Hideous Cambridge

Stapleford History Society 10th July 2018

A talk by David Jones

David Jones is a grumpy old man: at least, he’s grumpy about certain developments in the architecture of our ‘fair’ city and its surrounds, and that does make for an entertaining and eye-opening talk. He told us how thirteen years ago he was happily cycling along Mawson Road enjoying the sunlight on the Victorian house-scape when, having proceeded onto Hills Road, the same light fell on a 1960s/1970s office block and he thought, How hideous!

The idea for a frivolous book on the subject became more serious after he retired; he also became more angry, and five years ago Hideous Cambridge was published. Since then he has become even crosser, as developments such as ‘Great Kneighton’ [and how are we supposed to pronounce that??] have turned out even worse than he anticipated. So now a follow-up volume is planned, extending to villages around the city, including Stapleford. We were treated – if you can call it that – to some pretty appalling photos of, for example, the ‘CB1’ flats at Cambridge station, which look like the scaffolding has been left behind with just some ‘unaccountable’ panelling in day-glo colours to ‘cheer it up’; ‘The Marque’ with its bulk and weird superstructure casting a huge shadow over its area; the featureless ‘Trumpington Meadows’, naturally built over what had been meadows, that have no pitched roofs and large flat windows, more like warehouses or prisons…. Did you know that the windows are so large because the rooms are so small there can only be one window in each? And because they’re so large, you need bars on them to prevent people falling out …yet they are marketed as ‘sophisticated living’. I could go on, but I am getting more and more depressed. The villains, of course, are grasping property-developers and the council planning officers who allow themselves to be bullied, hoodwinked and bought off with promises of ‘planning gain’, even after initially rejecting proposals that will tower over the college chapels and church spires which trace the historic silhouette of the city, built over centuries on a human scale.

But still – as one of our members remarked – people have to live somewhere, and someplace they can afford. David’s ideal community seems to be the garden cities of a century ago such as Bournville in Birmingham, built by the philanthropic Cadbury family. The ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’ means demand will only grow, and can’t be satisfied by such fine ideas. David’s advice to Staplefordians was: ‘Enjoy your village while you can – the megalopolis is on its way.’ Many of us left hoping the future might not be quite that hideous, and maybe aiming to do our bit to prevent it.

Local groups like our History Society in part exist to make us think such thoughts.

[report by Maureen Street]