Visiting Christ's Pieces, Cambridge, England: Town rather than Gown, a refreshingly peaceful herbaceous area
A green for all seasons
The many and varied visitor attractions of the City of Cambridge in eastern England can often be divided as belonging to two categorizations: Town and Gown.
So much of Cambridge relates to the University: not least its Colleges, its University and faculty buildings and museums, the famed Backs on the Cam River, and so forth. Collectively the term Gown applies to all of these.
But regrettably absent from many descriptions of the City of Cambridge (only in relatively recent years has it been officially designated a City) are many worthy features in their own right, which are also visitor attractions: to these the term Town applies.
Over the centuries, there has been a sometimes uneasy relationship between Town and Gown. Typically members of the University and citizens of Cambridge have from time to time felt that each other were somehow transgressing their supposedly proper delimitations. The plain fact is that Town and Gown have needed each other.
One very pleasant visitor attraction in Cambridge is Christ's Pieces, which is most decidedly Town rather than Gown.
So what are, or is, Christ's Pieces? and why the name?
Christ's Pieces is a well manicured park close to the Downtown area of the City, with carefully planted flowerbeds — noted among these are superb examples of delphiniums —, many trees and walkways. Various species of tree are present, including fine examples of horse chestnut; and there are plans to plant a tulip tree, similar to a magnolia.
The name refers to its proximity with Christ's College. The fact is that in terms of urban geography Town and Gown are thoroughly intermixed (1).
In 1886 it was obtained by the former Corporation of Cambridge on behalf of its citizens (2). So, it became Town in the late 19th century; may one correctly surmise that Christ's Pieces previously belonged to Christ's College (founded 1505)?
Well, actually, for many years Christ's Pieces belonged to Jesus College, Cambridge (founded 1496). Although records suggest that in the 16th century it was cultivated for agriculture, it sounds at any rate as if Christ's Pieces was Gown rather than Town for a long while.
October 25, 2013
(1) For example, only a visitor unfamiliar with Cambridge would ask the question — surprisingly difficult to answer — 'Say, where's the University?' For myself, maybe just a little familiar with Cambrige, one of my favourite Colleges — if I can even presume to use that term — is Hughes Hall, housed in a fine, 19th century Flemish Remaissance building off Wollaston Road. By foot to Hughes Hall along an often used route from the Downtown area of Cambridge — successively along Parker Street, Parkside and Mill Road and thus onto Wollaston Road — the pedestrian will pass along one side of Christ's Pieces (and later also alongside another park area known as Parker's Piece) on his or her way to the College.
(2) All sorts of plans for Christ's Pieces were formulated by the civic authorities. Some of these, such as the building of a Bowls Pavilion, came about; others, such as the draining of a lake, did not.
Also worth seeing
The numerous visitor attractions in Cambridge include Senate House and King's College Chapel and the photogenic Backs along the Cam River, where several of the older Colleges are situated. Churchill College was founded as a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill.
Ely (distance: 26 kilometres) has an imposing, Medieval cathedral often known as the Ship of the Fens.
How to get there
United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Rail services link Cambridge with London's Liverpool Street and St Pancras railroad stations. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
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