|Winter --- Spring --- Summer --- Autumn|
In the early morning the mown lawns and tree lined pathways of Christ's Pieces looks like the landscape of a stately home. But this is a very public place.
Thousands of people walk every year across the park on their way from the city centre to the Grafton centre. All year the new play area is buzzing with small children and their parents, and the benches are always full of people pausing for a break or waiting for a bus.
In summer the grass is used as a spot to eat a quiet lunch away from the crowds, while in the evenings or at weekends teenagers 'hang out' and meet their mates. The tennis courts are used from dawn to dusk, while bowlers perform their ritual on the immaculate bowling green.
The park and the adjoining New Square (once part of Christ's Pieces) provide a green wedge that links the two parts of central Cambridge - the retail and residential area of Fitzroy/Burleigh Street with the historic centre. Imagine how different it would be if this area was covered in houses like the adjoining streets? What other city has a similar vista to greet passengers arriving by bus or heading for the shops?
Christ's Pieces hasn't always been a park. For centuries it marked the beginning of the open countryside that surrounded Cambridge. At the end of the reign of Elizabeth 1st it was shown as arable fields, crossed only by Pikes Walk and Milton's Walk. A century later it had become pasture.
In 1886 it was acquired from Jesus College by the Corporation of Cambridge for £1000. The Corporation drained the land and started to create the Victorian park we still see today. The proposed lake was never built and the bandstand has gone, but the spectacular flower beds, ornamental trees, bowling green and tennis courts continue to enhance central Cambridge in the 21st century.
With my colleagues from the City Council's city centre 'Streetscene' team I've helped to clean and maintain Christ's Pieces for six years. The rubbish can be distressing but being on the park is one of the nicest parts of my working day.
As part of my role I visit schools to talk about litter. I took these snapshots to illustrate how beautiful a city Cambridge is, how lucky we are to live here, and how the thoughtless littering of a few can ruin it for all. Most children react with horror to pictures of beer cans and take-away packaging on 'their' park. Their concern is a good sign for the future.
©Allan Brigham: 2008
You may copy any of these pictures for personal or educational use. If you wish to use them commercially, please contact me for permission first.
Tourists go home with pictures of the iconic buildings - King's College Chapel or the Wren Library at Trinity. But as a resident what makes this such an attractive place to live are the green spaces between the buildings.
However you approach the city centre you see green grass, trees and a clear sight of the sky. Immaculate college gardens, pristine parks or cow grazed commons surround the historic centre, and bring the countryside into the town.
It is easy to take these open spaces for granted. But they have had to be fought for in the past, face development pressures today and require budgets to maintain them.
New Square was lost for fifty years to tarmac and parked cars. Coe Fen was to become the site of an inner relief road. Parker's Piece has been seen as an ideal spot for underground parking, while its boundary has recently been turned into a long-distance coach station. The 1970s gave us an imaginative roof top garden above the new Lion Yard shopping mall; well used, it has been abandoned to the shops. Christ's Piece was threatened too. The bus station has nibbled at the edges, encroaching on the park in 1925 despite a 1000 signature petition. Some people still see further encroachment as a solution to providing an efficient public transport service.
It is impossible to predict the future, but for the moment Cambridge City Council has firm policies in place to protect and improve Christ's Pieces and the other open spaces that help to define the city. They bring great pleasure to residents and to visitors, and help enhance the quality of life in the busy 21st century city. It is these green spaces as much as the iconic buildings that make Cambridge one of the most attractive cities in Western Europe. It is a man-made environment created by our predecessors and we have the opportunity to create something even better for the next generation.
As Cambridge grows and as the housing densities increase the quality of the parks and open spaces will help to determine whether this remains a beautiful city that people want to live in. This is a challenge for all of us to be involved in.
If you are interested in enhancing the open spaces in and around Cambridge contact The Cambridge Preservation Society.
Full details of the trees on Christ's Pieces can be found at Phil's Tree Page.
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