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Arbury Snippets 7: The Record Breaker At The Jenny Wren, an International Initiative at Arbury Adventure Playground and Late 19th and Early 20th Century Playtimes in Rural Arbury...

Ah, the days of fund raising for the Arbury Adventure Playground on the Nun's Way playing field! Having somewhere safe and supervised for the many children of the district to play was a very high priority. In 1970, 'Arbury's marathon singer' Tony Coleno of Cameron Road, made a record-breaking contribution to the funds...

Arbury's marathon singer, Tony Coleno, slept for 18 hours last night after breaking the world record for solo non-stop singing by 12 minutes. He sang from 8 am on Saturday until 11.15 am on Sunday.

Mr Coleno, of 46 Cameron Road, survived on a diet of soft drinks and beverages, chewing gum, indigestion tablets and throat spray, and raised almost £100 for the Arbury Adventure Playground Association.

The marathon took place at the Jenny Wren public house, Campkin Road. The landlady, Mrs Valerie McCord, said today: 'He was really marvellous, fresh as a daisy even at the end.

'On Saturday night, when he'd been singing for 13 hours, he got up on the stage and really belted out three numbers, and after it was over, he stayed in the pub over lunch-time. He must be as strong as an ox.'

Dropping in on 1990, we find the Arbury Adventure Playground alive and well.

Foreign aid for Arbury children.

A group of international volunteers has started working with children at an adventure playground on the Arbury housing estate in Cambridge.

The 11 volunteers, from Holland, Germany, Spain, Yugoslavia, Britain and the Soviet Union, are members of the International Volunteers Service and Student Community Action.

For the next two weeks they will ensure that youngsters at the Arbury Adventure Playground enjoy some special holiday fun and also meet local environmental groups and learn about environmental issues in the city.

Full-time worker at the site, Steve Choun, said: "It is always good to have new ideas coming in from outside.

"A real buzz goes around the playground when the IVS volunteers arrive, they bring lots of energy and enthusiasm which the children immediately respond to."

The visit is designed to help foster international relations and break down barriers which divide societies in different countries, said playscheme co-ordinator, Nick Newbury.

The Arbury Adventure Playground had been a dream of residents since the late 1960s.

1969, and disused land at Nuns Way in North Arbury is about to be agreed as the Arbury Adventure Playground site. The Arbury Adventure Playground Association then split from the Cambridge Children's Playground Association as the playground became a viable proposition. In 1972, the Association was earning praise from the Cambridge Evening News:

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.

How did children play in rural Arbury - back in the late 1800s and early 1900s? No adventure playgrounds then! Mr Reg Jones, whose grandparents lived at the Manor Farm, provided a fascinating account of his own experiences for children at the Grove School during the 'Arbury 1980' project, which was transcribed for the 1981 book, Arbury is Where We Live! Mr Jones was born in 1910, and his memories took 1980 Grove School children back to the early 20th Century:

'When we had our six weeks holiday in the summer, we used to go over the railway line and turn into what we called the Mere Way - all trees. We used to spend our time up there with a little bonfire. We used to take our sandwiches and always used to scrounge an egg off Mother and we'd take it up there and boil it in an old salmon tin we used to find.

'There were two houses up there and we must have been a nuisance to those because we were always going up and saying, "Please could you give me a bottleful of water?" We used to spend the day up there and there was a crab apple tree. We used to knock the crab apples down, get a long stick,  and sssssh... shoot them off the end, when we were youngsters.

'I spent many hours playing with my friend George Wright and my cousins in the watercourse which crosses Arbury Road.  The watercourse came down and under the bridge and we used to play there. We used boulders to dam this up so it became very deep and we could take our slips up there and not quite but almost swim in it. We built it up so that the water became a depth we could swim. Before we came away we used to knock the bricks out, and it came out like a waterfall, and next time we came they were there and we'd build it up again.' 

George Wright, Mr Jones's friend, lived at the Manor Farm and the cousins Mr Jones mentioned were Miss Grace Brett and Miss Muriel Ashman - Mrs Hinchcliffe and Mrs Wiles - whose memories, submitted to the Arbury Archive in the 1980s, are here and here

Mrs Hinchcliffe told the Arbury Archive:

'All across the Arbury were men working different smallholdings, and there were chicken coops and pig sties and fruit trees and vegetables were growing. Mr Baker, who lived in one of the Manor cottages, used to go round the houses in Chesterton, and round about, with a horse and cart, selling vegetables off his smallholding.

'Dad's ground at Manor Farm was five acres and he had ducks, geese, chickens, pigs and a horse for the plough. There was a big shed on there and a well, with a lockable wooden lid. Dad grew corn, artichokes, lots of vegetables, quinces, raspberries, gooseberries.... There were some apple and pear trees there, and that was part of his produce. He put up a tennis court for me and [cousin] Muriel and Mum, and swings for me and Muriel. Mum would often take us for a picnic on Dad's ground. You'd get to it down the little cart track by the last of the Manor Cottages, which ran from the Drive through to Milton Road. I think part of Dad's ground is on the Manor School site now [1987].

'Down that track was also the University Field Labs that we've talked about before, and we used to call them "The Experiment Farm" 

'I remember me and Muriel hiding behind a tree in the Manor Farm Drive opposite the old orchard one day. We were throwing bits of twig and stuff at people passing by and pretending to be ghosts, making strange noises. It was one of those things we did - sometimes we climbed up a tree and did it. It was a prank that got boring quickly because not many people passed that way.

'On this day, Mr Baker came by. We rarely saw him at that end of the Drive because he lived up the other end, and I chucked something out and made a particularly weird noise and he stopped and said: "Good heavens! I think there's something very odd behind that tree! I must hasten on my way!" And he walked off quickly. Well, we were doubled up with laughter, me and Muriel! Of course, I know now he knew it was us and was giving us a bit of fun, but we didn't at the time. Muriel said the noise I'd made had sounded like "a very strange owl", and although I tried to do it again, I never could!

The Arbury Meadows became the Manor Farm in the years following the 1840 Chesterton Enclosures. The Arbury Adventure Playground was built in the farm's Second Watercourse field in the 1970s (previously North Arbury/Harborough Furlong). The farm made an excellent playground for the children and grandchildren of its occupants.

Mrs Hinchcliffe's cousin, Mrs Muriel Wiles, had asked her mother, Louisa Ashman (née Brett), about Arbury playtimes when she was a child. Mrs Ashman, who was born in 1884, had grown up at the Manor Farm on Arbury Road. She died in 1968, but Mrs Wiles was able to hand down some tales of Arbury playtimes in the 1890s from her, including this one:

'When my mother was small, she and the other children used to go up to the railway tracks to do a trick they called "The Scissor Trick". In those days, the railway tracks ran across the fields, and King's Hedges Road was just a short, narrow farm track from Chesterton to King's Hedges - on the other side of the railway tracks from Manor Farm. It was a private road, like the Drive through Manor Farm. It was usually pretty quiet up there, and Mum and her brothers and sisters would go and put two pins down on the railway line, criss-crossed. They'd wait for a train to pass and then retrieve them, soldered together in a scissor shape!' 

Mrs Wiles's own Arbury childhood memories featured this:

'Grandad had edged the back garden path with raised bricks, on their ends, slanted in a sort of... zig zag pattern. I remember Uncle Frank telling me there was a big range of farm buildings almost joined on to the house when he was a boy. The barns were so close to the house, he could hear the animals moving about inside from his bedroom. They were that close! When I was a kiddie, they'd gone and Grandad was using the ground to graze goats on.

'At the end of the garden, just outside, Grandad had a huge piggery. He used to sell pigs to Mr Rooke, the butcher, in Chesterton Road. I used to love dangling a piece of cabbage on a bit of string to tease them, but the grown ups were upset and told me what I was doing was cruel - which seemed funny because I'd never thought of a pig's feelings before!

'And then me and my cousin Grace used to pinch some of their supper! We used to take potatoes that were being boiled up in the outhouse copper for the pigs' supper. We used to peel them, sprinkle on a drop of salt, and they were delicious. A telling off came our way for that!'

Mr Gordon Cardinal took the memories of rural Arbury playtimes on to his own 1930s youth in his 1983 manuscript The Arbury:

Of course, it wasn't all work back then - there would be the odd day out. The Arbury Road Baptist Church Sunday School outing to Hunstanton was an event we all looked forward to. And we had fun on the Arbury. 

I remember one year we found a couple of orange boxes in the Rick Yard at Manor Farm. We boys decided to make a boat and sail off up the watercourse, which crossed the farm. We made our boat and hid it in some bushes, down near the edge of the watercourse, where it was easy to launch, on a plot called 'Boy's Pit'. 

On the day, we arrived with whatever food we could manage and launched the boat at 'Boy's Pit'. We got in, but we had not realised that wooden boxes would let in water. 

We sank. 

The rest of the day was spent drying out on the bank. It was more than we dared to go home wet.

Some Arbury playtime participants - 1890s to 1970s: Reg Jones - who built a dam in the watercourse; Grace Brett - who made strange noises in the Manor Farm Drive; Muriel Ashman - who found sampling the pigs' supper was a hot potato; her mother Louisa - who enjoyed the 'Scissor Trick' at the Guided Busway site; and kids at the Arbury Adventure Playground on the Nuns Way playing field in the mid 1970s.

More from the Arbury Archives soon.


  1. I love this site. Fascinating to read all about real life over the years.

    1. Glad you enjoy the site. Lots more to come. Thanks for writing.


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