Market Square and Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge

Market Square Cambridge

The Market Square in Cambridge photographed on a grey and dismal day through the closed window of a cafe that abuts the Square. That the window was closed is what accounts for the slightly less than clear photo. What word is appropriate – maybe ‘rough’ or gritty?

(Shot with a Fuji X-E3 with a 27mm f2.8 lens)

Great St Mary’s Church, or St Mary the Great is ‘great’ to distinguish it from Little St Mary’s, which is further out of the centre along Trumpington Street.

The church was built in the late 1400s, but the tower wasn’t completed until the beginning of the 1600s. For a fee, visitors can go up the tower of the church. I haven’t done it yet.

The construction of the church was paid for by two kings – Richard III and then Henry VII, because of course the Church (the idea of the Church) was hugely important in the divine right of kings to rule.

The other side of that equation was realised in the Peasants’ Revolt, when Wat Tyler and Joh Ball spread the heresy that questioned the right of kings to rule anything.

In the end, after promises of compromise, Tyler’s head was put on a pole. And the priest John Ball was hanged, drawn and quartered with King Richard II looking on.

The church is in the diocese of Ely. The city of Ely only has a population of about 20,000 compared to the 125,000 in Cambridge, but Ely has a cathedral, the seat of a Bishop – and that makes all the difference.

Not surprisingly, St Mary the Great is a Grade 1 listed building. That grade is the top of the tree and the most bound by rules that forbid changes to the structure or appearance of a building. There are 10,000 Grade 1 listed buildings in England and about 400,000 listed buildings of all grades (from 1 down to 3).

The church is also the university church for the University of Cambridge, and officers of the university must live within 20 miles and undergraduates must live within three miles of it. The officers are the Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, the Registrary, and the Proctors.

As you can no doubt surmise, the colourful striped material is. the material used for the awnings of the market stalls. My guess is that the town councillors suggested colourful material to lend a festive air and hearken back to earlier times and the long history of the market.

There has been a market on the site since Saxon times – about twelve hundred years of continuous trading. There was a recent interruption when the Local Authority closed off the market during the COVID lockdown. I wonder whether it was the first ever interruption to trading? Were there were any similar precautions during the Black Death in the 1300s?

Back in 2017 I wrote about the Stourbridge Fair and the Leper Chapel. In days gone by the university ran the fair. The the Local Authority took over the most important function (taxing it) but the university kept the function of maintaining honest dealing and proper behaviour. By the late 1300s the fair was one of the largest in Europe, with traders coming from countries on mainland Europe to trade.

Here’s a photo of the provosts with the Lord Mayor of Cambridge, reading the rules of the fair. The two gentlemen on the right in the photo are provosts, who are masters of Colleges at Cambridge University.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.