Mill Road History Project

If you’re following me on Twitter, you may have seen me mention the grant that the Mill Road History Project has now received from the Heritage Lottery Fund – following a long application process and a tense wait for news, it was announced earlier this week that the project would be receiving a grant of £99,248!

Steering Group April 2013

The Mill Road History Project began life around two years ago when a group of residents were looking into the history of Mill Road Cemetery. They wanted to leave a permanent record that would be available for future generations and their work inspired them to look into the history of other parts of Mill Road too. The project is now part of Mill Road Bridges and aims to record the memories and stories of people who live and work locally, as well as those who have memories of the area from previous years. The project will examine some of Mill Road’s significant buildings – such as Sally Ann’s and the former Mill Road Library (now Bharat Bhavan) – and the funding will be used for creating a dedicated interactive community website, hosting events and publicity for the project as well as training people to use the archives, undertake oral histories and take photographs.

The project will be officially launched later in the year. Lucy Walker, acting chair of the Project Steering Group, said: “We are thrilled to have been awarded this funding and will be asking everyone to come forward with their memories and photographs. This is a great opportunity to get involved, learn a new skill and help the project come alive“.
If you would like to get involved with the project, or have memories or photos that you’d like to share then you can email

I think the project is a fantastic idea and I will be looking through my photos to see if I have any that might be useful – I have lived around Mill Road since the 1990’s and have seen a lot of changes in that relatively short time (and I’m also well known amongst friends for always having a camera with me and taking a lot of photos!) so I suspect I may have a few… .

The Mill

As May is Local & Community History Month and this coming weekend is National Mills Weekend, I figured it was about time I learnt more about the mill that gave our road its name…

With my local mill knowledge somewhat lacking (all I knew was that there used to be one somewhere in the Covent Garden area) I thought the best person to ask would be well-known local historian and Romsey resident, Allan Brigham. Allan, a member of the Mill Road History Project, was able to tell me that the mill stood roughly where the Salvation Army shop, Sally Ann’s, now is; and that it was owned by a Mr Humphrey, a local miller/baker, in the 1820’s. In 1830 the mill was one of just a couple of buildings that stood in what is now the Mill Road area, though the arrival of the railway in 1845 eventually resulted in a lot of housing being built to accomodate the railway workers and growing population. Some of the historical records I have found say that the introduction of the railway led to in an increase in local flour-milling – suggesting the mill could have closed quite some time later – though another account says that the windmill wasn’t used after its sails were blown off in 1840.

Parkers Piece and surrounding area, 1842The picture above, courtesy of Allan, shows Cambridge University students playing cricket in 1842, and you can see the Mill in the distant background (it looks as though the sails might not be attached, but it’s difficult to tell). It is the only image I have seen of it, though the Mill Road Cemetery website has an image of Bakers 1830 map – which shows the site of the mill amongst the fields – and I am reliably informed that there are also other maps dating from between 1811 and 1832 available at the county archive. The mill gave its name to Mill Road and also Mill Street – which runs parallel to Mill Road on the southern side and is joined to it by Covent Garden and Mawson Road.

As well as the mill, the site of Sally Ann’s was home to Cambridge’s first supermarket (Fine Fare) which opened in the 1960’s; and home to Cambridge’s first purpose-built cinema (The Playhouse), which opened a hundred years ago. Although the cinema closed in 1956, you can still see the coin marks, names and initials that were carved on the wall by queing cinema-goers – I am not sure if this was seen as vandalism or graffiti at the time, but I think it’s a great visual example of local history and I hope it’s preserved for many years to come.

The Playhouse CinemaAlthough there is no longer a mill here in the Mill Road area, there are still a few in the county and many of them – including Impington Mill, Bourn Mill and Hinxton Watermill – are opening their doors to the public this weekend for National Mills Weekend (the nearest mill I am aware of is Chesterton Mill on Frenchs Road – although it’s not technically a mill anymore as it was converted into office space in 1986, its flour-milling business having closed in 1955). There will also be a history exhibition at Sally Ann’s on Mill Road, from 13th – 25th May, with information and photographs about the history of the Salvation Army building; and I will be going along to see if I can find out any more information about the mill.

I’ll be blogging again about Local & Community HIstory month during May (including more information about the recent history project grant funding!). But for now, it’s time to explore…

11th & 12th May, National Mills Weekend:
Impington Mill open Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm;
Bourn Mill open Sunday 2-4pm; Hinxton Watermill open Sunday 2.30-5.30pm; 
13th – 25th May, History Exhibition:
Sally Ann’s, 44a Mill Road CB1 2AS
Open 9.30-4.45pm Monday to Friday and 10am-12.45pm on Saturdays.