Open Cambridge 2012 – a much appreciated peek into hidden places

Open Cambridge is immensely popular. Minutes before the website allows bookings, Cambridge residents take time out of their busy lives to sit poised and waiting at desks all over the city. The booking starts and it’s a crazed race to get what you can as quickly as possible. I was quicker off the mark than last year but still I dilly dallied too long and there was little choice by the time I got online. Hence the somewhat eclectic, although nevertheless wonderful, mix of events I chose to attend.

So without further ado… here goes…

Yesterday I popped into St John’s Old Library, a real treasure trove of stuff was on display including the largest and the smallest books they own, Wordsworth breakfast set and two types of bezoar stones! I then headed off to the Whipple Museum for a guided tour and handling session. The main gallery has a wonderful history of it’s own including at one time being the Perse School’s main hall and at another housing the FitzWilliam collection. The Whipple collection includes one of Darwin’s telescopes and a fumes cabinet from Newnham College which dates back to the time that women could be thrown out of lectures and labs at any time so the girls’ colleges had rooms and equipment that their scientists could use.
I rounded the evening off by going to a talk at the Folk Museum all about the grand dinner on Parkers Piece that Cambridge held when Queen Victoria was crowned. The talk included a generous slice of pudding recreated from the recipe that was used on the day. We got a chance to wander around the museum afterwards and it’s a delightful place full of winding narrow staircases. It houses a collection of ordinary everyday objects from farming to dolls houses.

Today I attended a lecture on crime given by Dr Michael Rice at the Pitt Building. He painted an entirely different history of Cambridge than the present day city would suggest. Tales of students rioting, brawling and engaging in lewd activities seem a million miles away from the hard working students that throng the streets for the brief eight week terms. Apparently it was quite common for university cities to have a disproportionate number of taverns, brothels as well as high crime rates. This was in part due to the fact that students fell under jurisdiction of the universities and not the cities – this often meant they could get away with murder, quite literally. The development of walled colleges with structured routines, communal dining and curfews was very much an attempt to develop an environment that inhibited crime and encouraged rational decision making and studious living. Modern day Cambridge is a completely different story and is one of the safest cities in the UK. Crime is at all time low except that is the crime of bike theft!

This afternoon I attended a guided walking tour of Histon Road Cemetery. Now a closed cemetery, it is permanently open for the public to walk through. Many of the 19th century non-conformists business types and their families are buried here. Other inhabitants include the mother of John Maynard Keynes, the coachman of Charles Darwin, the gardener of Darwin’s wife and Mary Bateson one of the first female students allowed into Cambridge and a notable historian on monastic fen life.

What a weekend it’s been. Let’s hope the Open Cambridge continues next year!

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