Cambridge's West Side Story
Philomena Guillebaud (Girton, 1944)
The transformation of the landscape of west Cambridge began with the enclosure in 1802/5 of the 1,300-acre Parish of St Giles, one of the two great open fields of the medieval Borough. Initially the most visible change was the appearance of fences and later hedges around the consolidated fields, while use of land nearest the town, most of which belonged to Colleges, changed from arable to pasture. Building was minimal until after 1870 when three new colleges were created; later the changes in college statutes permitting all dons to marry generated demand for private houses. By 1914 a sizable suburb of large detached houses had come into existence, interspersed with college gardens, playing fields and pastures but devoid of shops or other community facilities.
World War I stopped civilian construction, but a large temporary military hospital was built on the site of what is now the University Library, its premises later being used as housing until demolished when construction of the Library began in 1929. One college built a new court, and in the 1930s house construction resumed, but development of any kind between the wars was limited, the Library being the most important.
World War II brought another large temporary feature to the area, an aircraft repair factory off Madingley Road, but from 1950 onwards a wave of University and college building took place, accompanied by a more moderate expansion of domestic housing. Fortuitously, university-related development on Cambridge’s western margin has remained within the boundaries of the original Parish, even though those boundaries no longer have any administrative significance.
Publication date: 1 October 2010
Added: 12 January 2011
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