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 millroadhistoryproject@gmail.com.

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.

On a mission…

Mission: Explore FoodI blogged a couple of weeks ago about the ‘Mission: Explore Food‘ book that was illustrated (and co-authored) by Cambridge’s Tom Morgan-Jones and written by The Geography Collective. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a family/children’s book with lots of food ‘missions’ for children to create and activities to help them understand the life cycle of food (everything from sowing and growing it through to eating, digestion and recycling).

I have spotted that the lovely chaps and chapesses at The Geography Collective are very generously giving away a set of 50 ‘Mission: Explore Food’ books (which works out to £1,000 worth of books!) to a library service somewhere in the UK. This is brilliant and I would dearly love the books to wing their way to the Mill Road area (and hereby nominate Mill Road). Some of you may have spotted a potential glitch to this plan, which is that there is actually no longer a library on Mill Road (it was sadly shut down in the late 1990’s), but I think this makes it even more important that we ensure children (and everyone) have access to books – this is just the kind of thing that could help children enjoy books and bring them together in the community with others and help families meet each other.

Example missions

Given that there is no library on or near Mill Road, I would give the books to local primary schools (for which Mill Road area residents fall in to the catchment area), children’s activity groups and other groups that primarily benefit children/families. There could be all sorts of benefits to children, families and the wider community, for example:

  • The missions would be fun to explore for both adults and children.
  • It would help children and youngsters get involved in their local community.
  • Children would have their own project/s that they could work on/organise themselves.
  • Some of the missions/projects could be turned into community events.
  • Children and their families may want to visit local food producers and shops to ask questions, which would be really great (especially as there’s quite a local foodie theme going on at the moment).
  • The books are well illustrated and show children that books don’t have to just be about reading on your own, they can also be about action and fun.
  • Some of the missions could be specifically relevant locally – for example, there’s a local idea to set up a farmers market and one of the missions involves visiting a farmers market.
  • Children (and adults!) will get to learn a lot about the food cycle, which will help them make informed choices.

Mission: Explore Food

There are others that exist locally, but having done some research into this I feel the following Mill Road area groups/organisations would particularly benefit from sharing the books:

  • Argyle Street Housing Co-operative Kids Group
  • Cambridge & Ely Child Contact Centre
  • Coram Adopt Anglia
  • Friends of Mill Road Cemetery
  • George Pateman Court Community Centre
  • Little Bookworms Club (at Ross Street Community Centre)
  • Queen Emma Primary School
  • Morley Memorial School
  • Ridgefield Primary School
  • Romsey Community Garden
  • Romsey Mill
  • St Matthews Primary School
  • St Pauls Primary School
  • St Philips C of E Primary School
  • St Albans Primary School
  • 13th Cambridge Scouts
  • TJ Kids
  • Woodcraft Folk

I would also give a copy to the RSPCA Bookshop on Mill Road – their shop is quite a hub of activity (you can even get a cuppa there whilst browsing the books!) and having a copy of the ‘Mission: Explore Food’ book in the shop would mean people could pop in and read a bit before going on a mission around Mill Road – making it accessible to many more people (I guess this sounds a bit like a library really!). I would also give a copy to Centre 33 – not technically in the Mill Road area, but less than 500 metres walk and they do some really impressive work in providing support and activities for children who are carers to family members.

‘Mission: Explore Food’ is available as an E-book and this is currently free! You can download it via iBooks or Amazon until 31st January;  and if you want to see a quick preview of the book here’s a link to a video from The Geography Collective.

Mission: Explore FoodI’m hoping that the Geography Collective guys read this and see that our lack of library around Mill Road means these books would actually be of particular benefit to our community (though in the event that they are strict about it specifically being a library service that receives the books then I would nominate Cambridgeshire Library service). Fingers crossed!

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.

Snow show

Snowy tree branchesWe’d been promised some snow and it seems that today (Monday) may be our best chance of catching a glimpse. Different weather reports have been predicting different things, including that it would be in the morning, evening, coupled with rain or sleet, very light, up to 5cm… or maybe not even at all! But, I am pleased to report that at the time of writing this it is actually snowing over Mill Road!

Snow birdThe Met office website suggests that the morning and early afternoon snow will be light, but that this will become heavy around 3pm today – great news for those of us who love the snow and will be at home at that time (cue snowball fight somewhere off Mill Road…!), though admittedly perhaps not so good for those that will still be at work or who are travelling. For those of you who want to keep up to date with the local weather forecast, I have discovered that the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory has a ‘Rooftop Weather Station’ and regularly updated web page with all sorts of useful weather info.

Snow treeI love the snow and have many happy childhood memories of sledging down local hills (so as you may have guessed, I did not grow up in Cambridge). In case we didn’t get any snow locally today, I was going to post some pics I took during last February’s snow visit. I think they’re rather lovely photos, so I’m still posting them; but the photo at the bottom of this blog post is one that I’ve taken just in the last few minutes (they were all taken in the Argyle Street area, just off Mill Road). With a bit of luck the snow will hang around long enough for me to get some decent daylight shots  and I can bore enthral you with even more photos!

Snow

William, Kate and Jimmy’s

I was determined to at least catch a glimpse of William and Kate on their visit to Cambridge today, not just because I missed out on a planned meeting with a member of the Royal family when I was a child (when my grandmother offered to take me to the little girls room, not realising that it would be during those crucial three minutes that Prince Charles would come over and chat to my Mum and Dad!) but because it seemed fitting as they are the Duke and Duchess of our city. So I decided to venture up to Jimmy’s Night Shelter at midday in the hope of seeing them. I timed it well and even though there were crowds lining East Road on both sides, I managed to get to the front (I seem to have a nack for this sort of thing and am known amongst friends for always managing to get a table in pubs that seem otherwise packed!).

The lady next to me told me that she’d been in to town this morning in the hope of seeing them, but that she couldn’t get anywhere near Market Square or the Guildhall as there were so many people. William and Kate’s car soon drove past us and pulled up just a few yards away. They paused briefly on the steps of Jimmy’s to wave to an excited crowd, before going in to visit and officially open the new facility. The advertised details of their visit suggested they might be in there for quite some time, but we were reliably informed that they would be there for fifty minutes. I figured this was just enough time to pop to one of the nearby shops that apparently had some lovely shoes in (!). I wasn’t disappointed and managed to find some gorgeous black and white spotted ones. Whilst debating whether or not to buy, I remembered that November is in fact national Dress Spotty Month (to raise awareness of the importance of spotting the symptoms of bowel cancer) and immediately decided to make a purchase.

On the way back I passed Jimmy’s Night Shelter again, and realising that it was about forty-five minutes since they went in decided it was definitely worth waiting and seeing if I could catch another glimpse of the Royal couple. As I was waiting, a group of girls came and asked me why there were so many police about and what was going on. When I told them, there were shrieks of delight and they quickly spread the word amongst the many others arriving behind them – it turned out that there was actually an Open Day at Anglia Ruskin University today. I’m not entirely sure if this was clever planning on the part of Anglia Ruskin, or merely coincidence, but it seemed to have positive effects – one of the girls I spoke to told me that she was now definitely going to come and study here (I probably should have mentioned that even though William and Kate are the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, a visit from them is not exactly a regular occurrence…).

William and Kate soon came out of Jimmy’s and we all excitedly waved them on their way to their next engagement. Some of my friends got to see them while they had been on their walkabout in the Market Square earlier in the day and one friend, Emma, and her son spoke to Kate – who held her little boys hand and asked if he was enjoying his biscuit. She took a brilliant photograph of Kate (see above).

Although it was great to see William and Kate (twice in one day, albeit brief!) and they seemed to enjoy their visit, it’s worth remembering why they were here. Today’s visit has provided some great publicity for Jimmy’s and highlighted the important work that they do in our community. They provide people with food and shelter – especially important in this cold and wintery weather – as well as lots of other resources to help people get back on their feet. Not wishing to end this piece on a sombre note, but it’s quite unnerving to think that most people are only two pay cheques away from needing the services of somewhere like Jimmy’s.