The history of the first house I lived in

When I say I was born and brought up in Cambridge, some people think I must be posh and come from a rich family. There was, probably from earliest times, a yawning gap between the privileged few connected to the University – as students or members of the colleges, and the ordinary people of the small market town. Now Cambridge is a huge , unrecognisable place, the centre of what’s known as Silicon Fen, the huge tech industry which has grown up in recent times. It’s a myth that Cambridge wasn’t bombed during the war; it was but on a much smaller scale, obviously than  industrialised towns and cities, but bombs fell. Buildings and homes were destroyed, people were injured and killed.

After the war, as with many places, there was a lot of new as well as re-building, On the north side of the River Cam there were roads leading out of the city, and new houses were built, including an area just off Gilbert Road which had had decent sized detached and semi-detached houses built in the 1930’s. Gilbert Road ran northwards off the road leading to the village of Milton; on the corner of the two roads was Milton Road Junior School. Not a couple of hundred yards back towards town where Milton Road met Chesterton Road (which went out of the city to Chesterton) is the Portland Arms Hotel, where my granddad was landlord from 1924 to 1950, and where my dad grew up.

It’s not surprising really that after marrying in 1948 and living in what amounted to a bedsit, when new houses were built just off Gilbert Road, just over half a mile from the Portland, my dad and mum were interested. Courtney Way led off Gilbert Road and at the end it joined Metcalfe Road. The houses on Courtney Way, and the first dozen or so in Metcalfe Road were probably built about the same time as the Gilbert Road properties.

The building firm S. Ginn and Sons built semi detached properties of four flats – like an ordinary semi-detached but with each half having two flats, upstairs and downstairs. The flats on the east side of the road had very long gardens reaching almost a hundred yards down to a wall beyond which were allotments. My parents couldn’t afford to buy a flat, but they were able to rent one, and were incredibly fortunate to have as their landlady Mrs Gladys Benstead, a wonderful old widow, who was the most kind and generous person you could imagine. In fact when my sister was born she became her godmother.

We lived in the downstairs flat, and because ‘Aunty’ Gladys was so elderly we had the whole of the large garden. The part nearest the house was lawned, with the coal bunker near the house and a garage at the end of the shared drive, shared with the house next door. In the bottom flat of next door was the Ginn family, son of the builder who’d built the houses. They were a similar age to my parents, and had two children similar ages to me and my sister.

The flat was an L shape. The long side came down almost to the road with a front garden and a low brick wall by the pavement. My sister and I had the bedroom at the end of the corridor. Along the lino-covered passage was the separate bathroom and lavatory; later there was a red carpet down the middle of the floor, with the creamy lino showing on either side. Another passage ran across the end of the passage; at one end was the front door which was painted red, and at the other end was my parents’ bedroom. Along the back of the house was the kitchen with a backdoor into the garden, and the sitting room.

My parents moved in 1949/50 and although born in hospital, my sister and I spent our early years there in this wonderful flat. We moved away 1965, much to the distress of Aunty Gladys; she understood why my parents wanted to move, and we continued to see her and visit regularly – we only moved about a mile away so we kept in touch. She remained independent for many years – and once she was too old to ride her bike, she bought herself an adult tricycle to maintain her independence. This dear old soul died in 1978, at the age of eighty-five.

Now the houses are no longer flats but semi-detached properties, and my parents and Aunty Gladys would be staggered to know that they sell for over six hundred thousand pounds…



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