It took a few years and lots of meetings before St Matthew’s Piece could be opened and designated a public park by Cambridge Borough Council. The report also raises some contemporary questions about the construction of, and later the selling off of the old Howard Mallett Centre built on the green. The brass band concerned was the band of the 3rd (Cambs) Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment.
This from the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, Fri 24 March 1898, from the British Newspaper Archive.
“St Matthew’s Recreation Ground was formally opened by the Mayor last evening, in the presence of a large concourse of people. The ground was acquired by the Corporation [of Cambridge] some years ago, and at present only half of it has been laid out as a public playground. Trees have been planted a few feet inside the boundaries, and in the course of the ensuing year it is hoped to set the unprepared portion of the land with shrubs, flowers etc.
“Previous to the ceremony, the Vicar (the Rev. J. Hargrove) held a reception at the Vicarage [of St Matthew’s Church], when the following were invited to meet the Mayor: – The Clergy of St Matthew, Christ Church, and St Barnabas Parishes, the Ministers of the Chapels in the neighbourhood, the Members of the Commons Committee, Alderman and Councillors of St Matthew, Petersfield, and the Abbey Wards and the Guardians of the Poor for the same Wards, the Head-masters and Mistresses of the schools in the neighbourhood, the Members of St Matthew’s Church Committee and the Superintendents of St Matthew’s Sunday Schools.
The Mayor, the Vicar, and others who had attended the reception, walked in procession from the Vicarage to the Recreation Ground. The procession was headed by the band of the 3rd (Cambs) Volunteer Battalion Suffolk Regiment* [See end note]. On arriving at the ground, the Mayor and those who accompanied him ascended a platform erected in the centre of the ground, and the ceremony was proceeded with.
“Amongst others present were:
- Alderman W.B. Redfearn, Chairman of the Commons Committee;
- Alderman A. Deck (Possibly Alfred Deck)
- Alderman W.P. Spalding (Stationers and guide publishers)
- W. Flack
- J.N. Digby
- Coulson (From the Coulson building family)
- A.S. Campkin (Algernon Sidney Campkin, chemist and photograph processor)
- R. Slingsby (Reuben Slingsby, the first Labour councillor elected in Cambridge)
- F. Swann
- H.J. Gray
- G. Smith,
- E.C. Young
- The Rev. J.G. Dixon,
- Dr Dalton
….and Messrs J. Hough, L. Hosegood, J. Monel, E.W. Harry (Borough Surveyor), R.C. Burrows, Wk. Vawser, E.J. Wallis, A. Cox, and R. Smith.
“The Mayor was presented with a pretty bouquet by Annie Copeman, a scholar at St. Matthew’s Schoo. After the singing of the appropriate hymn “In Eden’s Pleasant Garden,” the Vicar offered four prayers.
“Ald. Redfearn said he had very great pleasure in handing over the ground from the Commons Committee to the Mayor of the Borough to declare as their property. It might, perhaps, be interesting if he told them one or two of the matters with had brought that happy result about. In 1892 the Corporation had it represented to them that it would be very desirable to obtain a piece of ground in that thickly populated part of Cambridge. He was happy to say the Corporation listened to the appeal and the ground was purchased. It was then thought desirable to fill up the hollows of the ground with “tip ups” from the tops of the roads. The General Purposes Committee, a very useful committee under the chairmanship of Mr Thomas Nichols, took the ground in hand and for some years many delays occurred. About the middle of 1895 the Commons Committee, of which he had the honour to be Chairman, took the ground into their hands. They found a great many obstacles in the way of levelling and repairing, and in addition to that there were many legal questions which had caused as red tap always did, a long wait. (Laughter.)
“He was happy to say, after a great deal of trouble and perseverance, the Committee had brought about that result. but he would be very sorry if the Committee took the whole of the credit to themselves, for they had their Vicar (The Rev. J. Hargrove) to thank very much for the way he had kept pegging away at himself and the Committee to get the ground finished. (Laughter and applause).
“He might remind them that the Commons Committee had some ten or twelve Commons under their control, and therefore they had not been able to devote the whole of their time to that one recreation ground. They had:
- Parker’s Piece
- Christ Piece
- Midsummer Common
- Sturbridge [Stourbridge] Commons
- Coldham’s Common
- Coe Fen
- Sheep’s Green
- Queen’s Green
- Empty Common, and last but not least,
- St Matthew’s PIece.
“All those Commons required a great deal of looking after. (A Voice: “Who have to pay for them?”) He was happy to say that the gentleman who had spoken would have his penny-worth out of them. (Laughter.) They would have to pay for them, and he hoped they would enjoy the Recreation Ground as well as the other Commons in the town. When they paid for what they enjoyed he did not think anyone would have cause to grumble at all. (Hear, hear!) He had great pleasure in handing over St. Matthew’s Piece to the Mayor of the Borough. (Applause).
“The Mayor said it gave him great pleasure to declare St Matthew’s Piece open for recreation of the inhabitants for ever. [Applause]. Some gentleman asked, who was going to pay for it? He was very happy to tell them that the ground was already more than half paid for. (Hear hear!) So they had gained something by waiting. He would also like to tell them that the Corporation had spent over the ground a sum exceeding £2,750, so they might give the Commons Committee and the Council credit for doing the very best they could for that thickly populated neighbourhood. They must rejoice exceedingly that this was a sign of the times, that the Corporation was looking after the health at the beginning instead of waiting until disease and illness broke out and then found for them a place of refuge.
“It was thought in our days that the best way of spending the ratepayers money was to take care that the people had good sanitary houses, good open spaces, like St. Matthew’s Piece, rather than devote the whole attention of the Corporation to provide a place of refuge when sickness occurred. It had been said that the Corporation had not been quite so quick about the opening of the ground as they ought to have been, but as Ald. Redfearn had said, there was always a certain amount of red tape about that matter, and a great deal for a Committee to do. There had been a great deal to do before the ground could be fit for opening, and he was sure they would give the Town Surveyor credit for having very much improved the spot since it had been in his hands. If they would only just look back a few years and picture to themselves the desolate spot the ground was and compare it with what it was today, he thought they would be thoroughly satisfied.
“He head it said on occasion that the piece of ground at the end was to be made into a swimming bath. That was not the position today. That part of the ground was not finished yet they had only an earnest of better things coming. Another year they would hope to see that portion of the ground nicely planted with shrubs, flowers bedded out, and he could picture nice winding gravel paths through it. He only wished they could have had it before they met that day.
“The piece would thereafter be named as “St Matthew’s Piece.” In conclusion, he again thanked Mr. Hargrove and the Committee, but for the interest he had taken in seeing the ground opened for their benefit. (Applause).
“Mr Hough said he was delighted to be present that day. He had taken a deep interest in the ground for some years. He had the pleasure of attending the first Committee meeting and taking a share on that occasion when the subject was first mooted. He had watched it, and he had been a constant worry to Alderman Redfearn and others, begging that they would carry the work on. Now his life had been spared, and he was truly delighted to be present on that occasion. He had for many years taken a great interest in the whole neighbourhood. He had a school on the spot in which he was much interested. He came forward on that occasion to ask them to give their hearty thanks to the Mayor for opening the ground (applause) and to Mr Hargrove. (Renewed applause).
‘The Mayor said he thanked Mr Hough very sincerely for what he had said. He could quite understand that in his youthful haste he got rather impatient with the work which the Commons Committee was doing (laughter), but “All’s well that end’s well”. (Applause).
“The Vicar, who also returned thanks, said it was only right and fitting that he should represent those who lived in the aristocratic parts of Cambridge what he knew to be the needs of the neighbourhood. He would not say for how many years passed he had been pressing the matter upon the attention of successive governments and mayors, if he might say so, (laughter) and he was most thankful that although things had not moved on so quickly as one might have hoped, every one with whom he had to deal – the Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors – had all expressed a real, true, interest in the progress of the scheme. (Applause). He was thankful that those who were interested in it at the beginning, the Local Committee which was formed, were all, with one exception, Mr Somerset, living to see the completion of the work, and he trusted, as the Mayor had said, that by this time next year they would see the ground and garden in all the beauty of full development. (Applause).
“Cheers were then called and heartily given for the Mayor and the Vicar, and the ceremony concluded. The band performed the following selections of music under the direction of the Bandmaster A.A. Horlock:
- March – “Vom Donaustrand” (By Danube’s Shore) – O Fetras
- Overture – “Light Cavalry” – Suppe
- Valse – “Rosen” – Eilenberg
- Selection – “The French Maid” – W. Slaughter
- Intermezzo – “Shadowland” – Farban
- Fantasia, Popular songs – “A Night Out” – A. Lee
- Polka – “Tanz Parole” – O. Fetras
- Valse – “Ferryman John” – Roeder
- Dance – “Jubilee Jaunts”
- God Save the Queen.
*Re the 3rd (Cambs) Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, this event pre-dated the Haldane Reforms of 1909 that brought the Cambridgeshire Regiment into being.
“The strong Suffolk connection began in 1887 when the Cambridgeshire Rifle Volunteers became the 3rd (Cambridgeshire) Volunteer Battalion”Friends of the Suffolk Regiment – the Cambridgeshire Regiment
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