Cambridge Commons & Public Spaces

Butt('s) Green

See Midsummer Common

Christ's Piece(s)

In 1851 the rough field owned by Jesus College was enclosed by iron railings. The town acquired the freehold in 1886 and drained and levelled it as a park. The iron railings (still with Jesus College crests) were moved to the Trumpington Road stretch of Coe Fen in 1890.

A strip of Christ's Pieces was taken in 1925, despite stiff opposition, to make Drummer St. bus station and car park. There was similar resistance in the early 1990s when it was enlarged.

Coe Fen

East of the River, between it and the buildings in Trumpington Street/Road (Leys School, Engineering Labs, Peterhouse). Around 1833 a public subscription raised 150 to drain it as it was so marshy. Around 1912-1914 its level was raised by dumping rubbish on it. Robinson Crusoe's Island was formerly called Swan's Nest. There's a water gate in the brick wall of Petherhouse showing where a minor branch of the river used to run.

Coldham's Common

Donkey('s) Common

Now alongside Gonville Place, with the Kelsey Kerridge/Parkside Pools sports complex, Queen Anne Terrace car park and YMCA. Originally the area on the other side of Mill Road, now called Petersfield, was included (e.g. in the 1811 Barnwell Enclosure Award), as was a strip of Parkers Piece now alongside Gonville Place.

The Town Gaol moved here from the Tollboth in St Andrew's St., authorised by an 1827 Act. Some of the land was purchased from Gonville & Caius College, who'd been awarded plots in 1811. Their remaining plots led to the adjacent road becoming known as Gonville Place. It was called Gravel Pit Road in 1811 and East Road in 1827 (leading to the gravel pits now occupied by Anglia Polytechnic University, St Matthews School and Staffordshire Street). A drain had to be constructed across Parker's Piece and Butt Green in 1828 to relieve flooding in the Gaol's foundations. The debt for its building was paid off in 1847. The Home Secretary closed it in 1878 and it was sold to the Corporation, who sold its materials and let the land for housing. This became the 12 houses of Queen Anne Terrace, built around 1881.

During World War II there were temporary huts on the common and after the war they were used for temporary housing.

Queen Anne Terrace car park was suggested in 1957, along with an underground one on Parker's Piece. A surface car park was built at the rear of nos. 1-8 Queen Anne Terrace about the time Parkside Pool opened in 1963 and the multistorey car park was proposed again. As it was against the County Development Plan for the area, there were many delays. Finance was also a problem. In 1971 it finally opened, though take-up was slow at first. The Kelsey Kerridge Sports Hall and the YMCA at Queen Anne Terrace had related wrangles, opening in 1975 & 1974 respectively.

Empty Common

Opposite side of Trumpington Rd. from Coe Fen, now only surviving to the south of Brooklands Avenue, between the Evelyn Hospital and the Government Offices site. Hobson's Brook runs along the east side.

Jesus Green or Common

The name has been in use for centuries but it was joined to Midsummer Common until the building of Victoria Avenue and Bridge in 1890. The swimming pool was built in 1923.

Lammas Land

The area west of the river, up to Newnham Road. In 1922 it was enclosed to become recreation ground.

Laundress Green

The area opposite Darwin College, enclosed by the river and the old mill race. College washerwomen used to use the green for washing & drying.

Midsummer Common

Also known as Greencroft. Originally the common extended west to the King's Ditch. St. Rhadegund Nunnery may have been granted some of the western part. Jesus Green was separated from Midsummer Common in 1890 when Victoria Avenue was built.

Part of the area, alongside Maid's Causeway, is known as Butt's Green - as in many towns, that was the area much used by residents for archery butts. The 1995 Ordnance Survey map of the City still shows it as Butt Green. The enclosures of 1811 included the strip from Butt Green towards the Barnwell Priory site. There have been many proposals for an underground car park here (e.g. 1964, 1990s).

Maid's Causeway was built by the bequest of Stephen Perse (d. 1615), along with the school and almshouses established in Free School Lane. (The almshouses are now at the western end of Fen Causeway.)

In 1930 Jesus College exchanged the land between Brunswick School (now Cambridge Regional College) and the river plus the grassy centre of New Square for the strip of Butt's Green west of Victoria Avenue, thereby expanding their playing fields up to Victoria Avenue. The seemingly pointless diagonal path across Midsummer Common from the concrete steps in the river bank used to run across this strip to meet Jesus Lane at Belmont Place.

New Square, as rough pasture, was considered part of Christ's Pieces until becoming a car park in 1934. it reverted to grass in c1983 when the Grafton Centre car parks were built.

Barnwell Priory was granted a charter in 1211 by King John formalising the holding of an annual Fair here on Midsummer's Eve (22nd - 25th June), roughly in the area of the modern Elizabeth Way. The Fair was gradually lengthened to 14 days. In 1505 the right was transferred to the town Corporation for an annual fee. This fair has degenerated to a large "fun fair".
(See also Stourbridge Fair)

Parker's Piece

In 1613, after 66 years of negotiations, Trinity College and the town did a deal, creating Parker's Piece as common pasture, named after Edward Parker who'd been farming it as Trinity's tenant. Trinity gained from the town an island in the River Granta called Garret Hostel Green, north of the modern Garret Hostel Lane, and now occupied by the Wren Library and lawns. (Garret Hostel had been incorporated into Trinity College and the Lane created to allow the townspeople continued access to the river.)

Some of the area was subsequently sold or leased off but more was added from the 1811 Barnwell Enclosure Award.

As of 1810 Jesus College owned what was to become Park Terrace from 1831, just as they owned the nearby site of the New Theatre and much of what was to become the Kite.

In 1831 a north-east part of the Piece was levelled to make playing cricket easier. A year later a path was constructed all around the Piece and the Marylebone Cricket Club played the Town on the pitch. Elms were planted around the edges in 1839 - possibly the ones which survived until Dutch Elm Disease in the 1980s.

In 1859-60 there was a proposal for a cattle market in the south-east corner but objectors favoured a site near the railway bridge on Hills Road.

Residents requested a lamp in the centre in 1893.

The Council agreed to build Hobbs' Pavilion, in honour of Jack Hobbs, in 1930, replacing a temporary refreshment hut.

There have been many proposals for an underground car park here (e.g. 1957, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1990s), as at Butt's Green.

When the adjacent car park and sports hall were being planned, in the 1970s, Parker's Piece was threatened due to the apparent need for access ramps. Councillor Chris Bradford (Lib.) organised a "Leave Parker's Piece Alone" campaign.

Pembroke Leys

Once St Thomas's Leys, named after St Thomas' Hostel on Trumpington St. This was the subject of the Enclosure Award of 1808, based on the Enclosure Act of 1801, associated with the Act of 1801 belatedly implementing Sir George Downing's Will (made in 1717). Now occupied by Downing College and the C.U. Downing Site.

It was in a former river valley and was marshy, resulting in pursuits such as snipe hunting.


See also Donkey's Common. By the Barnwell Enclosure Award of 1811 Bradmore Field went to the heirs of Thomas Panton (a famous horse owner of Fen Ditton), who included Sir Peter Burrell (by then Lord Gwydir) and his wife. It is possible Petersfield is named after him. The area included modern Gwydir Street. [There's more detail on the Gwydir Street Web site.]

The Zion Baptist Chapel opened in 1838 and the adjacent Zion Place houses were built from 1845/6.

The surviving area has been nibbled at for Mill Road and East Road traffic improvements and more nibbling was threatened during the building of Petersfield Mansions in 1995.

Queens' Green

The area between Queens' College and Queen's Road, separated from the College by an old branch of the river (converted to a tunnel in 1756 and truncated when the new Silver Street bridge was built in 1959). The Green was levelled in 1890.

The two branches of the river were:

They joined at the downstream side of Queens' College. A map of 1574 shows a small connecting stream roughly where the Mathematical Bridge now is - this is before Silver Street and its predecessor the Small Bridges were built.

Sheep's Fen or Green

The common between the two branches of the river, crossed by Fen Causeway.

Stourbridge Common

King John granted a charter in 1211 formalising an annual fair held by the Leper Hospital at Steresbrigge, between 24th August and 29th September. The name came from a Cam tributary, the Stour, at the eastern end of the common. The fair grew to become one of the most important in Europe by the 1390s, with the University controlling the weights and measures. The town received a charter to administer the fair in 1589. Much of Sturbridge Field was enclosed in 1811, leaving Sturbridge Fair Green. The fair declined at the end of the Eighteenth Century and the town formally abolished it in 1934.
(See also Midsummer Fair)

Cambridge : History