The Holford-Wright Maps of the Cambridge Development Plan 1950

I digitised and uploaded one of my original copies to the Internet Archive

You can view the maps in Vol 2 here. If you want to read Vol.1, Cambridge City Council have digitised it here. They don’t publicise it though – which is a shame.

I remain of the view that the analysis of Cambridge by William, later Lord Holford, and Prof later Sir Myles Wright, was excellent – shame about their policy proposals.

The Cambridge that they were assessing was what I described as Brinley Newton-John’s post-war Cambridge. There’s a biography waiting to be written by someone of Dame Olivia Newton-John’s incredibly bright father, who spent over a decade living, working, and studying in Cambridge both pre and post-war. Newton-John Snr was the headmaster of the Cambridgeshire County High School for Boys – today’s Hills Road Sixth Form College. Thus he would have been one of the most prominent men in the city. In the nine years he spent teaching before emigrating to Australia with his young family, the part of South Cambridge that they lived in off Hills Road would have been as far away from the city centre as you could get without leaving the city. It was countryside until the then New Addenbrooke’s started construction.

Car is King – how to move traffic north-south, and east-west.

This was the theme of road traffic movement the planners were working with – mindset firmly on the traffic that was moving along the existing roads.

Below: This also reflected their observations of Cambridge’s functions as a county town. The University and the world of commerce competed for the best spots in town. Industry built up close to the railway line and the river – though note the purple oval to the right, which is the airport – and of which great things were expected of it and air travel generally.

Above – the planned ring roads pre-and post-war, Holford & Wright Vol.2 Map 6 – Road Proposals

The map shows the intention to have an eastern bypass around Cambridge for the A10 from London to Ely and beyond. Parts of it were built, other parts were abandoned – such as the link from Hills Road through Shelford to the A10, because someone decided to build a world class hospital in the middle of the planned road.

Building over Lammas Land and Grantchester

Both the abandoned proposals in the centre & south-west of the map – along with the abandoned flyover at Stourbridge Common reflect a lack of understanding by the planners of how the people viewed the city. Perhaps had the proposals been put in place a generation before – as a number of previous plans linking Newnham to the railway station did, they might have gotten away with it.

One big challenge they faced in the era of the motor car was with through-traffic. With the existing road network all roads went through Cambridge, whether the old Roman Road running from where Addenbrooke’s is into town, over the river, past the Castle Hill and beyond, or whether east-west down Newmarket Road (where lots of industry was at the time) through to Madingley Road, over Victoria Bridge at Midsummer Common.

Hence plans for *five* new bridges.
  • Granchester bypass bridge (which didn’t seem to get too far – later subsumed into the M11 much further south-west)
  • Lammas Land (where the bridges remained for cyclists & pedestrians only)
  • A new Great Bridge for the inner spine road at the old Power Station on Thompson’s Lane and Park Parade on Jesus Green)
  • Elizabeth Way Bridge for an outer spine road, linking the railway station with East Road and Chesterton – the bridge got built, the rest was abandoned
  • The Stourbridge Common flyover, which would have completed the eastern section of the ring road. Barnwell Road was built to service it, but the flyover was abandoned.
Drive into the town centre, park in the town centre – which is why we built Park Street Car Park

I was going to write “there is a method to their madness” but in this case it looks like the Master and Fellows of Jesus College, Cambridge, put their collective feet down on the inner spine road proposals that would have created service roads to and from Park Street Car Park, which did get built as a sort of ‘piece of stranded infrastructure’ that stood as a monument of 1960s brutalism next to the Victorian Cambridge Union building, and around the corner from the ancient Round Church, and Gilbert Scott the elder’s St John’s College Chapel.

Only the car park bit got build – the residents of Park Parade and neighbouring residential terraces, now rated as some of the most beautiful in Cambridge, fighting a terrific rearguard action to save their homes.

From G-Maps here

Above – The entire row of terraces on Lower Park Street would have been demolished. As it is. Park Street Car Park is on its way down – or will be when the city council appoints new developers.

Monster road junctions and roundabouts

Mitcham’s Corner, Coldham’s Lane Sainsbury’s, and East Road/Newmarket Road are three of the large roundabouts created from this plan. There were plans for Histon Road/Huntingdon Road, and also for Mill Road/Gwydir Street, but – certainly with the latter it never came to fruition. The plan here was to link the station to East Road and onto Chesterton.

Estate planning – Queen Edith’s.

Residents of Queen Edith’s could spend all night staring at this map, comparing what Holford & Wright had in mind compared with what was actually delivered. Some of the housing had already been built as indicated on the map below.

In the end, the community facilities proposed by Holford & Wright did not materialise beyond the very basics. This is close to traditional middle-class post-war suburbia as you can find in Cambridge. But this was a result of having learnt the public health town planning lessons the hard way, as detailed in Eglantyne Jebb’s 1906 study and survey of Cambridge. Low density housing with front gardens and back gardens were designed for good ventilation – something that was a huge problem in the crowded courts of 1800s slumland Cambridge. What she could not have accounted for was the impact that this would have had on the viability of public and community services – as many newspaper articles in the 1960s allude to in low density neighbourhoods.

How do you solve a problem like East Road?

Which was how the planners saw it. However, old Barnwell was one of the most interesting parts of town because things happened in this place. This is where the pubs clashed with the temperance movement, where the destitute wound up and where charity workers struggled to work out how to deal with entrenched poverty designed in by the slum landlords and landowners – often the colleges. East Road (both sides), New Town (north of the Botanic Gardens, south of Lensfield Road) and Castle Hill were all prime candidates for comprehensive redevelopment. Geographically the map below has been turned on its side 90 degrees left. In the feint print you can still pick out the old street outlines on the northern side of Norfolk Street.

Above – the call to redevelop the St Matthew’s Estate, which up until then had been a notorious slum.

The nature of Cambridge’s economy – agriculture as a major employer.

The difference between pre and post-war is striking. The solid red denotes an increase between 1931-48, and solid black a decrease. Note Holford & Wright are comparing the point from the peak of the Great Depression with an era of labour shortages in post-war reconstruction, and also at a time when the UK was on its knees as far as balance of payments was concerned – hence the increase in the number of people working in agriculture.

While the increases in jobs for electrical engineering and vehicles won’t come as a surprise, the collapse in the number of personal service jobs and the huge increase in the professions and central government are striking. The latter in particular is a reflection of how war had created huge new centralised bureaucracies, and how the new socialist government under Labour’s Clement Attlee was going to use those institutions to rebuild the country. As the wartime regional headquarters for central government, the then temporary buildings off Brooklands Avenue were the ideal point from which to do the peacetime administration.

Buses and cycles

You won’t see anything like this in the Cambridge Local Plan 2018 because transport is a county council and combined authority competency. And even then those two have not aligned. The County Council had a 2015 Transport Plan here, then ministers decided to invent 2nd generation metro mayors and impose one on Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, thinking it would guarantee a Conservative Mayor in perpetuity. Hence publishing their new Combined Authority transport plan here. But then the Conservatives went and lost the Mayoral election earlier this year – along with the leadership of the County Council for the first time since 1997. So the data that you will see on transport in Holford & Wright will not be in their local plan equivalent today.

One of the first things you notice with the above is that Newnham has a local bus service! It doesn’t today

A number of the services indicate where some of the housing has also gone up – such as in East Cambridge.

As for cycling and car parking, the surveyors took a snapshot on Sat 23 January 1949 to see where people were parking their cycles in the morning, and parking their cars in the afternoon. I wonder what the cycling survey would show today?

The two ground-level car parks were on Lion Yard, and New Square (!!!) the latter being re-converted back into green open space with the construction of the Grafton Centre multi-storey car park.

In case you missed it, the digitised version of volume 1 is here, from Cambridge City Council.

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: Logo

You are commenting using your 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