Few places in the world have a more recognizable history than Cambridge, England.
The area we wish to focus on is not the grand buildings of the university, but the cobbled backstreets of the old town. Except for the lines on the road, you could mistake the picture taken in September 2011 as being from the mid 19th century.
Such is the history of Cambridge.
Settlements have existed around the Cambridge area since before the Roman Empire. The earliest clear evidence of occupation is the remains of a 3,500-year-old farmstead discovered at the site of Fitzwilliam College. There is further archaeological evidence through the Iron Age, a Belgic tribe having settled on Castle Hill in the 1st century BC.
The first major development of the area began with the Roman invasion of Britain in about AD 40. Castle Hill made Cambridge a useful place for a military outpost from which to defend the River Cam. It was also the crossing point for the Via Devana which linked Colchester in Essex with the garrisons at Lincoln and the north. This Roman settlement has been identified as Duroliponte.
The settlement remained a regional centre during the 350 years after the Roman occupation, until about AD 400. Roman roads and walled enclosures can still be seen in the area.
Duroliponte means bridge over the duro or duroli, which appears to derive from the celtic word for water.
After the Romans had left Saxons took over the land on and around Castle Hill and renamed it Grantabrycge – ‘Bridge over Granta’. Their grave goods have been found in the area. During Anglo-Saxon times Cambridge benefited from good trade links across the hard-to-travel fenlands. By the 7th century the town was less significant, described by Bede as a “little ruined city” containing the burial site of Etheldreda. Cambridge is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as “Grantebrycge”, a period when settlements existed on both sides of the river and Cambridge was on the border of East Anglian and Middle Anglian kingdoms.
The arrival of the Vikings in Cambridge was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 875. Viking rule, the Danelaw, had been imposed by 878. The Vikings’ vigorous trading habits caused Cambridge to grow rapidly. During this period the centre of the town shifted from Castle Hill on the left bank of the river to the area now known as the Quayside on the right bank. After the Viking period the Saxons enjoyed a brief return to power, building St Bene’t’s Church in 1025, which still stands in Bene’t Street.
In 1068, two years after his conquest of England, William of Normandy built a castle on Castle Hill. Like the rest of the newly conquered kingdom, Cambridge fell under the control of the King and his deputies. The distinctive Round Church dates from this period. By Norman times the name of the town had mutated to Grentabrige or Cantebrigge (Grantbridge), while the river that flowed through it was called the Granta.
Over time the name of the town changed to Cambridge, while the river Cam was still known as the Granta – the Upper River between the Millpond in Cambridge and Grantchester is still known as the Granta to this day. It was only later that the river became known as the Cam, by analogy with the name Cambridge. The University, formed 1209, uses a Latin adjective cantabrigiensis (often contracted to “Cantab”) to mean “of Cambridge”, though this is a back-formation from the English name.
In 1209, students escaping from hostile townspeople in Oxford fled to Cambridge and formed a university there. The oldest college that still exists, Peterhouse, was founded in 1284. One of the most well-known buildings in Cambridge, King’s College Chapel, was begun in 1446 by King Henry VI. The project was completed in 1515 during the reign of King Henry VIII.
Peterhouse was the first college to be founded in the University of Cambridge. Cambridge University Press originated with a printing licence issued in 1534. Hobson’s Conduit, the first project to bring clean drinking water to the town centre, was built in 1610 (by the Hobson of Hobson’s choice). Parts of it survive today. Addenbrooke’s Hospital was founded in 1766. The railway and Cambridge station were built in 1845.