Tour de Cambridge

Signs have started going up around Cambridge. It seems it is really happening. A summer bicycle race.

Not just any race, of course, the only race: day three of the Tour de France will depart from Cambridge, heading down to London, on Monday July 7th.

The Tour starts with two days in Yorkshire, before heading south.

The peloton will start by Parker’s Piece some time after midday, head along to the Catholic Church, and instead of passing down Hills Road (boo) will turn instead through the centre of town past Emmanuel College and Christ’s College, skirt the Market Square, head past Sidney Sussex to the Round Church where it will make a sharp turn into Trinity Street, and then pedal on down past King’s College and on to Trumpington Street, past the Fitzwilliam Museum (taking care not to slip into Hobson’s Conduit) and the Botanic Garden, and so on out of town.

The route through town will be uncontested – that is, a gentle warm up before the real business begins on the edge of town . But it’s a rare chance to see Wiggo and Cav and the rest pedaling around in the sunshine. Not to be missed.



<br /><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Parcours 2014 en 3D / The 2014 route in 3D</a> <i>by <a href=”; target=”_blank”>tourdefrance</a></i>



“[1643] At Little Mary’s…we brake down 60 superstitious Pictures, some Popes and Crucifixes, with God the Father sitting in a Chair and holding a Globe in his hand.”

“[2 January 1644 Holy Sepulchre, in Cambridge] We break down 14 superstitious Pictures, divers Idolatrous Inscriptions, one of God the Father, one of Christ and of the Apostles.”

The Journal of William Dowsing 

Iconoclasm – the destruction of images for religious reasons – comes and goes in English history in the the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. William Dowsing’s zealous and methodical enumeration dates from the years of the Civil War, when the conflict between crown and parliament took on strong religious overtones (it had partly been precipitated by the Arminianism of Charles I and Archbishop Laud). As Provost-Marshall of the armies of the Eastern Association (the armies raised between Essex and Lincolnshire), Dowsing was responding to a parliamentary ordinance of August 1643 calling for the destruction of images, and he kept a journal of his activities.

Dowsing purified images in over 250 churches in the region, charging each a noble (a third of a pound) for his services. He was known, apparently, as ‘Basher Dowsing’.


Dowsing was too late for the Lady Chapel in Ely, perhaps to his disappointment. A wide-ranging if sporadic iconoclasm had taken place after the break with Rome in the 1530s, and it was in this period that Ely Cathedral was denuded of images – anything portable was removed and destroyed, but the statues in the Lady Chapel were merely decapitated (a common practice in iconoclasms – their eyes are often regarded as the source of the power of an image).

The headless statues can still be seen (I can’t answer for the blue statue in the photo below).

photo: Maxigilead

photo: Maxigilead


Summer in the City

The Bay City Rollers are coming to Cambridge. That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d write, but it’s true. Or partly true, perhaps – they are billed as Bay City Rollers ‘featuring’ original lead singer Les McKeown; whether that means Les doesn’t usually ‘feature’ with his own band, or that he is the lone survivor singing along with a band playing covers of his songs, I do not know and have declined to research. Still and all, he/they are coming to Cambridge.

They will be playing as part (indeed, the culmination) of the Cambridge Summer in the City festival, which hosts events across town between June and September. Between Wednesday June 18th and Monday June 23rd the Midsummer Fair will be the centrepiece of the festival – a traditional dodgem/rollercoaster/candyfloss affair. And then on the weekend preceding the departure of the Tour de France (for more on which, see next Friday’s post), Parker’s Piece will host The Big Weekend, when the Rollers will top a bill also featuring things like Dreadzone, Billy Ocean, and other musica incognita.

I confess I am old enough to recall not only the original manifestation of the Bay City Rollers, who briefly made it big in the late 70s, but to remember also something of the excitement that attended their appearances on Top of the Pops (the 70s were a decade in which you had to lower your expectations), and, shame to say, my disappointment when I heard them speak for the first time, and found that they were Scottish (they came from Glasgow). Here they are performing a song that I dimly remember. Not the sharpest outfit you’ll ever see, but the tartan somehow sticks in the mind.


Cambridge Childhood

I posted yesterday on Josiah Wedgwood’s copies of the Portland Vase, and mentioned that two of the finest copies had been in the possession of Erasmus and Charles Darwin, and that Erasmus was the brother-in-law of Wedgwood. But this is only the tip of an extensive and extraordinary dynasty, the littlest scions of which are at my son’s school, and which also includes Sir Francis Galton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Maynard-Keynes (albeit distantly by marriage) and Gwen Ravarat (née Darwin).

Gwen Raverat (1855-1957) was doubly famous, for her wood engravings, and for her memoir of her childhood in the late 19th century, entiltled Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood, originally published by Faber and Faber in 1952.

Born Gwen Emma Darwin, granddaughter of Charles (whom she never knew), she grew up in a house called Newnham Grange in Newnham Village, now forming part of Darwin College and located on Silver Street, and went on to study at the Slade School of Fine Art. She is credited as being one of the first wood engravers to work in a recognizably modern style, deriving inspiration from Post-Impressionists (in particular Lucien Pissarro, resident in London from 1890) and early contact with the sculptor and letter-maker Eric Gill.

photo: Lowbourne

photo: Lowbourne

Raverat’s memoir details the social life of Cambridge at the end of the nineteenth century, but she lived most of her life in and around the town, returning to a small house, also on Silver Street, at the bottom of Newnham Grange garden in 1948.

Portland Vase

Several years ago three Qing dynasty vases situated on the main staircase at the Fitzwilliam Museum were destroyed by a man called Nick Flynn, who fell down the stairs after tripping over his 31_vase_glshoelaces (“I snagged my shoelace, missed a step and crash, bang, wallop”). The vases were subsequently restored, but their fate echoes that of the original of another exhibit in the museum, the copy of the Portland Vase made by Josiah Wedgwood in the 1780s, which was  smashed in 1845 in the British Museum by a drunken maniac called William Lloyd, who picked up a nearby statue and hurled it across the room. It was subsequently restored, but 37 slivers were left over; it was not until the late 1980s that a full restoration was possible.

 © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

The original Portland Vase was manufactured around 1-25 AD in cameo glass. It was first recorded in modern times in Rome in about 1600, and later came into the possession of Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to Naples and noted antiquarian (and husband of Mrs Hamilton, who conducted a notorious affair with Lord Nelson). Hamilton sold it to the dowager Duchess of Portland; it was then lent by the third Duke to Wedgwood, who devoted four years to making his copies – his last major achievement – at his Etruria plant in Staffordshire.

The process was painstaking, and numerous defective copies were made before the first ‘perfect’ copy – which was instantly sent to Derby, to Erasmus Darwin,  (1731-1802), brother in law of Josiah Wedgwood and grandfather of Charles Darwin (to whom the copy of the vase in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is thought to have belonged). It is this copy that is in the Fitzwilliam (or the extant copies, the Fitzwilliam’s also bears the distinction of being one of only three to retain its original travelling case).

It has not, so far, been smashed into tiny bits.


In this short video, Graham Fisher of the British Glass Foundation discusses replicas made of the vase in glass in the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

World Cup

The World Cup is just around the corner. They seem to come faster and faster, in inverse proportion to your country’s expectations of winning (by which I suppose I mean, they creep up on you when you haven’t a hope in hell).

At a language school, you have to gird your belt and grit your teeth a little. World Cups are a potentially fractious time at language schools. For example in 2002 I remember watching most of the games in a school in Rome where I was working. There was a certain amount of bad blood between the English and Italian staff, which culminated in orchestrated jubilation from the Italians when the English went out (the English were watching in one room; the Italians in another). Fortunately the Italians had already departed the competition in some bitterness, if not actual ignominy.

Four years later I received a text message from an ex-girlfriend (Italian) during the final, reminding me that Italians were not only the best footballers, but also the best-looking footballers.

Again, after the exit of England in 1998 at the hands (not literally, this time) of Argentina, I remember being taunted by a couple of Argentinian youths on bicycles, merely because I was carrying a football. We are better than you, they shouted. No doubt.

OISE Cambridge has an unusual interest this year, because one of its recent students is coaching the Italian team. And Cesare Prandelli’s first game will be against England. I think perhaps I’ll watch that one at home.

Little Cambridge

I posted a couple of weeks ago on research undertaken by insectologists at Harvard University, and I mentioned that research with a little pride, because of course Harvard is a scion of Cambridge University, and it is nice to see them doing well.

Harvard_Colledge_plaque,_Harvard_University_-_IMG_8970Harvard University was named in honour of John Harvard, an English clergyman and alumnus of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Harvard had emigrated to New England in 1637, and survived the experience for only one year before dying of tuberculosis. On his death he bequeathed half of his monetary estate (£780) and his 320 volume library to a college founded a year or two previously in Newtowne, Massachusetts (which in Harvard’s lifetime was renamed Cambridge after the English town). That college became Harvard University.

A stained glass window in Emmanuel College commemorates the event (Harvard is standing next to Laurence Chaderton, Puritan divine and one of the translators of the King James Bible, and first master of Emmanuel College after its foundation in 1583; Chaderton lived to the age of 103).

photo: Dolly 442

photo: Dolly 442