Cambridge’s lost concert halls


On theatres and concert halls that we’ve lost (or that were never built), and rumours of getting a new one – a very big one

Who knew that Cambridge once had a huge 1,500-2,000 capacity theatre near the University Arms Hotel? (You know where Sainsbury’s/Maplin is on Regent Street? This is it).

We’ve also lost a few more venues in times gone by:

These two fascinate me – both from the Museum of Cambridge’s archives. The first (on the left) is the old roundhouse on ‘St Andrews’ Hill’ that I can’t quite locate, and the old music hall where Barbie’s house hotel on Downing Street is. I forget which clone-town brand is currently stamped on it.

From the same archives, here’s the old YMCA on the left, and St Andrew’s Hall and the old Bun Shop Pub next to it – all now underneath John Lewis and Grand Arcade. There was also the old masonic hall and the military drill hall that have been lost underneath the Grand Arcade footprint too.

Proposals for the redevelopment of the Lion Yard area of Cambridge originally involved the creation of a concert hall or two. The above from Reeve’s fascinating book/pamphlet “The Cambridge that never was” (Oleander, 1976) – unfortunately long out of print but I managed to get hold of a copy & scanned the living daylights out of it just incase history loses all of the printed copies.

We had the old Rendezvous nightclub (since demolished – now a site of homes close to the Shire Hall complex) and the old Dorothy Ballroom – now Waterstones.

You’ll have seen me moan about the guildhalls we were promised but never got – the one on the left being Belcher’s 1898 masterpiece and my favourite, the 1858 one on the right. Both concert venues in their own right. I’m still on the hunt for the alternative proposals for the Corn Exchange.

Then there’s this:

…which just makes me angry.

“Does Cambridge need a 2,000 seat concert venue?”

Yes – but I would say that because the last concert I sang in at the Cambridge Corn Exchange we sold out.

Note the Dowsing Sound Collective has relaunched as We Are Sound.

“But where would you put the damn thing?”

I’d put it opposite the Catholic Church of Our Lady on Hills Road. Have a look at the site footprints below.

The screeenshots from GoogleMaps shows on the left the existing Cambridge Assessment offices, and on the right the footprint of the current Corn Exchange.


The above from GoogleEarth shows a satellite image showing just how big the site is.

Note that Cambridge Assessment is due to move all of its operations onto the old Cambridge University Press factory site, renaming it The Triangle. That means in a few years time there is a huge opportunity to turn the site into something of a civic & municipal amenity. At the same time, a couple of contacts inside the University of Cambridge have said they are on the lookout to built a new conferencing venue with the capacity for 2,000 people.

Well…here’s your site. A short walk from the Queen Anne Car Park, on the guided bus route, park and ride south routes and Citi bus routes from the railway station (Even though it’s a pleasant walk through the back streets to get there). It’s by Parker’s Piece, Drummer Street and a short walk from the Grafton Centre & Lion Yard Car Parks. A suitable large pop music site too given the rush hour traffic will have gone by the time most events start at 7:30-8:00pm. What’s there not to like?

A little bit of politics – with a little dash of sarcasm from Antony Carpen

Alternatively you could build a cramming college and student flats on the site that’ll put on more demands for council services without any revenue for the council. (Not the fault of the students – that’s the Local Government Finance Act 1992 – passed long before the cramming college boom of recent times. Let’s not blame the kids for decisions (or indecisions) of adult politicians). Or you could build a gated community of luxury apartments for sale on the international market that’ll be used for a couple of weeks of the year – just like London. Again, responsibility lies with the [Westminster] politicians who pass the laws and/or fail to act in the face of growing evidence that the planning & housing system isn’t working for a growing number of communities.

“Yeah – I’m uncomfortable with the politics above, Mr Carpen. I thought this was a local history blog?”

That’s the beauty and ugliness of history. At what point does our current day-to-day local politics become local history? Take the case of 17 year old Daisy Hopkins – a local resident who was thrown into prison by Cambridge University Proctors in the early 1890s.

She fought Cambridge University…and won. And changed the law, castrating the University in the process. If we did get that concert hall, I would love to see a big portrait or statue of Daisy Hopkins in the entrance hall, informing concert goers that had she not won, the people of Cambridge might not be as free as they are today to enjoy an evening’s entertainment.


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