Cambridge Online City

Cambridge economy


Cambridge has never been a heavy industry city. It started as a crossing place for the river now known as the Cam. This river was navigable all the way to Kings Lynn, on the Wash, and so Cambridge, surprisingly enough, was a port, with good trading links to the continent. There is still a lot of trade with mainland Europe through East Anglia, but this now happens along roads instead. Cambridge is surrounded by good quality farmland. It has always been the local trading place for the surrounding countryside. There is a thriving daily market which sells local fruit and veg as well as other goods, and a Farmers Market on Sundays. Cambridgeshire people come to the city for other shopping and facilities as well, of course, and there are the usual debates between city and country about car parking and ease of access!

Cambridge is the county town of Cambridgeshire, and both Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council are based in the city. One of the main shopping areas is in the centre, spreading up Castle Hill and along St Andrews Street, including shopping malls called Lion Yard and the Grand Arcade (entrance Petty Curry and elsewhere). The other main shopping area is around Fitzroy St and Burleigh St, with another shopping mall, the Grafton Centre. There are small shops along Mill Road. There are bookshops (see below). Two famous food shops in Cambridge are Arjuna (wholefood co-operative, excellent for spices) and Fitzbillies (yummy chelsea buns).

Grafton Centre
Grafton Centre
Graduation ceremony

The unique factor of the Cambridge economy is the University of Cambridge, which has had an immense effect on the development of Cambridge throughout its history. There is the direct employment caused by the university. Apart from the specialised jobs within the university, the number of university students alone is nearly 20% of the non-student population, and all these students must eat (and drink!), and live somewhere, and have clean rooms, and be entertained.

Other businesses connected with the university include books. Cambridge University Press is the oldest printing and publishing house in the world. Heffers (now run by Blackwell) is Cambridge's largest bookshop, and there are others, especially for second hand books.

Millions of tourists visit Cambridge and the university colleges each year. Cambridge does not really encourage tourists, but since they do, they must be looked after, which is also part of the local economy.

The greatest spin-off from the university has been Silicon Fen. Trinity College developed some of its land on the north-eastern border of Cambridge into the Science Park in 1970. St John's College followed with their Innovation Centre in 1987. These provide business support and accommodation for early stage knowledge based companies. They may be started by people and knowledge from the University of Cambridge, but they don't have to be. The concept has proved very successful, and it is known as the Cambridge Phenomena. There are other business and science parks round Cambridge.

Another employer in Cambridge is Marshall's, a privately owned aerospace company.

It must not be forgotten that the University of Cambridge is not the only educational establishment in Cambridge. There is another university, Anglia Ruskin University, and other colleges and schools, including numerous language schools to teach English.

Addenbrooke's Hospital not only serves the health needs of the local area, but has a large (and growing) research facility, and is a major employer. The new bio-medical campus has doubled the size of the site, and Papworth Hospital will be moving there as well.

Science Park
Science Park

This means that Cambridge is an expanding economy. This brings wealth into the local economy, which can have its disadvantages. Housing is expensive here and there is some homelessness. Since houses outside Cambridge are cheaper, many people have to commute into Cambridge to work. The housing is not as expensive as London, of course, and some people commute to London via the M11 or rail. There are good rail links from the main Cambridge railway station to Kings Cross and Liverpool Street in London, and a new railway station, Cambridge North. There are also direct trains to Stansted Airport and a slow service to Birmingham. The bus station is in Drummer Street, and provides local bus services.


Traffic in Cambridge, as elsewhere, is difficult. The central streets are narrow, and so the centre has restricted vehicle access. Parking can be difficult. Cambridge has a Park and Ride scheme, where cars can be parked on the outskirts of the city, and there are regular buses into the centre.

Bicycles are a serious form of transport in Cambridge. The sign on the left means no motorised transport - bicycles are allowed. (The bollard on top is not part of the sign!)

Most of the students at the University of Cambridge are forbidden to bring cars, and many use cycles. It is a favourite form of transport for others as well. The language school students often hire bicycles while they are in Cambridge, and unfortunately many of them are ignorant of the Highway Code. There are many cycle routes, special crossings for bikes and entrances for bikes the 'wrong' way down a one way street. So if you intend to bike in Cambridge, behave yourself, and if you don't, beware of bikes!

Some websites for further information:
  • Business information in Cambridge
  • Public services in Cambridge
  • Some Cambridge shops and businesses
  • Employment in Cambridge
  • Housing in Cambridge
  • Cambridge Transport
  • Educational establishments in Cambridge

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