F) Parker's Piece


Parker's Piece is one of Cambridge's most famous open spaces, named after college cook, Edward Parker. Originally part of Trinity College, it was acquired by Cambridge town in 1613 as grazing land. In the 19th Century the Cambridge Rules of Football were first devised there, which then inspired the Football Association’s official rules that are used today! In 1838, a feast for over 15,000 people was held in honour of Queen Victoria's coronation, with bands, choirs, games and fireworks. The Olympic Torch was brought to Parker’s Piece on its way to the Olympic Stadium for London 2012. It was the starting point for the third leg of the 2014 Tour de France cycle race, and continues to be a popular place for football, cricket and community gatherings.


This history trail is narrated by the poet Michael Rosen, with script researched by Helen Weinstein and the team at Historyworks. This recording is part of a series of Cambridge history trails which have lyrics inspired by 'history beneath our feat' performed by local schoolchildren, with poems by the top poet Michael Rosen and songs by the funny team at CBBC's songwriters commissioned by Historyworks. 

Parker's Piece is one of Cambridge's most famous open spaces. Originally part of Trinity College, it was acquired by the town of Cambridge in 1613 as pasture land and named after a college cook, Edward Parker. In the 19th century, it was used as a first-class cricket-pitch and a sports ground for Varsity matches between the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. In 1838, a feast for over 15,000 people was held in honour of Queen Victoria's coronation. There were bands, choirs, sports and games, fireworks, and even a hot air balloon. In 2012 the Olympic Torch was brought to Parker’s Piece on its way to the Olympic Stadium in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics and 2014 isaw the start of the Third Leg of the Tour de France cycle race. Today, this green space continues to be a popular place of recreation for football, cricket, fairs, picnics and events.

The story of the Victorian Coronation Festival on Parker’s Piece

On the 28th of June, 1838, the Municipality of Cambridge organised something that truly went down in history; one of the largest banquets ever prepared, hosting 15,000 diners and 17,000 spectators, which was set up at Parker’s Piece to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Victoria!

The total number of participants was 32,000, at a time when the population of Cambridge was less than 30,000! The “Coronation Festival” is even more impressive if we consider that the plan was finally approved on the 15th of June, only 13 days before the event. At first, the Organising Committee wanted to simply put on some fireworks; but the Mayor had other ideas: something unique that would engage the entire population of the town, from the aristocracy to the poorest classes, and allow the rich people to be kind to the poor by feeding them and providing activities and entertainments.

At 2pm the 15,000 sang grace led by the choirs of Kings College and dinner began: meat, bread and pickles, some water and a lot of ale; last but not least, plum-pudding “in a supply that has never been witnessed in this kingdom before”. The amount of food is hard to imagine, and every Cambridge College kitchen must have been busy baking the meats and puddings to feed such a huge crowd.

You can see in the pictures of the time, tables laid out with hundreds at a sitting on the Parker’s Piece grass.
In total, the diners consumed 14,000 pounds of meat, 72lbt of mustard, 140 lbs salt, 125 gallons of pickles, 4,500 loaves of bread, 1,608 plum puddings of 6.5lbs each and 99 barrels of ale. Naturally, the only toast allowed for the whole day was “The Queen”. Queen Victoria had not yet visited Cambridge but she came to the throne in 1837 and ruled for more than 63 years, so there was time yet for her to arrive in person to meet both town and gown.

For the special Coronation Feast there was a bandstand placed where the ‘Reality Checkpoint’ lamp-post now stands in the centre of Parker’s Piece. From this platform, music played to those feasting that included an Overture and a Choral Finale performed by the choirs of Trinity and King’s College.

At the end of the meal, after the national anthem, a massive balloon was raised into the air. This day would have been the biggest community event in anyone’s lifetime. At this event, the poorer people of Cambridge were not only given a day off work, but they were treated to free food and drink. Imagine if you were an inmate at the Workhouse, what it must have felt like to have a day where the rich were entertaining the poorest. 
After dinner the ‘Rustic Sports’ began. These included a range of events such as sack races, riding the donkey races, horned ram races, wheelbarrow races and riding a greased pig. There were also whistling matches, grinning matches, a bolting the biscuit eating competition, bobbing for oranges and ‘dipping for eels’ to see if you could catch the slippery fish out of a tub! Prizes ranged from new shoes, hats, trousers to copper tea kettles and tobacco. Posters of the time, advertised the competitions. The evening finished with a fireworks display to end the whole event in style!

The Story of Sports on Parker’s Piece

It was not only for the occasion of the Victorian Feast that sports took place in central Cambridge. Parker’s Piece has become famous for four sports: Football, Cricket, Cycling & Skipping! ?
Football may well have started in Cambridge with the Roman game of harpastum that was an early form of football. The next landmark moments were in 1579 when there was a town against gown match that ended in a brawl. Then in 1848 the teams in the area met to establish one uniform set of rules as a way of preventing fights and disagreements. So as early as 1856 we have it in writing that the off side rule was described thus: “If the ball has passed a player and has come from the direction of his own goal, he may not touch it until the other side have kicked it, unless there are more than three of the other side before him. No player is allowed to loiter between the ball and the adversaries’ goal.”

These football rules were written on papers fixed to the trees on Parker’s Piece and, later, when the Football Association was founded in 1863, they used the Cambridge rules. This history shows that football has been at the centre of Cambridge’s culture for generations.

Cricket was also a popular sport for contests between town and gown. As early as 1831 a municipal cricket pitch was built by the university with permission from the council to level a 60 yard patch of Parker’s Piece. The most famous cricket player was Jack Hobbs, who went on to play for England from 1908 to 1930 , but he was a town rather than a gown player, who learnt his skills working alongside his Dad who maintained sports fields and coached teams for the University. Jack brought huge cricket gatherings to the Parker’s Piece ground, with famous players such as Ranjit Sanhji practising there with him. In his honour, a cricket pavilion was built on Parker’s Piece, and named after him.

If you look up to the roof of Hobb’s Pavilion you can see that the shape of the weather vane shows a cricketer at the stumps!

Another traditional pastime on Parker’s Piece, has been skipping, with special competitions held on Good Friday. In the olden days it used to be that washing lines were used for the skipping ropes, and traditionally the men turned the ropes and the women and children skipped. Tradesmen would set up stalls along Parkside selling hot cross buns to eat on this special day before Easter, alongside lemonade, sweets, ice-creams, and toys. The tradition has recently been revived, with children re-enacting the skipping gathering on Good Friday, and even singing the old skipping rhyme which goes like this:
‘Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns,
Full of Sugar, Full of Butter,
Full of Little Plums.”

More recently, in 2014, the Tour de France came to Parker’s Piece. There were bikes everywhere! To this day, to mark the spot where this leg of the race set off, there is a bike counter that clocks each bike that passes by, giving a daily total and a cumulative total of all the bikes past the post since the day of the race on 7th July 2014. A song was composed by Kirsty Martin and Rowena Whitehead with words by Holly McNish to celebrate the cycling traditions in Cambridge, it was commissioned by Historyworks with funding from Arts Council England. We had a mega community choir sing the song called ‘Why We Ride’ to the Tour de France cyclists as they passed by. You can hear this song on the website. Enjoy!

F) Parker's Piece


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