Demolition of the old Wrestlers Inn, Petty Cury, 1884/85

There are a handful of photographs that survive the first redevelopment of Petty Cury in the mid Victorian era. Prior to the buildings that pre-date the modern Lion Yard Shopping Centre, a series of commercial buildings with upper floor flats were built along the southern side of Petty Cury at a time of largescale redevelopment and expansion on a scale not seen since the construction of the grand Tudor-era colleges.

160414 Petty Cury Museum of Cambridge 1870 pre Victorian rebuilding

Above – Petty Cury circa 1870, with James Essex’s Shire House Guildhall at the end of the street. This image from the Museum of Cambridge’s photo archive.

181018 Petty Cury South Side

Above – from the Cambridgeshire Collection – from a feature in the old Cambridge Daily News on ‘Old Cambridge vs New Cambridge’ from the early 1950s. Note the cobbled streets and stone-paved pavements. 

241231 v old Petty Cury

Above – from the Cambridgeshire Collection – from a feature in the old Cambridge Daily News on ‘Old Cambridge vs New Cambridge’ from the early 1950s. 

260210 Petty Cury 1884

Every so often, local newspapers would run features on Cambridge’s past, featuring old and subsequently demolished buildings. This etching like others of its time was created just before the demolition of The Wrestlers – a time pre-dating the use of photography in newspapers. They would be reproduced in later editions every so often.

181211 Wrestlers Pub Petty Cury

One of the reasons why I like ***really old books*** is for the etchings like this. This one I think is from Atkinson & Clark from the late 1890s.

“So, why was it demolished?”

If you were someone with the means to acquire property freeholds, then Petty Cury in Cambridge was one of the best places to own commercial property. A stone’s throw from King’s College Chapel, The Guildhall and Market Square at the western end, and the main through-road through Cambridge at the other end (remember this pre-dates the motor-car), this was a street with a high pedestrian flow.

The site of the inn came up for sale in 1875 following the death of John Thomas Baumgartner the previous year. The joys of optical recognition scanning along with the mass digitisation of very old books means historians and interested persons can head down an internet wormhole to find out more about this property owner, who appears in a number of Victorian-era publications.

Screenshot 2020-04-20 at 15.44.49

Newspaper notice – Cambridge Independent Press 1875 in the British Newspaper Archive.

Such was the prominence of the site that the advert carried more text in it than normal property auctions. Note one of the occupants at the time was the Great Eastern Railway, and that the then newly-built Cambridge Corn Exchange (still there today) also gets a mention.

Screenshot 2020-04-18 at 16.57.42Screenshot 2020-04-18 at 16.58.20

One of the reasons why the description is incredibly useful – apart from the fact the building was demolished, is that it gives us an idea of what the inside was. This isn’t the only article that gives us a description of the interior.

Screenshot 2020-04-18 at 17.30.11

Whoever ultimately won the bid for the property leased it out in the longer term to the Post Office – construction of which was completed in 1885. This was the building that replaced it.

181006 Petty Cury Post Office 1900

Cambridge Post Office circa 1900. (Own collection)


Cambridge Post Office, shortly before demolition in 1970s. Cambridgeshire Collection.

Prior to the demolition of The Wrestlers, a new street plan had to be drawn up – a copy was deposited in the Cambridge University Library – you can see it here. Note Alexandra House and the curved street front as demonstrated in the photograph above.

Just as the demolition of the Post Office was controversial, so was the demolition of some of the older shop fronts on Petty Cury – this from 1855 in The Gentleman Magazine – p377.

Screenshot 2020-04-20 at 15.56.46

It also has a wonderful etching of the back yard of the inn.

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From 1855 in The Gentleman Magazine – p376.


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