Lion Yard & Petty Cury

The Planning context

The Holford Report of 1950 proposed the redevelopment of this still-largely-medieval area for modern shopping, a new road and a car park. Cambridge University opposed the development, saying that pressure for shopping required more space and recommended the Fitzroy St. area of The Kite.

Agreement between City and County was reached in 1958 and tenders invited for redeveloping the whole block bounded by St Andrew's St., Downing St., Corn Exchange St. and Petty Cury, except for the Post Office and St Andrew's Church. Edgar Investments Ltd. proposed a scheme including a 12-storey hotel off Downing St., two 12-storey office blocks and a new Central Library. After the public enquiry of 1959, the Minister's decision of 1960 agreed with the University that the Councils had not made a case for the need for increased shopping in the centre and rejected the application.

By 1962 the University was proposing a redevelopment of part of the Kite for shopping and that the Lion Yard area be for civic facilities, such as a library and arts centre.

Another round of planning debate in 1966 resulted in the City Council agreeing to proposals for a Stage One Inner Ring Road, for developing the Fitzroy St. area for shopping and for developing Lion Yard for a civic centre.

Just before the development

Although many of the medieval inns and yards had gone by the mid-Sixties, the Petty Cury/Lion Yard area was thriving, in particular Alexandra Street (old Red Hart Yard) and Falcon Yard. There were discotheques, clubs, cafes & restaurants (Eros, Henekeys, the Waffle, the Civic, Lyons, a chinese). There were many cheap offices for University societies and many small shops, such as boutiques. Boots had moved to 31 Petty Cury from Market Hill in 1897. Alexandra Terrace had the YMCA, which was the first place in Cambridge to show "talking pictures" - with performers talking from behind the screen. It was demolished in 1972, to be replaced by the Queen Anne Terrace one.

The development

Work on the Lion Yard development commenced in 1970.

The first phase was the multi-storey car park, opened in mid-1972. The overlapping second phase was the demolition of the south side of Petty Cury, Alexandra St. and the last remains of medieval alleyways and yards. The third stage was the central library. Post Office Terrace and St. Tibbs Row were all that survived, at least in name.

The Magistrates Courts were moved to the top of the car park in the early 1980s.

The southern end of the site, now an extension of the car park plus the Holiday Inn, was wasteland until the early 1990s.


Lion Yard came 314th out of 900 in a national survey of "top" shopping centres (CEN 14-Jul-1997). Most people would be surprised it's that high.

A major refurbishment for Lion Yard was announced, supposedly to be completed by 1998. After a long legal wrangle, the Department of the Environment granted an order ending the public right-of-way through the shopping centre, allowing it to be locked overnight. Curiously there's now a ban on people walking bikes through the area - a bit of petty bureaucracy.

Owners Barclays de Zoete Wedd (now Barclays Property Services) is upgrading the area to modern shopping centre standards and adding a food court partly replacing the underused "Heidelberg Gardens" open space at the top. After some more delays, it was supposed to have started in April 1998 but actually started in June 1999.

The Lion Yard arcade has been in decline for years: when it was still new, in the mid 1970s, you could see what the designers intended for the space. Spiral stairs led up to a first floor walkway, with entrances to shops and the Library. They became disused in the early 1980s.

The County Council was planning to use the opportunity to refurbish the Central Library, closing it for 9 months, but instead went ahead with gradual changes and keeping it open. The Cambridgeshire Collection changed floors to a well-protected area (having learned from the Norwich Library fire).

Cambridge : History