Cambridge's Past Buildings

Old images of Cambridge sometimes depict buildings which no longer exist. Here are some of those forgotten buildings which can be found in old prints, listed in chronological order of their destruction.

Old Schools Gateway (-1754)

Old Schools Gateway, Loggan

Old Schools Gateway, detail from Loggan, Cantabrigia Illustrata (1690), reprinted 1905

This gateway was on the East side of Old Schools, facing what is now Senate House Lawn. It was removed in 1754, and now the mediaeval part of Old Schools is hidden behind 18th century white stone and a small cloister. The date of construction is slightly unclear, but probably around 1470 (see Willis and Clark, Architectual History of the University of Cambridge Vol III). The Arms of the University on the door itself must be later, for they were granted in 1573 and I do not believe that they were in use in a century earlier.

The old stonework was purchased by Sir John Cotton, and re-assembled in a slightly different form at his residence, Madingley Hall, where it remains today. Sir John widened the arch on reassembly, so that carriages could drive under it. Some features from Loggan's print are still clearly seen at Madingley Hall: the Royal Arms, the helmet with radiant rays, the flowers above each corner of the arch, and the niches in the decorative columns. Clicking on the old print to the right will show a photograph of the reassembled stonework, taken in 2024. The lower two shields in the reassembled version are not from Old Schools, but relate to the Cotton family. The origin of the portcullis and rose are unclear. One can also view a detail from 2008, when the stonework was cleaner.

King's College Provost's Lodge (-1828)

King's Provost's Lodge, Malton

King's College's Provost's Lodge, Malton, c. 1798 reprinted in The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge (1886)

The Provost's Lodge of King's College used to lie between the east end of its chapel and King's Parade. It was demolished shortly after the current screen which divides the College from King's Parade was erected in 1824. At the same time King's Parade was widened slightly. The above image is ascribed to Thomas Malton, and appears to be from a detail of a larger watercolour of his, or perhaps a revision of his own print of the same view.

Garret Hostel Lane Wooden Bridge (-1837)

Garret Hostel Bridge, Leach

Garret Hostel Lane Bridge, B Leach, c. 1810 reprinted in Cambridge Revisited (1921)

Garret Hostel Lane and its bridge have existed as a pedestrian crossing-point of the Cam since the fifteenth century. This image shows Garret Hostel Lane Bridge as it existed from 1769 to 1812. At first glance it appears similar to the "Mathematical" Bridge of Queens' College, but the view of Clare Bridge as the next bridge up the river shows that this is not the Queens' bridge. The bridge at Queens' was built in 1749, and they share the same builder, James Essex, who also built the cycloidal bridge in Trinity College.

In 1812 the Garret Hostel Lane bridge collapsed. It was rebuilt in timber, and then needed rebuilding again in 1821. In 1837 it was replaced with a cast-iron bridge, which was in turn replaced by the current bridge in 1960.

(The wooden bridge at Queens' had major repairs in 1866, and was completely rebuilt in 1905.)

Cambridge Castle (-1842)

The Castle, Le Keux

Cambridge Castle, Le Keux Memorials of Cambridge (1845)

A Norman castle was built on top of Castle Hill in about 1070, and its artificial hill, or motte, still remains today. The original structure was probably wood, but it was soon replaced by a stone castle. In 1294 King Edward I stayed at the castle.

However, was soon regarded as being of little strategic value, and good quality stone was of high economic value in this area, so it has a long history of periods of disrepair and of its stones being plundered for various buildings. It was last repaired by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War in 1642, a repair which destroyed much evidence of its earlier layout.

The gatehouse was the last piece to survive, and it was finally removed in 1842, shortly after RA Bell produced the drawing on which the engraving opposite is based. Unfortunately some earlier depictions of Cambridge Castle are fanciful depictions of a generic castle by people who had clearly never seen whatever stood at Cambridge.

Round Church, Ackermann

The Round Church, A Pugin, pub. Ackermann (1815), reprinted in The Town of Cambridge, a History (1925)

The Belfry of the Round Church (-1842)

The Round Church (or, more formally, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) dates from about 1130. However, it has suffered many alterations, one of which was the addition of the tall, central, tower, or belfry, a couple of centuries later. In the nineteenth century much of the building was in need of urgent repair, and it was determined that the weight of this belfry, along with the vibrations from bell-ringing, were not sustainable. So the tower was replaced by a shorter cylindrical structure with a conical roof and no bells.

The expensive restoration, under the auspices of the recently-formed Cambridge Camden Society, was criticised for the extent to which original parts of the church were replaced. However, the matter which proved most controversial was the inclusion of a stone communion table. The protracted battle which that caused between Protestant and Anglo-Catholic factions moved the Camden Society from fame to obscurity.

All Saints Church, Le Keux

All Saints Church, Le Keux Memorials of Cambridge (1845)

All Saints' Church (-1865)

A church had stood on this site, opposite the entrance to St John's College, since at least the twelfth century, although the building depicted here is more modern. The open arch in its tower, to avoid obstructing pedestrian access along the street, is a notable feature.

In Victorian times the church proved too small for its growing congregation, so it was built afresh on a new site as All Saints, Jesus Lane. The new church was opened in 1864, and the old was demolished in 1865, with most of its site becoming a garden.

The new church in Jesus Lane was a particularly splendid example of the Anglo-Catholic decorative work of Bodley, Morris and Leach. By 1973 the new church's congregation had dwindled so much that it was declared redundant, and it was saved from demolition by the Churches Conservation Trust in 1981. It now offers online tours.

Note that the picture of the old church shows a high wall around Trinity's chapel, and the absence of the current St John's chapel.

St John's College Old Chapel (-1869)

St John's Chapel, Le Keux

St John's College Chapel, interior, Le Keux Memorials of Cambridge (1845)

St John's Chapel, Loggan

St John's College Chapel, detail from Loggan, Cantabrigia Illustrata (1690), reprinted 1905

St John's College was founded on the site of the Hospital of St John. The north side of its first court was formed from the buildings of the old hospital, and the chapel of the Hospital became, after some alteration, the chapel of the College. The chapel measured approximately 120' by 27'.

However, the College's expansion in the nineteenth century, during a time when chapel attendance would have been compulsory, led to a desire for a new, larger, chapel. So a new chapel was constructed immediately to the north of the old, and then the old mediaeval chapel was demolished, with the outline of its walls left visible in the first court. The eastern end of the old chapel lies under the buildings in the north-east corner of the court.

A different view of this old chapel is given in the other depiction of St John's by Loggan.

Silver Street, Atkinson

Old Houses in Silver Street, Atkinson (1883) Cambridge Described and Illustrated (1897)

Old Houses, Silver Street (-c.1890)

Demolishing houses is a long-standing part of the evolution of Cambridge, whether it was the eleventh century demolition of twenty-seven houses to clear the site of the castle, the clearance needed to create the site of King's College in the fifteenth century, the clearance in the 1960s required to construct Lion Yard, or one of many others. This image by TD Atkinson (1864-1948) shows a row of houses on the south side of Silver Street. The corner of Queens' College is visible on the right, and the group of people appear to be standing at the end of Laundress Lane. In the list of illustrations in the 1897 publication these houses are described as "now destroyed."

Most images of Cambridge are of the College buildings and various churches, with records of houses, shops and inns being rarer, and often of poorer quality.

Fisher Lane, Haslehurst

Fisher Lane and Magdalene Bridge, EW Haslehust, Cambridge (1911)

Fisher Lane (-1932)

This view shows the Great Bridge beside Magdalene College, seen from the south. Fisher Lane has since been demolished and absorbed into Magdalene College's Benson Court as that College has expanded onto the southern side of Magdelene Street.

The tall chimney visible in the background is that of the Thompson's Lane Power Station, situated on the banks of the Cam. This electricity generating plant, owned by the Cambridge Electric Supply Company, had been in service since 1892, and was one of the first in the country to use steam turbines, rather than a piston-based steam engine, and the first with condensors for added efficiency. The turbines were designed by the Cambridge graduate Sir Charles Parsons, and one of the original three 100kW turbines is now in the Science Museum in London. Initially the station generated at night only, for the only use of electricity was for lighting. It had an efficiency of around 8.3%, thus equalling the best generators using reciprocating steam engines.

Ernest William Haslehust (1866-1949) produced the dozen illustrations for Noel Barwell's Cambridge from the Beautiful England series.

Back to Cambridge prints.