A few items of interest within a few minutes walk of the Museum

This short tour is written by the Museum of Cambridge volunteer and Blue Badge Guide, Jill Young, in homage to Allan Brigham, the inspirer of Hidden Cambridge tours.

Do look at the pillar on the south east corner of the traffic lights – (incidentally the first traffic lights to arrive in Cambridge, late 1920’s) and the copper flowers pressed into the pavement along Magdalene Street. These are the first pieces of municipal art in Cambridge and the flowers were based on the daisies that are part of the heraldry of St. John’s College. Also read the rather obscure dark plaque on the wall near the traffic lights which explains the pillar. The idea of the flowers was to attract visitors away from the congested centre of Cambridge and into the early northern part which was the home of Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans long before the arrival of the first students in the 13th century.

Along Magdalene Street on the west side is the Cross Keys Inn opposite the entrance to Magdalene College. You will see that the upper floors project out supported by brackets in the form of a figure carved in dark wood. If you look carefully at the figure you can see why this building was considered to be a house of ill repute! However one authority points out that the college would not have permitted such an establishment immediately opposite its main gate.

Take the board walk beside the River Cam just past Quayside opposite the south side of Magdalene College. The walkway  passes under a small roof. Carry on a yard or two further and look down and back over the railing. You will see an unattractive face that sometimes spurts water into the river – rather like a gargoyle. The face represents Spinola, a Genoese banker who was employed by Magdalene to revive their dwindling fortunes. Spinola gave them bad advice and the spout is Magdalene’s revenge. It must be said that Magdalene’s financial position was always rocky until the 20th century when the master, the writer A C Benson, brother of E F Benson who wrote the Mapp and Lucia books, took it in hand and also gave generously himself. This enabled Magdalene to buy up the land on the west side of Magdalene Street and create the attractive courts we see today.

Don’t miss the unusual bollards in Magdalene Street. These ‘pens’ are placed in homage to the writers who were members of St John’s College and Magdalene Colleges. As well as A C Benson these writers include Charles Kingsley and C S Lewis, author of the Narnia books, and perhaps most famous of all Samuel Pepys who left his library in its original bookcases as well as his diary to Magdalene. 

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