Professor Alexander Macalister accuses King’s College of running off with all of the stone from Cambridge Castle. 1895

Prof Macalister from his WikiP page here.

He said that King Henry VI gave the College permission to use the stone

Prof Alexander Macalister was a long-serving Professor of Anatomy at the University of Cambridge, taking up his appointment in 1883 to 1919, when he died. As with many academics past and present, Prof Macalister had multiple interests. This was around the time that public profile and membership of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society (which is still going – join here!) was at a peak. (Their annual publications dating back to 1859 have been digitised here).

In this talk, Prof Macalister gave a talk at the Working Men’s Institute on Castle Hill – a building that fortunately is still there. See Capturing Cambridge here. It was a building founded by Frances Whibley, from that well-known local family of liberal non-conformists at the time. Her son, Herbert George Whibley, was the leader of the Cambridge Liberals in the early 1900s. It was him that opened the proceedings that evening. Transcribed from the British Newspaper Archive here.

“Professor Macalister delivered lecture on “Castle Hill, its History and Surroundings,” in the Working Men’s Institute, Pound-hill, Cambridge. The chair was taken by Mr. H. G. Whibley, and notwithstanding the bad state of the weather the room was crowded.

“Professor Macalister, who was warmly received, said that when he first came to Cambridge, 12 years ago, Castle Hill was a very interesting object to him. He set to work to hunt up all the information he could get about it. He was that evening going to tell them something about what he had found out.

“The first thing noticeable about the hill was its peculiar position. If they went to the top of the hill, turned to the north and then travelled straight north, between there and the North Pole they would not find a piece of land as high as the hill was. The same if they went directly east, for they could go 4,503 miles, right into the middle of Asia, before they came to piece of land as high the hill. No wonder that Cambridge was cold, when there was nothing to stop the cold winds.

“The first inhabitants of this country were savages who knew nothing of metals, who used stone weapons. They were far as could be determined rather low of stature, very few being above five feet four inches or five feet five inches.

“The earliest weapons used were ordinary field stones, but soon these were chipped and made into fairly serviceable weapons. Gradually they learned to use bronze to make their weapons, and they used bone needles. These were the people who lived in this country when history first began.

“The history [i.e. the formal written record] of England began when the Romans invaded it 1950 years ago. When the Romans came into the district under Ostorius Scapula it was inhabited by a tribe called the Iceni. Ostorius Scapula placed some men in the neighbourhood, and when he left to go further north the few soldiers left him were attacked by Boadicea, at the head of army of the Icenis. The country was laid waste between here and London.

“However, another general defeated Boadicea, and established the Roman rule, who made Cambridge the head quarters of the district. They knew, however, that to keep the country in order they would have to make good roads so that they could travel from one part of the country to the other. That they made good roads was shown by the fact that to-day they were walking on some of them.

“One road extended from Colchester to Chester, which was called the Via Devana, and which existed to that day in the form of the Huntingdon Road. Another road, called later on Akeman Street, extended from a station on the const of Norfolk to near the Bristol Channel. The roads crossed marly at right angles near Cambridge, and therefore it soon became an important place.

“The early Britons, finding that the river was narrowest just near Cambridge, constructed a ford, which was replaced by a two arched bridge by the Danes. He, the lecturer, did not believe that the Britons made a hill at this place at all; it was not like most of the mounds raised by the early Britons.

“Whilst here the Romans had a temple, the exact site of which was unknown, though it was believed that it was at the back of St. Peter’s Church. Troubles at home caused the Romans all to return after being in England for 300 years. During that time the Britons had almost forgotten the way to fight, and were peaceful, quiet people, who had got a certain amount of prosperity, and were just the kind of people a warlike people could come against.

“The Angles came over in thousands, in such numbers that it was said that their country became a wilderness. They settled here, and instead of fighting settled down and inter-married with the Britons.

“The Danes soon followed, but they came simply as robbers. They landed on the East coast at the end of the eighth century and beginning of the ninth century. To protect themselves and watch for the enemy the Britons and Saxons built huts on hills, or where there were no hills they made some, and it is to this time he attributed the building of Castle Hill.

“Cambridge was visited three times within a century by the Danes, who pillaged and burnt down the town in the years 875, 921, and 1010. The hill was joined on the extremity of an elevated plateau, rising from the Huntingdon Road and ending abruptly near the river. The hill was made by the bottom of the rise being thrown up on to the top, thus causing high mound.

“Another great change then came over England, for in 1066 William the Conqueror landed in England, and in 1068 brought an army into the neighbourhood, encamping at a place now known as King’s Hedges.

“Whilst here William, finding that Cambridge was commanding place in the neighbourhood, gave orders for a large and strong castle to be built. The lecturer then drew a diagram on the blackboard of the Castle, taken from a picture painted in 1555 by a Spaniard.

“In 1441 the Castle had been neglected and the hall had fallen into disrepair. Henry VI, who was at that time greatly interested in the building of King’s College, gave the Master and Fellows leave to take stones from the building to make the college, and at various times afterwards small pieces were taken away to build other places.

In 1641 the great war for the liberties of the people [i.e. the English Civil War] broke out in this country, and Oliver Cromwell made a rough and ready castle at the side of the hill, using the hill as part of the defence.

“In 1802 the gateway of the Castle was turned into a prison, not very strong one, for there were items, found some old books, for repairs done after the escape of some prisoners. Storey’s Almshouses on Mount Pleasant were situated, he said, on one of the bastions of Cromwell’s Castle.”

“Votes of thanks to the Lecturer and the Chairman concluded the meeting.”

Supporting my future research on the story of Cambridge the town

If 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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s