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TIMBER! The Fall of the Manor Farm Trees

Imagine gazing down Campkin Road from Arbury Road. On the left, you see Arbury Town Park, the Arbury Community Centre and Nicholson Way; on the right you behold the houses and the old farm cottage and a row of lovely old trees, lining the pavement edge...

It's almost as hard to imagine as the old Manor Farm cottages, standing in the roadway at the junction of the Arbury and Campkin Roads, but the trees were a part of the original vision for North Arbury, a bequest from the old Manor Farm days...

Unfortunately, workmen digging trenches and foundations for the new development inadvertently cut through the trees' tap roots. Nobody realised at first but, within a few years, the trees were plainly dying and had to come down.

Some other Manor Farm trees survived - including three in the garden of the Manor Farmhouse, two of which still stand today. Colonel Charles Bennett brought the seeds back from abroad for the garden.

Looking down a frozen Manor Farm Drive towards Arbury Road in 1956. The site is now opposite the Arbury Town Park and Community Centre. A colourised version of a photograph from the Cambridgeshire Collection.

Arbury Archivist Debs in Arbury Town Park, looking across Campkin Road to the site of the Manor Farmhouse and the two trees remaining from its garden, 2022.

The Manor Farm orchard was also taken down for the North Arbury development. It was here that Mr Ernest Sale of No 1, Manor Farm Cottages, known throughout Cambridge for his Manor Nurseries on Arbury Road, once kept a donkey - whose braying could be heard for miles around in the 1930s and '40s. 

One or two of the orchard trees survived, near the Manor School fence - one of which came crashing down, narrowly missing two schoolboys reading a comic on a bench in 1974...

Cambridge Evening News:

Schoolboys have narrow escape. 


Two boys had a narrow escape today when a horse chestnut tree crashed through a fence and into the Manor School playground at Arbury Road, Cambridge.

The tree fell from the garden of Mr Michael Russell's home at 269 Campkin Road during today's high winds. 'It didn't hurt anyone,' he said, 'but there were two boys sitting on a bench some 15 to 20 feet from where it came down.

'They were reading a comic at the time. Fortunately the playground was hardly being used, as the children were only just starting to arrive for school and the playground had not filled up.'

The tree, as high as a two storey house, came down shortly after 8.30am.

Later, the school's headmaster, Mr Paul Lewin, was said to be unavailable to talk about the incident. His secretary said he had heard the tree had fallen, but knew nothing about any children being nearby at the time. 'School had not started at that time.'

Mr Russell said: 'After it came down we saw it was rotten inside. We did not know it was like that and was likely to fall down.

'It was fortunate that no-one was in the playground under where it fell, because it would certainly have badly hurt them. It has caused considerable damage to the fence.'

Of the Manor Farm orchard, which stood on Campkin Road opposite Arbury Town Park, Mr Kenneth Parsons, nephew of Mr Ben Medlow, tenant of the Manor Farmhouse, recalled his childhood memories of the period 1914-1916 in a 1982 letter to the Cambridge Weekly News:

On the right hand side of the drive leading up to the house was an orchard of old trees, leaning in some cases at rather drunken angles.

Cousins Mrs Grace Hinchcliffe and Mrs Muriel Wiles recalled, in their contributions to the Arbury Archive a few years later, climbing (or hiding behind) the trees lining the left hand side of the Manor Farm drive as children, and mischievously dropping bits of twig and other debris down on passers-by and making "strange" noises to alarm them in the 1910s.

Mrs Hinchcliffe: '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!'

Click here to visit the full Arbury Archive article.

'Cambridge News' photograph of the Manor Boys' and Girls' Schools, c. 1960. The Manor Farm Drive trees are still standing, and the tops of two of the Manor Farmhouse garden trees can be seen just to the right of the school's tower block.

As work got underway on North Arbury, several trees were earmarked for retention, including some in the old Park meadow on the Grove and Manor School sites.

One particular horse chestnut tree apparently influenced the design of the Manor Girls' School, with the quadrangle built around it.

Unfortunately, the tree quickly died but, as the photograph below shows, another tree was planted in its place. At the time the photograph was taken, the old Manor School/Community College buildings were being demolished and the North Cambridge Academy was under construction.

North Cambridge Academy rising beside one of the old Manor Community College buildings. Some of the Manor structure had already been demolished - including the typing rooms, the HE rooms and two labs. The Manor Boys' and Girls' Schools were built in the late 1950s - with the completion of the Girls' School taking place in 1960. The schools became a single co-ed school in 1970, and a community college in 1982. The Manor housed a unit for visually impaired pupils and the Cambridge Regional College's Arbury Centre during the 1980s. The site was previously part of the 'Park' pasture land at Manor Farm and, before that, part of the old Arbury/Harborough Meadows which covered most of the land north of Arbury Road, along with the North Arbury/Harborough Furlong, West Arbury/Harborough Corner and the Arbury/Harborough Furlong. 'Harborough' was a variation on the Arbury name and the two names were interchangeable.

An aerial view of the Manor Farm Drive (now Campkin Road), Arbury Road and the Manor Schools, c. 1960, with points of interest marked on, including the positions of the trees featured in this article. The small house just below the 'Manor Farm Drive Trees' tag was No 3, Manor Farm Cottages. Built in 1924, the house still stands today.

And what of South Arbury? Well, no trees formed a line on the side of the old Roman road, Akeman Street or Mere Way, which ran through the farm and later became Carlton Way, but several Hall Farm trees survived the building of the new housing estate. One in particular, a mulberry tree, which had once stood just outside the farmhouse gate, was still thriving when Sara Payne of the Cambridge Weekly News visited Carlton Way for an instalment of her popular Down Your Street series in 1981.

Mrs Betty Simons, a part-time teacher at Arbury School, remembered Hall Farm from the late 1930s onwards. At that time, the old Roman road of Akeman Street or Mere Way did not look terribly impressive:

'Carlton Way was just a cinder path with grass verges on either side. On the Gilbert Road corner was a long farmhouse garden. I can remember the lavender in that garden, it always smelt so beautiful. The farmhouse was grey brick with a slate roof. A very old mulberry tree stood just outside the farmhouse gate.'

Ms Payne advised Carlton Way residents:

You can recognise it by its spade shaped leaves. I wonder if it is feeding any silk worms at the moment?

The mulberry tree is no more, but if all this seems like a rather sad tale of a declining local tree population, fear not. To return to North Arbury, Mrs M Lark of King's Hedges Road, a highly regarded and tireless campaigner for community facilities for the new estate, observed that the area was in danger of becoming a forest and made her views known about council priorities in a letter to the Cambridge News in 1969:

I see the council are now planting trees on North Arbury with a vengeance. There are trees everywhere. If they plant many more it will be like a forest. Goodness knows how much all these are costing, but when we ask for a field for children to play on we can't have it because it takes money.

It's now nearly two years since a few of us tried to get a playing field. We collected more than 600 signatures which we handed to the Mayor. We attended meetings at the Guildhall at which we were told a field had been purchased and would be set with grass and ready for children in about two years. We are still waiting and the children are still playing football and cricket outside the houses, much to the annoyance of everyone.

All we asked for was a field big enough for football. We didn't even ask for apparatus. We have swings and climbing frames for the young children but for boys of 10 years up there is nothing.

I suppose we must accept that the councillors have already made plans for this estate and we must like it or lump it. We know we were told things at the meeting just to keep us quiet a little longer.

We all know about the community centre which is supposed to be in Campkin Road. But that won't be any help to our children who are at school now. It might be ready by the time they are all teenagers.

Andy recalls some of the frustration experienced by community-minded adults at the time: 'Council priorities did seem odd, because the Arbury was woefully short of community facilities, and yet the Council planners mainly seemed interested in planting trees, glorifying past councillors by naming roads after them, or their strange agenda of importing the "King's Hedges" name from the other side of the railway tracks when most people, quite correctly, identified the area as North Arbury. 

'But council planners tended to be people who didn't live in an area or know it well, and in the years before emails and social media, communication was much more difficult.

'However, with much effort by people like Mrs Lark, the Arbury Adventure Playground was established on the Nuns Way Playing field in 1973 and we got the Arbury Town Park and Arbury Community Centre in 1974. And we got lots of new trees too, of course...

'My early memories of The Arbury, Carlton Way to the original King's Hedges Road, are of how stark it all seemed. There were quite a number of old trees, and newly planted saplings, but it was nothing like today. With all the now mature trees planted way back then, the district feels much warmer and softer on the eye...'

Read more about North Arbury and the REAL King's Hedges here...


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