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.