On Sunday 21st February 2016 a community walk was organised by Historyworks in collaboration with our partners at Cambridge Museum of Technology, with the aim of inviting residents to learn the history of the area and to end to go on a circular walk from the front door of the museum and end up with participants having time in the museum itself.  It was an eventbrite ticketed event as part of the Cambridge History Festivals and was made FREE for Abbey ward residents and families from Abbey Meadows School to encourage them to join us!  All the walkers were greeted by Pam Halls, Curator at the Cambridge Museum of Technology.


The walk set off at 11am with over 70 walkers (and one dog) so we divided into two groups with Professor Helen Weinstein, Director of Historyworks and Allan Brigham, Local Historian and Blue Badge Guide, Chair of the Friends at the Museum of Cambridge and one guide for those who only wanted to explore the museum or come to it at the end of the walk led by Pam Halls, Curator of Cambridge Museum of Technology.

We started at the front gate of Cambridge Museum of Technology, Riverside to underline how essential the River Cam and network of waterways is to Cambridge, a historic port, once connected to the sea and to many trading destinations which established Cambridge as a market town, long before the University arrived to dominate the city.

Professor Helen Weinstein, (Director of Historyworks) and Allan Brigham (Blue Badge guide and Chair of the Friends at the Museum of Cambridge) deliverd the walk to cover a variety of places and subjects, including the stinking industrial history of Newmarket Road's Coprolite Mines and Brickworks, the remains of Barnwell Priory, the site of the largest medieval fair at Stourbridge adjacent to the River Cam, revealing the problems of Leprosy and the gem of the Leper Chapel, uncovering the explosive dinosaur deposits of Coldhams Common, then burrowing deep in the smelliest crevices of Riverside’s past to see how Victorian technology saved the city from a growing mound of refuse and a river full of sewage.  

In the photos, you can see the group above looking out towards the site of the original Oyster Stall at the Stourbridge Fair site, where many shells were found when the playground was constructed, and the road closeby is still named Oyster Row, alongside other stall names, Garlick Row, and Mercers Row.   And below in the photo, you can see a section of the walking group outside Barnwell Abbey Exchequer, which is the medieval stone building extant on Beche Road, which in medieval times was the store house for the Abbey, the most substantial landowner across all of Abbey and Barnwell stretching up to Fen Ditton and over to Romsey, where the building was used for storing fish and corn and coinage, once the heart of a thriving farming estate, but disbanded once Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and confiscated the property of the Church, which he sold off to raise money.

At the end of the guided walk which ended up with the impressive architecture of the Victorian Pumping Station, the growth of Cambridge in the Victorian era was emphasised, the population and housing boom causing a strain on the city, especially in terms of health and sanitation when so few domestic houses or colleges had drainage and sewage systems which did not contaminate the ground water or flow into the stinky River Cam.  With the building of the sewage pumping station in 1894, fuelled by coal, the sanitation and health issues were vastly changed, with the steam from the coal boilers pushing all the sewage in huge pipes out to Milton just outside the city, where, in Victorian times it would have been used to fertilise the fields to grow crops of cereals and vegetables!

Once the tour visitors were set free to explore the museum, Historyworks led neatly in to our 'Making and Doing' after noon of STEM activities, free to local families, with Volunteers helping us from  Cambridge Museum of Technology, from MakeSpace, ARM, CamCreatives, Great St Mary's Heritage Centre, Cambridge University Eco Racing (Electronic Car Club), E Luminate, and the University of Cambridge's Doctoral Training Programme.  

The family funday activities took inspiration from the past, present and future of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths and included Art workshops to illustrate Cambridge's history of technology, using Minecraft to recreate historic buildings, pop-up moving-part chimney cards, mega newspaper engineering sessions, balloon-powered cars, and spectacular rocket making and launching!

Historyworks wishes to particularly thanks all the hundreds of families who supported us on the day by participating in the activities, the volunteers who assisted, and special thanks to Allan Brigham of the Museum of Cambridge, and Pam Halls of Cambridge Museum of Technology.