24 July 2024

Portugal Place, a quiet
corner of Cambridge with
a former chantry house
and a former vicarage

Portugal Place, a narrow picturesque street off Bridge Street in Cambridge, with Nos 8 and 9 at the end of the narrow passage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Portugal Place is a narrow picturesque street off Bridge Street in Cambridge, squeezed between Saint Clement’s Church on the north side and the Baron of Beef and the Mitre pub restaurants on the south side.

Portugal Place is so narrow at this point that it is almost impossible for two people to pass each other. At the east end of the lane, the vista is framed by Nos 8 and 9 Portugal Place, with a small open space and a twisted corner, that then takes Portugal Place across Park Street into Portugal Street and on to Jesus Green and the Backs.

These are streets I have known for many years, but they often go unnoticed by the throngs of tourists in Cambridge in the summer months.

I found myself in Portugal Place again by accident earlier this month when the bus I was on stopped on Bridge Street and asked all passengers to leave because there was a house fire in Portugal Place.

I have often wondered whether Portugal Place took its name from the Portuguese and Spanish Jews or Sephardim who first began to return to Cambridge after the 1650s. But the name is usually attributed to the Peninsular War and houses built for officers returning from the Peninsular War or the discovery of some Portuguese coins when the houses were built in the 19th century.

Nos 8 and 9 face onto a small square half-way along Portugal Place and were once church-owned properties (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

I learned this month that Portugal Place was once known as Saint Clement’s Place, and that Nos 8 and 9, which frame the view of Portugal Place from Bridge Street were once church-owned properties with a chantry house once linked to Saint Clement’s Church and a house of the nuns of Saint Radegund, whose property later passed to Jesus College.

The pre-Reformation chantry house on the site of No 9 Portugal Place was attached to the chantry dedicated to Saint Mary in Saint Clement’s Church. It was founded before 1279 by Magister Robert Aunger, with an income of 5 marks derived from properties in the parish left to Robert by his father.

A woman named Alice, widow of Alan Seghyn, passed on her rights to property in an adjacent meadow in favour of Walter de Poswyke, the Vicar of Saint Clement’s, in 1311. A second chantry was founded in 1323, although its location is not clear.

The two chantries struggled in the 14th century to find the means to maintain the number of clergy they both required. There was still only one priest for the two chantries in 1472, even though at least three had been the initial intention at their founding. The priest, Robert Blakamore, had been granted a tenement and garden, and in his will in 1503 he is described as perpetual chaplain of the [united] chantry.

Robert’s successor was Thomas Paris. He was then followed by Robert Massye, who died in 1528. He had become quite a wealthy man and ensured a good attendance at his funeral by leaving 8 pence to the vicar for the funeral and 6 pence to every priest who attended, 4 pence to every scholar of Clement Hostel present, and 2 pence to every sizer. He left most of his pewter to the young maidens in the parishes of Saint Clement and the Holy Sepulchre, and left 16s 8d to Saint Clement’s Church.

Thomas Aldreth was the last chantry priest before the suppression of the religious houses at the Tudor Reformation. The estates of most of the chantries in and around Cambridge were sold in 1548 to Sir Thomas Wendy and John Barton.

By 1557, Thomas Ventris was paying rent to Jesus College for Saint Clement’s chantry house at what is now 9 Portugal Place. From this point on, the ownership of the house is the same as that of 8 Portugal Place.

Thomas Ventris died in 1609. The whole area was bought by Thomas Nutting by 1739, and the east end of Portugal Place was developed in 1835.

No 9 had a variety of owners through the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, including a cabinet maker, wine vaults, bookmakers, a tailor’s, and a seamstress.

Until recent years, No 9 was a dress wear hire service run by Jack Carter. But when I was in Portugal Place this month the building looked vacant and unoccupied.

The pre-Reformation chantry house on the site of No 9 Portugal Place was attached to Saint Mary’s Chantry in Saint Clement’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

No 8 Portugal Place next door was once numbered as 14 Clement Lane, was once owned by the nuns of Saint Radegund, and for some decades in the 15th century it was the vicarage for Saint Clement’s Church. It too was built on a plot of ground by the churchyard known as the Jesus Plot in Saint Clement’s Parish.

The Nunnery of Saint Radegund was founded in 1133. The chapel of Jesus College, which dates from 1157 and was completed in 1245, was was part of the Benedictine Convent of Saint Mary and Saint Radegund and is believed to be the oldest university building in Cambridge still in use.

Jesus College was established in 1496, and its full, formal name is the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge. When Jesus College acquired the convent and its precincts, the parish was renamed after the college as Jesus Parish, later absorbed into All Saints’ Parish.

An undated charter from the mid-13th century records a gift of several rents to the nuns of Saint Radegund by William Corde, including 3 shillings ‘from land in the which [William de Furcis] holds in the parish of Saint Clement which lies between land of Geoffrey Gybon and land of Hareflet and extends from the road as far as he king’s ditch.’

Two 14th century leases granted by the nuns of Saint Radegund refer to property in this area. The first lease ca 1373 was to Richard Milde capellanus, John de Kelesseye, cooper and his wife Avisia; the second lease was granted in 1377 to John and Avisia only, and it describes both the house that stood on the site opening into the churchyard and a new house John and Avisia agreed to build.

Adam de Walsoken complained in 1401 that there was no house for the Vicar of Saint Clement’s to live in, and in 1402 the nuns granted Adam and his successors as vicar the old house on the site as a parsonage. The parsonage had fallen into decay by 1471, when the lease was granted to ‘William Dack clericus’.

Jesus College was established in 1496 and acquired all the properties once owned by the nuns of Saint Radegund. By 1557, Thomas Ventris was paying rent to Jesus College for Saint Clement’s chantry house at what is now 9 Portugal Place, and by 1566 he owned what is now No 8. From then on, Nos 8 and 9 shared the same ownership.

Thomas Ventris died in 1609, and the residents of No 8 later included Hugh Jones a tailor; the Trott family; Thomas Nutting a merchant; Thomas Willett a gardener; the Sussum family, who had a greengrocery business on Bridge Street; Juner Perry Lawrence, a wine merchant; and Harry Godwin Legge, a painter and paperhanger.

The neighbouring cottages at 5 to 7a Portugal Place were sold at auction in 1933, and bought by the publisher Gordon Fraser. He demolished numbers 5, 6 and 7 in 1935-1936 and he had established a bookshop in 1939, when he moved into 9 Clement Place. Meanwhile, No 10 was demolished in 1937.

However, World War II broke out in 1939, and Gordon Fraser’s bookshop became a white elephant. During the war the bookshop became premises for NAAFI, the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, a company that ran shops and recreational facilities for the armed forces. No 5-7 Portugal Place is now a two-storey modern office building, built in 1979.

Most of the other houses on Portugal Place date from around 1830s. But the former chantry house and the former Vicarage, side by side at No 9 and No 8m are alone in having survived from the late mediaeval period in this charming, quiet and almost hidden corner of Cambridge.

No 8 Portugal Place, once numbered 14 Clement Lane, was once the vicarage for Saint Clement’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
76, Wednesday 24 July 2024

The Sower and the Seed … an image in the East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are continuing in Ordinary Time in the Church and the week began with the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VIII).

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

‘Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain’ (Matthew 13: 8) … fields at Cross in Hand Lane, in rural Staffordshire, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 13: 1-9 (NRSVA):

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!’

A sign in the Happy Pear restaurant in Greystones, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This morning’s reflection:

The quotation from Jesus in this morning’s Gospel reading begins and ends with the word ‘Listen.’

In my reflection yesterday, I recalled how Bishop Graham Usher of Norwich, when he was speaking at the USPG conference in 2021, drew on the opening word of the Rule of Saint Benedict – ‘Listen’ – as he urged us to listen to the groan and cry of creation, to listen to the cry of the dispossessed, and to listen to God’s voice on how we can live more simply so that others might simply live.

Saint Benedict begins his Rule with the word listen, ausculta: ‘Listen carefully, child of God, to the guidance of your teacher. Attend to the message you hear and make sure it pierces your heart, so that you may accept it in willing freedom and fulfil by the way you live the directions that come from your loving Father’ (Rule of Saint Benedict, Prologue 1, translated by Patrick Barry). His advice is as short and as succinct a directive on how to prepare to pray as I can find.

Benedictine prayer became more accessible in popular culture almost 20 years ago when the BBC screened the television series, The Monastery (2005), in which the then Abbot of Worth Abbey, Abbot Christopher Jamison, guided five modern men (and three million viewers) into a new approach to life at Worth Abbey in Sussex.

Since then, Dom Christopher’s best-selling books following the popular series, Finding Sanctuary (2007) and Finding Happiness (2008), have offered readers similar opportunities. He points out that no matter how hard we work, being too busy is not inevitable. Silence and contemplation are not just for monks and nuns, they are natural parts of life.

Yet, to keep hold of this truth in the rush of modern living we need the support of other people and sensible advice from wise guides. By learning to listen in new ways, people’s lives can change and Dom Christopher offers some monastic steps that help this transition to a more spiritual life.

Saint Benedict of Nursia wrote the first official western manual for praying the Hours in the year 525. Benedictine spirituality approaches life through an ordering by daily prayer that is biblical and reflective, and Benedictine spirituality is grounded in an approach to spiritual life that values ‘Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life.’

The major themes in the Rule are community, prayer, hospitality, study, work, humility, stability, peace and listening.

This distinction between liturgical prayer and private prayer, which is familiar to modern spirituality, was unknown to the early monks. Apart from one short reference to prayer outside the office, Chapter 20 of the Rule is concerned with the silent prayer that is a response to the psalm. Listening to the word of God was a necessary prelude to every prayer, and prayer was the natural response to every psalm.

When a scribe asks Jesus which of the 613 traditional commandments in Judaism is the most important (see Matthew 22: 34-40; Mark 12: 28-34; Luke 10: 25-28), Christ offers not one but two commandments or laws, though neither is found in the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20: 1-17 and Deuteronomy 5: 4-21). Instead, Christ steps outside the Ten Commandments when he quotes from two other sections in the Bible (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5, Leviticus 19: 18).

And the first command Christ quotes is the shema, ‘Hear, O Israel, …’ (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) (Mark 12: 29), recited twice daily by pious Jews. The shema, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד, is composed from two separate passages in the Book Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, 11: 13-21), and to this day it is recited twice daily in Jewish practice.

The Hebrew word Shema is translated as ‘listen’ or ‘hear.’ But it means more than to just hear the sound, it means ‘to pay attention to, or to ‘focus on’. In fact, it has an even deeper meaning, requiring the listener or hearer to ‘respond to what you hear’. It calls for a response to what I hear or I am told, to act upon or do something related to the command. In other words, shema often means ‘Listen and Obey.’ They are two sides of the same coin so that comes to my ear is understood and results in action. Not to not take proper action, not to respond, not to follow in discipleship is to not listen at all.

The Sower and the Seed … an image in the East Window by Mayer & Co in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Wednesday 24 July 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Someone called my name – Mary Magdalene Reflection.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a reflection by the Revd Cathrine Ngangira, Priest-in-Charge, Benefice of Boughton-under-Blean with Durnkirk, Graveney with Goodnestone and Hernhill.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Wednesday 24 July 2024) invites us to pray:

We pray for all who are grieving, comfort them with your love and peace, Lord.

The Collect:

Almighty Lord and everlasting God,
we beseech you to direct, sanctify and govern
both our hearts and bodies
in the ways of your laws
and the works of your commandments;
that through your most mighty protection, both here and ever,
we may be preserved in body and soul;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that have taken holy things;
may the ears which have heard your word
be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise be free from deceit;
may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love
shine with the light of hope;
and may the bodies which have been fed with your body
be refreshed with the fullness of your life;
glory to you for ever.

Additional Collect:

Lord God,
your Son left the riches of heaven
and became poor for our sake:
when we prosper save us from pride,
when we are needy save us from despair,
that we may trust in you alone;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the Eve of James:

Merciful God,
whose holy apostle Saint James,
leaving his father and all that he had,
was obedient to the calling of your Son Jesus Christ
and followed him even to death:
help us, forsaking the false attractions of the world,
to be ready at all times to answer your call without delay;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

‘Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty’ (Matthew 13: 8) … trees and a shaded garden in Platanias in suburban Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

‘Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty’ (Matthew 13: 8) … fields of green and gold near Newport in Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)