powered by FreeFind




Cambridge in 1836

CAMBRIDGE, the county town of Cambridgeshire, is in the hundred of Flendish, about 48 miles (direct distance) N by E. from London. It takes its name from the more modern appellation of the river on which it is situated, the ancient name of which was Granta, and is still retained above Cambridge. In the record of Domesday the town is called Grentebrige : Grantchester is now the name of a small village near Cambridge. The first well-authenticated fact relating to its history is the burning of it by the Danes in 871, and it is again mentioned as destroyed by the same enemies in 1010. While the isle of Ely was held against William the Conqueror by the English nobility, that monarch built a castle at Cambridge - Grose says in the first year of his reign ; Ordericus Vitalis says in 1068. That the town had risen to considerable importance at the time the Domesday Survey was formed, is evident from the description of it in that record. In 1088 Cambridge shared the fate of the county in being laid waste with fire and sword in the cause of Robert Curthose. To compensate the impoverishment of the townsmen in this calamity, King Henry I exempted them from the jurisdiction of the sheriff, upon condition of .their paying 101 silver marks annually into the exchequer, which rent had till that time been paid by the sheriff. It appears, nevertheless, that in the succeeding reign the burgesses gave the sum of 300 marks of silver and one mark of gold for a confirmation of this privilege.

In 1174 a fire happened at Cambridge which, among other extensive damages, injured most of the parish churches and destroyed that of the Holy Trinity. King John, in the first year of his reign, in consideration of 250 marks, granted the townsmen of Cambridge the same privileges as the king’s free and demesne burgesses. In the following year he granted them a mercatorial. gild, with extensive privileges ; and in 1207 the liberty of being governed by a provost, to be chosen annually by themselves. The style of their government was afterwards altered by King Henry III to that of a mayor and four bailiffs.

King John was at Cambridge on the 16th Sept., 1216, about a month before his death. On his departure he intrusted the defence of the castle to Fulco de Brent, but it was soon after taken by the barons ; and after the king's death a council was held at Cambridge between the barons and Louis the dauphin. In 1249 we have the first notice of great discord between the townsmen of Cambridge and the scholars of the university. Subsequent dissensions between them frequently occur in different periods of their annals. In 1381, in consequence of the lawless proceedings of the townsmen in destroying the charters of the university and those of Benet College, King Richard II deprived the burgesses of their charter, and bestowed all the privileges with which they had been invested upon the university. Not long after this event, in 1388, the king held a parliament at Cambridge. Nothing remarkable occurs in the history of Cambridge for the next two centuries, except a royal visit from King Henry VII in 1505, and the restoration of their charter to the burgesses by Henry VIII with abridged privileges, by which they were rendered more subordinate to the university than they had been under their former charter. Upon the first symptoms of an approaching war between King Charles I and his parliament the university of Cambridge demonstrated their loyalty ; but in 1643 Cromwell, who had twice represented the borough, took possession of the town for the parliament, and put in it a garrison of 1,000 men. In the month of August, 1645, the king appeared with his army before it, but we have no account of any siege or assault upon the town ; nor does anything occur which connects it with the civil history of the country from that to the present time.

The corporation, till the passing of the late Municipal Reform Act, consisted of a mayor, twelve aldermen, twenty-four common-council-men, four bailiffs, a high steward, recorder, town-clerk, and other officers. The governing body now consists of a mayor, ten aldermen, and thirty councillors. The mayor upon entering into office takes an oath to maintain the privileges, liberties, and customs of the university.

When the Survey of Domesday was taken, the town of Cambridge contained 373 masurae or messuages, of which 47 were in ruins, and 27 had been destroyed for the purpose of building the castle. In 1377 the number of persons in Cambridge charged to a poll-tax (from which the clergy, children under fourteen years of age, and paupers were exempted) was 1,722. In 1749 the number of houses was 1,792, of which 156 were inns and public-houses; the number of inhabitants 6,131. In 1801 the number of inhabitants, exclusive of the university, was 9,276 ; and in 1811, 10,294. The population, including the university, in 1821, was 14,142 ; and in 1831, 20,917. Although the town was so much smaller when the Domesday Survey was taken, it was then divided into ten wards; the subsequent division was into four, but under the Municipal Reform Act it has been divided into five wards.

The parishes are fourteen in number :- All Saints, St. Andrew the Great, St. Andrew the Less or Barnwell, St. Benet, St. Botolph, St. Clement, St. Edward, St. Giles and St. Peter united, St. Mary the Great, St. Mary the Less, St. Michael, St. Sepulchre, and Trinity ; besides which there are said to have been formerly the churches of St. John, St. Nicholas, St. Zachary, St. Peter without Trumpington Gate, All Saints in the Jewry, and the Chapel of St. Edmund. None of these are handsome buildings. St. Sepulchre's church is one of the few churches in England that has a round tower. It was built in imitation of the church of the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem.

The town of Cambridge has sent members to parliament from the earliest period of our parliamentary records, and it still sends two members. No alteration was made in the boundaries of the borough under the Municipal Reform Act.

Of the public buildings of Cambridge the castle, which is said to have been erected on the site of a Danish fortress, has been already mentioned. It was suffered to go to decay at least as early as the reign of Henry IV. All that remains of the ancient buildings is the gate-house. A county-gaol has since been erected close to it, from a convenient and extensive plan of John Howard. The shire-hall, in which the assizes and quarter-sessions for the county are held, was built in 1747. The town-hall, belonging to the corporation, was built in 1782 ; opposite to which is a conduit, erected in 1614 by Thomas Hobson the carrier, who left lands for its repair.

Among the religious foundations anciently existing in Cambridge not connected in their origin with the university, were, the house of Austin Canons, founded in 1092, originally placed in or near the church of St. Giles ; the Benedictine nunnery of St. Rhadegund, now forming a part of Jesus College, founded in 1130 ; the Grey Friars or Franciscans, founded soon after 1224 ; the Bethlemite Friars in 1257 ; the Friar de Sacco, 1258 ; the Dominican or Black Friars, founded before 1275 ; the house of Brethren. of St. Mary, in the parish of All Saints, 3 Edward I ; the Austin Friars, founded in or near the Fishmarket, called Ease-hill, about 1290 ; the White Friars, brought from Newenham in 1291 : the Gilbertine Canons, established about the same time ; the Hermitage of St. Anne and Hospital of Lepers, founded by Henry Tangmer before 1397 ; and the ancient Hospital of St. Mary Magdalen for Lepers at Stourbridge.

A fair was held at Cambridge from very ancient times in Rogation Week. It was recognized and confirmed in a charter of the 2nd of King John. Another, at the festival of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was granted by King Henry VI. to the nuns of St. Rhadegund in 1438. In the parish of Little St. Andrew or Barnwell are held Midsummer Fair and Stourbridge Fair, which are annually proclaimed by the principal officers of the university with much solemnity ; the former was held for a fortnight on a common called Midsummer Green ; the latter, supposed to be of very great antiquity, is proclaimed on the 18th of September, and used to continue for three weeks. The duration of both fairs has been considerably shortened. Cambridge market, which has been held from time immemorial on Saturday, is a great mart for corn and butter. Brawn and Stilton cheese are also considerable articles of trade.

By means of locks the Cam is now navigable up to Cambridge, and by it the town is supplied with coals, &c. through Lynn, where the Ouse enters the sea.