Brinley Newton John’s Cambridge – in the immediate postwar era. From the National Library of Scotland

Olivia’s Dad was a local headmaster in Cambridge after WW2 – explaining why she was born in Cambridge. The digitised map from the National Library of Scotland that I’ve used for this blogpost covers that period of time when he lived and worked in Cambridge – between 1945-54. The map gives an insight of a past industrial time, and also one of a rapidly growing city with new housing estates popping up in the north, east, and south of the city. What does the old map of Cambridge reveal?

You can explore the maps side-by-side with a more contemporary view here.

The rush to update the maps before war broke out again

There are a few things that give away some of the oversights as the Ordnance Survey rushed to update maps as war loomed. They knew that they would be in demand as a result of their experience in the First World War – where they had to produce over 25million battlefield maps alone. As a result, somethings got missed off – such as the new Guildhall that was completed in late 1939.

Above – even though it says “Cambridgeshire – 1950s”, the buildings labelled “Peas Hill” were all demolished in the mid-1930s. You can also make out the shape of the old Lion Yard area – and that blank space of wasteland that was used as a car park. Finally, the old buildings around the north court of Emmanuel College were all still there – predating Bradwell’s Court.

Now let’s look at the area around Brinley Newton John’s school – the County High School for Boys, later Hills Road Sixth Form College. South of the school on Hills Road is Homerton College. East of Hills Road is the Rock Estate – named after the developer-firm that built it. Note how the shapes of the houses and buildings are carefully marked out. This estate was built between the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Now compare the above with the rapidly-expanding Abbey ward below.

The older buildings, such as the wonderful old Malthouse – which has so much potential in it once the Chisholm Trail is opened, is shaded. The new homes are simply outlined. Some of these will have been pre-fabricated homes at a time when there was a huge shortage of both labour and materials.

There’s more evidence of rushed house-building in the newly-formed ward of Coleridge – below. The Birdwood Road estate had its ground prepared by German prisoners of war.

Above – top left, you can see the trios and quads of homes that form Lichfield Road’s prefabs.

Above – from Britain From Above 1946, the quartet of pre-fabricated homes, long since demolished.

Before The New Addenbrooke’s – near the Newton John’s home

The present Addenbrooke’s Hospital was planned as a ‘Hospital in a Park’ – i.e. surrounded by countryside.

No, I’m not going to point out which house it is – that would be unfair on the present occupants. With lots of things called “Red Cross” , I guess they thought it would be a reasonable place to build a new hospital. One of the original plans was to extend Fendon Road all the way south-westwards until it hit Shelford Road. Nominally you can sort of do a similar route today, but the road is a restricted one so unless you are cycling you’re liable to be fined.

King George’s Playing Fields.

You can see in Trumpington a recreation ground space allocated, surrounded by recently-built housing that stands in sharp contrast to the ancient houses of Trumpington Village.

Above – on a more recent (but still needing an update) map, the recreation ground is clearly labeled as a King George V Playing Field. This was funded by a national memorial scheme that wanted to have more than just have statues everywhere. So they funded one statue in London and paid for land acquisition to create new playing fields for children across the country. Something we might learn from given the ages of the current monarch and heir to the throne?

The railway station as a major employer and industrial area

It’s only when you look at the amount rail track and the area that it covers that you get a sense of just how significant an operation it was. Note in those days Cambridge had its own engine sheds where locomotives were serviced and stored overnight.

Below – one of the older pairs of railway sheds from 1951. (I can’t recall the source on that one – but still think those sheds should have been saved and repurposed for different uses).

Compare and contrast – One dying industry replaced by another now dying industry?

On the left you have the huge Cambridge gas works with the stand-out circular gasometers. Cambridge’s last standing one really should have been preserved as an important piece of industrial architecture, but developers were allowed to build flats on the site instead. A shame they could not incorporate accommodation into the steel structures.

On the other side of Newmarket Road you can see on the map a series of puts which included an old brickworks. One of the pits later became the town dump, where all sorts of naughty things were thrown in without documentation. One of the reasons the site became used for warehouse retail was because of the problem of polluted land. Although not nearly as extreme as gasworks and former industrial areas such as North Greenwich in London (which had to have soil to a depth of 15 metres excavated and presumably dumped elsewhere), the land remediation costs mean that it is far too expensive to make the land safe enough to build houses on. Hence much of the site being used for car parks – because there’s not much else you can do with it.

Above – the post-war gas works which produced coke and coal gas from coal. The Coldham’s Lane / Newmarket Road junction prior to the discovery of North Sea Oil and Gas. Photo from Mike Petty MBE.

Note the West’s Garage on the road opposite. They had a cracking radio advert song in the early 1990s!

*Sorry, your homes are in the way of our new dual carriageway bridge! Coming thru!!!*

As we head to North Cambridge, we get a sense of the mindset of the time, and the sheer destructiveness of the road-building movement. We’ve seen on previous blogposts about the Holford Wright plans for inner and outer spine roads to take traffic out of the city centre … before they gave up and built the M11 instead. Elizabeth Way bridge was supposed to make up one of those roads. Hence it being built as a dual carriageway, along with the end of East Road. At some point a major road from the railway station was supposed to crash through Gwydir Street and the St Matthew’s Estate, but it never got built. But if you can imagine roads like the old Abbey Road and Walnut Tree Avenue having similar old terraced houses before being demolished to make way for this modern concrete road bridge, you can see why more than a few locals got upset.

At the other end on the north side, the main road crashed through the old Chesterton Hall before announcing its arrival on Milton Road. Personally I think they could have at least tried to put the link road under a tunnel so as to lave open a large green space.

And finally, the war stores

It was an elderly resident who pointed these out to a group of us at the Museum of Cambridge several years ago. The boxes on the top left were, he said used for storing materiel for D-Day. Which indicates just how big a logistical operation if must have been if they were storing things for it as far away as here.

The Works in the fields to the right of it are the sewage fields where what was left from the pumping station was spread over the fields between Cambridge and Milton. It was also here that the present waterworks were built – although these are due to close in the next decade or so to make way for a development of around 15,000 new homes as part of the North East Cambridge Plan

So present Cambridge wasn’t the only era of large housing growth, nor I suspect will it be the last.

f you enjoyed this article and are interested in the history of Cambridge the town and the people who made our modern city, please support my research in bringing their records of achievement to wider audiences. Click here if you would like to make a donation or take out a small subscription to support my ongoing work.


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