A walk through Eglantyne Jebb’s Cambridge

…using a detailed map digitised by the National Library of Scotland. This post looks at slums, a hospital, and some religious buildings.

The link to the map for you to explore is here. Or to be precise, the label of it is as below.

A Cambridge of 40,000 people

Above – a snapshot of Cambridge around 1900

Eglantyne Jebb in the early 1900s. Palmer Clark Archive in the Cambridgeshire Collection, print from original glass plate negative digitally commissioned by Antony Carpen.

Eglantyne Jebb is better known as the founder of Save the Children. What I didn’t know until I started doing some research on the history of Cambridge the town, was that not only did she write a fair portion of it during her years here, but she also shaped it too. I’ve written more about her here.

I borrowed a copy of her epic book ‘Cambridge: A brief study in social questions’ from the Cambridgeshire Collection and gave a rough commentary in a short vlogpost in early 2017.

What I didn’t know at the time (and why I’ve left it as it is) is that Eglantyne was the author. I had no idea who E. Jebb was. The book has been digitised and you can read it here.

It was only a few days later, having done some more reading and research that I stumbled across who this incredible woman actually was, and what she did for so many of us both locally and internationally.

The vlogposts and videos are also a reminder that LostCambridge is also a living history project, one that grows, develops, and even changes its mind depending on the evidence & sources that I uncover.

Eglantyne Jebb on New Cambridge

At the start of the 1800s, Cambridge’s population was just over 9,000 people. A century later using the same boundaries that population had risen to just over 38,000. However the population of the town had spilled over the existing municipal boundary which would result in the expansion of the town’s boundaries just before the First World War. Accounting for Chesterton, Trumpington and Cherry Hinton, that population count was over 50,0000. In the 2011 census it was just over 123,000 – again based on slightly expanded municipal boundaries which incorporated the estates of Arbury, King’s Hedges, and Queen Edith’s.

The Victorian expansion of Cambridge as Eglantyne saw it

If there’s one thing that Eglantyne had in bucketloads it’s courage. Strangely enough I’ve said to myself on many occasions that my lack of courage is my biggest moral failing. If I had more of the stuff I’d be in a very different place having taken different decisions and not been constrained by my fears. Eglantyne is someone who did a rental and social survey of the whole of Cambridge – slums included, at a time when there were no known cures to a whole host of diseases. She would later go off to a war zone (The Balkans during the First Balkan War in 1913) as a relief worker, and then after WWI get arrested and hauled before a court charged with breaking regulations made under the draconian Defence of the Realm Act 1914. She was convicted and fined…and had the sum of the bill pressed into her palm at the end of the court case by the prosecuting barrister who only moments earlier had torn her to bits in court.

But coming back to the expansion of Cambridge in Victorian times, don’t think it wasn’t controversial. It was – as fellow local historian Allan Brigham explained to an audience at Great St Mary’s in 2016 – ironically gathered to debate the contemporary fast expansion of the city in the early 21st Century.

Allan Brigham of Town not Gown Tours

The clash between the local brewing industry versus the local temperance campaigners

The two women who really bring to life the clash that we see illustrated on the old maps are Eglantyne, and her predecessor social reformer Ellice Hopkins – someone who would end up in my old stomping ground of Brighton. But before she went down to the south coast, she thought it might be a good idea to try and convert the whole of the Barnwell slum to Christianity. Brave move given it was an absolute hell hole where angels fear to tread. But tread she did and her legacy still stands today as it was her successful fundraising that paid for the foundation and construction of St Matthew’s Church, and also of the Cambridge Working Men’s Club. How does this clash look on the maps?

From the National Library of Scotland’s map of Cambridge 1903:

Exhibit A: Which came first, the malthouse or the mission room?

Also, what did the Wellington Street Church look like? Either way most of the buildings were demolished in the comprehensive redevelopment that led to the Grafton Centre.

Exhibit B: The Primitive Methodist Tabernacle surrounded by public houses just around the corner.

An intriguing building (Photo from here) that burnt down in a suspicious fire in the 1980s, it never broke even due to the cost of its construction. At various points it was a furniture warehouse and The Carioca Nightclub.

Exhibit C: The old Eden Baptist Chapel squaring up to The Foresters Pub

Taken just before it was demolished, The Foresters Pub is one of a number of familiar buildings that are no longer on Burleigh Street. The squabbles lasted right up until the 1980s according to one comment posted by the son of the former landlords:

“My parents were the landlords of this pub at around the same time the photo was taken. This is just before the kite redevelopment and the church hall opposite was still functional – my parents received constant complaints from the congregation about the noise from the Dansette in my bedroom, blasting out Frank Zappa and the like.” Mike Nathan at Closed Pubs.

No one wanted to be near the Infectious Diseases Hospital though.

So they stuck it out on the other side of a cement and lime works at the eastern end of Mill Road.

The lime works are no longer there but the hospital still is, albeit in a different form and long since nationalised even though it was founded by Cambridge Borough Council as was.

One of the oldest buildings on the site, from 1823.
On the Mill Road facing side, the Cambridge coat of arms/shield.

Above – two photos I took back in 2018.

The old Newtown slum – or is it the new Old town slum?

One of the first areas

And for all of the great people who lived, worked and studied in this part of town – I even went to sixth form college with some of the former Perse girls who left that school after their GCSEs, the Overhill family are the ones that contributed towards our understanding of life in Cambridge in WW2 through Jack Overhill’s diaries. And at times it sounded anarchic and out of control, with air raid sirens going off at all hours, drunken US Servicemen setting off fire arms while trying to locate whichever local brothel or sex worker he had been with the previous night – the parts of the war the Establishment would rather cover up. It was not the glorious adventure where the country loyally fell in behind King and Country and where everyone did as they were told by a competent Conservative Government. (Remember Chamberlain was deposed just before the Blitzkrieg in the west, following the Norway debacle).

Note there were also three prominent religious buildings on Hills Road in Eglantyne’s day. The recently-completed gothic mini-cathedral bankrolled by Yolande Marie Lyne-Stephens whose story we were never taught at church, either because everyone has forgotten about her or her background was deemed far too scandalous (even though she was the victim) for the church authorities.

St Paul’s Church was controversial in its day because in a move that was quite rare until Christ Church was built, it was constructed out of red bricks. Hence these would have been shipped in from much further afield – an affront to the brick makers in town.

Finally, and from a photo by Mike Petty from the late 1960s, the old Wesleyan Methodist Church, built in the 1860s.

The Methodists were losing parishioners hand over fist to the extent that they voted to merge with the Church of England around this time – only to be spurned by the latter. That said, there were enough congregants to keep this one going. It was the prohibitive repair bills that persuaded those in power to relinquish the lease on the property, which was demolished to extend the office block next to it.

And finally…

The railway yards and the station

The sites that today are filled with identikit office blocks rented out to some of the wealthiest multinational brands in the world, were once polluted, dirty, stinking and noisy sites of industry and activity. If you want to see a more detailed history, Cambridge’s entry in disused stations is a splendid read, as is Rob Shorland-Ball’s recent history for those of you who like solid books.


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