“An informal, friendly place to stroll through, peer into shop windows, chat with friends, lounge in pubs or sit in the sun”

What happened to Gordon Logie’s vision for the Lion Yard of 1965?

Mike Petty spotted a very interesting article in the Cambridgeshire Collection which has a very interesting picture of the model of what we did not get.

Above from the Cambridge Daily News here. Some of you may have spotted the Guildhall and the Corn Exchange in the top-left of the photo. You can also see St Andrew’s Street from top to bottom on the right hand side, with Emmanuel Street peeling off halfway down the right edge of the photo.

Can you spot the big thing that locals and conservationists would have had a huge issue with?

It appears that the whole of the much-loved Robert Sayle shop front would have been demolished under such a plan. So in that sense we were fortunate this did not happen, as it is one of the finest examples in Cambridge of late-Victorian retail architecture.

The article contines:

“A place shielded from the noise and fumes of traffic but full of the chatter of people

“Mr Logie, Cambridge City Architect, wants to see gaiety and quirky, but not garishness or ostentation.

“In a report which will be presented to the city council next week [which means you can find it in the county archive in Ely should you wish to look] he says:

“The Lion Yard must be designed to serve a world wanting standards of affluence and leisure


“It must be an exciting place to go to in a place where one can see and hear the best of music, drama, and ballet, where the local societies can present their performances or exhibitions, a centre for painting, sculpture and all the visual arts, a place for conferences and lectures, for borrowing, browsing, and buying of books.”

Gordon Logie, Chief Architect and Town Planner, Cambridge City Council, 25 June 1965, Cambridge News.

It would be interesting to see what todays architects – or even those of John Belcher’s era at the end of the 1800s would have made of that design brief for the area. This is not a vision of a haven for consumer capitalism. This is a vision for a buzzing and vibrant civic and city centre – the sort you’d imagine that a city the PR & marketing people call “The greatest small city in the world” would have.

The article continues

“The buildings which Mr Logie thinks should rise on the Lion Yard site can be summarised as follows:

  • Concert Hall – to present first rate music for an audience of up to 2,500. Other possible uses: conferences, university examinations, dances and receptions
  • Small hall – for music recitals, exhibitions, rehearsals, theatre in the round, and lectures
  • Central Library – which in addition to normal facilities could include a music and gramophone library and an archive section. The present lending and re-lending sections could also be extended.
  • Art Gallery and Exhibition Spaces – difficulties here could be overcome by making it part of a proposed Arts Centre. This is thought to be the best long term option
  • University Music School – which they have to move from Downing Place
  • International Centre – providing normal club facilities
  • YMCA centre to include sports hall, chapel, cafeteria, and the usual club facilities [which would have replaced the existing building opened in 1870, one that incorporated Alexandra Hall]
  • Hotel with at least 100 bedrooms and substantial restaurant,
  • Residential flats – a number could be provided at high levels overlooking the yard [in part to compensate those that lost their homes in the development]
  • Shops – in accordance with the Minister’s recent decision [Successive ministers had rejected previous plans]
  • Offices – any office space which is demolished should be replaced in suitable buildings
  • Car Park – for 750 cars [the current car park has spaces for 855 cars]
  • Central goods dock – unloading lorry and waiting space have been provided for the maximum number of lorries and vans likely to use the Lion Yard area at one time.
  • Central Convenience, well maintained and supervised.

“Mr Logie says

“Virtually the whole of the pedestrian centre of the site is raised about 12 feet above street level and space below being used for car parking and servicing.

The whole of the Petty Cury Frontage has been designed to draw people up through the shops onto the upper level and there will be similarly contrived access from other directions.””

“He says that escalators and lifts will be provided in key positions and there will be gentle ramps for prams and bicycles. Mr Logie says the main variations from the scheme presented to the Planning Committee last November [1964 – note to self to pick out next time in the library!] are:

  • An extension of the area of public circulation above ground level
  • a re-arrangement of the shopping space to give large and deeper shops
  • the provision of more continuous shopping frontages and a great variety of shops
  • the opening up of pedestrian circulation from Petty Cury
  • a rearrangement of loading docks
  • a more intimate grouping of the cultural buildings

“All these changes were devised to enhance the commercial value of the development and to minimise the cost of construction and to improve the architectural potentialities and functioning of the scheme.”

And Cambridge, this is what you could have had!

The first thing to note on the plan is that the car park is beneath all of the buildings above. The shops and offices are also to be scattered amongst the concrete buildings. We only have to look at some of the new architecture of the 1960s that Pevenser and friends featured in their publications to get a sense of the brutalist sore that would have emerged out of the wasteland that sat behind Robert Sayles at the time.

Above – EAW014113 from Britain From Above, looking south

At the bottom right you can see the Guildhall’s large hall, with the Corn Exchange behind it. This was taken just after the Second World War, with most of the buildings to the left of the Corn Exchange being demolished to make way for much-desired car parking space. There was no logical reason for building a multi-storey car park there other than people were already parking there anyway. But it took out the entire south side of Petty Cury and the YMCA complex behind it – which moved to Gonville Place.

“What did the politicians say?”

The Tories liked it – this being an era when Cambridge actually elected Conservative councillors to the extent that they actually ran the council. How different it was after the Millennium. It’s interesting to compare the reactions of the two:

“The Lion Yard scheme, which has failed to leave the post on numerous occasions over the last few years, looks like being a starter [horse-racing metaphors] at long last, says Alderman C.A. Mole, leader of the Conservative Party on Cambridge City Council [ then still one of the biggest civic societies in the city].

“Commenting on the report produced by Mr Logie, he said that it had its architectural merits and more important, it was financially sound. Previous schemes had been too expensive but now one had been produced which would be difficult to improve upon from the financial point of view. Ald. Mole was particularly impressed by the income producing part of the scheme which would go ahead first.”

“Alderman Robert Davies (later Robert Davies MP (Labour – Cambridge 1966-67), leader of the Labour Group [who was to die at the young age of only 49 some three years later] and chairman of the planning committee said after he had attended the press conference:

“This is a very good scheme. But it is important to see it in relation to the central area as a whole”

Ald Robert Davies, CEN. 25 June, 1965.

“Ald. Davies said the revised plan could be put into operation at about half the cost of the previous scheme

Above – the newly-elected Robert Davies MP in 1966. He’d be dead less than 18 months later – a huge loss not just for Labour but for local democracy as well. He was only 49.

“Councillor A.G. Ellinger, the Liberal spokesman said: The scheme will be appreciated by the children of the people who will have to meet the sixpence rate [Increase in council tax]. It is a good thing for Cambridge but there will be a lot of it who won’t like it. Some will say this is a scheme for the minority which has to be paid for by the majority. We may feel the pinch now, but future generations may say “Thank God for the city council of the 1960s”

[Spoiler: I can’t recall anyone who’s said the above to me. Ever.]

“The chairman of the Arts and Leisure Association, Councillor George Scurfield [Lab – Petersfield] who had called for a large civic heart” in Cambridge said those who wanted an Arts Centre in the Lion Yard would now have to work hard to see it was provided as one entity.”

“He thought they had found the most economic way of developing the area but it was still expensive. Every means of raising the money would have to be explored to ease the burden on the rate. He hoped the central Government [Four months to the next general election with Labour favourites – this was post-Profumo] would help”

In the end we only got the shops, the library, and offices – and a night club. The last two are now being converted into a hotel. Well, that was the plan until Covid hit. It remains to be seen what happens. But at least Mr Logie had a positive vision for what was an unloved and derelict part of town at the time – seems strange to think today.

This post was from a newspaper article that Mike Petty MBE – one of the librarians who was around at the time the new central library at Lion Yard was built, picked out this story in his photo archive of newspaper reports. See his website here.

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