Mill Road exhibition

Exhibition posterToday I went along to the Council’s Mill Road Exhibition  at Bharat Bhavan. I was immediately offered a lovely hot cup of tea – which was very much appreciated given the cold weather! There were a number of stands with information about many of the local community and residents groups in the area, as well as proposals for a traders association; and in the middle of the room was a giant map of Mill Road where people could jot down their ideas on sheets of tracing paper (which could be placed over the map) There were also some beautiful paintings and drawings of Mill Road by a couple of local artists.

Exhibition boardsIt was great to see lots of ideas from locals and there were all sorts of suggestions ranging from peoples ideas for more green space around Mill Road and a regular local market through to thoughts on the 20mph zone and improving the area for cyclists. I spoke to Ceri (Mill Road Co-ordinator and organiser of the event) and she told me that it had been well attended over the two days – and judging by the many post-it notes I saw this was most certainly the case! I jotted down my ideas, which included widening the pavement on the northern edge of Mill Road on the town side of the bridge (opposite Arjuna, Fagito’s, Nip-In et al) as it’s not currently wide enough for two people to pass each other without one of them having to step into the road. I’d also like to see cafes and shops being allowed to have tables and chairs outside (even if just one or two tables) as this would give people more of an opportunity to interact with and chat to each other and make the area even more welcoming in the summer months.

Exhibition boardI also drew a design for a new housing co-operative which could go on the site of the Mill Road Depot (which is moving at some point in the next few years). This is an idea that was suggested by a number of  people in the Local Plan consultations last year and I think it would really work for the whole community – especially as there’s a huge lack of affordable housing around Mill Road. I envisage something like a mixture of flats for single people and couples, and houses for families (little or no shared housing) on the back part of the site (furthest from Mill Road); this would have lots of green space and could house around 150 people. There would also be plenty of shared community space and at the front of the site a meeting area/hall that the co-operative would share with the whole community for free, as well as an upstairs area that could have free/low cost office space for local businesses/home-workers. There would also be a large outdoor area that could host community events such as barbecues, regular markets and other community activities. Bharat Bhavan, Regent College and other non-council buildings would of course be retained. By their very nature co-operatives are green and sustainable communities that are self-run, so the community would have the opportunity to shape and innovate their own housing and community space. In fact I suspect this deserves a blog post all of its own (!) so more on this another time.

I was glad I went along to the exhibition and I now have lots more ideas for Mill Road. If you missed out you can contact Ceri (millroadcoordinator@gmail.com) for more information. I will write another blog post soon about what will happen to the ideas and how to submit any other suggestions you may have. I think the exhibition was a really good idea and it has given people the chance to have real input into their local area.

The lost pubs of Mill Road – Part one

As many of you will know, the planning inspectorate announced a couple of weeks ago that it is upholding Cambridge City Council’s decision not to turn the Royal Standard pub on Mill Road pub into housing. This is good news for Romsey residents, who are keen to see the historic building retained and re-opened as a pub – though the next step towards making sure this happens is to find someone willing to take it on. You can read a copy of the appeal decision here and there’s also more information in the recent Cambridge News article.

After the Royal Standard’s recent plight, it occurred to me that we’ve lost rather a lot of pubs in the area in recent years – by my calculations…                                            nearly 40% of pubs have been lost in the Mill Road area since the year 2000!

My list of lost pubs includes the following:

  • Chariots of Fire
  • The Duke of Argyle
  • The Durham Ox
  • The Grasshopper
  • The Jubilee
  • The Locomotive
  • The Royal Standard
  • The White Hart

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about some of the establishments that have been consigned to history and thought I would share some of my memories. Not that I would call myself a pub frequenter, but I have visited almost all the pubs on the above list at one time or another and can perhaps offer a brief glimpse into their (former) characters. Given that there’s rather a lot of lost pubs it could make for a very long article indeed… So for now, I am just going to talk about three of them – The Royal Standard, The White Hart and The Duke of Argyle.

The Royal Standard                                                                                                      My first visit to the Royal Standard was about ten (ish) years ago, when Mary (formerly of The Geldart, and more recently of Romsey Labour Club) was the landlady. She’d done well at her other pubs and her reputation put her in good stead to make a success of this one. I remember my first visit – Mary was very polite and managed to make the hard work of running a pub seem effortless whilst being extremely efficient at the same time. The pub had two different bars with two different atmospheres – the main bar seemed fairly loud and was where most of the regulars tended to congregate and play pool; whereas the lounge bar had more seating and was usually a bit quieter. Mary eventually moved to the Romsey Labour Club.

Wendy and John (formerly of The Brook and The Bakers Yard) moved to the Royal Standard back in 2005. I remember visiting a few days after they took over and they were excited about their new venture. I did drink in there a few times, but my visits began to peter out when I joined a pub quiz team nearer to my house. The Royal Standard eventually became a restaurant serving Indian and Thai food. When I first heard about this I was disappointed that the pub had closed, but vowed to try the cuisine. However, already faced with a large choice of Indian food outlets in the Mill Road area, I never quite seemed to make it as far as the Standard under its restaurant guise.

The Standard has had many different landlords over the years, and long before I moved to Cambridge these included Dave (formerly of the Empress) and a gentleman called Arthur Cooper – in whose honour the aptly named ‘Royal Standard’ horseracing syndicate continues to exist. The pub also used to host some of Cambridge CAMRA‘s meetings back in the 1980’s. It has also had different names and at one stage in the late 1990s was known as Kitty Dunphy’s.

Although the Standard is currently closed, I really do hope it will open again soon as a pub. Personally, I would like to see it serving food and be the kind of place that I could equally meet a friend for lunch or enjoy a night out with a group of friends. The fact that there are two different parts to the pub could be a great asset, as it widens the customer base that it could appeal to. Although I never saw it, I think there also used to be an upstairs function room – which could open up the pub’s potential even further, for example it could be used as a meeting space by local community groups.

One of the things that stands out about the Royal Standard site is the potential for it to have a really good outdoor space. It’s a great shame that two large trees were chopped down a couple of years ago, but this does at least show how much space there is on the site. I would like to see new trees planted and the garden made into a welcoming place with some flowers and nicely decorated picnic tables. Whoever takes the pub on could even consider allowing locals to create and maintain it – it would give the community a sense of involvement and help them shape their local pub, as well as create a lovely green space.

The White Hart                                                                                                               The White Hart was a family run pub on the corner of Sturton Street and Hooper Street and my first visit was back in 1997. It had a main bar area, a lounge bar and a pool area. The pool table (which was well maintained and a good table to play on) was usually busy – in fact some of the pubs customers were former UK champion level pool players, so if you ever managed to beat one of them you knew you weren’t doing too badly at all! The landlord and landlady were usually about and there was a loyal local crowd to be found in there most evenings (and indeed daytimes). It was also a popular pub for pub-crawlers, and large groups such as stag parties or those on the snakes and ladders pub crawl would sometimes turn up for a round or two before moving on to one of the other local drinking establishments.

I remember the jukebox (which was free in the daytimes) in the main bar had a rather random selection of tunes and delights such as the Nolan Sisters’ ‘I’m In The Mood For Dancing’ seemed to abound with certain regularity. The lounge bar (which was accessible from the outside via Sturton Street) was quieter and a nice snug area if you wanted to have a quiet chat with a friend. They sold pickled eggs and had a large jar of them in pride of place next to the till. I had never sampled a pickled egg before, but I remember trying one at the White Hart and becoming hooked (though only temporarily – they were never quite the same unless preceded by at least one lager). They didn’t have a particularly extensive selection of food, but I do remember enjoying a lasagne there on more than one occasion.

The White Hart’s landlord and landlady moved to another pub (the Man on the Moon, Norfolk Street) in the early 2000’s. Some time after this myself and a friend contacted the brewery as we were interested in taking it on. However, it was too late as they’d signed papers with the new people just hours before – although they did reassure us that the new people had promised to keep it as a pub. But it eventually became the Back Street Bistro and never re-opened as a pub again. Of course the Back Street Bistro has done very well for itself and built up a loyal following in its time in the area – which is great. But it was unfortunately another local pub lost.

The Duke of Argyle                                                                                                         The Duke of Argyle was, perhaps unsurprisingly, on Argyle Street. My first visit there was back in the late 1990’s when I was drafted in at the last minute to represent another pub in the Cambridge & District Skittles League. I had never played skittles before (apart from a quick practice about half an hour before we left for the Duke!) but this wasn’t important – it was the taking part that counted. I have to admit it did feel a bit like entering a saloon bar in the Wild West the first time I walked in to the pub – everyone turned around with an air of scepticism to see who this new person was. The Duke of Argyle was slightly off the beaten track and so perhaps wasn’t as used to receiving new customers as some of the pubs on Mill Road itself, but once you made an effort and got chatting to the locals they were a friendly bunch and had some interesting stories to tell.

To my team’s (and indeed my) surprise, I wasn’t too bad at skittles and even managed to win one of my games on my inaugural visit. My trips to the Duke after that were very occasional, but I was always made to feel welcome – so welcome in fact, that on one occasion when the owner/manager was talking to friends in the pub and I wanted to buy some more drinks for myself and my group, I was allowed to serve myself (!). The Duke of Argyle also had an upstairs function room, though I never went to any events there.

Before the Duke closed a few years ago, there had been local rumours that it would most likely be sold and turned into housing. I remember contacting the brewery about four years ago to find out more, with a view to seeing if it could be used/sold as some kind of community/social housing project – which was (and still is) much needed in the area. But I was told that there was already someone in place to take over, and that in any case the site would not be considered for any kind of demolition/rebuild and that it was company policy not to sell any of their freehold sites. However, it was soon sold, knocked down and turned into housing (!). This was sadly another pub lost to the community AND we still have a dire lack of affordable housing in Romsey.

Mill Road’s other lost pubs                                                                                           I’ll write another post soon about some of the other pubs that have disappeared from the area in the last ten years or so. If you know of any I’ve missed or have any stories (or photos) about any of them, then do get in touch: theressomethingaboutmillroad@hotmail.co.uk – I’d love to hear from you and may well be able to feature them in a future post; and if/as and when people can share anything about the pubs on my extended list (see bottom of this article) then I’ll post about those too.

For now though, I am keen to make sure I support my existing local pubs, as the thought of losing any more of them is quite a sobering one – pun fully intended!

Extended list – other pubs that have disappeared from the Mill Road area             In my research for this article, I have read about a number of other pubs that used to exist in the Mill Road area, but about which I know very little. I would therefore be grateful if anyone can share any pictures or information about them (though I suspect many of them have been closed for a very long time indeed!). They are:

  • The Bee Hive Inn (now 28 Ainsworth Street)
  • Brewers Arms (now 103 Gwydir Street)
  • The Brookfield Tavern (closed many years ago but did re-open as The Brook)
  • Claremont Arms (which was at 74 Ainsworth Street)
  • The Crown Inn (was at 6 Cross Street)
  • The Crystal Palace (now Rockers Steak House on Mill Road)
  • The Dewdrop Inn (now the Cambridge Blue)
  • The Great Eastern Tavern (on the corner of Ainsworth Street and Hooper Street)
  • Gwydir Arms (used to be at 45 Gwydir Street)
  • Malt & Hops Inn (was 26 Ainsworth Street, on the corner with Stone St)
  • Midland Tavern (closed some years ago, but did re-open as the Devonshire Arms)

Mill Road moggies

One day last week I was on my way to visit a friend, who also lives just off Mill Road. The journey would normally take me about five minutes, but when I arrived at her house I realised that it had actually taken me nearly quarter of an hour. Unusually, I hadn’t actually bumped into anyone I knew on the way, nor had I stopped at any of the shops I passed. So why had it taken me so long? …the answer is cats!

It’s not that the cats I encountered en route wouldn’t let me pass, rather that I just can’t seem to pass a cat without stopping  (cat lovers will know what I mean, those less disposed to the feline form will probably think I am slightly deranged!). There are occasional exceptions – like if they look particularly scary (rare) or if I have already stopped to, erm, ‘chat’ to that particular cat already that day. Anyway, I worked out that in the space of fifteen minutes I had actually seen fourteen cats! I probably should mention that four of them were at the house of the friend I was going to visit, but that still left another ten I’d passed on the way. I like cats, a lot, but even to me this seemed rather a lot of kitties.

All of the cats I passed appeared in good health and well looked after. However, I know that both the RSPCA and the Cats Protection League have large numbers of moggies that they are struggling to re-home at the moment – so if you can offer a good home to a cat then please get in touch with them. I would offer to re-home one myself, but (almost) all my close neighbours have cats and there’s already a few too many catfrontations in the garden as my neighbouring moggies vie for ‘territory’.

Some cats prefer to be an only moggie, whilst others like the company of other cats and happily exist in dwellings with two or three others – the RSPCA and Cats Protection League can both advise on the temperament of the cats they are trying to re-home and help you find one that suits you. All the cats pictured are looking for a loving home and a new owner someone to own.

Go forth and co-operate

After chatting with a friend yesterday about the Government’s proposed Welfare Reforms and how they might affect housing co-operatives, I went to a certain co-operative supermarket on Mill Road to do my shopping and then on to the local wholefood co-op for some specialist supplies. It occured to me that this was rather a lot of, erm, co-operation all in one day and made me wonder just how many co-operatives there are locally.

Firstly, what is a co-operative anyway? Well the definition that co-operatives generally adhere to is:

an autonomous association of persons who voluntarily co-operate for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit.

This definition applies to all co-operatives and members of co-operatives make the decisions about how their organisation operates – this is usually done by regular meetings and based on the principle of each member having one vote. Co-op’s take on many forms, for example there are worker co-op’s, housing co-op’s, educational co-op’s and more – I’ve even discovered that Cambridge has it’s very own Ukulele Co-op!

It might not seem like there are many co-operatives around Mill Road (or indeed in Cambridge) but there are actually quite a few:

I also discovered that the Romsey Town Allotments Group and Vinery Road Allotments are both listed with Co-operatives UK, as is one of the Woodcraft Folk young people’s groups.

So it certainly seems there’s a fair amount of co-operation going on in and around Mill Road, and that people really are investing in their own neighbourhood – which is probably part of the reason why Mill Road has such a community feel to it.

2012 is actually International Year of Co-operatives, so there’s never been a better time to co-operate. In fact there’s rather a lot to say about co-operatives, so I might just write another article about them soon…