Nicola Foley discovers some of Cambridge’s hidden treasures, as some of the most intriguing and impressive spaces open their doors
Ever wondered what lies beyond the ornate gates which guard the college buildings? Perhaps you’ve pondered the history of our bustling market square, or longed to explore Cambridge’s secret gardens? These and more of our city’s hidden nooks and crannies, as well as fascinating stories and characters from its past, will be revealed over the weekend of Open Cambridge.
Taking place 9-11 September, the event is part of the Heritage Open Days scheme, an initiative geared towards illuminating the history and heritage of cities to their inhabitants. As ever, there’s a busy programme of events planned, encompassing both ‘town’ and ‘gown’ and including exhibitions, talks and behind-the-scenes tours of some of Cambridge’s most stunning spaces and architectural gems.
Take a riveting journey through the city’s past with the Historic Cambridge tours on 9 and 10 September, which will offer an introduction to some of the people and places which have contributed to Cambridge becoming the powerhouse it is today.
From the old to the brand new, another highlight from this year’s programme includes a tour of the impressive David Attenborough building, which opened in March. Named in honour of Sir David’s pioneering work in bringing the wonders of nature to our screen, it will serve as a collaborative hub for the conservation community in the city and beyond.
Perhaps you fancy a jaunt into the world of espionage? You’re in the right place: the relationship between Cambridge University and spies is famous, and goes far beyond the KGB’s so-called ‘Magnificent Five.’ The Cambridge Spies tour, taking place on 9 and 10 September, will examine the motives of individuals who betrayed their country, as well as the role of spies today, whilst visiting colleges associated with Cambridge’s contribution to spying.
“Take a riveting journey through the city’s past“
Open Cambridge is also an ideal opportunity to enjoy the Fitzwilliam Museum, which will be hosting various tours and workshops. The grande dame of Cambridge’s museums, the Fitz boasts a world-class collection of artefacts dating back as far as 2500 years, and celebrates its bicentennial this year.
Clare, Newnham, Selwyn and Wolfson Colleges will be offering leisurely walking tours of their manicured gardens too, all of which burst with beautiful blooms and scents. Another treat for those with a love of horticulture is the tour around Madingley Hall’s Capability Brown gardens, which celebrate the legacy of the legendary landscape designer.
There’s also a chance to marvel ancient manuscripts at Trinity Hall’s Old Library, venture backstage at the ADC Theatre and take a closer look at the architectural highlights of Mill Road.
Activist and acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei is bringing his Cubes and Trees exhibition to the newly opened Heong Gallery at Downing College until 10 October. Pop along to admire this arresting display, never before seen in the UK, alongside a film made this year on the island of Lesbos in Greece, where Ai Weiwei has been working with refugees as they arrive in Europe.
Another college showing off its art will be Wolfson, which will be offering a chance to see its permanent collection that represents some of the key people who were involved in the founding and ongoing development of the college.
Alternatively, in honour of the 400th anniversary year of William Shakespeare’s death, the King’s Library at Selwyn will be hosting a display of rare early editions of the Bard’s plays, alongside some fantastic treasures from its archives that showcase theatre and the history of theatre in Cambridge.
Also delving into Cambridge’s past will be Capturing Cambridge Consumers at the Museum of Cambridge. Drop in and share your memories of retail and shopping in Cambridge over the last 80 years as part of a project which coincides with an exhibition of items illustrating shopping in Cambridge in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
One of the most fun parts of Open Cambridge is getting the chance to explore places usually off limits to the public. This year, you can go behind the scenes at Cambridge Fire Station, explore the rare scientific books at the Whipple Museum and, excitingly, visit the neo-classical styled Cambridge Observatory, home to historic telescopes and other astronomical treasures.
You can also enjoy a lavish feast in the grand setting of Trinity Hall’s tenth century dining room, explore the Boathouses on the banks of the Cam, and discover the intriguing history of Cambridge’s market, from the medieval era to the swinging 60s.
Cambridge’s market will also be the focal point of a talk by local history expert Mike Petty, who’ll be illuminating its history before being joined by a panel to discuss imaginative suggestions for its future on 10 September at St Mary’s Church.
Elsewhere, you can learn about the impact that the railways had on Cambridge, find out more about the builders responsible for some of the city’s most iconic buildings and discover how north-west Cambridge – the university’s largest capital project ever – is putting sustainability at the heart of its new community.
Bridge the Gap
The annual Bridge the gap charity walk also returns on 11 September. Sign up and join in the stroll around Cambridge’s most magnificent sights, whilst helping raise valuable funds for two community charities: Arthur Rank Hospice and Romsey Mill.