23 July 2010

A silver moon over Silver Bridge

Looking across the Cam from Silver Bridge at the moon rising over Coe Fen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Over the last few nights, those of us who have been taking part in this summer school in Cambridge have enjoyed each other’s company in the evenings in a variety of places, including the Eagle, which is owned by Corpus Christi College, the Mitre -- which is an appropriately-named place for welcoming people with active church interests – and the Baron of Beef on Bridge Street, and the Anchor below Silver Bridge, with its views out over the River Cam and across towards Coe Fen.

Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, Gwen Raverat, writing in Period Piece in 1952 – the year in which I was born – recalled how “nearly all the life of Cambridge flowed backward and forward under the bridge, and before our house.”

In her Edwardian fashion, she was disturbed by the behaviour of undergraduates and the scenes she saw on Silver Bridge and below in the Anchor. In the Period Piece, she describes this pub as “a mysterious haunt, full of Bad Women.”

Her memories were from an age long gone. Later, the Anchor was a haunt of the poet Ted Hughes. Today it is popular in term time with undergraduates from Pembroke or Queens or ordinands from Ridley – and graduates from Darwin College. Outside term time, the Anchor is all a-bustle, busy with tourists queuing for a punt or recalling their first experiences of seeing Cambridge from the Backs, while the bridge is crammed with visitors staring in wonder at the Mathematical Bridge.

Few of these people below in the Anchor or above on Silver Bridge, tourists or students, probably ever heard of Coe Fen or realise its place in Anglican hymnody.

Gwen Raverat believed that “men got drunk; women didn’t.” We may not have been drunk, but I wondered what she would have thought of our motley group of participants in the summer school – women and men, priests and students, from Ireland, Iceland, England, Canada, and Israel/Palestine – as we looked across the Cam and as the moon was rising over Coe Fen?

It was a balmy summer’s evening. I hope for those we saw there it was romantic. How shall I sing that majesty?

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