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Articles on Cambridge History published in the St John’s Parish Magazine

History Articles published in Parish Magazine

A Church with a Mission

At the north end of Coldhams Lane you are now confronted by the bulk of Anglia House; so recent its appearance that its predecessor the Renault Garage still occupies the location in Google Map’s virtual reality. What is probably not known is that this was the site of the first Catholic mass celebrated in Cambridge since 1688. The ramshackle cottage of Esther Price, in 1841, no.182 Newmarket Road (not 40 as elsewhere noted) and later renumbered, by 1911, no. 219, and now destroyed. Such was the throng in the upstairs room in 1841 that the floor threatened to collapse. Just in time, the new chapel of St Andrew in Union Road was opened in December 1842.

There had been opposition, to say the least. The Catholic community in Cambridge during the Protestant repression had been led from Sawston by the Huddleston family. It was decided by Bishop Walsh in 1826 that a Catholic mission in Cambridge was needed, not just because of the traditional families and academic status, but also because the Industrial Revolution had brought large numbers of Irish families to the area needing a place of worship. Fr Edward Huddleston was given the task in 1827; well aware of the ill-feeling that too much publicity might arouse, in 1828, he bought, by proxy, a pair of cottages in Union Road to use as a base. No. 16 Union Road became the home of the Catholic clergy; nos. 18 and 19 became the site of the new chapel and school.

Opposition to the Catholic community was rife. As the new chapel, designed by A W N Pugin using the model of St Michael’s Longstanton, was nearing completion, on the night of 5th November 1841, a traditional occasion for rioting by undergraduates, Fr Shaley had to summon a group of ‘valiant sons of Erin’, representing the Catholic congregation to support the forces of law order against students determined to tear down the new building. Fortunately, the students were subject to a 10pm curfew and tempers cooled. Even after the building was completed, anti-Catholic students, often from Cavendish College (where Homerton is now), would infiltrate services to disrupt and make mischief. Two undergraduates were caught and their heads shaved on one occasion.

The extent of the site in control of the church grew slowly. Wanstead House, no.2 Hills Road, the home of the Eaden Lilley family in 1851, was bought by Canon Quinlivan in 1865; the grounds at the back of the house gave space to rebuild the school with a house for the teachers. It was a major financial gamble and left the mission with a debt of £500. In 1879 Quinlivan was finally able to acquire no. 1 Hills Road. Joseph Wentworth, the auctioneer, had always refused to sell his land to the mission but at the cost of £2000, half donated by the Duke of Norfolk, the Catholic mission finally had the land it needed for its new church. Even when Our Lady and the English Martyrs was being built by Rattee and Kett between 1885-90, the diary of Edward Conybeare, former C of E vicar of Barrington, later convert to Catholicism and close friend of Monsignor Scott, recorded the anti-catholic demonstrations and leafletting as well as vitriolic attacks in the local press. The vision of Scott had been to create a building as parish church for the whole Catholic community of the city, town and gown, but it would also be a cathedral for the eastern counties. Both ambitions of Monsignor Scott were thwarted; the university congregation established itself at Fisher House and Norwich was chosen to be the seat of the cathedral. In the meantime, the Catholic mission had been fortunate to find an extraordinary benefactor, Mrs Lyne-Stephens, formerly Yolande Duvernay, operatic dancer. She had inherited a fortune from her husband who had held the patent for moving dolls’ eyes. She covered the entire cost of the building and furnishings to the tune of £70,000.

It was during the two World Wars that the great edifice came into its own. From the outset, the mission met the needs of Irish soldiers and then Belgian refugees. In WWII there were large numbers of Catholics in the Polish, American, French and other allied forces based in and around Cambridge. In September 1939 the school was used as dispersal centre for 400 child evacuees from London. After the bombing of Hills Road on Shrove Tuesday 1941 the school was used as a rest centre for those left homeless. Despite the prohibition on visible lights at night, OLEM continued to hold its Christmas Midnight Masses with the permission of the Chief Constable. In July 1943 there was a sung Requiem Mass to mark the death of the Polish commander General Sikorski. German and Austrian families in the city were also ministered to as were those captive in the Italian POW camp in Trumpington.

OLEM is our partner church in the Cambridge Churches Homeless Project and also supports the Cambridge Foodbank. More information about their current activities can be found on their website.

PS. If you have ever turned off the Newmarket Road onto Ditton Lane, have you noticed the isolated shack which is the Catholic Church of St Vincent de Paul? This strange building has a history; once used for St Laurence’s in High Street, Chesterton, before that it was the men’s club and church hall for OLEM in Hills Road, as well as  an evacuation centre for those fleeing the flying bomb offensive in London in 1944. But its actual origin was as one of the prefabricated huts that made up the First Eastern General Military Hospital on the Backs in WWI. It may be the only surviving remnant of those buildings. The cost was donated by Baron von Huegel and his wife Eliza, curator of the Museum of Archaeology, whose house, Croft Cottage in Barton Road became a busy centre for Catholics of all ages.

Most this information has been gleaned from ‘Catholics in Cambridge’ ed. Nicholas Rogers published by Gracewing 2003. The information above and much more can be found on the website by using the interactive map or search engine.

 Lost Streets in Cambridge

Much of the action in Susanna Gregory’s novels about Matthew Bartholomew, the doctor from Michaelhouse College, set in 14th century Cambridge, revolves around Milne (Mill) Street. She helpfully provides a map of the main locations in her novels and this year has created a website <> in which she discusses the evidence for these locations.

If you wanted to retrace the route of Milne Street today you could start at its southernmost end, now the junction of Queens’ Lane and Silver Street. Queens’ Lane is the southern third of Milne Street. In Matthew’s day Queen’s College was yet to be founded (in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou.) Instead the most prominent building would have been the Carmelite Friary, between the road and the river. These Whitefriars had moved to the centre of Cambridge at the end of the 13th century. Two hundred and fifty years later after the dissolution of the monasteries, Queens’ College took over the site. All that remains of the old Carmelite church is one wall, now the northern boundary of the college garden. A strange curiosity though survives from the time when the college had to subdivide the newly acquired Carmelite garden into four plots. The President of the college and the Fellows were not always on very good terms and had their own gardens so an ingenious building with four doors was created at the intersection of the four gardens which would enable passage from one garden to another without setting foot on any garden that was out of bounds. This ‘Four-door hut’ survives to this day and is featured on the Queens’ College website.

Richard Lyne’s 1574 map of Cambridge is the earliest that survives. Mill (Milne) Street is clearly marked north and south of King’s College. The central section of Milne Street disappeared when the King’s College site was developed in the 16th century. The riverside area here was transformed; at the time of Susanna Gregory’s novels it would have been the most populous part of Cambridge with docks, warehouses, and tiny houses. So busy that the debris produced in medieval times increased the ground level by two metres, according to Alison Taylor in ‘Cambridge: The Hidden History.’

The northern part of Milne Street is now Trinity Lane. Matthew Bartholomew would have seen, where the west end of King’s College is now, the church of St John Zachary. This was not only a parish church but served as chapel for the students of Clare and Trinity Halls, founded 1326 and 1350, respectively. The church would have been destroyed around 1446 when the foundation of King’s College chapel were laid. On the other side of Milne Street, where the east end of King’s chapel is now, there existed for a short while a college known as God’s House. It had been set up in 1437 in order to train school teachers. However, it found itself in the way of plans for the creation of King’s College chapel and so God’s House moved to a new location in 1448, and in 1505 was renamed, Christ’s College.

The north end of Milne Street met today what is now the southern boundary of Trinity College. Back in the 14th century this was the site of Michaelhouse, the second oldest college in the university. It had expanded by the gradual incorporation of private houses that had been hostels for student. One of these was Garrett hostel; its location was at the eastern end of Garrett Hostel Lane and Michaelhouse bought it in 1329. It was finally demolished in the 17th century. The lane in those days led down to Garrett Hostel Green, an island in the river.

The foundation of Trinity College in 1540 brought about the amalgamation of two colleges, Michaelhouse and King’s Hall, with seven further hostels, all under the new name. There had been a risk that these two colleges would go the way of the monasteries and have their assets confiscated by King Henry VIII, but the queen, Katherine Parr, managed to persuade the king otherwise and he set about the creation of his new college. Early pictures of Trinity College show that some of these original buildings survived but in due course most of Michaelhouse was dismantled and used for new buildings.

Faith and Miracles in the Great War

The Great War 1914-18 seemed to have revealed inhumanity on an unprecedented scale. For many the established religions failed to offer a meaningful explanation for such suffering. They would turn away from traditional churches after WWI.

But for others the Great War had provided moments of sublime revelation, not only the self sacrifice shown by comrades, but their own personal experience of the divine. The war for them was Armageddon, the battle between Good and Evil. Whilst propagandists could make use of this concept to interpret the grand scale of the conflict, for individuals it provided a very intimate framework by which to understand their experiences. Testimonies to these can be found in soldiers letters. For example, there are recently published letters from French soldiers to the convent of Lisieux, the place associated with the Catholic saint Therese de Lisieux.

Divine revelation in the midst of battle has a long history in Christianity; for example the apparition of the Christian cross (Chai Rho) in the sky to the Emperor Constantine before the battle of the Milvian bridge. Therese became an inspiration to French soldiers in WWI. Living in Normandy at the end of the 19th century, she became a nun aged 15. Her devotion to Christ and a series of miraculous recoveries from illness are recorded in her memoirs, ‘The Story of a Soul.’ Therese died in 1897 aged 24 and immediately her tomb became a pilgrimage site.

A process of canonisation was started in June 1914, just before the start of WWI. It is not surprising that the war was a time of intense spiritual experience for some soldiers who, faced with death, turned towards the saint in the making. Letters released by the convent show how soldiers who prayed to her in the trenches were blessed with her apparition and soothing words. Many attributed their miraculous survival in battle to her. Soldiers carried images of Therese sewn into their trench coats as well as chains with her picture. The convent was deluged with letters about her miracles and requests for relics which were said to have stopped bullets from mortally wounding soldiers. Even German soldiers carried pictures of Therese on them. Therese was beatified by the Pope in 1923 and canonised in 1925, but had been venerated as a de facto saint well before this. Her permanent memorial is the beautiful Basilica at Lisieux built between 1929 and 1954 funded entirely by donations.

However, another WWI story of divine intervention on the battlefield is almost certain to have been fiction confounding fact. In September 1914 the Welsh author Arthur Machen published a story in the ‘The Evening News’ entitled ‘The Bowmen’. It described phantoms from the Battle of Agincourt summoned by a solider calling on St George, destroying a German army. Machen had created the illusion of a first-hand account. As a result a number of versions of the story appeared; editors of parish magazines requested permission to reprint them. Other similar accounts were published and one involved the miraculous intervention of angelic figures on the side of the British at the Battle of Mons in 1914. Despite Machen’s attempts to prove that his and other stories were fiction, the genie had been let out of the bottle and such stories became an important aspect of war time propaganda. Military intelligence may well have promoted tales to help in the fight for moral superiority.

Even such fictions demonstrate that faith was a powerful force in WWI, more so, some have noted, than in WWII. A study of American soldiers has shown that they scribbled lines of scripture on their gas masks and read poems that compared them to the heroes of the Old Testament. These men and women used their religious faith to face the war and their own personal beliefs were strengthened in the process.

Therese had written “I want to spend my time in heaven doing good on earth.” Many soldiers on both sides who survived the war and probably countless who did not, fully believed that her intervention was a reality and one which was worthy of commemoration.

Memories of a Veteran Soldier

A steady trickle of interesting documents is now coming my way through the Capturing Cambridge Project – house deeds, anecdotes, occasional photos. One of the most remarkable has been the collection of poems and short stories of Robert W Stevenson who lived until his death in 2014 in Mowbray Road.

Called up at the outbreak of the Second World War because he was already a ‘territorial’, he was assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and stayed with his unit, the 20th British General Hospital, right through until 1945. He travelled all over the British Isles as well as France in 1940, Normandy in 1944 and then India. Throughout he wrote numerous poems and short stories about army life, the characters he served with, the women he met and novel sights and sounds. But he also used his writing to reminisce about life at home, Cambridge and his childhood.

He grew up in Doric Street with his parents, Robert and May. Robert was a college servant (college unknown) and Doric Street was one of three parallel streets of tiny two up two down terraced houses running between Lensfield Road and Saxon Street that were eventually condemned and demolished in the 1960s. It was about this street in the 1920s that he chose to reminisce in one poem written in Ireland in 1943:

Looking back to my childhood days

Time honoured happy carefree ways.

That tiny house, two up two down

In the little community of New Town.


He goes on to paint a picture of many of the residents:

Miss Webb’s shop with great jars of sweets,

Liquorice, toffee and farthing treats.

Old Mrs Elgar with her much prized ferns,

George the milkman with his huge brass churns.


Looking at the location now it seems impossible that 21 households (according to the 1911 census) were squeezed into the available space. The family must have been relieved to move into their new house in Mowbray Road in the 1930s.

Later in life his writings were shared with family and friends but as far as I am aware never professionally published. I have tried to get in touch with surviving family members with no luck to date. If anyone in the parish knew Robert and has memories to share about him I would be very interested. The complete poem about Doric Street can be found on the Capturing Cambridge website at the location where the street once was.

Edward Hobday – the Victorian Gardener


In 1911 amongst the one hundred households in Blinco Grove you would have found nine men who described their profession as gardener; in Marshall Road the proportion was even higher, eight gardeners out of fifty seven households. Some were ‘not domestic’ and would have been found in nurseries, but many worked in local homes.

One of the most celebrated Cambridge gardeners would have been Edward Hobday. From before 1891 he lived with his wife Emma and four children at no. 4 Rock Road (today’s 39), and ran the nursery on the corner of Hartington and Rock Road next to  the library. He was born in Worcestershire around 1833 and during his life published two books on gardening, Cottage Gardening (1877), and Villa Gardening (1887). The latter is a 500 hundred page manual on everything one need to know on how to manage a large (1 to 10 acre) garden – its flower, fruit and vegetable production. The book on cottage gardening runs to only 120 pages and is clearly aimed at a smaller plot but still one an enterprising gardener might use not only to feed his own family but also produce a marketable surplus.

Villa Gardening gives us today some insight into how the many professional gardeners would have been employed. At the back of the book there is a handy calendar of jobs. You might have expected January and February to be quiet months. Not for Mr Hobday! Here are some highlights:


Fruit garden: wash pear and peach trees infested with scale, and apples on which cotton-blight exists, with a strong solution of Gishurst solution (a soap based concoction that was in use from 1859 for almost 100 years.)

Vegetable Garden: Sow cauliflowers in heat.

Conservatory: keep up a genial temperature of 45 to 50 fahr. Keep down insects as much as possible with the sponge.

Stove: night temperatures need not exceed 60 to 65 fahr. Give no quarter to mealy bug.

Forcing flowers: Roses,… Lily of the Valley, Dutch Bulbs, etc., can be brought forward as required; night temperature about 60 fahr.

Forcing fruit: to have ripe grapes in June, the vinery should be closed for forcing about the middle of the month.

Pines: Keep the temperature steady at 60 to 65 fahr.

Peaches: to have fruit ripe in June, close the house early in the month.

Figs should be pruned and cleaned ready for an increase in temperature.

Strawberries: start the plants in a temperature of 55 fahr in successive batches of 50 or so.

Forcing Vegetables: Plant French beans in pots in the Pine-stove or vinery. Force Asparagus in hotbeds, with a bottom heat of 75 fahr. Make up mushroom beds in succession.

No shortage of jobs here for the ambitious Victorian gardener and clearly some resources with which we are less familiar today.The Plant Stove was basically a hot house in which Hobday describes, as well as orchids, a wide vareity of tropical flowering plants such as Bougainvilleas, Stephanotis and Water lilies. Seven pages are devoted to the growing of ‘Pine Apples’; he describes how to organise a fruiting house for 100 plants, warmed by hot water pipes. However, the most important method for the Victorian gardener of providing the extra heat required to force or protect plants, was the hot bed, fuelled by fresh horse dung. Tracking down supplies of fresh manure today is a little tricky; in Hobday’s time you could probably tread in it everywhere you walked. He gives precise instructions and timings on the creation of these beds which, with careful management, would give the gardener a couple of months extra growing time at the beginning and end of the main season and play a vital role in supplying a wide choice of vegetables and fruit in the days before global imports.

I am going to attempt to recreate a hot-bed on my allotment once I track down the ingredients and hope to report in the next edition.


Henry Gunning’s Reminiscences of the University, Town and County of Cambridge from the year 1780 was published in 1854, the year he died, and the work is one of the more entertaining descriptions of Cambridge at the beginning of the 19th century. He had been one of the Esquire Bedells of Cambridge University and had an official connection with the university for over 65 years. He describes his passion for shooting – ‘in going over the land now occupied by Downing Terrace, you generally got five or six shots at snipes’ – and would make his way along the main road to Trumpington apparently shooting at every bird in sight!

In 1851 he was living at 1 Emmanuel Road, looked after by Charles and Susan Leggatt, his servants; he had had a fall in 1847 that left him disabled. I decided to look a little closer at the road at this time. Originally called Miller’s Lane, Emmanuel Road was developed in the 1820s and by 1850 it contained the homes of a variety of people including town councillors, property owners and college servants. The Unitarian Church was not built until 1928; in 1851 the same site, no. 6, was the home of James Tompkins, master builder.

Perhaps the most interesting house on Emmanuel Road then was no. 7, on the corner with Victoria Street. In 1851, this was the Police Station, home of William Juggard, superintendent, his wife Ann, and two children, Mary Ann, aged 7, Alfred, 4, and their house servant Lydia Bowman, 14. More surprisingly, in the 1851 census, as well as this family, are the names of eight prisoners as well as two small children who belong to two of the women in the gaol. In fact five of the prisoners are women aged between 21 and 32.

A look in the Cambridge Chronicle for April 5th reveals why they were under lock and key. The prisoners appeared before three magistrates, including the mayor, on a Monday. Joshua Brook, 33, was charged with vagrancy but released on the promise to leave town. Two of the women, Charlotte Mist, 32, and Frances Burford, 22, with a 7 month old child, Emma, were also charged with vagrancy. They had been found by PC Thompson sitting on a step in East Road at midnight on Saturday. Rather than promise to leave Cambridge the two women retorted that they had come up from London for a stroll, ‘intending to have a spree’ and would not leave until the magistrates gave them something. In reply the magistrates gave them seven days imprisonment.

Two other women, Mary Rust, 21, with five month old James, and Eliza Cooper, 22, had been involved in beating up PC Yardley. He had gone to arrest Mary’s partner Johnson after he had been seen breaking into two houses in Gas Lane. The constable apprehended Johnson but the two women, ‘in language not of the most refined’, persuaded Johnson to resist. The constable was struck and kicked and Johnson escaped. The two women were brought back to the magistrates on the Friday. Johnson not having appeared, both women were committed for seven days hard labour.

The fifth women, Ann Poole, 22, was also charged with vagrancy. She had been begging in Cambridge for 14 days and so was sent to gaol for 14 days.

The two other men were William Marfleet, 51, and Saunders Johnson, 22. William Marfleet of East Road, had just come out of gaol for three months after a second offence of threatening his wife with a knife. The magistrates sent him down for another three months. Saunders Johnson had assaulted a man with a wagon whip. He was given the choice of a 10 shilling fine or 14 days imprisonment.

The Vagrancy Law had been introduced in the UK in 1824 to deal with the large number of poor and homeless soldiers after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It made begging or sleeping in a public place an arrestable offence punishable with up to one month’s hard labour. Although the entire Act was repealed in Scotland in 1982, certain sections remain in force in England and Wales where is is still a criminal offence to sleep ‘in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon, not having any visible means of subsistence.’ In other words, just for being poor and homeless.

In 2014 three men were charged with stealing food worth £33 that had been put in bins outside an Iceland supermarket in north London. Iceland themselves questioned the public interest of the police pursuing the case; the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to take further action!

Further information, links and details of sources can be found on the Museum of Cambridge interactive map –


William Gunning in his Reminiscences of Cambridge, published in 1854, recalls a bookseller by the name of Maps:

When he first began business, he was a seller of of maps and pictures, which he exhibited in the streets on a small moveable stall: but when I came to college [c. 1784] he was living in an old- fashioned, but large and commodious house belonging to King’s College, adding to what was the the Provost’s Lodge. He had a very large stock of books required at college lectures, both classical and mathematical; and I do not believe I expended, during my undergraduateship, twenty shillings in the purchase of books for the lecture room. His terms of subscription were five shillings and and threepence per quarter, but were afterwards increased to seven shillings and sixpence. When his house was pulled down to make way for the Screen which connects the Chapel of King’s with the New Building, he built and removed to the house now occupied by Macmillan.

This was none other than Daniel Macmillan, founder of Macmillan Publishers and grandfather of the future prime minister Harold Macmillan. The house in question was 29 Regent Street where Macmillan is listed with his family, Frances, daughter of local chemist Charles Orridge and his servant Elizabeth Crissall. Daniel had been born in 1813 on the Isle of Arran and founded his publishing business after he moved to London with his brother Alexander. He died in 1857 and is buried in Mill Road Cemetery.

However, if you thought that the location of 29 Regent Street today was worthy of a Blue Plaque, somewhere in the middle of Pizza Hut, you would be wrong. The 1851 census makes it clear that 29 Regent Street was on the west side of the road. Starting with Llandaff House, the enumeration of the houses proceeds southwards from no. 4 consecutively as far as no. 31. The modern enumeration, which was introduced after 1901, also starts with 4 but continues with even numbers as far as 116.

Llandaff House, the site of modern Mandela House, typifies the confusion. Varying between nos. 2, 3, 4 and 6 Regent Street, it was once even 45 St Andrew’s Street. Llandaff Chambers was created in 1903 and the rest of the house demolished in the 1930s. The original house was a pub by the name of Bishop Blaize. In 1784, the Bishop of Llandaff, professor of divinity, acquired the pub and turned the whole into his private residence. In 1817 Llandaff House became a school run by Newton Bosworth on behalf of a Cambridge Benevolent Society. The management of the school was taken over by William Johnson and remained in the Johnson family until 1903 when it was sold to Herbert Robinson, cycle shop owner and father of David, the founder of Robinson College.

So what of the the rest of Regent Street (west side) in 1851? Well, it seems possible to match some modern properties to the old numbering going south from Llandaff/Mandela House as far as modern 62-64 (old 23-24). This happens to be today Haart Estate Agents. In 1851, no. 24 was the site of the home of William Edwards, a college butler. By 1911 no. 62-64 was F W Whiting, draper and hosier. On the way one would have passed the house (old no. 5 Regent Street) of Francis P Fenner, tobacconist and the founder of Fenner’s cricket ground.

South of Downing College porter’s lodge there were few properties in 1851. It seems possible that the modern nos. 86 – 92 can be matched with locations of older properties by following the ownership in the censuses:

2019 no. 86. Kung Woo restaurant = 1851 no. 28 James Hammond coach maker

2019 no. 88. CLC Christian Bookshop = 1851 no. 29 Daniel Macmillan bookseller

2019 no. 90. Cocktail Bar = 1851 no. 30 Anne Freeman lodging house keeper

2019 no. 92. Vedanta Indian Restaurant = 1851 no.31 Susan Brook postmistress and confectioner

South of this point the relation of the old numbers to modern properties becomes even trickier. Before reaching Hyde Park Corner, the old name of the junction between Regent Street and Lensfield Avenue, there is a pub called the Railway King, possibly the same as the modern Oak.

Further information, links and details of sources can be found on the Museum of Cambridge interactive map –


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