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Coldham's Common OS map 1927

Coldham’s Common

History of Coldham's Common

R Williamson in ‘The Plague in Cambridge’ (1956) refers to plague huts and pest houses, the earliest of which were put up on Midsummer Common, but by the time of the 1665-6 epidemic they were situated on Coldham’s Common.

The Town of Cambridge petitioned parliament to take in 40 acres of Coldham’s Common on which to erect pest-houses. The Bill did not pass and in 1703 the pest-houses previously erected on the common were taken down and the materials sold.

‘Memories of Abbey and East Barnwell’ has some interesting comments about the history of the Common. Page 47: ‘The Common’, as Coldham’s Common was known locally, used to be a wonderful place for groups of kids to escape from the surrounding estates into the countryside … there was a lot of wildlife there. I can remember at the end of the 1950s that there were always skylarks overhead during the summer …. The most unusual feature of the common was the ‘Butts.’ [see 1927 map]. To a small child living in a very flat countryside, the Butts were like a great white chalky mountain – wonderful to climb up – and some of the climbs on the Barnwell Road side seemed very difficult when you were small. Then, having gained the dizzy height, there was an exhilarating slide, or roll, down again, to emerge covered in white chalky residue. Larger kids managed to drag old track-bikes to the peak and thrash down again….. The Butts was an old structure erected to catch bullets from a rifle range that once stretched across Coldham’s Common. We all knew this as kids, and there were twisted pieces of angle iron sticking out of the Butts, which must have once held targets. This knowledge led to another pastime: trying to find bullets by digging into the side of the Butts. A mangled 303-rifle bullet was quite a prize for a boy to find – but they were few and far between, having probably been already mined by an earlier generation.

Down Your Street, 1984, in the chapter on Ross Street, it is noted that it was after the rifle butts on Coldham’s Common that Ross Street got its name. Ross was the champion shot of England in 1861. The Cambridge Rifle Club was established in May 1959. Ross Street began as Volunteer Butts Row, then Rifle Butt Row and later Rifle Butt Road. It wasn’t name Ross Street until the late 1880s.

River Cam at Coldham’s Common (MoC73.57)


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