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Walk M: The Cambridge Edition

We walk with Constable ... in Cambridge!

We’ll experience the project's methods by using surrogate sites and views of Cambridge itself as we think about how the local landscape has, or indeed hasn't, changed.

Starting off at Cambridge University Library, we’ll introduce the Walking with Constable project and the methods that underpin it. We’ll then apply these methods to think about how the landscape around us has changed by comparing the site today to a map from 1575, and then by viewing the University Library building in 1933 when work on the tower had reached the 15th floor.

We’ll then walk up to the site of the city’s medieval castle, to experience some views of the site created by Richard Relhan (1782-1844). Relhan ran an apothecary, which was situated near the city’s iconic Round Church, and was also a keen amateur artist; he made several artworks of Cambridge views and monuments from the turn of the century onwards.

We’ll look at two views Relhan created that capture the area around the castle’s gatehouse that were about 25 years apart. Most of his works are in the antiquarian tradition of recording for posterity, but occasionally he also tried to incorporate elements like the time of day, weather conditions, animal presence, akin to Constable, although in what Constable would consider crude and lacking in ‘feeling’.

Next, we’ll wander down to the lock at Jesus Green to view another Constable print, ‘A Lock on the Stour’. The lock represented Flatford lock, with the footbridge and the Bridge cottage beyond it. Constable based it on a picture now in the collection of the National Trust (Fairhaven Collection, Anglesey Abbey), which he had called ‘Landscape: Boys Fishing’. We’ll discuss significance of changes in titles to artworks.

The projected site of the Fitzwilliam Museum was debated before the final location was found on Trumpington street. In 1821 land was purchased from Peterhouse College on Trumpington street, but no building work took place until 1837. This view, of 1824, shows part of an alternative proposed placement, nestled amongst the colleges along an elevation, the whole of which spans Kings College all the way along the street to St John’s College.

In 1897 a proposal to formally recognise women’s degrees at the University was put to the vote. Campaigning was fierce, and we’ll stop to experience the scene in the street whilst the vote was taking place.

When construction of the new University Library building was complete, in 1934, the great task of moving the collection up to its new home from the old library was undertaken. The process and experience, including scenes such as the one we’ll look at, was captured on camera by members of staff like Robert Pilgrim, who captured this scene showing how the books were lowered out of a high window and loaded onto a horse and cart.

We’ll stop to overlay Constable’s depiction of the St Mary the Virgin church in Stoke by Nayland (spelled ‘Neyland’ in Constable’s print). In the resolution of this printed image, Constable changed the church’s position, asking the printmaker to make it appear ‘two fields off’. We’ll experiment with height and distance (Kings chapel being 94 feet in height and St Mary the Virgin 126 feet).

Another map of Cambridge that we can explore was created in 1798, during Constable’s lifetime, and it captures the city before major changes took place in the nineteenth century.

At Cambridge’s Mill Pond we’ll look at another Constable print ‘Mill Stream’. The stream in the print was the one that fed Constable’s father’s mill at Flatford on the river Stour. The tail water left Flatford mill through an archway below the forecourt, where the view is taken, which explains the turbulent water in the centre foreground. We’ll then compare this to a view from around 1905 of a mill that once actually stood here in this location.

The area around the Mill Pond is also the site of another major development that never came to fruition. Around 1847 it was proposed to build a new railway line entering Cambridge and plans included various locations for the line to terminate at potential stations sites. This provides us an opportunity to reflect on enduring change and infrastructure – this old plan might make the current proposals under development by the East West Rail project appear less drastic.

As we make our way back up to the University Library, we’ll pass through the Sedgwick site, which has also changed dramatically in the last seventy years or so – from cricket pitch and Victorian Villas to a bustling campus. One aspect that might share a stature with the grand buildings but that might go unnoticed or forgotten, is how the natural environment has changed. It is thanks to the likes of historical ecologist Oliver Rackham, who’s notebooks we can use to remember the catastrophic impact of natural disasters such as the Dutch Elm Disease and how they impact the world that surrounds us.

This spot saw the day spring of my Life, Hours of Joy, and years of Happiness.

Frontispiece, the English Landscape, John Constable, 1831

The walking route