I was born and brought up in Cambridge, it’s my home town… but there are different Cambridges. There is the actual city as it is now, choked with traffic, tasteless new buildings put up, pubs and old schools pulled down, jammed with visitors and tourists. It is a big city now with nearly 130,000 residents. it is still renowned for its first class (literally) University which has many scientific and technological spin-offs, and supports the local economy directly and indirectly. There is an are known as Silicon Fen, which is made up of tech and science parks. It has a large soulless shopping mall, and the usual large supermarkets, and hyper-markets not far away. Would I want to live in the city… I think not…
Then there is the Cambridge of literature, and history, where great men and women lived and worked and wrote and painted and conducted all manner of scientific experiments, and explored the history and geography, the literature and the languages of the world… the University. This is the Cambridge of beautiful old college buildings, elegant bridges across the river, wonderful chapels, lawns untrodden on for hundreds of years.
I have my own Cambridge, the city I grew up in, where we would fly along the streets on our bicycles, boat and swim and fish in the Cam,which in many ways was the centre of our lives. Visit the wonderful market, buy fresh-baked bread and well-hung meat, and locally grown fruit and vegetables in season. This was where I went first to Milton Road School, then to the County – The Cambridgeshire County High school for Girls. This was a place of hundreds of pubs that we were too young to go in but had wonderful names, the Ancient Shepherds, the Jolly Waterman, the Spread Eagle, the Wrestlers. The streets showed the history, Garlic Row, Butter Row, Cheese Market, and the green spaces belonged to the people, Jesus Green, Midsummer Common, Stourbridge Common. My friends parents worked for or at the University as did my great-uncles.
However, I also have another Cambridge; the Cambridge that my father Donald talked about and told me stories about… this is the Cambridge of the 1920’s, where there were still horses on the streets pulling carts and wagons, where undergraduates were protected by the university no matter what tricks they got up to, and they whizzed down the streets with their gown billowing behind them, where Cambridge was very much a market town although it had the status of the city, where the river was a vital part of everyone’s lives, where country folk brought in wild cress, and violets to sell on the streets, and in the winter braziers grilled chestnuts which were sold in screws of paper. This is the Cambridge of my family history, my grandparents, and their parents.