The old Beehive Pub in the heart of Petersfield / St Matthew’s Ward, Cambridge.

On the opposite side was another pub – the Malt and Hops which was taken over by some familiar faces in South Cambridge.

An old digitised newspaper article pointed me to the old Beehive Pub on the corner of Ainsworth Street and Stone Street on the west side of the railway line. G-Maps Streetview gives away which corner it was on. The site is a short hop from the now closed Beaconsfield Club, which shut up shop for the final time in 1982. It was one of four pubs on Ainsworth Street – a time when Cambridge’s working class districts were full of pubs and mission halls. Eglantyne Jebb tells us that some roads had one pub every 25 metres. Another pub along the street – the Malt and Hops, is featured in Capturing Cambridge here.

The familiar faces that took over the Malt and Hops were the Balzano family, and they appeared in an article back in February 1986 in the old Cambridge Weekly News – then a free weekly newspaper delivered across the city. For as long as I can remember they have run the delicatessen by The Rock Pub on Cherry Hinton Road. (See I can be found having a morning coffee there most mornings.

Above – familiar faces: Rocco and Lydia Balzano.

The article was part of a series called Down Your Street – Cambridge Past and Present, researched and written by local historian Sara Payne nearly 40 years ago, and collated into a series of books about life in Cambridge in the post-war era to the early 1980s. There are several still available second hand, and they feature Cambridge town rather than gown.

The article they are featured in reads as follows:

“At one time, perhaps one should say in its heyday, Ainsworth Street had four pubs. In 1901, the year Queen Victoria died, directories listed those four pubs and The Geldart (which of course is still going strong [both in 1986 and today in 2022], patronised by the local Irish community and renowned for its live music evenings), the Great Eastern, which was right down at the Hooper Street end on the east side, and the Malt and Hops Inn at the corner of Stone Street and Ainsworth Street. The fourth pub was the Bee Hive Inn on the opposite corner of Stone Street and Ainsworth Street.


For the past 14 years the old Malt and Hops has been Balzano’s Continental Stores and Bakery – the meeting point for many of Cambridge’s 2,000 strong Italian Community who flock there particularly on a Saturday morning in such numbers as to give the shop the name of “Little Italy”.

“Sometimes they get carried away and count out your change in Italian,” says one local English customer who cannot resist the bread.

“When Mr Pasquale Balzano took the shop over, it has been empty for a year and. ahalf. It had a cellar and stables at the back. At first Mr Balzano opened it as a bakery supplying Italian shops in Cambridge until the time of the bread strike when he established the shop as an outlet for his bread.


“Now customers, including many Italians, come to him not only for his delicious bread, but also for the many varieties of macaroni, salami, tomatoes and olives – all essential ingredients of an authentic pasta dish.

“Neapolitan [from Naples/Napoli] by birth, Mr Balzano came to Cambridge in 1961 to join his uncles. He started work at St John’s College as a kitchen porter. He later worked in the Co-op Bakery, and in his spare time made confectionery for Italian people. He has since opened a shop in Cherry Hinton Road – that was in 1982 [hence me not being able to recall a time it wasn’t there – I would have been two years old at the time] – and is supported by that traditional asset, the extended family.

“His wife, from Taranto, his sons and niece all help him in the bakery and the shop, which, as locals will appreciate, is open from 7am. [Today it’s a little later – 8.30am normally]. This is a cosmopolitan street: a talented New Zealand journalist who put down roods in this country when she came over on a working holiday 20 years ago, is representative of Ainsworth Street’s younger generation of home owners.

Virginia Burdon, an information officer with the Central Office of Information, bought her home at Ainsworth Street two and a half years ago. Like so many young professional people who have been buying houses in The Kite, St Matthew’s, and Romsey areas of Cambridge, where they can afford the prices, she has been anxious to restore the house to its original late Victorian state.

“”The house, which is atypical, being sideways to the street with the passageway integrated into it, had had lots of DIY owners when I bought it. I restored the fire places and put in Victorian doors and replaced some of the architraves with properly turned ones.” she said.

“She was impressed by the retired plasterer she employed for some of the work. “He put in an arch in the traditional way, building it up gradually.”

“Paintings by her great grandmother which capture some of the high spots of her grand tour, blend well with the reconversion of the house to its original state. She and her family – she has two children, Tom, 9 and Amelia who is seven – are well integrated into Ainsworth Street. They are quick to catalogue the amenities as well as the particular idiosyncrasies of the area which is being improved.

“The houses have long gardens – a great plus for pet-owning families. “My neighbours keep an English sheepdog and a pair of rabbits int heir gardens. You sometimes see my cat sitting in their rabbit hutch. They also have a pond full of carp.”

In the summer the air in Ainsworth Street is blue with barbecue smoke and in the mornings the residents wake up to the smell of fresh bread from Balzanos, so one thing they don’t do round there is make their own bread…

Above all Ainstworth Street – now a relatively quiet street since the bollards in Hooper Street put an end to through traffic – is a strategic place in which to live. It is handy for those working in the city centre and for London commuting. Ainsworth Street’s proximity to the station has always been a selling point.


“The COI Eastern Region office is in Hills Road – a quick car drive away for Virginia who wears several hats in her job there. As an information officer she handles press and radio stories to promote British knowhow overseas, while as DHSS [Department for Health and Social Security as was] regional officer she answers media inquiries across six counties about health matters generally.

“Virginia Burdon, who trained as an editorial assistant with Reader’s Digest, hasn’t always been a journalist. For six years in the early 1970s she returned to New Zealand with her English husband, a film cameraman, to sample the alternative lifestyle. “For five years I lived as a potter in the New Zealand rain forests at the foot of the South Alps. We lived in a commune, had our own sheep, and made clothes from the merino wool which we spun ourselves.

Above – Virginia Burdon from the opposite page

“Artistic ability is reflected in the work of another relative newcomer to Ainsworth Street – Ann Dodkin, who has established herself in the past year as a freelance window dresser in the city. Ann, who comes from Southampton is married to motor mechanic Andy Dodkin. She is using her flair for design, in particular fashion design which she studied at Southampton College of Art, to decorate her new home at 27 Ainsworth Street, as well as the windows of the local firms which she has on her books.

“She started up her business with the help of the Government’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme which. is designed to help small concerns like hers get off the ground. The EAS awards Anne a weekly grant for £40 for one year. After three months they come and check you are still in business.

Ann who supplies her own props for her window dressing, is definitely doing well.


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 to support my ongoing work.

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