01 September 2016

Sidney Sussex College has its own
‘Bridge of Sighs’ on Sussex Street

The Sidney Sussex Bridge on Sussex Street … one of the newest bridges in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The bridges on the River Cam are an important part of the tourist trail in Cambridge. The classical bridge at Clare College is said to be the oldest bridge spanning the River Cam. The bridges at Silver Street and Magdalene College are popular gathering places for people hiring punts. The Mathematical Bridge at Queens’ College is surrounded by myth and legend about its building. And the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ at Saint John’s College is one of the most photographed bridges in London, alongside Tower Bridge and London Bridge.

The ‘Bridge of Sighs’ at Saint John’s College, was described by Queen Victoria as the most ‘pretty and picturesque’ feature of Cambridge University. But, despite its appearances of antiquity, it dates only from 1831.

But Sidney Sussex College, where I have been staying this week during the summer conference of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, also has its own ‘Bridge of Sighs,’ albeit one that is 160 years younger than its counterpart in Saint John’s College.

The bridge at Sussex Street is only a quarter of a century old, which may explain why it goes without comment in most guide books. But antiquity never explains popularity. Although I may have taken this bridge for granted for too long, I have passed under it almost every day I have been in Cambridge for the past decade.

This enclosed footbridge crossing Sussex Street was built in 1991 to connect the historic site of Sidney Sussex College on the north side of the street with new residential accommodation built in the inter-war years at Sussex House on the south side.

Although this bridge lacks the antiquity of most of the better-known bridges that cross the River Cam, it is a pleasant and eye-catching late 20th century addition to the streetscape of Cambridge and it blends in well with the neo-Georgian 1930s buildings on each side of Sussex Street.

The buildings lining Sussex Street were built for Sidney Sussex College in 1928-1939 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The buildings lining Sussex Street are a planned mixed-use development and were built for Sidney Sussex College in 1928-1939. They include a shopping arcade, offices and college accommodation.

The south side dates from 1928-1932, and is three storeys with dormer attics. The wall materials are red brick with a stone arcade.

The ground floor consists of an open-bowed or crescent-shaped colonnade or arcade of 11 bays, the cornice supported on unfluted Roman Doric columns. The range of shops includes late 20th century plate-glass display windows.

The upper arcade is reached by balustraded stone staircase on the east and west side that provides access to offices, the top storeys and the dormer attic.

The lower floor has 12/12 homed sashes, the upper floor has 8/8 homed sashes, and there are hipped roofs with dormers. The comers of elevation have rusticated quoins.

The north side of the street was completed in 1938-1939, and the building line is along the back edge of the pavement. Here there is a 10-bay arcade of Roman Doric columns supporting offices lit through 12/12 homed sashes to the first floor and 8/8 homed sashes to the second floor. The hipped roofs have two tiers of dormers.

The college accommodation to the rear is reached by a terrace and stair. There are additional four-storey and dormer attic corner blocks to each side at the east and west ends of the street.

Nikolaus Pevsner describes Sussex Street as the ‘best piece of pre-war urban planning in Cambridge’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The architect for this development was ER Barrow, who also designed the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls in Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London, in 1923. He later used his ideas in Sussex Street for a classical colonnade combined with Jacobean mullions and gables when he was commissioned by Saint John’s College, Oxford, to design Belsyre Court in North Oxford in 1935.

The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) describes Sussex Street as the ‘best piece of pre-war urban planning in Cambridge.’

Sussex Street runs between Sidney Street to the south-west and the junction of King Street and Hobson Street to the north-east. To the south and parallel with Sussex Street is Hobson’s Passage.

Historically, the line of this street dates back to at least mediaeval times, and it is thought there may be archaeological deposits at a depth of 1.5 to 2 metres. Stray finds of Roman pottery and coins as well as pottery from later periods have been made in the vicinity, but the potential for prehistorical finds is low and for Roman finds is rated as moderate.

Montagu House on the corner of Sidney Street and Sussex Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

However, the potential for mediaeval finds is regarded as high and there is evidence for mediaeval occupation at the west end of the street. In the Middle Ages, Sussex Street was known as Little Walles Lane. It marked part of the southern boundary of the Franciscan or Grey Friars Priory, and the street ended at the King’s Ditch, a less elegant name that has since been transformed into Hobson Street King Street.

The Franciscan Friary was established on this site around 1325. Sidney Sussex College, which was founded in 1596 by Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, stands on the site of the mediaeval Franciscan house.

No 1-20 Sussex Street are now listed as Grade II buildings and they have names that reflect key people associated with the history of Sidney Sussex College: Montagu House, Sidney House, Kent House, Harrington House and Sussex House, with, appropriately, Sidney House and Sussex House at each end of the south side of the street. These two blocks of buildings also include No 29 and 31 Hobson Street, and No 23, 24 and 25 Sidney Street.

Sidney House on the corner of Sidney Street and Sussex Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The ‘Bridge of Sighs’ at the east end of Sussex Street is a late 20th century addition linking the two blocks of college residences and offices, and is dated 1991. The bridge was designed by the Cambridge architectural practice, Pleasance Hookham and Nix, who have offices near Sidney Sussex, on a corner close to Magdalene College.

The bridge opened on 3 September 1991 and links Stairs X, Y and Z on Hobson Court, South Court and Staff Court with the offices, rooms and accommodation above the colonnade and shops on the south side of Sussex Street.

The keystone on the west side is decorated with the Sidney Sussex College arms (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The bridge has two keystones, one on either side of the bridge. The keystone on the west side is decorated with the Sidney Sussex College coat of arms, in their unique shape of lozenge rather than a shield, and with the date 1991 beneath.

The the keystone on the east side is decorated with the porcupine that features as logo in many parts of Sidney Sussex, and that is derived from the supporters on he coat of arms of Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, the founder of Sidney Sussex College in 1596.

The keystones were designed and carved by the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge. The letter-cutter and sculptor David Kindersley (1915-1995) was apprenticed to Eric Gill in 1934-1936 before starting his own workshop near Cambridge in 1946. He was joined in 1976 by Lida Lopes Cardozo, beginning a partnership that lasted until David’s death. The workshop moved to its present address in Victoria Road, Cambridge in 1977.

The keystones were carved and painted, using platinum rather than silver leaf, which would turn black. The unusual Guiting stone is from Gloucestershire.

The keystone on the east side is decorated with the porcupine that features as logo in many parts of Sidney Sussex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Five years later after the bridge was built, the buildings were listed and Sussex Street was fully pedestrianised in 1996, the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Sidney Sussex College.

Sussex Street is now an attractive neo-Georgian shopping street. It is popular and busy stret, lined with specialist shops and caf├ęs on the ground floors and offices and student rooms above.

The colonnade features a wide variety of specialist shops in beautiful surroundings. Here too are shops with everything for the musician with pianos, instruments and sheet music, a bridal and ball gown shop, hair and beauty salons, a lingerie and swimwear shop, a leather goods shop and the Cambridge Toy Shop.

A recent report recommended some minor improvements to street furniture on Sussex Street, particularly at the Sidney Street end. It identified a key challenge as the attempt to reduce the occasional night vandalism without recourse to ugly shop security measures or unsightly street furniture. It also suggested formal cycle parking may help to reduce the incidences of cycles being chained to railings.

The shop windows remain open and bright even at night time, but.

The landscaping of Sussex Street is restricted to two silver birches in the centre of the street. Between them, an obelisk with attached street lighting was erected in 1996 to mark the pedestrianisation of the street 20 years ago.Tthe bicycle parking proposals have still not been put in place

A set of architectural walking tours of Cambridge can be downloaded here.

A summer walk along a country
lane in Essex to an old church

A stroll through the Essex countryside in late summer … or was it early autumn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

It is another month before I preach at Harvest Thanksgiving Services. However, the harvest is already gathered in throughout East Anglia, and the fields and the farms are green and gold, where the harvest is complete, and brown where the autumn soil is already being turned over.

I travelled by bus through East Anglia yesterday [31 August 2016]. It was the end of the Church Year in the Orthodox Church calendar, and today marks the beginning of the New Year [1 September] marks the beginning of a new Church Year.

It seemed appropriate that the Cambridge summer conference organised in Sidney Sussex College by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies should come to an end with the end of the Orthodox Church year, and with a visit to the Monastery of Saint John the Evangelist in Tolleshunt Knights, bringing us through the East Anglian countryside as we move from summer into autumn, and into one cycle of life in the countryside into another.

The journey took us past Saffron Walden and Bishop’s Stortford, through the countryside of Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, and then through pretty Essex towns and villages with names such as Braintree, Coggeshall and Tiptree, where many buildings have typical Essex weatherboarding and pargetting, and many pubs have Tudor-style black-and-white cladding.

The monastery at Tolleshunt Knights was built around the old rectory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford,2016)

Tolleshunt Knights is within the area of Maldon District Council, and borders villages with names such as Tiptree, Layer Marney, Salcott cum Virley, and Tolleshunt D’Arcy.

After the Romans were in this area, Boadicea sacked nearby Colchester in AD 61, but there is no evidence of any Roman presence here, apart from some traces of Roman tiles found when the railway was being built, and stories about some Roman paving being found in the 17th century near Barn Hall.

When the East Saxons established their kingdom in 527AD, some Saxon settlers under the leadership of Toll moved into the area, and he gave his name to places here, including Tollesbury and Tolleshunt.

After the arrival of the Normans, three neighbouring villages emerged with the name Tolleshunt. Tthe land around Tolleshunt D’Arcy was acquired by the D’Arcy family, Tolleshunt Major came to the Le Majeur family, and Tolleshunt Knights belonged to the Le Chevallier family – Chevalier being the Norman French for a knight. However, the name of Tolleshunt Knights may also indicate that the land once given belonged to the Knights Templar, who had considerable holdings in Essex.

Tiptree is known today because of the jam factory established in 1885 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The parish of Tolleshunt Knights originally extended from Salcott Creek to the Tiptree Cross Roads, where the Tiptree jam factory shop stands today. Tiptree is really a modern creation, growing up as an industrial village with the establishment of Wilkins Jam Factory in 1885.

The monastery is built around the former rectory in Tolleshunt Knights, and after lunch I went for a walk along Rectory Road, through the Essex countryside, and at the end of the road found myself at All Saints’ Church, the former parish church of Tolleshunt Knights.

All Saints’ Church, the former parish church of Tolleshunt Knights, is a mile or two from the present village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The church stands a good mile or two from the heart of the present village, which suggests the heart of the village shifted with changing farming practices over the centuries, or to escape the shifting coastal marshes to the south.

All Saints’ Church dates back to at least the 1140s and the reign of King Stephen, and there is no evidence of an earlier Saxon church. The earliest known parish priest was John of Foxley, who was presented to the lord of the manor, William le Chevallier, in 1244 by the Abbot of Saint Osyth.

The church had close links with the Augustinian Friars at Tiptree Priory from its foundation ca 1218 until its dissolution in 1525.

One of the tombs in the church is reputedly that of Sir John atte Lee, dated from 1380, and has connections with the legends of Robin Hood. The church was enlarged in the late 14th or early 15th century, enriched by the increasing affluence of the area from the wool trade.

However, by the 1920s, All Saints’ Church had fallen into disrepair. By the 1930s it was no longer in use as parishioners attended the newly-built Saint Luke’s Church in Tiptree. This was followed by the closure of Tolleshunt Knights Village School in 1935. Tolleshunt Knights gradually lost its other services, including the railway station, the post office, the village shop and its own local garage. Even the number of pubs in the village has been reduced from five or four to one.

Although funds were raised to repair the church in the late 1930s, with the outbreak of World War II this money was e donated to the Spitfire Fund in 1940.

All Saints’ Church was almost derelict by the early 1950s. The coup de grace was delivered by the great gale in 1953, which brought down a section of the roof. It was clear the restoration of the church was beyond the means of the local community.

In 1958, the Church of England agreed to sell All Saints’ to the Greek Orthodox Church. Since then it has been carefully restored as a chapel that is now attached to the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist.

The church, which dates from the 12th century, has 15th and 19th century details, has walls of stone rubble, including indurated gravel conglomerate. These are mainly plastered, repaired with red brick, and with limestone dressings.

The nave walls date from the 12th century, the chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century, has a 19th century east window. The south porch, which dates from ca 1500, is timber-framed on red brick plinth in English bond. The roofs are of handmade red clay tiles.

The east wall is much repaired and buttressed with brick. There are no visible apertures in the north wall, although there was a north vestry in the 19th century.

The south wall has a 19th century doorway and part of a 19th century window, which is blocked on the inside.

The church was locked yesterday afternoon, and I could not get inside to see the 13th century piscine, the 15th century chancel arch.

The 15th century doorway has moulded jambs and a two-centred arch and label. The 15th century south doorway, with partly restored moulded jambs and a two-centred arch, has a moulded label with head-stops of two bishops, one of which is defaced.

The south porch dates from the 15th or early 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The south porch dates from the 15th or early 16th century, and was much restored in the 19th century. It retains base walls of early red brick in English bond, with l9th century stone copings. The roof is of crown-post construction, of which five of the six rafter couples, the cranked inner tie-beam and the short plain crown-post with two cranked braces, are original.

In 1768, the church had a timber belfry with two bells and a shingled spire. However, the bell dated 1575 has been stolen, and the other bell has been removed to safe-keeping in the monastery, which also keeps the now-broken font.

The graves in the old churchyard include local soldiers who died in both world wars.

The church and the churchyard are no longer living, but in the early afternoon three local people were enjoying the late August sunshine yesterday and were stretched out on the grass in the churchyard sun-bathing.

The blackberries are already ripening in the East Anglian sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Autumn is approaching though, and as I walked back to the monastery along Rectory Road, the blackberries were already ripening in the brambles along the side of the road. It was a taste of summer, and it was a taste of autumn, a memory or summer and a promise of autumn.

Memories of summer and promises of autumn in the Essex countryside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)