Jesus Green is a 11.3ha Cambridge City Council owned public park, within the Market Ward of Cambridge and lays to the immediate north of the City Centre. It consists of large open green spaces, a variety and abundance of trees and shrubs, a contained play park, skate park, tennis courts and a large public Lido. The site is situated within what was once a much larger area of historical common land within the River Cam corridor. Victoria Avenue, which bounds the site on its eastern side, separates Jesus Green from Midsummer Common, providing distinction from its previous use as common land to an area of public park. On the north side the site is bound by the River Cam, on the south side the site is bound by a stream called Jesus Ditch which separates the park from the grounds of Jesus College. Park Parade and its small development of early 19th century houses mark out the western boundary of Jesus Green.
The site of Jesus Green is in close proximity to what is now known as Castle Hill and which, since at least Roman times, has been used to defend the strategic river crossing and associated settlement that is now the city of Cambridge. Whilst Jesus Green is close in proximity to this important site, it has probably remained undeveloped as a result of its low lying, poorly drained nature and the soil type more unsuitable for cultivation.
There is some archaeological merit to the site with records of various items having been excavated or recorded including Palaeo-channels, burials, Plague victim inhumations, Nuremberg tokens and Air Raid Shelter/s. There is the potential for a number of features to be present if excavations were to take place.
Before enclosure took place in the early 19th century, the site formed part of an extended stretch of ancient common land that lay within the flood plain of the River Cam. In 1802 and 1807, the west and east open fields were respectively enclosed. In 1841, the Town Council proposed to enclose the main part of the fields; however, this was prevented due to public opposition.
Regulatory powers over the commons were given to the council in 1884 and were
strengthened in 1922. Later, the land was incorrectly classified as recreational and this has continued. In 1965, when the Commons Registration Act was passed, Jesus Green was not registered as common land. While contested in 1982, this was unsuccessful and as such the land remains classified as recreational and not common land.
Many physical changes have occurred to the site, in particular between 1886 and
1997. A major change occurred when Jesus Green was segregated from Midsummer Common by the building of Victoria Avenue in 1890. This signified a very different approach being taken to the management of the land, with Midsummer Common being retained as informal open grazing land and Jesus Green being developed more formally as a public recreation ground.
Much of the original layout from this period is lost through development that has since occurred, however, the original layout of the paths and avenues on Jesus Green, although changed to an extent, remain largely intact.
The site was made good use of during the First World War with the 6th Division using the site as a camp before deployment.
The 1920’s saw significant development with the construction of an outdoor swimming pool (Lido), putting green, tennis courts, Bowling Green, and a formal space for cricket and football. The character of the site changed from being an open meadow-like space to its current form, as a more formal multi-functional recreational ground.
There was also some increased use on the site for seasonal and annual events. One such event was the annual Horse and Cab show which ran for several years.
The late 19th century and early 20th century saw the layout of avenues, reinforcing
the formal character of the site. There was no record of the presence of trees prior to this date. The most dominant of the avenues runs between Victoria Avenue and the Lock and is lined today by mature London Planes. The nature of one of the avenues has changed over time with the introduction of somewhat smaller flowering species; this is retained to this day.
The 1970’s and 80’s saw further changes to the tree planting scheme with significant planting of limes and beeches.
Built features of the site have also been developed over the years, including, of particular note, the lock keeper’s house that is Grade 2 Listed, the public toilets, and community building, known as Rouse Ball Pavilion (no longer in use).
Later developments have included the construction of a large play area and skateboard park providing modern facilities and increasing the range of activities available, particularly for children and young people. A refreshment kiosk is also provided.
The Jesus Green Lido (opened in 1923), shown in the pictures below, is still in use today and still very popular.
The infrastructure required of a modern park such as bins, benches, and signage completes the transformation to a multi-functional recreation ground with a wide range of features available to the public. Notwithstanding the very significant changes to its original land use, elements of the original Victorian park layout remain. The site has significant historical value. A community project, looking at the social history of the site may identify many important socially historic events.
The park itself continues to provide a much needed, large green space with a variety of parkland features such as the waterway, mature trees, sports areas, play areas and pleasant walks. The site has extensive historical value, from its design as a City Park, through to the way in which it has developed and been affected by some modern development and traffic threats, along with its transition from ancient common land to an extensively used public park.
I will continue to to update this post with more in-depth history of Jesus Green as I go along, I just like to get the basics up so that they are available for anyone who is interested :)
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