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Arbury Snippets Part 6: The Arbury Adventure Playground Association, The Kingsway Club, Councillor Janet Jones Versus Giant Weeds in North Arbury...

The Arbury Adventure Playground on the Nuns Way playing field in North Arbury was a fixture for over twenty-five years. It made its debut in 1973. One of the featured newspaper articles in this post details progress towards its creation - and is something of a hymn of praise to the original Arbury community spirit.

Hello, and welcome to our latest round-up of past newspaper articles about Arbury, which was a hive of community action in its early years. The three articles we include here are shining examples of the community spirit of  'The Arbury', with an adventure playground in the offing, a social club for lonely elderly people already established, and a county councillor happy to chop down four foot high weeds...

But first...

A Word About Arbury... 
Where Is Arbury, What Is It?

Readers familiar with historic Arbury as opposed to 'Arbury Ward' and 'King's Hedges Ward' (a name imported into the Arbury Meadows from elsewhere) can skip this. But, for newcomers, here is a brief (ish) explanation to help you find your 'Arbury feet', and a link to one of our more detailed articles on the subject.

By 'Arbury', of course, we mean Arbury - the historic area, and the housing estates - built on Hall Farm, south of Arbury Road, and the Manor Farm/Arbury Meadows north of the road. 

The 'King's Hedges' name was, for some obscure reason, dearly loved by council planners from the earliest days of the Arbury Estate, and they were determined to import it, but King's Hedges was actually a fifty eight acre farm north of the railway (guided busway), not a district. Its name is probably linked to blood sports - a hedged hunting warren to trap and kill animals in the days of the old Royal Manor of Chesterton. Here, the king would come down from Cambridge Castle to his royal box near the hedges, and watch his tenants pursuing and slaughtering wild deer, etc, within them. In the early nineteenth century it was used for boxing matches between locals - attended by large numbers of people from Town and Gown alike.

We say YUCK.

It has basically, at least as far as electoral wards are concerned, taken over North Arbury and parts of East Chesterton. 

'King's Hedges' is a name which is historically groundless on the so-called King's Hedges (North Arbury) Estate, and really does not hold a candle to the ancient earthwork at Arbury Camp, which gave the area its original name, via the Arbury Meadows and Arbury Road.

When you think of Cambridge and the areas around it which have become part of the city, the names Arbury, Cherry Hinton, Romsey Town, Trumpington, Chesterton and so on all carry historical weight. Arbury, for goodness sake, derives its name from the earthwork surrounding a prehistoric settlement! King's Hedges stands out as a bizarre confection which carries the historic weight of a small farm, a hedged hunting warren, council planners' whims and a late 1970s redirected and extended road.

King's Hedges Road was a dead-end, originally a farm track, leading north across the busway to King's Hedges Farm - the farm was known simply as 'King's Hedges'. Most of the modern King's Hedges Road dates from the late 1970s, when it was redirected and extended across the Manor Farm/Arbury Meadows and lopped off the original end of Arbury Road, which connected with the Histon/Cambridge Road. The redirected and extended 'King's Hedges Road' was known in its planning and construction stages as the 'Northern Peripheral Road'.

'King's Hedges Estate' existed, in the minds of most local residents, as a small, poorly defined sub-district of North Arbury at the time of the featured newspaper articles. None of it, including King's Hedges School, was in the King's Hedges acres - all of it was in the old Arbury Meadows. As it is to this day.

The King's Hedges misnaming misleads local history researchers. One young lad went searching for the King's Hedges in the hedgerows of Arbury Road. They were never there.

We, of course, love the Arbury name, and it inspires some very fond memories. We don't want to live in a shallow world of revisionism and rebranding. We don't want to live in a giant supermarket. It's all very well for 21st Century folk to cry, 'oust that name, historic though it is, try to encourage a better class of people. We are North Cambridge!' But the area was not even part of Cambridge until 1911.

King's Hedges School is dearly loved by many of us and we treasure it, but those in the know accept it's not actually in any historically meaningful King's Hedges district, and the site had nothing to do with King's Hedges. The school was named by the council in 1968, which then had a bit of an obsession with the name. King's Hedges School pupils and teachers made many contributions to the Arbury 1980 project and the 1981 Arbury is where we live! book.

Living in plastic districts with identities that are entirely manufactured by local authorities may suit some dormitory dwellers, but the social problems experienced by people anywhere are not the fault of the area. And what happens to people experiencing those problems? Do we simply send them somewhere 'further out' and get on with brewing the Earl Grey tea? This is not a caring or sustainable outlook. But it is one we have often heard in recent years.

Arbury has proven its worth time and time again as a unifier for its two estates (North and South Arbury), an area where the Arbury name is of immense historical significance and value. This unity has been an initiator of many good things - from the Arbury Adventure Playground to the Arbury Community Centre, from the Arbury 1980 project to the Arbury Is Where We Live! book - and much more. 

'North Cambridge' simply cannot compete. 

We live in an area which has a name with links back to prehistoric times. Are only 'posh' areas of the city worthy of being recognised as historic locations in their own right? Can the likes of Arbury Is Where We Live! be ignored because council planners and councillors decide the names of our areas, not history, and we must simply live in their plastic modules of local governance? 

Joe or Josephine Public: 'I live in North Arbury.' 

Council Authorities: 'No, you live in King's Hedges!' 

Pete or Pauline Public: 'I live in East Chesterton.' 

Council Authorities: 'No, you live in King's Hedges!' 

Anyone for forelock tugging?

Anyway, our brief introduction to historic Arbury as opposed to 'Arbury Ward' and 'King's Hedges Ward' complete, here's a link to our Exploring The REAL King's Hedges article, which gives a much fuller explanation - just click here.

Things called 'Arbury' in Cambridge and its environs over the years - the majority in the old Arbury Meadows, north of Arbury Road. The Arbury Adventure Playground, North Arbury Chapel, Arbury Town Park and Arbury Carnival were all achievements initiated by local residents. Spot King's Hedges on the map!

The Kingsway Flats on South Arbury were in the news in April, 1971, in an insightful article written by journalist Ruth Sealey. The flats had gained a social club, organised by residents, and Miss Sealey wrote about its origins and the various (sometimes knock-on) benefits it produced:

It is just over a year since Miss Rose Prentice threw a party. One of the many flat-dwellers in the city council's Kingsway Flats, she invited her neighbours in to break the barriers of loneliness in the big, bleak block on the South Arbury Estate.

As a result of this imaginative, friendly gesture by a basically shy person, the Kingsway Club was created. This social club for older residents now meets once a week on Wednesday evenings in the room in the basement of the flats normally used as a clinic.

It has been meeting for the past year, has a piano, a formal constitution with a president and officers, and membership (5p a month) has grown to around 40.

When the club meets every week, there is, in the words of its secretary, Mr John Symonds, "a splendid atmosphere - people are really friendly and happy." They play a few matey rounds of whist, a game of bingo, or enjoy a spot of entertainment by professional comics. Travellers' tales also go down well, as do small raffles.

Now as an innovation they have the opportunity to record their comments in a suggestion book, its clean pages as yet undespoiled except for the exhortation on the fly sheet that "if you can't be kind, be quiet." Mr Symonds will have his little joke. The club's balance sheet is an exemplary black.

The club generates much bonhomie. But why does it only involve about 40 residents when there are 126 flats in the huge block? Part of the answer is that the club confines its membership to older age groups and does not consider itself the thing for younger people in their 20s and 30s, although there are very few of them on the premises. The real answer is that the comparatively low membership gives a false impression of the working of the club. It is in fact a centre for a large number of people who might not actually go to meetings.

The effects of the club are seen to work quietly and indirectly - people in a chain of reaction telling each other of happenings at the club and keeping each other in touch with the wider community. Father Peter Turner, curate of the Church of the Good Shepherd, sees it as a "centre which radiates concern for the rest of the community."

Someone hears of a neighbour who needs some shopping, others learn that boys from The Leys School come along on Wednesdays to clean the windows of old people's flats. They would like theirs done too. So indirectly the club works as a grapevine, a verbal house magazine. It would be impossible to assess all the effects.

But one vital result of the club is that a little nucleus of people meet in each other's flats for services conducted by Father Turner. They sing hymns and have an address. Discussion and friendly conversation follow these services, and an atmosphere of fellowship prevails. Father Turner hopes to be able to take communion services as well in people's flats.

The question to ask now is why is it the Kingsway flats are the only large block on the estate to have such a social club on the premises? The answer is quite simple. It is the only block which has a room where people can meet in large numbers.

What is needed is a community centre in each block of flats. In future no such block or groups of houses should be designed and built without one. The cost of allowing space for such a room in the whole building would hardly be swingeing, and money could be saved by cutting down, say, on the number of garages for which at the Kingsway, where there is a garage to each flat, there has been little demand.

The room would be multi-purpose - a day centre for old people (there isn't one on Arbury), a play group for young children at a different time of day, an evening clubroom and entertainments hall. The possibilities are endless.

Local planners could also profitably take a leaf out of the book of Bristol City Council, which has imaginatively built nursery schools into the basements of high-rise flats.

Planners must realise that such amenities - community centres, nursery schools, adventure playgrounds, and accessible shops - are not frills or extras. People should not have to fight for them. They are essentials for a stable community life.

The Kingsway Flats in 1972.

In the late 1960s, Arbury residents had formed an association to create an adventure playground on the Nuns Way playing field. The Cambridge Evening News paid tribute to the association - and Arbury - in June 1972:

If Cambridge has a conscience it is probably most easily pricked at the point it nurtures the Arbury Estate. Turning Arbury from a collection of much needed houses into a community with all that the term implies has been a preoccupation of councillors and residents for many years.

But from within Arbury has sprung the Arbury Adventure Playground Association, who have been determined to create an adventure playground and have smashed their way through difficulty after difficulty with conspicuous success.

The news that the association have received a gift of £500 from one of the Cambridge colleges comes at the same time as the association produce their first fully integrated news sheet. From this it is possible to gain some idea of what a determined group of people can do if they organise themselves well and set about their task in an informed way.

Already the association are negotiating the terms of a lease for the land they require for their playground and the city council have agreed to cover the rent of the land. And they now have £1,000 towards a £7,000 target with every sign of sufficient impetus to carry them through.

The Arbury organisation are a particularly interesting case, for unlike many organisations busily engaged in raising funds for one scheme or another, they have had to contend with ideological problems as well. The term adventure playground is widely misunderstood and the public all too easily confuse it with the development of an unsightly mess in which all sorts of misadventures can occur.  

Arbury have demonstrated that the truth is far from the case. Their proposal at Arbury would be well landscaped and planted with trees, well fenced off and under constant supervision. At nights it would be truly secure.

Most important of all it will provide a centre of fun and imagination for children who, for no reason that they are old enough to comprehend, have found themselves on the tardy and tired end of a planners' dream - an estate which met the immediate objective of providing housing but which failed in almost every other social need.

Clearly there is still much to be learned from Arbury.

The Arbury Adventure Playground up and running on the Nuns Way playing field.

From the 'Cambridge Evening News', August, 1972: Janet Burch, aged eight, of 5 Fortescue Road, her 12-year-old sister Jacky and eight-year-old Sharon Weaver, of 52 Nicholson Road [actually Nicholson Way], find Arbury's tall weeds ideal for hide-and-seek, but others would like them cut down.

I recall Janet Jones, Labour County Councillor for the original Arbury electoral ward, going around in her little van with a loud speaker on top at election time singing, 'Vote for Janet Jones!' Very catchy tune!

Janet was a popular figure in Arbury with many. The majority of us Arbury Archivists still support the Labour Party, but we have two Tories, one Green and two members who question the whole setup as far as politics are concerned in the 21st Century.

We have some very interesting conversations!

Back in the early 1970s, my mother and stepfather believed that Labour was for the workers, the Tories for the rich, and the old Liberal Party was "Tories in disguise!' It was quite a prevalent view across North and South Arbury. I heard it many times!

The community had been promised the Arbury Town Park on the land between  Nicholson Way and Campkin Road, and was already fund raising, campaigning and planning for the Arbury Community Centre at the Town Park and, as we read earlier, the Arbury Adventure Playground on the Nuns Way playing field.

But, by August 1972, the future site of the Arbury Town Park was a mass of tall weeds. Enter Mrs Jones. The Cambridge Evening News reported:

A county councillor, Mrs Janet Jones, has told Cambridge City Council that unless they chop down tall weeds outside new flats on the Arbury estate she will organise a group of Labour councillors to do the job.

The four-foot high weeds are growing on land off Campkin Road earmarked by the city council for the new Arbury Town Park between the newly built nursery school and the multi-storey flat blocks.

Mrs Jones, who represents Arbury on Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely County Council, said this afternoon that she was disgusted at the way the weeds have been allowed to grow. She said she would give the city council a week to chop them down.

"I have received a lot of complaints from people living in the flats about the condition of this land.

"If the city council refuse to do anything about cutting the weeds I shall organise the three Labour city councillors and my fellow Labour county councillor when they have all returned from holiday on Tuesday and we shall cut the weeds down ourselves."

Mrs Jones complained that work on the construction and layout of the Arbury Town Park had halted. "I am told that the city council has run out of money and cannot grass the area for us for another two years.

"What with the weeds and now this, I think it is terrible. The least the council can do is to cut the weeds after all the complaints there have been."

The Deputy City Surveyor, Mr David Chadwick, said that he would look into the weeding complaints and see what was being done.

He said that the city council had spread the expense of constructing the town park over a number of years.

Finally, Mrs Lark of King's Hedges Road, recounted in the 1981 'Arbury Is Where We Live!' book the difficulties encountered by residents in gaining facilities - including the reduction in size of the Arbury Town Park in Campkin Road and facilities promised by the city/county councils which never materialised: 'The trouble is we found here on Arbury, everything you want you've got to fight for.' Although not always successful, the community spirit of the original Arbury Estate, Carlton Way to King's Hedges Road, was well up to the challenge.

More Arbury Snippets soon!


  1. I thought Janet Jones saw the Arbury as just a political football. She was always moaning (apparently on our behalf), hardly ever positive about it, always willing to use the Arbury name to her own ends (while being aware that the council planned to break it up electorally) such as at the time of the Manor School attempted closure in 1983 ('The people of Arbury will rise up and fight...') and elsewhere dropping little King's Hedges references. When the county council's Arbury ward was altered in 1985, and King's Ward formed, Janet said: 'I'm so used to saying "Arbury, my people, now I'll just have to get used to saying "King's Hedges, my people!"' while just a couple of years before she'd been all over 'Arbury Is Where We Live!' - which was designed by residents to build an identity for the whole Arbury area based on local history.

    1. I know what you mean to a degree. Arbury history was researched and published by local people, and the councils, city and county, just rode over it and disregarded it, while showing great enthusiasm at the time. I liked Janet. She had lots of energy and was dedicated to local people, but the attitude of the councils in the long term electorally did seem to be: 'ah, it's just a council estate! What does it matter what it's called?'


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