High up on a drafty corner
In Old Cambridge town
High up on a drafty corner
In Old Cambridge town
OBSERVANT VISITORS TO KETTLES Yard art centre in Cambridge will notice a couple of incised stone signs embedded into the centre’s wall facing Castle Street. One of them reads:
“Godmanchester Turnpike Road Ends Here”.
Below this, there is another stone sign that reads:
“To the Horse-shoe Corner, Godmanchester, 14 Miles 4 Furlongs”
Just in case you did not know, or have forgotten (as I had), there are 8 furlongs in 1 mile (1.6 Km), and a turnpike is a toll-road. Godmanchester is northwest of Cambridge.
The turnpike was in existence by 1744. According to a website (www.geograph.org.uk/photo/568133), the tolls were:
“… collected by the Godmanchester to Cambridge Turnpike Trust. Horseshoe Corner in Godmanchester is almost probably the location of the then Horseshoe Inn at the southern end of Post Street. It was also where markets were held as early as 1533.”
The turnpike might well have run along a part of the course of a road built by the Romans – Via Devana. Robert Fox, writing in his 1831 history of Godmanchester, noted:
“The celebrated William Stukely had no doubts upon this point; for, in describing the course of the Via Devana through Cambridge, in his Itinerariium Curiosum, republished 1757,4to, at page 203 we find ‘Out of the ruins of this city—Granta now Cambridge—William the Norman Duke built a castle; a very straight Roman road comes to it from Durosiponte, Godmanchester. It passes as straight through the present Cambridge by Christ College and Emanuel College… so to Camulodunum, Colchester.’ “
Stukely was almost certainly describing Castle Hill and its southern continuation Magdalene Street, which leads almost straight towards Christ and Emannuel Colleges.
The stones were originally set higher than they are at present. They were then at the level of the eyes of coachmen seated high up on the front of their vehicles. The stones were discovered when Kettles Yard was undergoing restoration in 2016, and have been set at a level lower than would have been the case in the past.
Though not of as great visual impact as some of the exhibits in Kettles Yard, the two reminders of an old toll road are of considerable historic interest.
ONE OF MY UNCLES commissioned a ceramic work by the celebrated potter Lucie Rie (née Gomperz; 1902-1995). This used to be on display in my aunt and uncle’s house, which I used to visit often. Thus, I became familiar with the name Lucy Rie.
Lucie was born in Vienna (Austria), where she attended an avant-garde school of arts and crafts from 1922. After graduating, she set up her own studio in Vienna. Bring Jewish, she left Vienna in the late 1930s, and settled in London.
Encouraged by Bernard Leach, she established a studio in London. For a while she worked with the potter Hans Coper, but the artistic styles of the two artists differed considerably. Over the years, Lucie created objects in a variety of styles. She experimented with glazes and other techniques, creating pottery which was truly 20th century. Unlike Leach, whose works reference ancient Chinese and Japanese ceramics and mediaeval English, Lucie was innovative and inventive.
Until the 25th of June 2023, you can see a good exhibition of Lucie’s works, from her earliest to her later creations, at Kettles Yard in Cambridge. Undoubtedly, her works are of a high quality, both artistically and technically, but I was not particularly excited by the show. A video of David Attenborough interviewing Lucie in her studio interested me far more than her works on display.
By all means visit the exhibition, but in my opinion this is a show for Lucie Rie enthusiasts, rather than for the average exhibition goer.
HOBSON STREET IN the heart of Cambridge is one way and is used by traffic avoiding the pedestrianised section of Sidney Street. Hobson Street is lined with buildings of various ages. One of these, which has always attracted me, is a disused cinema whose facade has Art Deco features.
Built in about 1930 to replace an earlier cinema constructed in 1921, it was The Central Cinema. Its white tiled facade has Egyptian and Art Deco details.
In 1972, the cinema closed and was converted, as many other old cinemas have been, into a bingo hall. This establishment thrived until 2009 when the British government banned smoking in public places. Apart from three days when the building was occupied by squatters for 3 days, the old cinema has been boarded up and disused.
Various plans have been proposed for its future use, but none of them have been carried out. One of the problems is that because it is a protected edifice, any future plans have to preserve its original features. And as most of the new ideas for the old cinema involve adding windows, and adding them would infringe the protection order, all of the new plans have had to be abandoned. The protection order has saved the building but hindered its future development.
City of towers,
Students, books, and scholars
Astride the river Cam
DURING A RECENT visit to Cambridge, I noticed a hemispherical cavity into which an electric doorbell push button had been fitted. it was at Peterhouse College. I posted a picture of it on Facebook and received the following range of replies and reactions to it. Here they are in the order they appeared:
“My guess is there used to be a handle in there to operate a mechanical bell. There would have been a brass escutcheon plate, dished like the hole to accommodate the clenched hand grasping the handle. There seems to be a void behind the current bell button, the linkage probably went through there. You can see a shadow either side, rather like a bow tie, where the escutcheon was.”
“.. pull a cord or chain?”
“That will summon David Jason.”
“A square bell in a round hole”
“This was my husband’s college (about 45 years ago). I’m sure he’ll remember this well.”
“Yes, but I would expect the bar or chain operating the original to come straight out of the back of the cone, and there’s no hint of that.”
The range of comments was from frivolous to informative. I find that posting interesting items on Facebook often elicits useful information about them. By judicious posting and cross-checking information provided, Facebook can become a useful research tool.
POLITICAL PROTEST AND CONFLICT can be expressed in a wide variety of ways. Defacement of commonplace items is one of these. It forms the basis of a temporary exhibition, “Defaced!”, being held at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (Cambridgeshire) until the 8th of January 2023.
Many of the exhibits on display are banknotes that have been defaced or altered in design to express a political message or protest. One example of this is a five-dollar US banknote with the words “All Lives Can’t Matter until Black Lives Matter” embossed on its portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Another is a five hundred Indian rupee note with a coloured picture of an endangered rare bird printed over it. Yet another banknote is designed to look like a British £20 note at first sight, but it soon becomes apparent that it is not what it seems: it has been modified to include a portrait of ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the words “The ruling class. We own you.” It also includes the words “We were born to lead, you were born to follow.” Other banknotes have been redesigned so that they appear to be valueless: e.g. zero Japanese Yen and zero US Dollars. The diversity of altered banknotes and parodies of actual banknotes on display is staggering.
Occasionally banknotes lose their value during periods of hyperinflation. The exhibition includes several examples of objects, such as wallets, made using trashed valueless notes. Particularly striking is a life-size sculpture of a hand grenade made using shredded PRC ten Yuan banknotes.
There are also many coins on show. They have all been altered to express protest and/or political sentiments. One dramatic example of this is a coin issued in France during the reign of Napoleon III. This was altered by carefully cutting around and removing the portrait of Napoleon III from the coin, leaving the rest of the coin intact. There are several coins and medals on display that depict political events such as the American Revolution and the Peterloo Massacre. A few coins relate to the unrest in Northern Ireland. One of them is a 1970 Republic of Ireland fifty pence coin with the words “Ulster is British” stamped on it.
The show at the Fitzwilliam does not confine itself to the defacement and parody of currency for political and protest purposes. It also includes currency either modified or specially created for special purposes. Simple examples of these are overprinting of low value notes during hyperinflation and modification of currency for use by the military or in POW camps. There are also coins, notes, and certificates created for specific purposes, for example for use in the Siege of Mafeking and for use by Boer prisoners imprisoned by the British in India.
Although most of the exhibits are related to currency (coins and notes), one room is dedicated to a spectacular sculptural exhibit, an installation called “Big Bang 2. Debt in transit”. A video is projected onto a wall. It shows a Ford Transit van being blown up by explosives. As it flies into pieces, bits of paper all marked with the word ‘debt’ float down like snowflakes. The film is projected in a room in which the fragments of the van are suspended from the ceiling so that the viewer appears to be seeing a still from the video but in three dimensions. The installation, which is a protest on the exorbitant interest on payday loans, makes a very powerful visual impact. (SEE my video of this posted on YouTube: https://youtu.be/7MgdDTfBivw)
THE PRESENT FISHMONGERS Hall at the northern end of London Bridge was constructed in 1827, following the completion of the London Bridge, which now stands in Lake Havasu City in Arizona (USA). Built in a neo-classical style, the Hall, which faces the Thames and King William Street, was designed by Henry Roberts (1803-1876), assisted by a young architect who would later be known as Sir George Gilbert-Scott (1811-1878).
Recently, the Hall was associated with a horrific act perpetrated by a terrorist Usman Khan (1991-2019). Khan, whom it was believed to have been reformed and rehabilitated from his terrorist leanings, was attending a conference on prisoner rehabilitation arranged by the University of Cambridge at Fishmonger’s Hall on the 29th of November 2019. During the conference, he put on what turned out to be a fake suicide vest. He threatened to blow up the Hall. He did not do that, but instead fatally stabbed two of the other conference delegates (both in their twenties): Saskia Jones and Jack Merrett. The latter had studied at the University of Cambridge. As Khan fled across London Bridge, he was tackled by members of the public before being shot dead by a policeman. What had been intended to be a well-intentioned project, ended up as a national tragedy. It illustrated that although a person’s mind can be programmed to become a fanatic, undoing this programming is far more difficult than most people, even experts, imagine.
WHILE WALKING IN CAMBRIDGE, I spotted a pair of pillar boxes. At first sight they looked identical but soon I realised that they were not. One had a wider orifice for inserting letters than the other. The wider one bears the ‘logo’ of Queen Elizabeth II and its neighbour with the narrower slit bears the logo of the Queen’s father, King George VI. Apart from these differences, there were much the same.
The two pillar boxes I saw in Cambridge are not particularly old. The first post box on the British mainland was placed in Carlisle in 1853. The idea of using such receptacles for collecting mail is connected with the author Anthony Trollope (1815-1882). An informative website (https://www.postalmuseum.org/collections/highlights/letter-boxes/#) related:
“Anthony Trollope, now more famed as a novelist, was, in the 1850s working as a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Post Office. Part of his duties involved him travelling to Europe where it is probable that he saw road-side letter boxes in use in France and Belgium.He proposed the introduction of such boxes to Britain and a trial on the Channel Islands was approved. Four cast-iron pillar boxes were installed on the island of Jersey and came into use on 23 November 1852. In 1853 the trial was extended to neighbouring Guernsey. None of the first boxes used on Jersey survive. It is possible that one still in use on Guernsey together with another in our collection, originally sited in Guernsey, date from the 1853 extension to the trial.”
Before the introduction of pillar boxes:
“… there was [sic] principally two ways of posting a letter. Senders would either have to take the letter in person to a Receiving House (effectively an early Post Office) or would have to await the Bellman. The Bellman wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public, ringing a bell to attract attention.”
Well, all that history is news to me and I might not have bothered to find out about it had I not seen the father and daughter pillar boxes standing side=by-side in Cambridge’s Market Square.
THE SHORT-LIVED POET Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) lived outside Cambridge in the nearby village of Grantchester, where he rented a room in The Old Vicarage between 1909 and 1912. In May of 1912, Brooke was sitting in the Café des Westens in Berlin and feeling nostalgic about his life in Grantchester. He put pen to paper and composed his poem “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.” Clearly fed up with Berlin, the poet begins the final verse of his poem with:
“God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of that district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester…”
The final verse ends with the famous lines:
“The lies, and truths, and pain?… oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?”
Having recently visited Grantchester, I can sympathise with Brooke’s desire to return to this charming village whose meadows run along the bank of the winding River Cam. The parish church of St Mary and St Andrew contains structures created as early as the 12th century, but most of the building dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. The west tower is mainly early 15th century. The clock on it no longer stands at ten to three, but it was stuck at that hour during the era when Brooke was in Grantchester.
The Orchard, which lies across the High Street from the church and between it and the meadows by the river, was planted in 1868. Before moving into the Old Vicarage, Brooke had lodged in a house in The Orchard. In 1897, a group of Cambridge University students asked Mrs Stevenson of Orchard House if they could enjoy tea under the blossoming trees. Thus began The Orchard Tea Gardens, now a popular haunt of students and tourists. Because of the unreliability of the English weather, a wooden pavilion was built at the end of the 19th century. In case of rain, tea drinkers could sit in the pavilion and enjoy their tea without getting soaked. Rupert Brooke was one of those, who used this place often. The Orchard’s website (www.theorchardteagarden.co.uk/history-new/) noted:
“In taking tea at the Orchard, you are joining an impressive group of luminaries including Rupert Brooke (poet), Virginia Woolf (author), Maynard Keynes (economist), Bertrand Russell (philosopher), Ludwig Wittgenstein (philosopher), Alan Turing (inventor of the computer), Ernest Rutherford (split the atom), Crick and Watson (discovered DNA), Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author), Jocelyn Bell (discovered the first pulsar) and HRH Prince Charles (future King of England). There is a list of some of the famous people who have visited in a separate page on our web site, and there are photographs of many of them on the walls of the Rupert Brooke Room.”
The Rupert Brooke Room was constructed later than the pavilion. The famous visitors included several noteworthy Indians including Jawaharlal Nehru, Salman Rushdie, and Manmohan Singh. There is a whole host of other well-known personalities who have taken tea at The Orchard including a group of Cambridge students, who achieved notoriety for their involvement in espionage for the Soviet Union: Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby.
As for Brooke’s question “And is there honey still for tea?”, I forgot to ask during our far too brief visit to The Orchard. Brooke was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve force at the outbreak of WWI. In early 1915, he set sail with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. In late February, he developed a serious infection following an insect bite and despite the efforts of surgeons on a French hospital ship moored near the Greek island of Skyros, he died. He was buried in an olive grove on the island. In the churchyard of St Mary and St Andrew, Brooke’s name in carved on the church’s simple war memorial.