People's memories of Gwydir Street

Also see memories of individual houses

From Jo Edkins (maker of this website):

We came to Gwydir Street in 1979. The bollards were in place soon afterwards, and I remember a discussion about the houses on the Norfolk Street side of the bollards. The emergency services were worried that they would not know which side to approach to get to an address in Gwydir Street, and they wanted these few houses to become part of a different street. The options were a new street name, becoming part of Upper Gwydir Street or part of Norfolk Street. The Upper Gwydir Street option was no good, as the way the numbering goes in Gwydir Street and Upper Gwydir Street would meant that every house would have to be renumbered. People didn't want to become part of Norfolk Street, and no-one could think of a good new name. We all wanted to stay as Gwydir Street.

The Beaconsfield Club was still going then. This was an old Conservative Club, which degenerated into rather a shabby social club. There were frequent loud parties (despite the sound-proofing) and the occasional fight outside. Also it got frequently burgled and the alarm would be ringing for ages. Finally, after a policeman was assaulted breaking up one of the fights, the police advised that the license was removed, and the club had to close. The new flats were built in 1984.

From an email correspondent, Jim:

Although not a Gwydirian (?) I had many a cleansing session at the Public Baths and remember exiting the Kinema by the rear exit to come out almost under the Dales Clock.  Sometimes with the connivence of a mate already inside we would enter the cinema by the same rear door but don't tell anyone, will you.  

I remember the Dewdrop Inn (now the Cambridge Blue) mainly because I had to wait outside on occasions for my Dad and Grandad to finish drinking. Their "locals" however were the Swimmer and the Midland  I remember.  

My boyhood, from about four to fifteen anyway, was spent at 49 Devonshire Road, the home of  my Grandparents in those days, indeed my brother who still lives in Cambridge was born there, so I have wonderful memories of the area.  

From Mike Petty's column "Memories" (Feb 19, 2003) in the Cambridge Evening News.

In 1963, News columnist Erica Dimock surveyed Gwydir Street for her ‘Down Your Street’ feature. The terraced houses looked much the same as they had since they were built in the 1860s, but the atmosphere of the street had changed. It was becoming 'the Soho of Cambridge' as young families moved away to be replaced with people from Italy, Jamaica, Poland, Yugoslavia and a variety of other countries. One man who knew the street well was Harry Pateman, a magistrate. He had lived in the same house for 70 years and could remember when they had their own chemist’s shop amongst the facilities on offer. The number of shops had declined but still included three grocery stores: Ernest Mills had been trading for 14 years, S F Cockell had moved there in the mid 1950s, and C Harpur’s shop had changed hands only recently.

Sadie Segal's clothes shop One newcomer was Sadie Segal who had brought her second-hand clothing shop from Norfolk Street, having been trading for 23 years, ever since she moved down from London during the war. But trade was not what it used to be, since people could now obtain almost anything on credit. Shoes would always be needed, and would always need mending. The British Shoe Corporation had its repair works in Upper Gwydir Street where some 1,300 pairs were repaired each week, as they had since 1914. But now things were changing and craftsmanship was being eliminated by new processes, stitching having been replaced by sticking.

Beer was an important part of the life of the street. Dale’s Brewery dominated the area near Mill Road. It had been founded in the 1890s, when there were no fewer than 22 breweries in Cambridge. But by 1963 it was being used as a distribution depot by Whitbread and its landmark 7ft high cup, a reminder of the gold cup won for the best beer at the Brewers’ International Exhibition in 1911, had been removed for safety reasons. Of the five public houses that had once traded, two were closed by 1963; the former Prince of Wales had been owned for a while by Peter Cook of Footlights and Beyond the Fringe frame and was then a Leslie Peck lodging house, the Gwydir Arms was a private house. The Brewer’s Arms had a good darts team, but the Alexandra Arms had lost its once-famous skittles club and at the Dew Drop Inn the licensee, Leslie Peck, was lamenting the recent closure of the Embassy Ballroom in Mill Road, that had considerably reduced his custom. (The Dewdrop is now the Cambridge Blue.) The Beaconsfield Conservative Club had itself formerly hosted dances in its imposing hall, then being used as a furniture warehouse, but both city and university judo clubs continued to meet in upper rooms. (The Beaconsfield Club closed down in 1984 after it lost its licence becuase of complaints of noise and fighting)

Banana hanging room It is hard to associate urban Gwydir Street with exotic snakes, lizards or spiders, but they were a regular hazard for H W Barnes, director of Whitehead’s wholesale fruit and vegetable warehouse. They had hanging space for 900 stems of bananas some containing creepy crawlies, a quite impressive sight, and something like seven tons were received and despatched each week. Although oranges and South African apples were still very popular there was an increasing demand for more unusual fruit and continental produce.

From an email correspondent, Don Halls:

I was born in Vicarage Terrace in 1927 and know the area well. Of course you are very aware that years ago Vicarage Terrace was bombed, nos 1 through 10 were wiped out and several of my childhood acquaintances were killed. I left England in 1950 and now live in Palm Springs Ca. My niece Mandy and her husband Nick ran the Cambridge Blue for some years up until about 5 years ago.

I remember, as a child, walking with my mother through Mill Rd Cemetary to get from Norfolk Street to Mill Road, and going to the Playhouse movies. I well remember a store, a confectioner, named Hoppit and opposite was a print shop ownedby my sisters-in-laws, the Bigg Family. My family were for the most part stonemasons but my uncle Harvey Halls was for many years the publican of the Wheelwright Arms on East Road (he was by trade a wheelwright). The Wheelwright Arms was close to where Mackays is. There were two pubs next door to each other, the Horse and Groom and the Wheelwrights Arms. Opposite was the Brittania. Years ago it was said that one could not go along East Road and have a pint at each pub as there were so many.

A memory from World War II:
"Some of the soldiers rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk were billeted in Cambridge stayed with families that lived in Gwydir Street. The soldiers were lined up in the road and each householder was asked how many bedrooms they had. It was expected that there'd be two adults to each double room and as we had two doubles and a single we took in two soldiers. They slept in a double bed and were still staying with us when the bombs dropped on Vicarage Rerrace."

An article from the Cambridge News Nov 1st, 2010:

Our most loyal reader is celebrating his 95th year of reading the Cambridge News. Hubert ‘Ben’ Benstead began reading the paper, then the Cambridge Daily News, in 1915 aged 5 – leafing through the sports pages after his father had finished with the news. He signed up for deliveries as a young man and continues to take the paper to this day. Mr Benstead, who turns 100 today said: “I’ve probably only missed about 50 editions since then. When I first started reading it we didn’t even have the wireless. It was the only place to get information. People used to wait for the 3.30pm edition so they could get the 2.30pm racing results from the paper boys on St Andrew’s Street. I remember the first time I heard a wireless. I visited my cousin in Burleigh Street and he had built his own radio – they didn’t sell them back then. I heard the bells of Big Ben and thought it was amazing. Things were very different then. There were hardly any motor vehicles. We used to go ‘motor spotting’ at Station Road, which was the only place you’d see them. I remember them digging the swimming pool by hand on Jesus Green in 1922. They used to run river water through it then. I swam in the first school swimming championship there in 1923 too. I didn’t do any good in it, but I was there.”

Mr Benstead, who was born in Gwydir Street in 1910, later trained as an apprentice electrician, working at the Festival Theatre in Newmarket Road. Now living in Victoria Road, he said: “The owner Terence Gray was a very wealthy man and was interested in stage lighting. We had all the big acts of the 1930s, as well as theatre and ballet companies, one of which was led by Margot Fonteyn. I went on to work for the university and ended up at the Cavendish Laboratory. It was the era of Crick and Watson and I used to speak to them every day. They weren’t stuck up at all and they used to ask me to set up various things for them. They were obviously hugely intelligent, but a bit clueless when it came to the electrical stuff. I’ve lived in Cambridge all my life, but it hasn’t been boring. I’ve met some interesting people and seen some fascinating things.”

Mr Benstead can also claim to be the oldest Cambridge City FC fan. He was a founder member of its supporters’ club in the days when crowds at Milton Road were regularly more than 5,000. He is also a paid-up member of the ’99 rowing club, where he began rowing and coaching in 1927. He was married to Ivy Kent for 67 years until her death in 2000, and has three children and 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Mr Benstead, who enjoys playing cards and, until recently metalwork, celebrated his birthday with family on Saturday and he is having a special afternoon tea today.

In 1913, there was a Benstead living at 5 Gwydir St, 17a Gwydir St and 40 Gwydir St.

From an email correspondent, Tim Futter:

There was a Freeman, Hardy and Willis' shoe and boot repair factory in Gwydir St. I believe this factory closed in the early 1950's. I think it had previously been somewhere near the Kite area off East Rd until sometime around the beginning of WW1. I know the factory existed on the Gwydir St site because my parents met there where they were employed until they married in 1948. My mother is still alive , although her memory can sometimes play tricks on her, but may be able to provide some information on the factory. I understand it was quite a thriving little factory. During WW2 my father spent many nights on fire watch on the roof of the building as part of his Home Guard duties. Come to think of it my Grandfather worked there as well and I believe the managers name was Freddie Alcroft.

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