficiency and value for money’

Those seem to be the top two drivers for the Ministry of Justice. Access to Justice and Cambridgeshire’s Criminal Estate Capacity are listed as the other two. Given the form the past two administrations have, this is all about cost-cutting. The biggest indicator missing in the assessment by officials in their consultation document is probably the most basic: population growth.

“Why is there absolutely no reference to the huge population growth that the county is currently increasing?”

This is what happens when you have London-centric government departments. I used to work in one. Many of the London-based/living civil servants (I was one of them once) will be completely oblivious to the concept of two and three tier local councils – the governance of London being different to the rest of the country.

“By 2031, the county’s total population is projected to be around 770,000, up from about 640,000 today” Phil Rogers in 2014.

The excruciatingly long local planning process is, we hope coming to an end. As soon as it does, local council officials will have to start planning for the next round of housing growth. Of all of the people who should know about this current and future population growth is the Member of Parliament for South East Cambridgeshire, Ms Lucy Frazer QC, because a large amount of this population growth is planned for her constituency.

“Does that mean she has a conflict of interest?”

Kind of – it wouldn’t surprise me if another minister was asked to take the final call on this consultation.

“What have others said?”

See the Cambridge News

  1. First announcement
  2. Opinion by court reporter Tara Cox
  3. Readers’ reaction
  4. Local lawyers react

Local MP Daniel Zeichner has branded the scheme a disgrace.

The prospect of having no magistrates courts in a rapidly growing city with a global profile has provoked comment across the legal sector too.

The Conservatives have a very strange way of treating the City of Cambridge

You get headlines such as:

“Cambridge to lead UK economic growth in 2018”The Telegraph


Cambridge research key to UK economy, says Minister

followed by…

Conservative-controlled Cambridgeshire County Council imposing cuts on Cambridge’s children’s centres even though they have not a single councillor representing any of the wards or divisions inside Cambridge City. It would be just as unfair if it were the city imposing say big tax rises on rural county areas that en masse did not return candidates calling for such rises. The structure of local government in Cambridgeshire is broken. It needs a massive overhaul – the last one of which we had in the mid-1970s. i.e. we are long over due one.

We then have the news that Parkside Police Station is to close. Thus we risk Cambridge not having a permanent police station inside the city. Now we have the news that at least some of the more serious magistrates courts functions could well move out of the city.

“Closing nurseries, closing police stations & magistrates courts…why are ministers happy for this city that they speak so highly of to lose all of its civic infrastructure that is essential for any city to function?”

All of these decisions seem to be being taken at a level above the norm that you might find in other countries. Given the projections of economic and population growth for Cambridge and county, the pattern feels like it is from one of spite because too many politicians don’t like the fact that the people of Cambridge stopped returning Conservatives to elected public office in the city in half-decent numbers from the 1990s onwards. I’m old enough to remember when our local MP was Conservative historian Robert Rhodes James. In his final election he vanquished Shirley Williams of the Alliance – today the Liberal Democrats.

From a democratic pluralism perspective, I don’t think it is good for Cambridge to have zero Conservative councillors on Cambridge City Council given that over 8,000 people inside the city voted Conservative at last year’s general election. Also, the political culture of the city Conservatives is not the same as that say of those in North Cambridgeshire. Dare I say it, the same goes for the constituency Labour Parties in the same places. Just as the Conservatives have to work out why they have zero presence in Cambridge, the same goes for Corbyn’s Labour in Wisbech which, given the demographics of the place, you’d expect the party to have representation on Fenland District Council (which they used to control in the early 1990s!)

“What is the alternative to the cuts? The consultation did ask for one”

My preference is the model from the 1950s/60s: A new legal quarter for Cambridge.

After all, the property value of the current estate is significant. (Not sure who actually owns which bits though, or whether it is just long term leases – as is likely to be the case with the current magistrates courts.

560203 New Shire Hall Courts Models

Both of these sets of pictures from the Cambridgeshire Collection in Cambridge’s Central Library (that service also being attacked by cuts from the county council) were ultimately never realised. The top pair were designed by Holford-Wright. His concept of a 15 storey tower at the top of Castle Hill got laughed/shouted out if I recall correctly. But for me the concept of having all of the courts services (County, Crown and Magistrates) together with a custodial police station in walking distance is for me a concept worth exploring. We’ve been told that the existing Parkside Police Station no longer meets the standards for custody suites required by the Home Office. Hence plans to close it.

Let’s not forget the history either

In the writing of the huge historical county histories project, the splendid chaps of Cambridge divided up between them the writing up of the histories of Cambridge’s colleges. The only person who took responsibility for the history of Cambridge the town was one of the greatest women who ever lived here – Professor Helen Cam of Girton, later the first woman professor to be appointed to the University of Harvard.

Civic legend: Professor Helen Cam.

Professor Cam tells us that it was in 1572 that we got our first proper court house on Castle Hill – Shire House. So that’s nearly 450 years we’ve had some sort of a court presence dealing with criminal and civil matters. If we lose however much of the magistrates courts services under the plans of ministers, this will be ***the first time in nearly half a f—ing millennium*** that we won’t have the full set of legal services in town. Cambridge, a global city that isn’t allowed to have a full set of courts, might not have its own custodial police station and having its children’s centres and libraries cut left, right and centre? Really?

“Cambridge used to have its own jails – but they got demolished. Why so precious about the courts and legal services?”

And we used to have an oil-fuelled power station at quayside.


We just found better ways of doing things – plus legal changes such as the various clean air acts put restrictions on burning such fuels. Ditto the case of prisons and the conditions prisoners were kept in.

Ministers and officials have not made the case that their proposals represent a better way of delivering courts services to a rapidly growing part of the country. They have not made the case demonstrating that the proposed transport infrastructure will be in place by the time the changes are made. They have not demonstrated the case that they will have robust and resilient IT infrastructure in place.

As former local councillor Mr Rosenstiel tweeted, the public transport journey from Ely to one of the proposed sites, Huntingdon, will take a very long time. Possibly looking at a 3 hour round trip by bus/coach.

The piecemeal reform of public services – fragmented, uncoordinated and responding to events rather than shaping the future

What ever happened to the concept of devolution and ‘whole place community budgets’?

The government does not have an evidence base that allows it to identify integration opportunities or properly assess the costs and benefits of integration. It is, in effect, fumbling in the dark.

The above was from 2013. Given what’s happening with police and the proposals for the courts services – and with the county council’s proposals to move out of Shire Hall, there is a ***huge opportunity*** to co-ordinate the activities of all. This means come up with a solution that is not piecemeal but one that not only saves money but also takes advantage of having related/complementary services all within walking distance of each other. Again this is where I like the concept of a ‘legal quarter.’ But the consultations as they stand don’t allow scope for this.

Another missed opportunity.


The session I’d like to pitch for UKGovCamp 2018 – but can’t due to doctors’ orders.


Wanting to do a talk about the impact of digitising archives on local research all over the country…but having to stay at home instead until the medics find out what caused me to spend the festive season in hospital

For those of you that missed it, I spent Christmas on a hospital bed. A suspected heart attack – the cause of which we still do not yet know. I have further tests lined up in February. So between now and then I have a chemistry-lab’s worth of medication to take until the further tests show what I need to continue taking and what I can stop. It also means missing out on UKGovCamp for the second year in a row.

This post stems in part from Steph Gray’s post below.

It got me thinking about what session I would have pitched (if at all) – mindful that I’ve been out of the loop on government digital for a few years now.

The British Newspaper Archive’s partnership with the British Library

Followers of my LostCambridge blog will be familiar with the British Newspaper Archive online – they are about 20million pages into scanning their archive of over 700million newspaper pages. And what their work reveals is utterly mindblowing in the grand scheme of things. Imagine being able to do a keyword search of such an archive instantaneously.

“But…we do that every day with the internet!”

We do – but the difference here is that the content – the knowledge, was written in times pre-dating not just the internet, but with some of the content in there, pre-dating the industrial revolution. The text below from I think the Cambridge Chronicle of 1840 is particularly powerful.

Here, the writer is imagining the future based upon his observations of the very early railways. The transport revolution he predicted would reduce overcrowding, allow people to live further away from their work places, make it much more efficient to get goods to market. He concludes saying that the railways will make the UK as an island an impregnable fortress because wherever an enemy lands on the coast, within the time it takes them to disembark, the entire forces of the country could be assembled fresh – not exhausted by a long march, ready to repel them.

The point above is about applying the technology readily available to search the internet, and applying it to manuscript and typescript content from yesteryear to unlock and re-reveal long-forgotten events.

Unlocking and re-revealing long-forgotten things

With something like a newspaper archive, there are a number of things to be aware of – not least the lack of advertising standards in the early days!

130228 Zambuk advert ailments

A screengrab from the wonderful British Newspaper Archive – not sure I’d believe the claims for ‘Zam Buk’ though! 

‘News’ becomes ‘Old’ very quickly – especially in this day and age. Twitter is at its best in the first five minutes of an incident breaking, and then at it’s worst for the next 24-48 hours.

Incredibly extensive newspaper reports

In the days before TV and radio, newspapers were the primary means of finding out what was happening – or had happened, in a town or city. That or at public meetings. In those days – certainly in Cambridge, meetings were happening all over the place. Furthermore, reporters were invited into many of them – even ones that today we’d think of as being private and for members only. For example candidate selection meetings for future elections.

This example from the local history goldmine that is the Cambridge Independent Press, then run by former Mayor of Cambridge Alfred Tillyard (we named a road after him and his wife – the legend that is Catherine Tillyard (more on her in a bit)), is from the first large meeting of the new Liberal candidate for Cambridge with his local party membership.

900201 Snapshot example of full page article in CambIndy

“That’s not a newspaper report, that’s part of a Ph.D thesis!”

Re the above, I mean, I know political meetings go on and on – I spent over 3 hours filming the Greater Cambridge Assembly today, but how can one person speak for so long and fill up ***all of those paragraphs of text?!?***

If that page of text is an incredibly detailed report of a one-off event that you are searching for an account of, such a page is historical gold dust. And the British Newspaper Archive is part-way through digitising all of this.

Catherine Tillyard and the Votes for Women centenary.

This is the wonderful Catherine, as portrayed by the Museum of Cambridge.

Catherine’s weekly columns covered social and political issues that women were campaigning on in the late 1800s/early 1900s. As the board above shows, Catherine wrote these columns weekly for the best part of nearly a quarter of a century. Very few other local newspapers would have had the equivalents of Catherine. Thus we have over a thousand newspaper columns covering the rise of the Votes for Women movement. Now think of all of these columns digitised with keyword searches. As a local historian, Catherine has made my job so much easier because she wrote about all of these things that were going on – things easily missed out by male journalists and writers.

Eglantyne Jebb – founder of Save the Children: Newspaper archives revealed a very political side to her

There are many descriptors one could give for Eglantyne – who I just adore. Most people are familiar with the charity “Save the Children” – which she founded.

Eglantyne Jebb in Cambridge (L) and in Oxford as an undergraduate (R).

Those familiar with her know that she spent around 15 years in Cambridge – turning to social and political work after having her heart broken in the very early 1900s. Eglantyne researched and wrote the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge in our town’s history. This is it digitised. But what the newspaper archives revealed was that between completing that work and founding Save The Children after the First World War, she got involved…in politics.


From the Liberal-supporting Cambridge Independent Press.

The article that accompanies the photo above (featured in this blogpost) describes Eglantyne’s transition from a soft Conservative to a hard Liberal of the day. What we also find is that the Liberal candidate for Cambridge, Stanley Buckmaster KC (who would serve as Lord Chancellor and got the law society to scrap its ban on women members), she basically ran his election campaign in the run up to the 1910 December snap election. Thus what we find is that Eglantyne was far more active in party politics than perhaps modern day readers and admirers of her charitable work are aware of.

Back to the Votes for Women centenary


We’re celebrating it here in Cambridge

What the digitisation of the newspaper archives allows local historians and activists to do is to search for their local heroes who drove the case for women’s, and then equal suffrage – amongst other important campaigns. One of the things that is clear from the newspapers is that the suffragists and suffragettes (former were the peaceful ones, latter were the ones that smashed up stuff) were involved in a whole host of other social justice campaigns. How fearless were the suffragettes in Cambridge? Think of one of the toughest group of men in town…men not really known for their progressive views.

130516 Suffragettes firebomb Cambridge Uni Rugby club

…they went along and firebombed their HQ.

This sort of anger doesn’t rear its head overnight. But given that Millicent Garrett Fawcett had been speaking publicly about Votes for Women in the 40 years preceding that firebombing, and not succeeding, you can see why Mrs Pankhurst decided on a change of tactics. How do we know that Millicent Garrett Fawcett (who resided in Cambridge with her husband Henry Fawcett, a Cambridge professor, former MP for Brighton, and ex-Paymaster General who blinded himself in a shooting accident) was speaking out so early and so publicly? The British Newspaper Archive have a scanned copy of Millicent’s speech in 1873 to the Cambridge Reform Club on Votes for Women. I’ve transcribed that speech here.

To give you an idea of just how much courage Millicent needed to make such a public intervention, the local Conservatives in Cambridge were anything but tolerant to such ideas – or to Liberals in general in those days. Ironic given the very strong speeches quite rightly deploring threats and acts of violence against politicians today. Because in 1885, twelve years after Millicent’s speech, Cambridge Conservative’s, celebrating winning the borough seat in the election that year, incited a riot! How do we know this?

851128 Tories smash up Cambridge Reform Club postelection_1

The Cambridge Independent Press wrote about it – and the British Newspaper Archive digitised it.

The offices of the Press were also vandalised by the mob – I’ve transcribed the account here. Also in this and the following week’s newspaper are the transcripts of the court trial of the accused. The Press in an Op Ed complained that those who had incited the riot had not been apprehended. Because what the newspaper alleges is that Conservatives went around town buying booze for every other drunkard, rogue, street urchin and ruffian going, before directing them to the targets of their choice and inviting them to smash the places up.

The impact of all of this digitisation?

For me, it has transformed my understanding of the history of Cambridge the town. Through social media I have been able to share that learning with many others locally. The biggest finding is that Cambridge would not be the modern city that it is today had it not been for the Women of Cambridge who campaigned patiently, passionately, persistently and often at great risk, to get the social and political changes that many of us today take for granted. My role over the next few years is to bring their stories back into the public domain.

How do you involve people in local democracy and politics if they have very little time, and are permanently tired?


Some more thoughts following my week in hospital

…thoughts other than “Why hasn’t the Minister for Murdoch resigned as Secretary of State for Health yet?”

(The title is from the front page below around the last time people were calling for him to resign from a different Cabinet post)

You see, in the olden days of epic policy clusterf–ks, the minister responsible would resign. He was warned months and months ago, he’s been in post for years, this is on his watch. Yes, I’m a little bit more sensitive to this policy issue having had one op cancelled myself – albeit only for a day, but I spoke to patients who told me they had a series of cancelled and postponed operations behind them.

Trying to keep up with everyone else

One of the reasons I ended up in hospital I think was that I spent much of the autumn trying to keep up with ‘not mentally ill’ people who had not been through a mental health crisis and were thus able to function fully. I’ve not been at that stage for years – and perhaps never will be. Thus being utterly exhausted it was only a matter of time before an illness of some sort got me. We won’t find out which one until my MRI scan next month.

It wasn’t just the filming of council meetings & everything under the sun in the guildhall that I was doing, but the editing and processing which, in my mind at least I tend not to consider as ‘work’ when there’s something on telly at the same time. Or an interesting Twitter debate happening. I filter much of the dross & hate out. Combining that with the late 2017 series of We Are Sound mini-gigs at the Round Church (see here – more coming up in January & February 2018), by the time I got close to Christmas there was nothing left in my tank. The next thing I knew and it was 4am and I was being wheeled into a cardiac ward at Addenbrooke’s.

I couldn’t do what the nurses, cleaners, healthcare assistants and others do on a day-to-day basis. 

And yet they are a wealth of knowledge – not just in their field but on how to improve things around them and us generally – eg in our communities. It’s just our consultation systems are broken.

Let’s take this –  “Consultation on Main Modifications to the Cambridge Local Plan” – I have no idea how anyone who has not been following this is supposed to contribute to this. It’s almost as if the planning system has been designed by ministers and lobbyists to exclude as many people as possible to make it the play thing of only those that can afford it. We’re lucky that we’ve got more than our fair share of community activists who can make sense of this and spend a little time on scrutinising some of the paperwork – Sam Davies here as one example. But separate to that consultation is next week’s planning committee meeting, which happens monthly. This month has over 500 pages in the agenda pack alone, not including drawings. It’s not good enough just to publish stuff. We’ve got to get much better at making it easy for people to filter stuff almost automatically so that they land quickly at the things that they want and need to know.

On 11th January part of my neighbourhood discusses crime with the police. Another big report.

Again, I screen-grabbed the essential table and shared it to see if anyone else picks up on it to scrutinise in detail. Then there are Greater Cambs Partnership transport things coming up over the next fortnight – see here. And the County Council’s up and running from 9th January here.

“How do you convert all of that into something that people might want to know about?”


My take is that a critical mass of residents would be happy to commit to 5-15 minutes per week reading a summary of what has happened or will be happening in their local area, whether in a newspaper or an online newsletter. I wouldn’t put that number of people at much more than 5-10% of people in any one neighbourhood. But what matters is that those are the people who are the eyes and ears for their wider social group.

You see, the thing is, what happens with the transport planning in the complicated stuff that gets discussed at these meetings will have a huge impact on the future of the staff at places like Addenbrooke’s. What might make some executive or shareholder with a big developer a little bit of extra profit for that financial year may also end up screwing over half a city for the best part of half a century. That’s how important it is.

Once you take the time to think all of these things through – something that long term illness has allowed me to do in a way that working inside Whitehall never gave me the time to do, is that you start to see all of the connections. Long hours, long commutes, low pay, hard work, high house prices, high rent prices, polluted air…these are not the makings of a sustainable city or a sustainable future. They are also not the making of community engagement or people participating in shaping the future of their towns or cities. But then the political establishment is paralysed by their own adherence to the narrow confines of their political and economic model that even if they did have the imagination to dream up of something new – or even if they saw it elsewhere (places like The Netherlands or Copenhagen in Denmark regularly cited for sustainable transport), they wouldn’t allow themselves to believe that similar could be achieved here.

“So…where do we start?”

It’s something I’ve explored before during my civil service days – the difference now is that I no longer have the health or the willpower to drive through some of those ideas or to carry out the necessary analysis of the communities that make up Cambridge today. Hence going for the stories that haven’t been told in Lost Cambridge. Because as I’ve found out, our predecessors have been grappling with similar issues for over 150 years. Once we’ve got the historical picture painted, then we can work out what didn’t work in the past and why, and work out what sort of city we want to become.

One other thing to add almost as a postscript, is ensuring that we’ve got all issues covered ‘by someone’. Just as more than a few people have relied on me to film various meetings, I also tell myself (for my own sanity) that other issues are the responsibility for other people. Delivery of healthcare services? Healthwatch. Transport? The Cambridge Cycling Campaign for cycling. We did have a new bus user group set up but I don’t know what happened to it (see this article). In an ideal world, local councils would have far greater powers to raise revenue to pay for the admin and organisation support for community groups. But that requires a change of heart from ministers and/or a change in the law. That’s not going to happen this side of Brexit.

Supporting my community reporting

They say freedom isn’t free and that democracy is not a spectator sport. With my filming of local council meetings in and around Cambridge, I aim to bring local democracy to your desktop. Please consider supporting my work.


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


You don’t have to have a PayPal account to donate – you can use an ordinary devit or credit card.

If you have any problems, please email me at antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com

Last week a paramedic saved my life


On recovering from a suspected (minor) heart attack and having had a first close brush with death

On the evening of 22nd December 2017 I was getting into the bath and noticed my left arm bicep giving me a bit of pain. It was a pain that I had never felt before. I tried to shake it off & lay down in the very warm water. But the pain wouldn’t go away. The more horizontal my body, the worse the pain got. Rather than stick around, I got out of the bath and pondered an early night. But same again – only the pain seemed to be across my entire left arm and also on the underside of my jaw. I had not felt this before. My mum advised phoning 111, which I did. I was beginning to sweat at this time, but wasn’t too concerned. I had assumed they were going to say I had swollen glands and that the painkillers I had taken would sort it out. But because the pain – by now a ‘very deep ache’ was touching on my shoulder, they dispatched an ambulance.

It felt like forever as my family watched on. Yet they were there in five minutes. A picture of calm, Jack, a trainee paramedic out on a Friday night with his supervisor whose name I forget, were a pair of calm in the face of me feeling the pain becoming slightly more intense.

“Have this spray on the bottom of your tongue and chew this aspirin”

I did as was told, watching as they placed these stickers all over my chest, arms and legs before hooking me up to this futuristic-looking machine. It was an ECG scan they were doing. Everything seemed to be OK apart from one blip on the graph. They said that if I was having a full blown cardiac arrest “we wouldn’t be here, but on our way to A&E” the paramedics said. But because the pain was still there, and because of that blip, they made the call to take me into Addenbrooke’s. So they strapped me up to a chair and took me into the ambulance, arriving at midnight on the dot.

Addenbrooke’s – one of the oldest hospitals in the region, and one of the biggest

I’ve grown up with the hospital being this permanent presence in my childhood neighbourhood. From nursery school you could see the chimney from the back garden. And as every rail commuter from Cambridge to London knows, the sight of Addenbrooke’s chimney means you’re nearly home. So much so ***they made a t-shirt out of it***

I’d been into A&E on more than one occasion during childhood. It’s a sort of right of passage of growing up. This was the first time I had been in via the back of an ambulance. My younger brother rocked up probably wanting to be somewhere else given the time it was – now in the very early hours of 23rd December. By this time I thought it was an idea to send a quick Twitter update.

Tests, tests and more tests

My condition by that time had stabilised and the pain had gone down. After another hour they took me from the emergency room where, given the kit I assumed more than a few people had had their lives saved, or had breathed their last, into a quieter room. Here I had a whole series of further tests – ECG but with a big machine, blood tests, blood pressure and temperature tests and more.

The blood test showed raised levels of this substance called troponin – which the medics either referred to as ‘trips’ or ‘trops’. The consultant physician in A&E told me that it was possible that there was ‘a tiny amount of damage to your heart muscle’, and that whatever had happened, all of the test results were indicating that the pain was ‘something heart-y’. The medics also said that they were going to transfer me to the cardiac ward and keep me in overnight.

I assumed this meant staying in overnight, having more tests, being told that things were fine but to come back as an outpatient in the New Year. When I woke up in the morning, the news was slightly different.

At this stage, they still did not know what had caused the pain and what had potentially damaged the heart muscle.

Despite the news, the sense of what I had been through still hadn’t sunk in. It still hasn’t now. The reaction from others around me however, gave me more of a sense of the near brush with death I had just experienced.

…and from my music collective, We are Sound, who came bearing a hamper full of fruit and chocolate!

And only a hospital could post a tweet saying “Sorry you are with us” 🙂

I got transferred to Papworth on Boxing Day, where they did a small op exploring the insides of my heart – a coronary angioplasty. It was only under local anaesthetic, so for the hour or so while it lasted, I could hear (And if I wanted to, see) what was going on. I turned away because I’m squeamish about blood and medical things. But the injection of dye into my system to see where any blockages might be was…an experience.

Now I had assumed that my arteries were clogged up all over the place and would need major treatment, but to my complete and utter surprise I was told my arteries were relatively clear, especially given my age and other characteristics. Thus there wasn’t anything that seemed to indicate a blockage – but they couldn’t rule it out. Even though in my ‘thank yous‘ video I thank the medics and staff for looking after me, the idea that had things been left as they were I could have died, still hadn’t, and hasn’t sunk in.

Being aware of other patients in the ward

On a shared all-male ward where there were up to six of us at any one time, placed directly opposite another patient, it’s hard not to notice other patients and what they are struggling with. I was the baby of the bunch – all of the other patients with me either being middle aged or retired. There were moments that were pure comedy, as well as those that were spiritually crushing yet awe-inspiring.

Every so often an alarm would go off and staff would drop everything and race to another bay. Cardiac arrest. A reminder that there were more than a few people on the ward in extremely serious conditions, and that for more than a few people entering the hospital, they would not live to see through into the New Year. You could see the impact the heart conditions had on a number of patients – the colour of their faces had just drained away. Yet their spouses refused to give up on them, seldom leaving their sides, hour-after-hour.

It reminded me first of my late grandparents who stayed together for over half a century of marriage – only the Second World War being the cause of an enforced separation between 1943-45 shortly after they got married. At the same time it made me sad knowing that if one of them didn’t make it, the other would be absolutely crushed – as my late grandmother was when my grandfather died in 2000. Furthermore, it made me wonder whether I would ever experience that sort of really intense and utterly devoted long-lasting love that they experienced.

Knowing that some of the other patients might be coming face-to-face with death very soon

This was something that hit me quite hard, and reminded me of this tale – the context of which I cannot recall when I first saw it.

(Turns out it was in a certain wizarding movie)

In a room where men were fighting for their lives, there was me, over the worst, there almost invisible to that dark shadow prowling the wards as those angels of mercy – the nurses, kept a vigilant watch and attended to every need of the patients.

Learning about human nature

We are all equal when it comes to our own individual passing. On that ward you had people from a huge range of social backgrounds. You had some medics who had that aura you only acquire if you go to an expensive private school and/or oxbridge. You had retired people from solid working class backgrounds. You had the professionals happy to engage in conversations about complicated things. You had some with mild learning difficulties and hearing problems.

Health Care Assistant (HCA) : “Do you want ice cream and jelly?”

Patient: “I don’t have ice cream and jelly”

HCA: “What would you like for pudding then?”

Patient: “I want jelly and ice cream!”

HCA: “Would you like a napkin?”

Patient: “No – I’d like a serviette”

The nurses, HCAs and support staff had the patience of saints. Whatever it is that enables them to do their jobs I simply do not have. Their hours are far too long, their shifts are far too long, and they get far too little respect for what they do. It was only after observing them at work close up for six solid days in a row when I was entirely dependent on them that I realised what their work involved. It also made me realise why so few get involved in politics and public policy: they are absolutely shattered by the end of their shifts and by life outside of work as well. This experience is forcing me to completely reappraise all things democracy-in-action. How do you involve people who are not only ‘time poor’ but who are also exhausted as a result of their work and day-to-day living generally? That challenge applies not just to political parties but local community and campaign groups too.

After the op – The importance of post-operative care

Before being transferred from Addenbrooke’s I made sure that all over my patient notes I had mental health issues flagged up. Because although it hasn’t hit me yet, it sure as hell will do. Hence making sure that post-operation counselling was one of the things I will be booked in for.

“Why does the counselling matter?”

I never recovered from my mental health crisis of spring 2012. It’s not one of those things that you can attribute to a cause, or blame or anything like that. I simply have not got to a stage where I am able to work full time hours anymore. Now, combine that with the prospect of very serious heart problems while still in my late 30s and all of those assumptions about what society decides university-educated men should be doing at this age (and have already achieved) go out of the window.

In one particularly dark moment following a sleepless night (not easy on a busy ward at the best of times) I went through a crushing moment wondering who would look after me, would anyone want to either employ or work with me given my health, or even fall in love and settle down with me given health & other things related to it – eg living back with family due to reduced independence resulting from disability.

“Does something like this change you as a person?”

In one sense it feels like one of life’s markers. I’m still trying to get my head around what happened, and even now emotionally I still cannot make sense of it. I can’t pretend to ‘keep up with the able-bodied and more-than-sound-of-mind’ for want of another term. I cannot pretend that the past few months in local and civic life has been anything other than stressful – as this sweary video shows.

Inevitably one or two activities will have to fall by the wayside. I hope, as with the Museum of Cambridge’s crisis we will see more new people stepping forward to take part, rather than, as all too often happens, we rely on the huge efforts of a small number of core activists. Learning to say ‘No’ is an incredibly difficult thing to do, especially when it involves something you care passionately about – home.

“What does 2018 hold in store?”



On FB at

Part of my role is to unearth the evidence bases from which the creatives in and around Cambridge can then run with. Transcribed newspaper articles of 100 years ago that I’m publishing and publicising on Lost Cambridge here, is part of that. More music gigs await too, with We Are Sound – more tickets are due to be released soon here.


Museum of Cambridge – an update


Some recent developments following the news of the struggles of the Museum

This post follows on from my previous blogpost here. There has been a fair amount of interest in that last blogpost – 400 view in the past 24 hours or so.


Quite a jump for a localised niche blog!

Statement from the Museum of Cambridge’s co-chair of trustees

“The Museum of Cambridge (formerly known as the Cambridge and County Folk Museum) is currently facing significant challenges that threaten its future. It has been at the heart of Cambridge for more than eighty years but, like many small, independent heritage organisations, it is struggling to survive.

Contrary to popular belief, the Museum is not part of the University of Cambridge Museums and it does not receive any public funding for its core operation. It is wholly dependent on discretionary income and while that income continues to dwindle, the daily costs of operation continue to rise.

The Board of Trustees is taking all steps to try and ensure a practical future for the Museum by seeking financial help from funding bodies, businesses and individuals. The Trustees want the Museum to continue to operate as a viable concern and to that end we are undertaking a transition to a Trustee and volunteer led approach which we believe will build a more resilient model of operation.

We are aware that this much-loved museum and its landmark building has been a familiar part of the landscape for many Cambridge residents throughout their lives. We hope that by working closely with significant stakeholders, including the City and County Councils, we can navigate a clear path through a difficult financial situation. We believe there can be a future for the Museum and look forward to working with all our supporters and friends to make sure that our future is sustainable.

We are closing over Christmas and through January to carry out a deep clean and refresh of the Museum and plan to re-open in February. Offers of help would be very welcome. Please see our website ( for current information. The website can also be used to make donations.

If you can help in any way, please contact Sarah Ingram, Chair of Trustees, on

Sarah Ingram, Chair of Trustees
Joe McIntyre, Co-chair of Trustees”

The direct link to their statement is here.

I’ve also been asked to pass on the following:

“The actual post losses are:

  • 1 redundancy (full time museum manager).
  • 1 short term contract not renewed. This was the education post – hopefully we can continue the role in some way.

We still have 3 grant paid positions for our two projects (Tracing Traditions and Capturing Cambridge), one of which is still filled. Two resignations, which we very much regret, leaves 2 posts to fill – hopefully the funders will keep these open.”

You can get a feel for how strong the reaction has been from locals in and around Cambridge through Twitter here. The Cambridge News published an article here – which drew over 20 comments in the first 24 hours. There are a number of comments on their FB page too.

I also got in touch with Cllr Richard Johnson yesterday asking him to make a short statement given that there hadn’t been one from the museum, which he kindly did.

I’m reassured by the above that the Museum itself will not close. The onus is now on the rest of us – the people of the City of Cambridge to step up and be counted.

“Do you still stand by yesterday’s rant?”

This one?

Where I look like a talking rhubarb and custard? Yep. The buck stops with the ministers that imposed the cuts to local government grants without giving councils a means of fairly raising revenue to mitigate the loss of revenue from central government – in particular those services that councils are required by law to provide. The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 is one example.

My take is this: Either ministers give local councils the rights and powers that go with the responsibilities or accept that when things go wrong, the buck stops at their desks.

“What of the board of trustees?”

Inevitably a number of questions will need to be put to them as I’ve alluded to earlier, and as a number of people have commented.

I’m not seeking an answer from the trustees four days before Christmas, but at some stage we’ll need to see a timeline of decisions and actions, and perhaps look at lines of accountability too.

The bigger conversation Cambridge needs to have is how we the people communicate with each other and our institutions – I blogged about it here. This in part would help respond to the point Claire Adler makes in her post above.

There’s also a role for the Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services and its interfaces with the business communities in Cambridge.

Local charities cannot function through project-specific grants alone

Running costs have got to be met. This not only includes office costs but paying for the managers and administrators – the people who do many of the ‘boring but essential’ tasks required for the successful functioning of any organisation.

One thing I’ve pondered is whether Cambridge should have a central fund that provides for some of that essential administrative and management capacity for local charities so that volunteers and specialist paid staff can get on with what they do best? For example having that fund to cover a pool of paid staff to run the secretarial and treasurer functions for local charities – esp at local meetings. The model is already provided in rural districts through the role of the clerks of town and parish councils. In Cambridgeshire they have their own association.

“I don’t want my donation to be spent on administration – I want it to go to the people in need”

An understandable sentiment – I heard it expressed in a local charity shop last week. The problem is, without a decent administration and bureaucracy behind a charity, money and resources doesn’t get to the people who need it. This was one of the lessons learned from the response to the Tsunami of 2004. One of the things that we as a city could look at with our charities and community groups is what the best method is of covering the essential management and administrative functions.

“The Mayor’s charity administration fund”?

The Mayor of Cambridge is allowed to select two mayoral charities for their annual term of office – see some past and present ones here. But they are charity-specific. Given the number of corporate events that executive councillors are invited to, I can’t help but think their offices could request the corporate organisers in return make a contribution to a new ‘charity administration fund’ (Esp given the fees delegates can be charged for such events) which could provide support in kind to local charities and community groups.  Because if anyone should know about the importance of sound and competent administration, it should be the corporate sector. Therefore fundraising in this manner should be less controversial/difficult than approaching the general public.

Your Museum of Cambridge Needs You


Four of the five Museum of Cambridge staff leave their posts just before Christmas as the Museum moves to a volunteer-led/run funding model following successive cuts to their budgets.

It’s been a bad time of late for the Museum – so please join the Friends of the Museum of Cambridge. It’s your museum as it is your city. 

[Updated to add the following post by Cllr Richard Johnson, Executive Councillor for Communities at Cambridge City Council]

I picked up these tweets this morning from my good friend Hilary Cox, who until today was working at the Museum of Cambridge.

It came as a shock today to find out that four of the five paid members of staff at the museum were leaving today. I didn’t pull my punches as I laid the blame squarely at the door of ministers who had cut local government budgets beyond the bone.

Yes – I am aware that my attire makes me look like one of those old skool rhubarb and custard sweets. 

“Hang on, hang on, hang on, you can’t go around blaming ministers without looking at the role of the trustees”

Yes you can – they made the cuts without thinking through the consequences, leaving it for local councillors to deal with the fallout of where the axe to fall without giving councils the choice of raising revenue by other means in order to protect services.

That doesn’t absolve the board of trustees collectively over any of their failings or shortcomings, whatever they may be. And the first place to look is at their accounts. All charities have to submit annual returns to the Charities Commission. You can see the Museum of Cambridge’s past annual returns and reports here.

171220 MuseumOfCamSummaryAccounts

The above is a screenshot of the summary of their annual accounts from March 2012 to 2016. Obviously something has come to a head since then that has led to the decisions taken by the Board of Trustees.

“Now that the trustees have lost so many staff, who is going to manage the volunteers?”

One of the trustees announced this afternoon that the Museum was going through a six week deep-cleaning programme before re-opening at the same time as the new revamped Kettle’s Yard re-opens next door.

But also this:

One of the things that I learnt was the reduction in the grant given to the Museum by Cambridge City Council Which covered running costs (as opposed to program-specific funding mentioned below. (I have had two slightly differing accounts on this so will follow up in a future blogpost)

[Updated to add]: Cambridge City Council has asked me to clarify the following:

“Our community grant to the Museum of Cambridge in 2015-16 was £45,000, in 2016-17 £35,000, 2017-18 £35,000, specifically for delivering the Capturing Cambridge programme”

The City Council also stated that they have received a further bid for funding for the financial year 2018-19 which will be discussed at committee early in the New Year. (If you would like to lobby the City Council to support the Museum of Cambridge, you can email your city councillor via )

Given that the archives service at Cambridgeshire County Council is being run at its statutory minimum, and given the toxic relationships between the Conservative group in control of the county council (but who have zero councillors within Cambridge City) vs their Labour and Liberal Democrat opponents (who have very few councillors outside of Cambridge City), there is very little political incentive for the Conservative group to put money into Cambridge City heritage. This is reflected in frequent calls from within the city for a greater Cambridge unitary authority. eg today in the Cambridge Independent.

…to those who accuse ministers of setting up the new county mayor structures so as to control the jewel in the county that is Cambridge City without actually having to win city-wide elections.

“You can’t blame the Tories for everything”

Yes we can – but doing so and then doing nothing afterwards isn’t going to help anyone. Not even them. At the same time, only blaming national government (or even the county council) means not looking at ourselves and asking what we the city could have done better.

“Where did the City of Cambridge go wrong?”

We – and I include myself in this – didn’t pay close enough attention to what was happening behind the scenes at the Museum. I came up with grand plans such as this without asking anything about the viability of the existing operation. You can’t ask people to think about what a new house is going to look like while they are trying to put out the fire.

Secondly, collectively we still treat local history in Cambridge as that of a large market town, not a small city with an international brand. Cambridge’s history is about far more than Kings College Chapel and young men educated at public school punting on the River Cam in straw hats – whatever your Rupert Brooke poetic fantasies might be. And Rupert Brooke hated the upper classes anyway – this is him campaigning *against* the Conservatives in the first 1910 general election.

But I digress.

Finally there was the failure of communications from the board of trustees of the Museum of Cambridge to appeal to the wider city to say “We might lose most of our paid staff if you don’t step up”.

Actually, the real problem is having a stable income stream to pay for running costs. They don’t have an in-house cafe like the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, nor do they have the spare building space to lease out as office space to other organisations. And when was the last time you heard someone say “I want to donate to your charity with the money being spent on administration, running costs and your electricity bills”? Exactly. But those bills need to be paid. Grant funding does not cover those costs – grant providers expect full value for money for the grants that they provide. Admin and other costs must be covered elsewhere.

“So, what is the answer?”

Ultimately Cambridge City Council need to step in – not only as owners of the premises but as the competent authority to find out what led to today happening. Then they need to host a gathering of some sort where we have that conversation about what that long term model of running the Museum of Cambridge actually is. And it must be run from the perspective of “we the people of the city want to help” rather than “Let’s condemn the trustees etc over their failures”.

“Who are we doing this for and why?”

This was answered for me by one of the volunteers earlier today as the Museum hosted Father Christmas at a day for children. The place had a fair number of primary school children racing in and out, meeting Santa and colouring in lots of things. The volunteer told me that what we were doing was for their heritage – they are the ones who will inherit what we bequeath them. They will then look after it for their generation before handing it to the next one just as we were bequeathed our inheritance by the successors to Enid Porter and before her, Florence Ada Keynes.

Click on to see how you can support the Museum of Cambridge. It’s not just money.

Or book a visit for the reopening in February.

A day in the life of Cambridge Magistrates’ Court



Rocking up to see justice in action

While filming a local planning meeting at The Guildhall, I discovered that the Cambridge News was covering the goings on at our magistrates courts in what I could describe as an ‘open justice day’. Yet how many of us know that the courts are public, and that anyone can rock up and sit in to watch a court case in action?

The court is on St Andrew’s Street, Cambridge. For anyone coming into Cambridge from the south by bus, as soon as you get off the Citi buses 1,2 and 3, you are right outside the court.

“You can’t carry that camcorder in here”

When you go in, you have your bags searched along with going through an airport scanner facilitated by the outsourced security staff – Cambridge’s one being run by Mitie. In days gone by, these functions would have been performed in house and the staff concerned would have been civil servants. Which makes me wonder whether they are seen as public sector or private sector in official statistics. Because if the latter, then is the size of the public sector under-stated and the private sector over-stated?

You then go into the lifts and they send you up a few floors. From there, you walk out of the lifts and round a corner to find the surprisingly small court rooms lined up next to each other. For some reason I expected the set up to have the visible signs of prison and jail – but there wasn’t. Maybe I had been watching too much TV.

Hesitating before going into Court Room No.3

Which is where Josh Thomas of the Cambridge News was.

Tara Cox normally takes the lead on court cases, with Josh covering local government. Sometimes they swap over. Talking of court reporters, one of the most famous authors in the world started out as a court reporter – Charles Dickens. More than a few authors have followed that path, reporting from a court for several years before going onto become writers.

I didn’t go straight in because someone seemed to be speaking in full flow so didn’t want to interrupt – or worst of all be found in contempt of court and thrown into jail for interrupting proceedings. But after a few minutes I poked my head to the window and quietly sat down on the press bench, which was placed between where the witnesses were and where the accused was giving evidence, seated in a pokey little witness stand – or seat as it were. Compared to the magistrates court room built into the Guildhall, this one was much more ‘corporate’

The projector screen behind the witness stand at the old Magistrates Court in the Guildhall.

The crest in the current court looks like a pure plaster-cast rather than the colourful version here.

Reporting restrictions

Because rules is rules.

Under English Law it is a general principal that court proceedings should be held openly and in public in order for members of the general public can be informed fully about the justice which is said to have been administered in their name.”

Mindful of the general principle that you can only state who said what in an open court – and nothing else until sentence is passed, I stuck only tweeting who said what – even though had it been a TV show the temptation to pass comment would have been huge.

The thing that slightly disturbed me was the lack of a visible security presence in the court room given the witnesses and the accused seemed to be in quite close proximity. It felt like there was only me, Josh and another bloke separating the accused on the witness stand and the witnesses at the back.

With the case I was viewing, the one thing I had in the back of my mind was that the ultimate result of this case was that the man being cross-examined by the prosecution, if convicted, could end up in prison. I then turned around to look at the witnesses who made the complaints resulting in charges being brought against the accused, & it made me realise how much courage it takes for someone to stand up in court and testify against another individual.

2 men and one woman on the magistrates bench

That, along with the prosecutor for the Crown being a Black male, along with myself in the press bench and the witnesses being of mixed heritage, we made for a reasonably diverse court room. It wasn’t always that way. 100 years ago women were banned from serving as magistrates. It was only after the ban was removed that women were able to serve as magistrates.

200901 Manning Bethune Harrison magistrates oath

Edith Bethune Baker, Leah Manning, and Jane Harrison all being sworn in as magistrates in autumn 1920, and hearing their first cases. The other two women not featured in that session who were also sworn in as part of the first cohort of Cambridge Women Magistrates were Clara Rackham and Florence Ada Keynes, who between the two of them gave over a century of charitable and public service to Cambridge.

200723 Magistrates

How do we raise the profile of Magistrates Courts?

The invitation is there.

Our county magistrates have a website at

But what we don’t have are automated court lists published online that are understandable and accessible. There isn’t even a noticeboard on the outside of the court building – which means they are missing a trick given that one of the major bus stops in the city is on their doorstep. A waiting public reads noticeboards – if only to kill time.

Just as council meetings are open to the public there’s something about watching public institutions in action that shakes you out of your bubble – whichever bubble it is that we live in.

One of the things that participating in local democracy and public services teaches you is about the general public – and how very different many people are to you and each other. Furthermore, when going along to a local council meeting you are dealing with people who, more often than not have got a complaint about an issue. In the court cases, you are hearing testimony from individuals – whether the accused persons or witnesses to a court case, who are all in extremely vulnerable and exposed positions. All of them are under pressure and are dealing with things that, for most of us are not part of day-to-day life.

“Isn’t there something akin to watching ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show” by going to court just to watch a court case?”

My take is Mr Kyle’s show has got nothing to match the court cases that happen in magistrates courts all over the country – for the simple reason that a TV show is able to pick and choose who they feature and how they feature them. A magistrates court has to deal with whoever the prosecuting authorities haul before them. You don’t have a Jerry Springer-style audience baying for TV blood. It was Mr Thomas’s predecessors who wrote an account of the last public hanging on Castle Hill, Cambridge in the mid-1800s. I blogged about it here – press conference with hangman included. It’s easy to forget that the abolition of public hangings were a concession to campaigners in the mid-1800s campaigning for the abolition of capital punishment completely.

When you are inside that court room watching the advocates making their cases, or inside that council chamber watching the exchanges in the run up to a substantive vote that can make or break a community service in a neighbourhood. Especially when the choice in front of councillors is to decide where the axe will fall – more often than not because of cuts that have come from central government and passed down the chain. When you are seeing the responsible persons deliberating making the decisions, or the persons affected pleading their cases before the magistrates’ bench, it feels so much more real. Not something that, like with a television set you can press the ‘off’ switch.