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Postal Town: Cambridge (CB5)

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Cambridge is of course famous for its unique university, but behind the academic façade, Cambridge’s roots go way back to pre-Roman times.

©Paul Michael

Cambridge, history and present-day details

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Castle Hill is to the north of the river Cam and there is evidence of an early settlement from the first century BC and later Roman activity here. The Romans built the first town at a convenient crossing of the river Cam. The town was a port, which gave rise the area known today as Quayside.

Castle Hill played its part in Saxon, later Viking then back to Saxon times as a strong defence for a Saxon settlement. St Benedict’s Church was host to another Saxon settlement and the church’s tower is an example of Saxon architecture and, as such, is the oldest building in Cambridge today. The river at that time was known as the river Granta.

Magdalene Bridge replaced the Great Bridge which was thought to be built by the Danish King Offa between 756 – 793 AD. With its good trading links and also being one of very few crossing over the river, Cambridge, or Grantabrycge as it was known then, became very prosperous.

The Normans followed the Saxons and in 1068 they built a castle of Castle Hill to defend this important town. All that is left of the settlements and castle today is Castle Mound, a grassy hillock to track up and take in the views of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire.

The Normans were also responsible for the church known locally as the Round Church, or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as it is formally called. It is an unusual building now but the Normans built many round churches. It has a magnificent Norman entrance with its tower rising up through the centre of the church like a tiered cake.

There have been variations on the name of the town through history from Grantabrycge to Grentebrige to Cantebrigge to Cambridge. It is interesting that the river became known as the river Cam. While it makes sense that Cambridge would be a bridge over the river Cam, and that logic was applied to rename the river, the river runs through Grantchester. The river is still named the river Granta as it flows through the region of Grantchester.

The now famous university’s humble beginnings go back to the 12th century. It is thought that the town’s people of Oxford at that time were quite a hostile bunch and so many students fled from Oxford to Cambridge in 1209. Peterhouse, which remains today, was founded in 1284. Later, in 1446, King Henry VI started to build the King’s College Chapel. It was completed in 1515 under the reign of King Henry VIII.

Amongst the many famous people educated at Cambridge was Oliver Cromwell. He was elected MP for Cambridge in 1640 and later became Lord Protector of England. It was he who ordered the beheading of King Charles I following the bloodiest of wars between the Royalists and Parliamentarians of England. Charles II returned from exile to take his rightful place as king and Cromwell was declared a traitor and was himself beheaded.

Cambridge University is mainly a school of science and was academic host to William Harvey, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and, more recently, Professor Stephen Hawking

©Paul Michael

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