Cambridge Architect Gordon Logie assesses the need for a new large concert hall. March 1967

We got a refurbished Corn Exchange 20 years later instead.

But before I go on…

We now have a new political administration in office at Cambridgeshire County Council following the local elections of May 2021. This is the Joint Administration made up of the Liberal Democrats, Labour, and Independent groups, who together have removed the previous Conservative-run administration.

This means that the Libraries and Archives of Cambridgeshire County Council fall under the new Communities, Social Mobility and Inclusion Policy and Service Committee. The new vice-chair of the committee is the new Cllr Hilary Cox-Condron (Labour – Arbury) who will be familiar to several of you from her work on numerous community history and arts projects.

No, that does not mean:

***Congratulations on your thumping election win! Here’s my wish list of the stuff I want the County Council to do – get cracking!***

But it does mean a different approach towards libraries and archives from that of the predecessor administration.

In my case, I discussed with one of the archivists about updating their rules and fees regime for a social media age – not least one where younger generations are making their own videos as a matter of routine. In one sense I’m already a few steps behind them. At present, it’s not clear what the regime is to both staff and library users, and also what it should be, for people wanting to write about things they’ve found in local archives where they want to illustrate their work with screen shots of text, manuscript writing, or images.

In absence of any official line, I offered & they accepted £25 for the pages I photographed, all of which were from council-published items for this blogpost. These days I can’t really afford that for each blogpost (hence inviting donations to help cover such research costs), so I’ve said I’d ask Cllr Cox-Condron to get the council leadership to consult on/draw up a schedule both for regular bloggers like myself who do this as a hobby, commercial profit-making operations, and one-off/irregular users who might for example be working on a college project.

Furthermore, in these tough economic times, our Libraries and Archives should be pulling in as much external funding, support, and donations as possible. Yet the pages that cover this are (see here) seldom featured on the County’s social media accounts. How about every fortnight for the next couple of years, the county’s Twitter and Facebook pages features how to sponsor particular aspects of the libraries and archives’ work, donate towards a specific project or item, or volunteer either for a specific event or service in your local neighbourhood? Furthermore, could these become say quarterly features in our local newspapers?

Donating works

Over the past couple of years I have acquired (from a now spent inheritance) and donated a number of items to the Cambridgeshire Collection because I’ve seen the local history value in having such pieces in the hands of people competent to look after them. Another reason has been to replace worn and tatty copies of existing publications. One was the Cambridge Development Plan of 1950 by Holford & Wright. The maps were falling apart so I bought the Cambridgeshire Collection a duplicate original from 1950 that was in a much better condition to go on the publicly accessible shelves. (You can buy your own here).

Generating income through pamphlets, publications, posters and prints.

For me this has been a missed opportunity waiting for someone to put rocket boosters on this. Take the image below from the first local plan for Cambridge by Davidge in 1934 – which I bought and digitised my own copy for you all to see here.

Above – outline zoning of proposed protected green spaces along with transport improvements, such as bridges over railway lines.

It may not be the most eye-catching example, but when incorporated into part of a story or wall display of the story of Cambridge in the 20th Century, it has a place.

Historical documents that are relevant to contemporary local public policy

For me these are the documents that should be digitised and made publicly available – and also publicised by local policy teams inside local government. Past local plans are a classic case – both historical and more recent. Look for the village of Foxton in the map above – note the small red line denoting a proposed bridge over the railway line. We’re still waiting for that to be built! Something else we’re still waiting for that was illustrated in Holford & Wright: An eastern entrance to Cambridge Station.

Or take the discussions led by newly-elected Queen Edith’s Councillor Sam Davies here on Wulfstan Way Shops:

“We started outside the shops on Wulfstan Way which provided a chance to think about the opportunities which could be capitalised upon by valuing and investing in the city’s local centres. I contrasted this with the current focus on the city centre at the expense of outer neighbourhoods”

Cllr Sam Davies, 01 Aug 2021

Then look at the original plan for the eastern half of Queen Edith’s ward as envisaged by Holford and Wright (and then compare it with today).

Again, the above would make for a nice large image in a local community centre, cafe, or pub. Because it’s local history

The case of Gordon Logie and our still unbuilt concert hall

He may have been a scoundrel according to some, ***but at least they had heard of him!***

Personally I think our very senior planning officers should have a much higher public profile – as should the proposers of large developments. And ditto the Design and Conservation Panel which should be rejecting far more of the poor designs put to them by developers

Gordon Logie (below) was right about cars though. He had a few things to say about them back in 1966 here.

In 1967 amid the furore over the future of Cambridge’s town centre in the Lion Yard area, he put together this document.

If you go to https://cambridgeshire.spydus.co.uk/cgi-bin/spydus.exe/MSGTRN/WPAC/HOME and type in “Cambridge Hall” the central library references will come back and you can ask the Cambridgeshire Collection Staff on the 3rd floor to bring you their copy. My preference in the longer term is for the Collection’s volunteers to digitise the document and upload it to the Internet Archive so the world can access the information from their laptops/smartphones etc. Furthermore, it’s one of those publications that could easily be made as print-on-demand publications for those that wanted to pay for the service, thus creating an income stream for the Collection.

Mr Logie’s harsh but fair assessment of Cambridge’s public venues in 1967

Opened to great ceremony in 1862 despite not getting the more interesting facade around it, I think it needs a major refurbish anyway. Furthermore, because of its large height, it could be split into two floors, creating more rental space / smaller rooms on the ground floor.

Note Mr Logie was speaking before the 1986 conversion into a concert hall that we know today. Before then, it was just a big open hall. Below: A photo from a study by ARUP for the city council/Mr Logie around the same time.

Above – the interior of the Corn Exchange taken by ARUP Assocs for Cambridge City Council in their Feasibility Report of 1971.

The largest purpose-built lecture hall at the University of Cambridge is Lady Mitchell Hall. Anglia Ruskin has a similar sized lecture hall on its East Road Campus.

Let’s not forget what Mayor John Death said when opening the Corn Exchange in 1875.

“In most large towns there are buildings to accommodate the working classes, where they may have a little recreation as well as those who can better afford to pay for it; and I hope the amusements to be carried on here will be harmless and cheap, and that we shall see the Corn Exchange used not for one purpose only, but for every purpose it can be devoted to, useful to society. [Cheers]

Mayor John Death, 13 Nov 1875

At the time the Corn Exchange opened, Cambridge’s population (using today’s boundaries that date from 1935) was just under 40,000 people. With the opening of the Guildhall’s large hall just over a decade before, it was just over 30,000 people. (See Cambridge’s historical population since the early 1800s here.)

Above: Splendid Chap – Mayor John Death who helped get our Corn Exchange built.

Mr Logie’s assessment of Cambridge’s needs a century later makes for very interesting reading – not least he acknowledges the significant societal changes happening at the time. 1967. Two years before, Churchill had died and his funeral represented the final curtain of a previous era. Two years later, Astronauts Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon.

The more prominent options were given serious consideration.

One of the things. we don’t have is a venue with a large purpose-built stage for concert orchestras.

Given the expansion in student numbers pre-COVID, examination space in Cambridge is surprisingly high.

Mr Logie also noted the popularity of wrestling.

Some of you will recall wrestler Johnny Kwango spent a number of years in Cambridge, where his children went to school.

In the 1970s & 1980s it was popular Saturday afternoon telly.

Where to locate concert hall?

Mr Logie identified four options

At the time, all of the sites were available. Two of the sites were turned into car parks (Queen Anne Terrace, and King Street, although the latter is now shops and student accommodation). The Riverside site was turned into flats – formerly the site of the old oil-fuelled power station. (Yes – really). The car parks at the time were still pretty much waste land rather than purpose-built multi-storey buildings we know of today.

Audience requirements:

Above – perfect audio from anywhere in the auditorium, plus unobstructed views of the stage, and draught-free atmospheres were all essential requirements.

Which seems fair enough. But he wouldn’t have gotten away with this today:

Area space for male artists: 1,350 square ft, but only 400 square ft for female artists? *Really?*

“What can we conclude from the document?”

That very serious consideration was given to building a new concert hall in Cambridge. It’s an issue that comes back once every several decades. The first was the mid-1800s. Then again with the proposed new guildhall in the late 1800s, 1930s, and again in the 1960s. It has only been with the recent announcement from the University of Cambridge establishing a new music centre for music performance that the concert hall question has returned. I’d like to think that this time around, we will be successful.

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.


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