Crumbling Cambridge – 1966

All was not well in the middle of the swinging sixties. How different it looks half a century later. Via Mike Petty here I’ve transcribed the scan of the article below from the Cambridge News in the Cambridgeshire Collection.

660223 Crumbling Cambridge

A fascinating article scanned by Mike Petty from the newspapers in the Cambridgeshire Collection, where he worked for several decades. This paints a very different view of Cambridge past.

Crumbling Cambridge – by Rodney Tibbs

“When the Cambridge City Architect, Mr Gordon Logie first presented his plans for the Lion Yard project to Cambridge City Council in June 1965 he was enthusiastic about the future. He was reported as seeing Cambridge in terms of a volcano; a place where, after a long period of underground rumblings, an eruption of a large number of new buildings was about to take place.

“Volcanoes are notoriously unpredictable and Mr Logie, relatively new to Cambridge, was still getting in tune with the pace at which things happen in the city. East residents are familiar with the pace and can recognised it as a mode of progress which represents such an infinitesimal movement on the scale of time that it ceases to have any practical meaning.


“To them, progress at an administrative level and the committing of ideas to paper are valid pursuits for as long as they precede practical steps, if not towards shaping the future at least in dealing with natural decay.

“Cambridge the city – not Cambridge the university – has failed dismally. Bolstered up by the occasional appearance of drawings and plans stumbling on from inquiry to Ministerial decision, weighted down by the fear that it will not justify a legend from the past, it has ground to a complete halt.

“The rot lies all around. The city stagnates and crumbles. Its paper plans stand like sentinels past which bricks and mortar do not pass. One by one houses crumble and crash to the ground, gaps are knocked out of terraces like rotten teeth and vast derelict areas of Cambridge, the city, provide home for vermin, animal and human.

“All awaits the builders who never come. It is committed in the cause of an elusive aesthetic ideal which seems about as obtainable as the Holy Grail. It stagnates for the benefit of tourists who will never walk its pavements and lies bare for the amenity value which its residents have yet to enjoy.

“In 1966, Cambridge rots over a much larger area than it did in 1956. Assessed on purely economic terms the losses to its rates tick on into millions of pounds as each week slides by. The city continues to stumble on in the belief that somehow it is beautiful, in some way it is lovely to look at, in some way it has characteristics as a city which place it apart from all else.


“In reality it is a city obsessed with a planning problem which at best can represent an uncomfortable compromise. The Lion Yard has dogged its thinking to the exclusion of all else and a succession of Ministerial planners have pontificated on the rumblings which have come up to them from the university, city and county.

“Without the Lion Yard, Cambridge would almost certainly have proposed an expansion of civic, cultural and commercial facilities in the New Square [west of today’s Grafton Centre] area when it began to look at itself in the immediate post war years. But the Lion Yard represents a bone over which it has been almost impossible to avoid a quarrel.

“Events have now forced a show of co-operation but even now, a decade or so after the squabble began in earnest, neither side is in complete possession of the bone and in the case of the city the contest has nullified any development which might have been useful undertaken in equally obvious parts of the city”

“The ability to look back at the history of Cambridge planning is something which will only be achieved in true perspective by future generations. They may well see that Lion Yard was one of the most disastrous arguments which the city became involved.

660223 Crumbling Cambridge Photo

Above – Coronation Street slums off Hills Road – these have since been cleared.


“The alternative might have been to have handed the Lion Yard to the University in the first place and then started work on a logical development of New Square. But with the sophistication of 10 years behind it, the machinery which lumbers on towards its promised bomb site has passed the point of extraction even if ti was ever capable of realising the predicament.

“When the Lion Yard first came under the view of the Minister in 1954, planning and much of its allied arts were in an embryonic state. The Minister advanced the view that the area should be comprehensively redeveloped for shopping and business activity with the addition of a multi-deck car park.

Past Glory

“The university objected to the amount of increased traffic such a development would generate and immediately the parties became firmly entrenched. Entrenchment might represent tactical acumen in a ground level struggle but it is not the best of places for a considered appraisal of a given situation.

“The determination which created King’s College Chapel is missing from today’s way of life, although Ministry and municipality now seek to plan their way through to some spiritual sort of justification. King’s must have got used to looking down on the decay of bomb sites and creeping stagnation.

“It is because men now concentrate on avoiding the disastrous slip that they make no progress. They have become so bogged down in the machinery so elaborately constructed to guard against the irrational and the eyesore that they are in danger of preventing themselves from making any contribution of their own towards the glories which were actually built in Cambridge in the past.”

Rodney Tibbs 1966



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