Cambridgeshire Towns – did you get what the planners asked for in 1943?

In 1943, members of the Town and Country Planning Association met to debate what towns in England should be like.

Arriving recently, I’ve digitised my copy here for you to read.

Above – Country towns in the Future England

This is of interest to Cambridgeshire because our towns are surrounded by countryside as opposed to being metropolitan boroughs as in say Greater Manchester.

***Grade my town!***

Here you go. This table shows two different systems of grading towns, and how far their service areas / influence should extend. The larger the grade number, the bigger its population and the greater its radius of influence.

For 1943, a radius of nearly 70 miles for Cambridge – a Grade 6 town, is actually smaller than the studies that followed it in the 1960s. Lichfield for example puts the influence and service area of Cambridge at not much more than 20-30 miles. (Unless he meant from point-to-point diameter, but even then that is generous).

Above – Lichfield and Cambridge with surrounding market towns in 1965.

When we look at the amenities/commodities the different grades could provide, we get this:

Every village should have a sweet shop. Every small town should have a grocers and a pharmacy. Would you expect small towns to have the list of items in shops as listed above in 1943?

This matters because:

  1. We’ve experienced the rapid growth of the motor car over the past century, and have reached – if not breached the environmental limits of that mode of transport.
  2. What will follow in the next few decades will transform how we live and where we source our goods and services from – thinking of the concept of the 15 minute city where we have a combination of local outlets and online ordering/delivery.
Social and cultural amenities for arts, music and drama

This is particularly interesting for me – so much so that I’ve produced a separate digital document of this chapter: Social Amenities And The Arts In Country Towns By TCPA 1943.

This section was written by Miss M.C. Glasgow – then of the Committee for the Encouragement for Music and the Arts. She became the first Secretary General of the Arts Council of Great Britain. You can read their first annual report – in tribute to its first Chairman, John Maynard Keynes of #LostCambridge fame here.

Back to Miss Glasgow’s 1943 speech, and she comes up with ballpark figures for what social and civic halls should be in towns, and what capacities they should have.

Above – Glasgow (1943) p84

Glad to see she’s considered audio-visual equipment even in those days – a reminder that only 20 years previously the concept of films with their own audio (‘talkies’) were only just being produced, requiring the retrofitting of cinemas and theatres across the country.

She also considers the very basic requirements for any theatre and cinema. Remember this was a time when electricity supply to small towns and villages was not necessarily a given.

Above – Glasgow (1943) p86

Also worth noting what skills people would need to run such a venue. Again, easy to overlook in this day and age.

This gives us some hints as to what councillors, residents, and campaign groups can be demanding of planners and developers as Cambridgeshire’s towns inevitably expand. Do our towns have the amenities they need, or are there shortages? If so, what of? If they are to expand further, what will they need? At what point do expanding towns (and expanding Cambridge too!) require facilities that serve not just the town and surrounding villages, but act as regional facilities too? They cannot, nor should not all be in Cambridge.

A residential Eco-Park showcasing new sustainable technologies?

Wales has had one for nearly half a century. It’s the Centre for Alternative Technology, which you can visit today. Only it’s a very long drive away, and East-West-Rail hasn’t been built yet. This arrived earlier – long forgotten on an auction website which I bought and digitised – dating from 1981.

Above – the Visitors’ Guide to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Powys, Wales

“Can we have a Centre for Alternative Technology in Cambridgeshire?”

Why not? If we are as innovative as we’re told we are, then shouldn’t we be able to build one say outside one of the new East West Rail station stops so that tourists and school/college groups can undertake residential visits to experience living with new technologies that few of us have in our homes?

Below: What looks like a cross between a peace camp, a hippy commune and a festival map

Above – from the centre pages

The above-map reminds me of the 1976 publication Radical Technology – which you can read here. They have numerous ‘visions’ of what future living might look like – such as the autonomous terrace below.

Above – the Autonomous Terrace in Radical Technology (1976), p168-9

Again, this matters because retrofitting our towns and cities will be essential if we are to respond to the climate emergency.

The lack of urgent action coming from ministers is striking.

Given the lack of a clear steer from central government, it will be up to local communities and councils to get going first – if they haven’t already. It’s worth looking back at what previous generations imagined as better futures for future generations, just as we have to for our future generations. Just as the towns and villages in Huntingdonshire are doing now.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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