Vice Chancellor Sir Ivor Jennings QC says Cambridge University has a duty to improve the city – and says University will contribute 50% of the cost of a new large public hall. 1962

I say we accept his offer!

During The Great Cambridge Transport and Town Planning War of the 1960s The Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge told the world that his University had a duty to improve the City of Cambridge. Furthermore, he proposed that the University should contribute 50% of the costs of a new large public hall – which he formally offered to the local councils. He was definitely not speaking in a personal capacity.

Sir Ivor Jennings as follows:

“In the Exhibition you will see our suggestions for its use mainly as an extension of the civic arena, and I would stress the point that the University has already offered to meet half the cost of a new public hall in the Lion Yard for joint city and University use. Such a hall would, I believe make a great contribution to the life of Cambridge.”

I found the above quotation in the Newscuttings folder in the Cambridgeshire Collection that someone (probably Mike Petty MBE) put together for future researchers to find. Hence why for the local planning process I’ve called for the city council to fund a part-time researcher to go through the files, and select, digitise, publish and publicise articles and publications that could inform our current local plan. It doesn’t have to be the cash-strapped city council either. With much of the 1960s articles being about local transport (in particular through-traffic, not resolved until the construction of the A45 now A14, and M11 in the 1970s), the Combined Authority should step in as well – especially if the city council cannot afford to. This is because the Combined Authority is about to go out to consultation on the future of county transport and connectivity.

Cambridge and its concert halls

“Why does Cambridge need new concert halls? It’s got The Guildhall and the Corn Exchange – and West Road!”

Because they are too small.

The 1857-60 design by Peck & Stephens remains one of my favourite unbuilt civic buildings in Cambridge’s history. In the end we only got a cheapo version of the assembly hall.

Above – what was proposed. Below – what we got – the interior of the large hall during a fundraiser in 2013 hosted by Mayor Paul Saunders and the Cambridge Dancers’ Club.

The big problem I have with the large assembly hall is the very poor acoustic. But it is still a very historic hall

“What about the Corn Exchange?”

They had to spend a lot of money to get it up to even a half-decent level of acoustic performance.

…and even then both on stage (with We Are Sound music) and in the audience I’ve struggled with it.

“What did Sir Ivor say?”

I quote from the Cambridge Daily News in the Cambs Collection:

“Sir Ivor Jennings, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, in opening the exhibition showing the University’s plan for the future of the city yesterday said:

“This exhibition has been designed to show that the only remaining University city in England need not be destroyed”

Sir Ivor Jennings QC, 31 May 1962 quoted in the CDN 01 June 1962

“He went on:

“This is one of the great crises in the history of Cambridge. If we do not take the right decisions now we shall not have another chance of avoiding the fate of Oxford.

“Traffic on the Backs has increased by 50% in the last four years [!!!]; on the other side [of town] the green of New Square has been converted into a car park. [It was converted back following the construction of the multi-storey car park in The Grafton Centre]. It is now proposed to have a car park on part of Coe Fen to drive a road through the ring of colleges; to pull down Petty Cury and to hand over the Lion Yard to speculative builders.”


“Earlier, Sir Ivor commented:

“We regard Cambridge as part of our inheritance as members of the University. It is our duty to pass it on to our successors improved and not impoverished. It will not be unchanged, because every generation has to build and rebuild.

“Nor can we avoid the effects of social and economic changes not under our control. We have to accept the fact, for instance, that Cambridge is becoming an increasingly attractive shopping centre for a larger and more mobile population. Even the planners cannot make the shoppers go to Huntingdon or Newmarket or Royston”


“The Vice-Chancellor said that the two basic aims of the University plan were to maintain and enhance the character of Cambridge as a University City and to provide the needs of Cambridge as a regional centre.

“This second aim has no direct advantage to the University, and some people may question why we have included it in as a second aim. We do so to give a recognition to the fact that Cambridge is more than a University, it is a City in its own right, and its significance as a regional centre has grown and will continue to grow.

“We agree with the development plan proposals [from Holford & Wright in 1950] for limiting the physical expansion of the city [to 100,000 up to the year 2000] and we heartily agree approve of the Green Belt proposals designed to achieve this.

“What we do not agree with is that the present and future needs can be satisfied within the ring of colleges. People will want to come to Cambridge in increasing numbers, whether it is to shop, to do business, to visit our museums, libraries, and colleges, or just to enjoy the charm of the city. It is, after all, one of the rarest architectural gems in the nation’s treasury”


“He said it was clear that the historical centre could not meet the needs of a motor car age and an affluent society, needs for multi-storey car parks, large department stores, and supermarkets.

“If these were to be provided within the historic centre, it would mean the wholesale redevelopment and the complete destruction of the character they were pledged to preserve. The University recognised however, that these needs must be met, and its proposals for the City Road area were designed to ensure that they were met to the full and in a way which would add to the character of the town and not destroy it. (This ultimately became The Grafton Centre some 25 years later]


Public Hall

“Sir Ivor continued:

“This brings me to the future of the Lion Yard. Not only the correct use of this important area in the heart of the old city, but the scale and character of the new building in it, are matters of the greatest concern.

“In the Exhibition you will see our suggestions for its use mainly as an extension of the civic area, and I would stress the point that the University has offered to meet half the cost of a new public hall in the Lion Yard for joint city and University use. Such a hall would, I believe, make a great contribution to the life of Cambridge”


Such a hall would, I believe, make a great contribution to the life of Cambridge”

Sir Ivor Jennings QC – Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, 31 May 1962.

I hope his successors agree with him, and furthermore will do all they can to ensure his vision of a new large hall for town and gown (and beyond) will be fulfilled by the new Cambridge University Centre for Music Performance.

In the meantime….

Do go into the Cambridgeshire Collection in Cambridge Central Library, Lion Yard. Ask the archivists for the news cuttings of the planning articles from the 1960s. (It comes in a box!) and see what we spend a decade arguing over. See also how you can support our libraries service here.

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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