History of Mill Road 1830-1850

by Allan Brigham, published in Mill Road News

Today, Mill Road is part of the inner city, an arterial road lined with shops, restaurants and homes. It also links and provides a focus for the adjoining streets of 19th century terraces. The wards of Petersfield and Romsey contain a population of 18,000, the size of a small town.

Private Road

In 1830, Mill Road was described as a 'private road leading to nowhere.' A track across empty fields, it ended in a footpath to Cherry Hinton, hence its name, Hinton Way.

The most prominent landmark was the windmill, providing flour for the people of Cambridge, most of whom lived half a mile away in what we call the 'historic centre'. Clustered near the windmill in the first Mill Road side street, seven houses had recently been built in Convent Garden. On Mill Road itself, there were just five houses.

Further along the track lay Polecat Farm, the last buildings until you reached Cherry Hinton. A farm sale in 1839 gives us a glimpse of Mill Road at this time, recording carts and farming tools, "a well shaped three year old nag, a promising black yearling cart colt" as well as a "strong brown cart horse, three ewes, twenty five guinea fowl, fifty head of poultry". Today this is the site of 'Cutlacks' and Romsey Terrace.

Horses grazed the fields,and wheat, barley and potatoes were grown. It was a flat landscape broken by hedges along the side of Mill Road, and the occasional haystack. In 1839 the local newspaper reported one of these had been set alight by a young boy, Robert Creek; only his age prevented him from going to trial, and instead he got a flogging from his father.

The one significant change in the 1830's was the new Union Workhouse, set in the midst of this rural scene. Built in 1838 to cater for the growing number of unemployed, elderly or orphaned, it provided a safety net from destitution, but under conditions that did not encourage residents to stay there any longer than necessary. Set back from Mill Road, it later became the Maternity Hospital and is now Ditchburn Place.

Transformation

The demolition of the wqindmill in 1844 marked the first sign that the old agricultural order was changing. This was confirmed by the arrival of the railway in 1845, beginning the transformation of Mill Road and the reorientaqtion of Cambridge away from the river towards the new station. Emplyees needed to be within walkig distance of their workplace, and shops and pubs were opened to cater for them. In 1847 the "enterprising engineers" J & I Headly also moved their iron foundry from the town centre to be near the railway so they could focus on "the Foundry, Engine Building and Railway Works for which they solicit their orders." In 1849 they built the only locomtive to be built in Cambridge, something unimaginable just twenty years earlier.

1830-1850

In 1830 Mill Road had been identified with and named after the 'old technology' of the windmill. By 1850 a very different economy was developing. The windmill was demolished, the Headly brothers were leading the way with the latest technology, and there were 50 dwellings on Mill Road housing 199 people. But despite the changes of the last 160 years, Mill Road still ends with the footpath to Cherry Hintom.

Condensed from Mill Road, Cambridge: 1823-1851 on the Capturing Cambridge website. See more articles by Allan Brigham.

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