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Market Hill

History of Market Hill

The Market Place 1592

On this plan the market place is smaller than in the 20th century and buildings obscure the view of Great St Mary’s from the market.

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Before 1849 the market stretched from Petty Cury to Peas Hill in an L-shape. But such was the damage in the Great Fire of Cambridge that destroyed and damaged many houses on Market Hill that the whole area was cleared and by 1855 had become the modern large open rectangle. (from 111 Places in Cambridge That You Shouldn’t Miss pub. Emons)


At the centre of the Market lie the remains of G M Hills’s Gothic conduit of 1855. The original structure of Hobson’s conduit was moved then to the corner of Lensfield and Trumpington Road in 1856. Hill’s conduit was mostly demolished in 1953 and the water supply cut off in 1960.


Cambridge Market Place 1841

This is a picture from 1840 of the original conduit which was moved in 1856. The illustration is ‘Market Place. by Fredrick Mackensie from the FitzWilliam Museum. The buildings on the right which obscure Great St Mary’s were destroyed in 1849 by the Great Fire .


Here are two views of the later Gothic style conduit.

10.5.1910 Market Hill. Proclamation of George V as King

24/4/1897: A memorial from certain inhabitants of the Cambridge in Favour of covering the Market Hill with a permanent covering of iron and glass was read by the Town Clerk. Coun Nichols thought the state of their present market was a disgrace to civilisation. They were paying at least £400 a year for putting up and taking down those wretched wooden structures and the cloths that covered them were of no use whatever. Mr F. Morley did not believe in the Corporation entering into competition with the shopkeepers of the town and driving the trade into the hand of people who paid no rates. Mr Campkin felt the question of a covered market elsewhere was too serious a matter for them to consider for many years to come. (The council voted against the proposal) (Cam.News)

21/5/1897: After the Senate House scenes yesterday (when the University voted against degrees for women) there was a brief respite. It was the calm before the storm. About 7 o’clock there was a grand gathering of the clans. Undergraduates began trooping through the streets to what was obviously a pre-arranged rendezvous – the Market Hill. From the four corners of the square fire was opened upon everybody and everything within range. Bombs, hand-rockets, and every description of firework manufactured were flung haphazard into the crowd until the scene resembled nothing so much as the bombardment of a hostile camp. It is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of pounds worth of stuff were got rid of during the five hours the proceedings lasted (Cam News)

23/6/1897: Providence set the seal of approval on the absolutely flawless celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Cambridge Market-place presented a particularly attractive spectacle with the Guildhall illuminated and the long lines of coloured lamps; above all with the moving masses of eager folk, who had come out in the best of tempers to be amused. One or two cranky people pretended to be shocked at the extreme naughtiness of letting off a few squibs, which was not to be compared with the imprudence of running heavy ‘busses through the narrow and crowded Cury and Market-hill. A remarkably beautiful sunset was succeeded by the exquisite Jubilee twilight mingling into the dawn of the longest day; and in Cambridge, as elsewhere, everybody who went to bed – and most folks sought that sensible repose – did so with high hopes of the morrow (Cam.News)

11/12/1897: Cambridge Market Committee recommended that a new form of market stall known as the “Diamond Stall” be erected on Market Hill. Mr Nichols remarked that the long vexed question of covering in the market was the objection to a permanent structure being erected on Market Hill. They were paying now £850 per year for putting up and taking down all those wretched stalls and their repairs. At some length he described the advantages to the town that the scheme would bring about, amid some manifestations of impatience on the part of the Council (Cam.News)

19/5/1898: Cambridge town council was requested to consider permitting a cabmen’s shelter to be placed on the Market Hill. Mr Darwin said that he received a petition asking for the provision of some place for them to warm themselves during the cold months in some central position in the town. At present there was only one cabmen’s shelter in the town and that was very widely used. If they provided another the public would gain some advantage because the cabmen, instead of going to the public houses, as they now did, would go to the shelter. The only possible harm it would do was that perhaps it would make the neighbouring public houses sell less beer (Cam.News)

7/11/1898: Saturday was a typical “fifth” in Cambridge. Faithfully following the precedent set in former years a number of Varsity men and townspeople assembled in the market place, which for three hours or so was crowded with excitable and pugilistically-inclined youths, representing town and gown. The Gown driven from pillar to post by the howling mob, appeared to be greatly terrified, and despite the vigilance of the police, of whom a large number were told off for special duty, the celebration was not entirely free from violence. Neither town nor gown missed many opportunities of displaying their physical prowess and many are the reports circulated as to the results of the pugilistic encounters that ensued (Cam.News)

6/11/1899: The announcement that a number of Reserve men belonging to the Suffolk Regiment would leave Cambridge to join the regiment sufficed to bring thousands of people together in the Market Hill to give them a hearty send off. It detracted somewhat from the picturesqueness of the effect that the Reserve men were not in uniform but in their ordinary clothes but they could not have evoked greater enthusiasm on the part of the public. Heads of colleges were there, undergraduates in caps and gowns rubbed shoulders with farm workers form the country. Old soldiers wearing their medals had come to live over again stirring scenes from their youth. Women were there and children also. It was a crowd thoroughly resolved upon manifesting its goodwill to the men who were going away (Cam.News)

1/3/1900: The greatest possible excitement followed the receipt of the news of the relief of Ladysmith. The telegrams conveying the announcement was received at the chief Post office shortly after 10 o’clock and the intelligence spread with marvellous rapidity to all parts of the town. When a private wire was posted in the Market Place the excitement was intense. From all approaches people could be seen rushing to get a view of the telegram and the wildest enthusiasm prevailed. The crowd raised hearty cheers and there was much waving of hats and handkerchiefs. (Cam.News)

3/3/1900: There was great rejoicings in Cambridge on the relief of Ladysmith and despite the edict sent forth by the University authorities the conduct of the undergraduate element was again such as to necessitate the intervention of the police. The Varsitymen managed to draw police attention off the market place to scenes elsewhere and, during their temporary absence, succeeded in lighting a bonfire. There was great excitement as one by one the wooden frameworks of the stalls was committed to the flames. The band-stand on Christ’s Pieces was attacked and the seats removed to the Market and quickly consumed. Similar damage was occasioned in all parts of the town. It was on that night that the last really big bonfire was started on Cambridge Market Square. Old horse buses, “growlers” filled with tar and straw, market stalls – all went to feed those triumphant flames whose heat cracked every window in the Market Square. (Cam.News)

13.7.1901: What say the shareholders of the Cambridge Tramways Company to the advent of a new service of motor buses working only from Market Hill to the Station – a penny service running from 8.30am to 9.30 pm. 1 have been assured by one of the promoters that the first of a batch of six new motor ‘buses intended to be used on the new smooth road from the Post Office to the station will be tried in Cambridge within a month. It is certain such rivalry would destroy the present useful and satisfactory tram service. (Cam.Press)

11.11.1901: It being the King’s 60th birthday it was expected that nightfall would be the occasion for rowdyism and possible an attempt to illuminate Cambridge Market Hill. The authorities cleared away the stalls, but their action left the historic centre of all “rags” open and free for the antics of the crowd. For a long time nothing occurred except the explosion of a few crackers or the discharge of a pistol from a window overlooking the hill. Large numbers of police were hustled about considerably, and were compelled to defend themselves, but compared with other ‘rags’, they did not have to exert themselves very much. It was a very tame, spiritless affair that will doubtless be deemed by the “bloods” to have been a complete failure, considering that practically no damage to property was done (Cam.Press)

3.6.1902: Peace in South Africa produced strife in Cambridge – one of those fierce contests between the police and the united forces of town and gown which, combined with the destruction of property, constitutes a “rag”. In King Street a large double gate was attacked as wood for a bonfire but a vigorous-looking dame appeared from the other side. Her only weapon was a duster, but such a formidable appearance did she present that the crowd melted away before her advance. Skirmishers went towards the Circus of Varieties to obtain a hoarding but this was well guarded and soon they were retracing their steps. The hoarding which surrounded the underground toilets on Market Hill was tom down and lighted. More wood was wanted and the mob pulled down glazed bricks and girders, door-posts and window frames. Next morning the appearance of the projected underground lavatory was more like an archaeological excavation. Thousands of bricks were lying in the bottom mixed up with the dirt and pieces of wood and the general appearance of the place showed how wanton and reckless had been the young hot heads who had wrought the damage (Cam.News)

26/8/1903: A meeting arranged by the Cambridge Anti-Vaccination League was held on Market Hill. A large crowd of people assembled but the opinions of the principal speaker aroused some opposition & a little heckling took place. Someone placed a quantity of calcium carbide into the water of the fountain. & the acetylene gas which was generated was borne among the audience to whom the disagreeable odour was most objectionable (Cam.News)

15/4/1905: Both Cambridge buses started to ply for hire and the novelty induced people to make trips. Had several more ‘buses been running they would have been crowded. The scene on Market Hill was unprecedented. Apart from those who lined one pavement in the hope of obtaining a seat it was alive with folk who were content with watching. As soon as a vehicle drew up a crowd swarmed around the steps, clutching the handrail and endeavouring to get a foothold on the step. Each time there were many left waiting on the pavement disappointed and most waited until it returned. (Cam.News)

14/12/1907: Suffragettes, unable to gain admission to the Guildhall, held a meeting outside in the rain. Two ladies from the Women’s Social and Political Union picketed the entrance, distributing leaflets. Then they climbed on a market stall and addressed the crowd. To the credit of Cambridge the ladies were accorded a very fair hearing, but when Mr Keeling of Trinity mounted the platform there was such an uproar that, though his mouth was seen to be moving, not a word could be heard. Later they were surrounded by such a crowd that the police escorted them to a four-wheeler which drove off. (Cam.News)

1/4/1908: More than 1000 people gathered on Cambridge Market Hill at midnight to witness the official extinction of the Third (Cambs) Volunteer Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. As the clock chimed the buglers played ‘The Last Post’ and the Volunteers were no more. But after a few seconds ‘Reveille’ was sounded, melancholy vanished and cheers greeted the new Cambridgeshire Battalion of the Territorial Force. The bugle band played the officers back to the mess room where they sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’. (Cam.News)

21/1/1910:  Crowds waited on Cambridge market hill for the results of the election. As the hands of the clock dragged with exasperating slowness, the excitement grew even keener. But by half-past ten even the cheering began to subside. “Wish I’d brought my breakfast” said one ruby-faced gentleman whose appearance suggested that he had dined exclusively on beer. “Blooming long time countin’ up nine thawsan’ votes” said a Bamwellian. Suddenly the Mayor appeared on the Guildhall balcony with the successful candidate. “Buckie’s beaten” was the sentence spoken half unconsciously by scores of Buckmaster’s supporters as if the brain refused to grasp the significance of what the eye could see. (CWN)

13/1/1911: Stall holders on Cambridge Market have been troubled by repeated small thefts. The elusive genius of the pilfering urchin is well known but Cambridge boys have resorted to other devices. One favourite plan is for two boys to walk past and for one to throw the other’s cap on the stall. In recovering the cap the boy generally manages to get an orange or two underneath it. Another is for a boy to have a piece of wood with a nail on the end and to spike an apple or other fruit with it. The police have been keeping a sharp look-out with the result that a lad of 14 was arrested for stealing nougat from Mr Careless’s sweet stall. (Cam.News)

2/8/1912: Whether one is in favour of militancy or not, the courage of those ladies who use it as a means for gaining the vote for women cannot be denied. Two ladies stood on Market Hill on Friday evening and faced the jeers and derision of a gang of rowdy youths who did all they could to make the meeting a farce. Popular songs formed the favourite medium employed for drowning the voices of the speakers and the confusion was heightened by the use of cycle bells and whistles. But Miss Roff and Miss Kate Jarvis persisted and managed to make their arguments audible (Cam.News)

16/8/1912: A meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union was being held and soon after Miss Kathleen Jarvis began her speech the bells of Great St Mary’s struck up a deafening peal. The fair speaker’s voice, pleasing but not powerful, was almost completely lost and it was only by her gesticulations that the crowd could see she was still expounding her principles. For something like an hour the unequal contest was maintained. And Miss Jarvis was the winner. A woman who had earned three periods of imprisonment was not to be daunted and was still pouring out a stream of argumentative bullets when the ringers retired (Cam.News)

20/11/1918: Armistice Celebrated. Cambridge “let itself go” with full vigour on November 11 on receipt of the news that the Germans had accepted and signed the drastic armistice terms of the Allies, and the rejoicings were kept up on every evening throughout the week. The effigy of the Kaiser was hoisted on the point of a bayonet and carried through the streets, to be consigned to the flames of a Market Hill bonfire one evening. A cadet, attired as a padre, attended to the “obsequies”. Later processions of cadets met on the Market Hill engaged in a Big Push. Premises occupied by the “Cambridge Magazine” at the corner of St. John’s Street were wrecked by a crowd. Two other shops in the same occupation were treated in similar fashion Alleged German guns on view Market Hill; these samples of scrap iron should be consigned rubbish heap (Cam.News)

10/9/1919: Cattle market as now conducted is of no value to town … a waste of expensive shoe leather. Previously could purchase a fowl or duck ready for table at a reasonable price, the Cambridge ‘yard’ of butter, eggs, fruit, meat etc. Now a dump for where high prices are rule. Patrons are those fairly comfortable who desire freshly-produced vegetables and are prepared to pay for them at prices dearer than in shops. On Saturday was fairly brisk competition in fish, meat stalls doing food business. An open market is wanted every day on Market Hill to bring down prices and dispose of tons of produce which will otherwise go rotten. Are already hawkers of fruit and vegetables. During trade depression some traders had a hard struggle; employees now coming back but require more wages to meet the rising cost of living. Fair competition doesn’t cause anxiety but the open market is unfair. They buy wholesale, dire a stall for a negligible sum and sell at small margin of profit – debate – (Cam.News)

23/4/1919: Captured German Guns. Two captured German field guns are being exhibited on the Market Hill Cambridge but are however attracting comparatively little attention (Cam.News)

10/11/1922: Armistice Day – Remembrance Day as many people prefer to call it – once again comes round tomorrow. The occasion will be observed with all the solemnity of former years by all, not excepting the exuberant spirits who will participate in a promised ‘Varsity “rag” for they will hold their noise at 1 lam and join with the rest in the two minutes’ silence which will ensue throughout the country. The “rag” will take the form of a “circus”. Undergraduates will be attired in the skins of wild animals. It is rumoured that the effigy of the ex- Kaiser will be burnt at the stake on Market Hill in the evening! (Cam.News)

11/11/1922: As in every other town and village throughout the land the Two Minutes Silence was observed in Cambridge today. In the streets traffic was stopped by the police and pedestrians stood just where they were when the first maroon went off. Market Hill was densely crowded and as the Guildhall clock started to chime men stood to attention and removed their hats, all movement ceased and the traffic stopped. The only sounds to be heard were the crying of one or two babies. Shortly before the second maroon a shuffling step was heard coming slowly along the Cury, a few turned their heads and saw an old man who, apparently oblivious, kept on his way undisturbed until a penetrating hiss: “Stand still, Beaver!” brought him back to this world and he stood with the rest of mankind (Cam.News)

17/8/1923: A meeting was held on Cambridge Market Hill under the auspices of the local branch of the World’s League Against Vivisection. Some hundreds gathered around the first speaker who was heard amid a running series of questions and interruptions. He gallantly held his post for over an hour, and many of his points were agreed to, even by opponents of the movement generously. Certain diseases had been lowered doing the last 50 years in response to sanitary improvements, he said, but no direct evidence could be found as to any decrease of the death rate as a result of vivisection. (Cam.News)

9/3/1925: The bright idea was to unveil a ‘statue’ of Eros on Cambridge Market Hill, but they did not appear till quite three-quarters of an hour late. The crowd got tired of waiting and certain of their number pelted some adventurous spirits perched on the Market cross with oranges, and this little incident led to a general exchange of soft and ‘squashy’ fruit. Oranges gave place to tomatoes, which were followed by eggs and bags of flour. Besides being unpleasant, practice of this sort is dangerous. (Cam News)

1/12/1925: Sir – The scenes on Sunday night in Petty Cury & Market Hill, Cambridge are disgraceful. Low hobbydehop youths and flat-chested flappers congregate and parade, whistling and shouting after each other and using language that would shame Billingsgate. Surely the police can put an end to such disgraceful proceedings – A.E.C. (Cam.News)

15/6/1926: One of the contingents of Women Peacemakers who are converging on London from various parts of the country arrived in Cambridge. Meetings had been held in village after village by the side of the war memorials. They were met by members of the local Pilgrimage Committee and proceeded to the Market Hill where an impromptu meeting was held. They carried various banners and red and blue flags. Mrs Rackham said the gathering recalled the great Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage of 1913 when crowds gathered on the same spot. The Pilgrims leave for Saffron Walden tomorrow. (Cam.News)

7/9/1926: A vivid flash followed by a terrific explosion occurred last night and at about the same time various people in Cambridge declare that they, too, saw a peculiar flare in the sky. No noise was heard. A police constable described the flash as lasting from five to six seconds and as making it appear as bright moonlight. Miss G. Gould, who was in charge of the coffee stall on Market Hill, said the whole of the sky in the south was lit up for about five seconds by a blue flame. A member of the “Stop! Look! and Listen” company said she noticed a vivid flash from her dressing room window. (Cam.News)

9/6/1927: Cambridge Undergraduates took upon themselves the duty of opening “Joanna Southcott’s” famous box on the Market Hill. A crowd of mammoth proportions assembled. A melancholy dirge was heard from Petty Cury and there appeared a party of pipers and following them in one of Dale’s lorries came a weird array of 24 “bishops” and a delegation of “Mormons” wearing huge straw sombreros. One “archbishop” proceeded to open the box, producing several layers of red tape, a teddy bear, a pair of old football boots and a number of bananas with which he pelted the crowd. The “rag” was organised to provide funds for the Cambridge Fruiting Campaign to help strawberry pickers in the Wisbech area. (Cam.News)

10/1/1928: An inquiry was held into proposals to alter the charges for stalls on Cambridge market. There were 112 stalls, 64 of which were interior stalls but some, particularly those at the four corners of the market were more valuable than others. The present charge was 2s. 6d. per day and it was proposed to increase it to 6s. 10s for corner stalls, with frontage stalls increased to 4s.8d and the interior stalls raised to 3s. 4d. But the proposals had not been received with enthusiasm by the traders. (Cam.News)

27/10/1928: There is much speculation regarding the £42,000 Cambridge Market Hill deal; a large cinema and cafe are spoken of, but there are no details at present. It would be for the benefit of the town if the whole island site could be taken over by the Corporation; then as the leases run out it could be cleared and would provide a magnificent site for municipal buildings. Road traffic now demands that all building operations should be planned for what will be needed in the future, with a wider Petty Cury, Market Hill and Sidney Street. Something of the sort must eventually be done unless it is the intention to remove the Guildhall and market nearer the station. (Cam.News)

20/11/1928: Earlier we gave details of a £42,000 deal in Cambridge Market Hill; now we can reveal proposals to build a super Victoria Cinema that will accommodate about 1,800 people and embody all the latest improvements with the most comfortable seating and an excellent orchestra. Large waiting lounges will be included to accommodate all queues in the building and protect patrons from the weather. A luxurious cafe restaurant is also promised. We are unable to state whether apparatus for ‘talkies’ will be included but no doubt if this art develops sufficiently well in time this new asset will not be overlooked. (Cam.News)

25/2/1930: Sir – we Cambridge market traders notice that Councillor Longley wants to move our stalls into the Corn Exchange but we challenge him to produce a transferred market that has been a success. He wants to replace the stalls with car parking spaces. Cannot he see the utter foolishness of congesting the very centre of a town with cars. Those on Market Hill consist of business townsmen, clerics and travellers who sit in their expensive car, eat bread and cheese, beg an onion to go with it but do little business. The Market Hill and Peas Hill are open-air markets. An arcade was tried years ago. The building stands today, a sorry sight, in St Andrew’s Hill. The stallholders all failed – W.J. Sambridge. (Cam.News)

27/12/1930: The heavy rain did not deter a large number of members of the Cambridgeshire Hunt from assembling on Cambridge Market Hill for this traditionally English spectacle. The scene was one worth a soaking to witness. Figures in the traditional red and black mingled with macintoshed horsemen, their steaming mounts were restless, the hounds silent and around was a rain-drenched crowd of about 1 ,000 people. They took a great deal of interest in a small terrier who looked out from the mouth of a haversack slung across a red-coated huntsman’s back. (Cam.News)

23/1/1936: Several thousand packed Cambridge Market Hill where from a special platform draped in purple the new King Edward VII was proclaimed. But proceedings were interrupted by the appearance overhead of an aeroplane and as a result of the noise from the engine the Mayor (Aid Wing) had to pause. Undergraduates crowded outside the Senate House where the University ceremony was held. Many of them had cameras and four or five, determined to get a good view of the ceremony, climbed into the huge bowl which stands on a pedestal in the court. (Cam. News)

7/10/1938: William Coad of Cavendish Avenue has come up with an answer to the need for underground A.R.P. shelters. His scheme is to construct a sub-way car park underneath Cambridge Market Square with inlet and outlet ramps, which, in the event of an emergency, could be converted into an effective shelter accommodating several thousand people. A nominal car-parking fee would eventually pay for the initial outlay and alleviate the need for suitable garaging for business men coming into the town. (Cam.News)

11/11/1938: Undergraduates invaded the streets, skilfully extracting all the spare coppers with various ingenious stunts. In white sweaters and kilts of many clans the University Pipe Band paraded to Market Square for a display of Highland dancing, then toured public houses. The ‘Peace Group’ were perched on a cart disguised as a camouflaged tank decorated with “Atlee’s pants” – which appeared to be pale pink in colour. Standing on the tank were two dictatorial-looking figures in uniform. Amongst the individual performers was a man on a pair of stilts made from sculls while barrel-organ players were dressed as ghosts  (Cam. News)

8/5/1945: VE celebrations, Market Square, crowd of several thousand, waste paper dump in St Mary’s Passage set on fire, cars and stalls damaged, flag on top fountain, climb Guildhall clock (Cam.News)

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