Stourbridge Fair, Cambridge shows a growing interest in local town history

There seemed to be more people at the Stourbridge Fair 2022 than at previous fairs.

Above – Cllr Hilary Cox (Labour – Arbury Division) with the Mayor of Cambridge Cllr Mark Ashton (Labour – Cherry Hinton Ward)

The opening of the Chisholm Trail (see the video here – and the snapshot below from the civil engineers appointed by the County Council) opened opened up the field next to the centuries old Leper Chapel, just above Newmarket Road.

Above – the Leper Chapel looking very old and damp

I managed about three hours there with various things for the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History (Please join here!) It was a bit of a rush on my part – the society still recovering like many others from the impact of COVID Lockdowns. And such was the interest in the Holford-Wright Maps [the proposals for developing post-WWII Cambridge] that I didn’t get a chance to take any photos or visit any other stalls. My chronic fatigue issues inevitably getting in the way of preparations.

Very big colourful maps help draw people to your stall. Also I had the ***bright orange pop-up stall of CamCycle (of which I am a member) on my left,

…and Cllr Cox-Condron on my right with Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination running an arts stall on the plight of our chalk streams. The state of the UK water industry has gone international.

“European Commission looks into complaints over UK sewage dump”

I hope senior decision-makers get rinsed over this pollution.

“When it comes to pollution, Cambridge has got form”

Above – via Britain from above, the Cambridge Pumping Station with the big chimney in the foreground (now the Cambridge Museum of Technology), the old Cambridge town gas works, and on the other side of the then tree-lined Newmarket Road (at least they made the effort!) the old brickworks. You can explore more of the photos from the area in Britain from above here.

My main two takeaways were:
  1. The range of people interested in local history is far more diverse than what we often see in local history societies – which for a host of reasons tend to be older generations.
  2. Cambridge’s local history offer needs to reflect the diversity of that interest in terms of the materials we produce – and this includes using a much wider range of media as well as producing introductory translation guides for people from across the world who have recently arrived here (in particular from war/conflict zones).

What will be our first face-to-face gathering since the first lockdown in 2020 will be on 01 October 2022 at St John The Evangelist Church (in the hall) from 2.15pm. Author and archaeologist Alison Taylor will be talking about the Ascension Burial Ground, which has more famous people buried there than many other grave yards.

People like maps

Above – Photo by Cllr Hilary Cox-Condron

Especially ones with lots of colour on them! The areas of interest on the Holford-Wright maps were the spine roads of which only bits of the second and third were built.

Above – L-R the inner spine road (only Park Street Car Park got built), the middle spine road (only Elizabeth Way Bridge got built), and the outer spine road (Barnwell Road got built as part of a planned dual carriageway, but locals objected to the flyover across Stourbridge Common so the extra road capacity was not needed).

How do we make progress on any of this?

My preference would be to have an open space event – a UKGovCamp-style UnConference where people can pitch sessions to the audience and see how popular they are, in order to create a timetable on the day and allocating rooms by demand, enabling people to dip in and out of sessions at will.

Below from UKGC2016 – this is what pitching sessions looks like.

Sessions I’d love to see include:

  • Local history as an extended project – inspiring and supporting 16-19 year olds researching a theme or area important to them. (See my article for the British Association for Local History here)
  • Local history for longtime residents – recalling the old saying that tourists know more about Cambridge’s history than its residents do – although at a closer look that probably applies to the history of the University of Cambridge rather than the town/borough
  • Local history for new residents – Cambridge has a high population turnover and a large number of people who rent. How do we make local history relevant and interesting to them? (Is it similar/different to the previous two points above?)
  • Local history as art, drama, and music – how do we encourage the creative and performing arts to use local history as a base from which to create new works?
  • Local history for public policy – how do we pitch local history to local politicians and policy-makers when it comes to political decisions on the future of our city?
  • Raising big capital for local historical institutions – are our existing local historical institutions fit for purpose to tell the story of our city? Do we need to expand existing institutions or do we need to create any new ones? Or both? Where could they expand towards or be sited at?
  • Succession planning – we’ve lost a number of local historians over the years, so what is the plan to bring in and bring through new generations of people who can refresh our local history and keep the stories alive?

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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