Zooming into the photographic details of Lost Cambridge with Britain From Above


Signing up for a free account with Britain From Above means you get access to incredibly detailed versions of photos of Britain from the sky taken up to 100 years ago.

The website is at https://britainfromabove.org.uk/

I’ve shared a number of detailed snaps taken after zooming into particular parts of individual photos on the Lost Cambridge FB Page here. What follows is a commentary on a handful of these, with links to the original.

The loss of public buildings.

This has been a theme for me in how what were previously buildings open to or for the public have in effect been privatised or made off limits. Quite often this has been because of Cambridge University’s colleges buying up the land and properties to expand.

From the photograph https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EPW045032 I was able to zoom into the bottom-centre of the photograph and extract the detail of Hobson Street, Cambridge below, taken in 1934.

EPW045032 Hobson St Cinema and County Hall 1934

You can see the old Hobson Street Cinema building in white, and on the right hand side with its ‘back’ to us, is the old County Hall, the then purpose-built HQ of Cambridge City Council, opened in 1914.

Cambridgeshire County Hall 1913

This is the front of the County Hall building, with the 1913 inscription in it, though opened a year later. It’s now part of Christ’s College.

The expansion of secondary schools in post-war Cambridge

From this photograph of pre-fab houses on Lichfield Road in my neighbourhood, I managed to zoom into the building in the distance at the top of the photograph.

EAW002930 Coleridge School 1946

The big building behind the houses (on the south side of Radegund Road) is the old Coleridge School. Today it’s part of the Parkside Federation. It’s had a tough time over the decades, having had a reputation of not being a good school. When I visited the school on its open day in 2014, I got a very different impression – a much more positive one that went against the solidified negative stereotypes that many in the neighbourhood had, passed down the generations. One of the things that had been a discussion piece in a local history/nostalgia FB group was the transition from gender-segregated schools in Cambridge to a comprehensive system – see the thread here. This was also the time when Cambridge got rid of its grammar schools.

Go to jail – go directly to jail, do not pass GO! do not collect £200

Although labelled Castle Hill in the photograph here, the original as you can see actually covers a much wider area, starting with St John’s New Court. Taken in 1920, you can see the photograph also contains the as yet undemolished Cambridge County Gaol.

Castle Hill Prison 1920 EPW000056

You can see St Giles Church in the foreground with the white roof – part of the Church At Castle collective (which co-ordinates the work of the churches and chapels of various denominations). The ‘castle mound’ is just behind it, and the gaol is on the site that is now an open green.

Interestingly, the original design of the church had a steeple as part of it, but they ran out of money before they could add it. You can also see on the far left of the photo detail the back of the court house.


Above – the old courthouse we lost in the early 1950s, despite a request from Cambridge City Council to keep it. I want to rebuild this as part of an expanded Museum of Cambridge.

I guess it’s quite grim when you think that the prison site was that of the last public hanging in Cambridge (described here), with further descriptions of the prison here.

Heavy industry in Cambridge

While it can’t compare with the industrial giants of the north, Cambridge wasn’t short of a chimney or two. The state of some of the uncleaned old buildings in Cambridge reflects this – such as the older large churches. This photograph labelled as St John’s shows the old Cambridge Electric Supply Company’s Power Station.

EAW002914 Quayside Cambridge 1946 with electric power station

How they got away with building the power station there I am still trying to find out. What it shows for me though is a missed opportunity. When the power station closed  after the Second World War, there was an opportunity to clear the old buildings to make a ‘second quayside’ similar to the first one. Unfortunately during the 1980s that part of the riverside was given over to private flats, which must be worth a fortune today. The revamped Quayside that we know today opened in the late 1980s.

The slums of East Road

I’m both intimidated by and fascinated by the slums of East Road – one of the parts of town that Cambridge heroes Ellice Hopkins and Eglantyne Jebb did their research down in the 1870s and mid-1900s respectively. This otherwise uninteresting photograph hides some fascinating details.

EAW014113 Zion Baptist and ARU site

At the bottom-right of this photographic detail is the Zion Baptist Church, and the site of Jimmy’s of Cambridge, the homelessness charity. Behind it at the top right is the old Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, later incorporated into Anglia Ruskin University. You can see just how tightly packed the houses are along the side roads off East Road going top to bottom. What’s fascinating about the image that this photo is from, is the detail to the left of it where much of the former housing and workshops have since been demolished.

Have a look at where you live on https://britainfromabove.org.uk/ and see what’s changed.


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