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A Penny For My Thoughts.

It was my birthday. Not a 'big' birthday – although all of my birthdays are pretty big these days – just another birthday. Mrs Bygone Boozer and I had been talking of having a couple of days away somewhere for a while and when I discovered some pretty unbelievably cheap accommodation with a well known national hotel chain close to the city centre in Cambridge we thought that we may as well go for it.

I hadn't been to back to Cambridge since I left my student days behind. But on thinking about it a little, I lie. Back in 2007 I drove through it on my way to a round of the national circuit time trial series that had its event HQ in one of the villages just outside. I was reminded of this fact the other week when, looking for a copy of a will (don't ask!), I unearthed a certificate confirming that I had come in tenth place in the veterans – that's the over-40s – class for the series as a whole. Not too shabby I thought considering that many of the others had a decade of youthful advantage over me. As well as unearthing the certificate I also came across this image from the event. So long ago. No dedicated time trial bike, no carbon disc/tri-spoke wheels, no aero chainring, no pointy hat, no grey hairs and no dodgy heart and lungs.

National Circuit Series, Round 1. March 2007.

But driving through the place doesn't really count, so it was off to Cambridge for a couple of nights to revisit some past purlieus.

One of those regular haunts was the Salisbury Arms on Tenison Road. Owned by CAMRA Investments at the time it was a great boozer, and all of a hundred yards away from the front door of my first residence in the city. Back in those days, despite being a student in Cambridge, I didn't own a bicycle and neither did the Salisbury. It does now.

Salisbury Arms Cambridge
The Salisbury Arms in April 2024.

What the place did have was great beer, traditional games like Ringing the Bull, Shove Ha'penny and Bar Skittles and, on a Sunday lunchtime,  Trad Jazz. On occasions the bass player would leave his acoustic bass at home and puff away on a Sousaphone instead. It still has great beer and Ringing the Bull, but the darts and shove ha'penny have gone in the forty-four years which have passed since Mrs Bygone Boozer and I met there on our first ever date.

Now in the possession of Bedford brewer Wells and Co., the Salisbury doesn't simply offer their own brews and I decided on a Ghost Ship from Adnam's to accompany my pepperoni and jalapeño pizza.

Adnam's Ghost Ship Salisbury Arms Cambridge
Adnam's Ghost Ship was on offer.

Apart from the Salisbury and the college bar – whose one real attraction was that a pint of Abbot cost just 35p – my only other regular supping place was the Jolly Waterman on Chesterton Road. I was in their darts team and it was the location of my one and only six dart 301 (Double twenty, treble twenty, treble twenty; treble seventeen, treble eighteen, double eighteen – just in case you're interested.) It's now simply known as The Waterman. It was closed for a while but has been internally refurbished and now operates as a pub/restaurant/boutique hotel. Was the change of name a necessity with it having had all of its internal jollity removed as a result?

The Waterman in September 2021. © Google 2024.

But there's another pub that I used to frequent before those student days. Whilst in the employ of a Norfolk-based agricultural merchant I used to visit the Government's ministry laboratories in Cambridge every week to ten days. Having done so, I'd often go to the Pike and Eel in Chesterton for a spot of lunch. Whilst not the closest pub to the labs by any means, I'd known it since my early childhood as my uncle and aunt lived a couple of streets away and we'd often go for a wander down by the River Cam and on Stourbridge Common when visiting. It made for a pleasant break: a pint, a ploughman's and a view of the passing river traffic. That's after having visited the labs, I mean. I wasn't a five-year-old dipsomaniac.

Pink and eel penny ferry chesterton
A pleasant spot for a pint and a ploughman's.

At 110 Water Street, with its riverside location, it was always a good spot to watch the rowing types go through their motions.

I know which wet activity I prefer.

This was especially true during Bumps Weeks (Need an explanation? Click here.) when the pub, the last real landmark before the men's finishing post, would be packed. At one point housemate Paul, who had done a bit of this thing before, suggested that we borrow a boat, cajole a few others to join in, and enter as a novice eight with himself at stroke and me at number seven. Fortunately this scheme failed to come to fruition as I'm sure that we would have caught more crabs in a week than a Cromer fisherman would do in a lifetime.

All this aquatic activity is not for me.

Pike and Eel Chesterton cambridge
Clearly not Bumps Week. The Pike and Eel c1905.

The Pike and Eel probably dates from the 1830s as Edward Rogers is listed as being there in Pigot's 1839 directory...

Extract from Pigot's 1839 directory.

...but the fails to make an appearance in any earlier publications that I've looked at whilst the Green Dragon, a bit further along Water Street, does.

The Rogers were one of three families that ran the Pike and Eel in its early days. Edward Rogers died in the year that that Pigot's edition was printed but his widow Sarah continued in the pub. She was recorded as being there in the headcount that took place two years later...

Extract from the 1841 census. well as the one a decade after that.

Extract from the 1851 census.

Sarah died in 1854 and soon after Robert Cook took up residence.

Extract from the 1861 census.

Robert Cook was still there in 1888, listed in Kelly's directory...

Extract from Kelly's 1888 directory.

...but, just like Edward Rogers, he died the same year that the directory was published. I think I'll try to avoid getting my name listed in one.

By 1891 Henry Brown, is supplementing his income as a college porter with the profits from the place...

Extract from the 1891 census.

...and appears, as Harry, in Kelly's directory which was published the following year.

Extract from Kelly's 1892 directory.

Appearing in a directory. Dangerous stuff. Any guesses as to what happened to Harry? That's right, he was in the Pike and Eel for years...

Extract from Kelly's 1916 directory.

...before being followed by his son Alfred.

Extract from the 1938 Cambridge Blue Book .

When Alfred died in 1941 his widow Alice continued until her own demise in 1949 whereupon their son Percy took over. He was still there in 1966. Over seventy years of Browns at the Pike and Eel.

Extract from the 1966 Register of Electors.

Before the construction of the footbridge over the river in 1935 people had to rely on ferries to get across the Cam. There was one at the Green Dragon and also one at the Pike and Eel.

Presumably this crossing at one time cost a penny and this was the inspiration for a change of name for the pub. Rule One in the book How to Rekindle Interest in a Failing Hostelry is to change its name. It looks as if the old photograph above was the basis for the new pub sign.

From 2007 the premises were shared with an Indian restaurant, but neither that nor a new coat of paint could save it and, with rumours of eight consecutive years of losses, Greene King's one time flagship pub turned from this... this.

And from this... this.

Quite when it closed I can't really nail down. There are numerous quotes of 2008 on t'interweb, but a number of issues of Varsity, the University of Cambridge's independent student newspaper, from 2010 include the phrase "soon to close" or some such. I'm pretty sure that a student would know if a pub was open or not. They certainly would've done in my time.

What happened to the Penny Ferry? Well, it was flattened in 2014 and five houses designed to look like boathouses, and priced at £1,250,000, sprung up. That's quite a pretty penny. "Just what we need," a Wolfson student was heard to quip, "more boathouses."

Site of the former Pike and Eel in 2021. © Google 2024

In 2017 the development made national news when it was daubed with graffiti – in Latin! Only in Cambridge! Locus in Domos Loci Populum. Various people offered up their version of a translation including TV presenter Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the university, who said, "This is a bit hard to translate, but I think what they're trying to say is that a lovely place has been turned into houses." I don't think anybody needs to give me a penny for my thoughts on the loss of the Penny Ferry.

Thanks to Robert Camp and Neil Pulling for their photographs. Thanks also to DB for the use of his images. Although he said that no accreditation was necessary here's a link to his post in The Endless British Pub Crawl.

Graham Knott's image is copyright and is reused under this licence, as is that of Geoff Jones which is reused under this one.

If you've read this far, then thank you. Possibly, like me, you may have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. Clicking here will take you to a searchable/sortable index which you can use to see if I've already featured any lost locals from your locality. You can also subscribe to ensure that you don't miss any future posts. Simply click here to return to the home page (opens in a new tab), follow the 'Subscribe' link and complete the form to receive an email notification of any future post. Or you could simply follow the link at the top of this page.


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A great and sad story at the same time.

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