skip to content

Rowdy Victorian protestors set to invade Cambridge Market Square

Do you know how Petty Cury got its name, or what you could buy from the smearmongers? Have you heard of the Cambridge book-fish, or the Great Market fire of 1849?

This coming Saturday 10 September, Great St Mary’s Heritage, in partnership with Cambridge BID, is hosting an extraordinary day of activities, celebrating and bringing to life in a visually striking manner the history and mysteries of Cambridge Market as part of Open Cambridge 2016. Events include mini historical market tours, time-travelling shoppers – from Tudor times to the swinging sixties – and a series of children’s activities inside Great St Mary’s Church.

Speaking ahead of the event, Rosie Sharkey, Heritage Education Officer at Great St Mary’s and organiser of the event, said: “I can’t wait to see time-travelling shoppers bringing the market’s past to life. We’ve also gathered a fascinating display of old photos and look forward to hearing local people’s memories of the market. It has been amazing to see how Cambridge market has changed so much, even in the last 60 years. But it’s not just shopping – riots and protests also happened in market square, so we’ll have some rowdy Victorian protesters too!”

Open Cambridge Coordinator, Sue Long, commented: “This is going to be a sight to behold right in the centre of Cambridge. Those who witnessed Great St Mary’s re-enactment events in 2014, during which Queen Elizabeth 1st stopped traffic and bin lorries (in full character!), and in 2015, when Oliver Cromwell caused quite a stir in the area, can expect as much fun and merry mayhem this year. The unexpected often happens at these events!”

Market square has been the centre of Cambridge since the middle ages. Boats used to sail all the way up to Cambridge from the sea at King’s Lynn before the fens were drained. The ships and barges brought fish, wine, salt and luxuries to the docks all along the river. Local people and villagers from all around Cambridge came to the market to trade, gossip and see justice done: the market was also the site of the jail and public whippings, the stocks and beheadings.

The Museum of Cambridge is also setting up a pop-up exhibition and memory stall where they hope to collect local people’s memories of Cambridge Market.  At 4pm, Great St Mary’s is hosting a talk about the changing faces of the market throughout history and some of the more unusual ideas about how to transform it for the future.

Becky Burrell from Cambridge BID said: “We are delighted to be involved with the Market Stall Stories event as part of the Open Cambridge programme.  We are committed to supporting cultural events in the city and the market square is a very important part of Cambridge history so seeing it through the ages is going to be very exciting.”

Open Cambridge is part of the national Heritage Open Days scheme. Designed to offer special access to places that are normally closed to the public or charge admission, the initiative provides an annual opportunity for people to discover the local history and heritage of their community. For more information please visit:

The Festival sponsors are Kier and Cambridge BID.

Photo credit: The Real Cambridge