Mill Road Wildlife


Index:


Nature in Montreal Square

Every species has its needs

Montreal Square’s mature gardens, central open space, 30 trees and its connectivity to the adjacent school grounds of Coleridge Community College make it a favourable habitat for garden birds and other wildlife.

Our Amber residents

We have a good population of House Sparrows, Song Thrush and Dunnocks which are all on the RSPB’s Amber list of conservation concern. For a species to be put on the Amber List its overall numbers will have declined by between 25% to 50% over the last 25 years or it is a species which reached a critical decline during the nineteenth or twentieth century but has made a robust recovery over the last 25 years.

Plentiful populations

Blackbirds are plentiful along with Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long tailed Tits. More than most song birds blackbirds live happily with humans, they are brave and tame and will boldly walk into houses in search of nesting material. Two Robins patrol the gardens regularly keeping an eye on their territory and their distinctive song can always be heard amongst the singing of other birds.



All species of bird have individual songs or calls of course. These evoke a whole palate of emotions in human listeners. A thrush’s song is often used in the sound track to films to create the atmosphere of a peaceful and secure rural life. While the cooing of doves conjures up the feelings of lazy hot summer’s days. As for owls their battle cries are alarming and their regular hoot is a cold pensive sound used in the movies to accompany subterfuge and the supernatural. They are frightening beasties. Montreal Square does not have a resident owl to the relief of our small mammals. A woodpecker is also a regular visitor to all the feeding stations in the gardens. Its presence is announced by a rapid tapping. 

Mammals that fly and shuffle

As dusk falls between May and October feeding bats appear and fly between the trees and around the houses. Of course bats are not birds but mammals their flight patterns are distinctive and they do not sing but squeak. It is a high pitched squeak which they use to navigate, as their sight is very poor.

Hedgehogs also like the Square and three have been seen on the green together. These are animals which were plentiful less than a human lifetime ago but are now in rapid decline. See below for advice on how we can help them survive.



An urban fox is a very cagey visitor but has been seen in the early hours on the green. It is interesting to learn from other contributors that he may have been motivated to wander over the Cherry Hinton Road to visit Morley Primary School. Of course the Morley fox may have been someone else.  Grey squirrels can be seen playing up and down the trees. They are fun to look at because their movements are so joyful but they are not everybody’s favourite animal and their numbers are increasing rather than decreasing.

Working Animals

Bees feed on the flowers in the gardens. This of course aids pollination for fruit trees, tomato plants and other vegetables. They are not the only species to fulfil this ecological function but despite the occasional sting they are probably a humans’ favourite insect helper.

A Barren World

As human residents’ of the Square we are lucky to live so close to  this wildlife. If it goes it will not only be a loss to Montreal Square but will add to a decline which will result in a barren world.

Andy Smith
Montreal Square Resident


Hedgehogs

We were recently sent a link to The Big Hedgehog Map and it looked like something worth passing on. It’s a Google Maps mashup and is set with a ‘placeholder’ postcode – SW8 4BG – the HQ of the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. Tap you own postcode in the box, hit ‘Return’ and discover Hedgehog sightings in our area.

Why not map your hedgehog sighting, using the simple form?


With the needs of our local hedgehogs in mind Mill Road Bridges approached Hedgehog Street, for advice. We were lucky enough to get an interview with hedgehog officer Emily Wilson. Hedgehog Street is run by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

Q: Is there a significant hedgehog population in the Mill Road area of Cambridge?

A: On our BIG Hedgehog Map (which shows data from 2015 to the present) Cambridgeshire had 636 records across the county and was ranked 7th out of all counties in the UK.  In terms of the Mill Road area there are 28 records since 2015. With regard to Mill Road cemetery specifically, we do not have any records of hedgehogs within it. 

Q: Is the cemetery the right kind of environment for hedgehogs?

A: Any quiet, green space with access to food, shelter and mates makes an ideal hedgehog habitat. We know there are often strong populations of different species found in cemeteries particularly if they are allowed to become slightly overgrown, shrubs are encouraged and the level of disturbance is very low. The only issue with some older sites is brick walls, as these are difficult to make accessible to animals like the hedgehog.

Q: How can the cemetery maintain a hedgehog friendly environment?

A: The cemetery can secure a hedgehog friendly environment through its ongoing garden maintenance programmes, remembering that hedgehogs prefer slightly wilder places with some areas left as long grass, plus areas of leaf and log piles will benefit any hedgehog present. Creating and maintaining a compost heap would also be great and of course taking care when using strimmers in case hedgehogs are around. Making gaps in walls would be ideal – this could be done by removing a brick or drilling a hedgehog size hole in the structure. Alternatively tunnelling underneath could help allow hedgehogs to enter the site to forage and find mates.

Q: Are our hedgehog populations declining?

A: We have lost over a third of our hedgehogs in the past decade alone, due to habitat loss and fragmentation – where walls, fences and roads are making it impossible for hedgehogs to move from one greenspace to the next.  Hedgehogs can travel up to a mile in just one night so our fences and walls frustrate their ambitions.

Q: How can residents in the Victorian quarters of busy towns preserve a hedgehog friendly environment?

A: There are lots of things residents in any part of an urban environment can do to help hedgehogs in their patch.  We know tidy, fenced or walled gardens are not good for hedgehogs as they do not allow them to roam for food, shelter and mates. Remember to make a hole in your fence. You can also encourage natural hedgehog food like insects into the garden by planting a wild corner or by having a compost heap. You can supplement this by providing hedgehog food or meaty dog/cat food, and water. We also ask that you remove hazards such as litter, tie up loose netting and do not use pesticides or slug pellets and make sure there is a way for hedgehogs to get out of your pond – as even though hedgehogs can swim, a ramp will help them get out.  If you are lucky enough to see a hedgehog, please log your sightings (dead or alive) on the BIG Hedgehog Map.  

Q: Are urban foxes a threat to urban hedgehogs?

A: The stomachs of urban foxes are quite often found to contain parts of hedgehogs, though it is likely that this is from scavenging road-kill rather than through active predation of hedgehogs. The  Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species ’ Living with Mammals  survey shows  us that foxes  and hedgehogs can and do coexist at high densities in the suburban matrix.

Emily Wilson
Hedgehog Street


Editor’s note: Emily’s advice reminded me of a harsh lesson I learnt early in life. As a four-year- old I was delighted to find a baby hedgehog ‘abandoned’ by its mother in the wood pile. Encouraged by my mother I built a cosy home for him in an old sink and fed him milk. I took great care to stop up the drain hole of the sink with a plug as I did not want ‘my’ hedgehog to be damp. I went to bed thinking about my hedgehog. In the morning I dashed outside to give him breakfast, it had rained overnight. The baby hedgehog was floating lifeless on top of a sink full of rainwater.


Squirrels


Squirrel Alert

When I first moved to the Mill Road area a few years ago I was – at first – delighted to see a squirrel leaping from branch to branch in the trees just beyond my tiny garden. I set up a bird feeder to encourage birds and was not too upset to see squirrels eating a large part of this. In fact the challenge to outwit the squirrels with various devices was often entertaining as they performed acrobatics to gain the food with increasing success.

However, squirrels have now damaged my fence and constantly dig up bulbs, vegetables, seedlings, almost everything I plant in the garden. I have resorted to covering my plants with netting, rather spoiling the point of them as I can’t see them so well. The squirrels have risen to this challenge too, pulling up the sticks securing the netting and sitting happily underneath, escaping with ease whenever I shout or approach.

My small grandchildren are well entertained, calling out “squirrel alert” and watching me charging out of the house to chase the rodents. I can usually see the funny side and I even regularly wear the squirrel socks my family gave me for Christmas, but please, has anyone any advice as to how I could minimise the damage squirrels do and increase the low survival rate of my bulbs and plants?

Sarah Oliver
Covent Garden Resident


Squirrels – love ’em or hate ’em?

Let’s hear your views.

Here’s what The Guardian‘s Dale Berning Sawa has to say one the subject:

View to a cull: is grey squirrel the ultimate sustainable meat?

Restaurants serving up the furry rodent are seeing a rise in demand as customers look for wild meat sources.

Would you eat grey squirrel ragu? Or a delicate grey squirrel pie? Or would you balk at eating Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin? (Yes we do know that Squirrel Nutkin was a red, not a grey.)


Another local resident, infuriated with grey squirrels invading and raiding his garden told us:

Squirrels? They’re just rats with bushy tails and better PR!

Another Covent Garden Resident

Bushy-tailed Gymnasts and Winged Genius!

It is fun watching squirrel acrobats as they hang upside down from branches, swing, jump, balance, negotiate verticals and raid bird-seed and fat-balls from feeders isn’t it?

Yes and no. If one goes away for a weekend, small birds that rely upon the food in one’s seed-feeder will starve by midday Saturday – and the amount of spillage squirrels create can all too easily attract rats.

Not to be outdone, I concocted a defence strategy which involved squirrel-proof seed-feeders, designed so that an outer cage descends to cover the feeder tray when a squirrel lands on it, triggered by weight. A clever idea in theory, except the cunning little blighters reach out horizontally and grab the feeding tray with their front paws. I upped my game and hung the feeders from a steel-cored washing-line raised by a pulley out of the grasp of squirrels. Job done!

Oi! That’s supposed to be a BIRD-feeder!

Not quite – pesky pigeons found a way of landing with one foot on a perch and the other set of claws to grasp the feeder-tray, overriding the cage mechanism.  Like the squirrels, not only were they snaffling too much, they were spilling rodent-enticing seed on the ground.

Not to be outdone, I decided that the feeder needed to be tweaked. The outer cage was modified with some long, thin bolts positioned over the feeding hatches. No problem for the small birds, but it disrupted the pigeon’s landing path. Job done as far as seed dispensing is concerned.

Now for the fat-ball feeders – with inner and outer cages they were entirely squirrel-proof.

Job done? Well, not quite – as small birds pecked away at the fat balls, significant amounts were falling onto the ground. Rat alert!

Not to be outdone, yet again, modification was needed. With a plastic plant-pot saucer, fastened underneath, spillage was caught and holes punched in the saucer allowed water to drain out.

So, job finally done! 

Richard Wood
Local resident


Field Mice

Air BnB for Field Mice

A few years ago I was delighted to see that some field mice had moved in with my pet rabbit, sharing her hutch and her run amicably. They were small and could come and go when they pleased by squeezing through her wire netting.   Their fur was shiny, smooth and quite dark. Their main nest was a hole in our garden wall and as the weeks and months passed they rapidly increased in number, expanding from a lone couple, to a family to a tribe. 

They completely disappeared one Monday morning.  Two weeks later I am afraid my rabbit was also taken by an unidentified predator. It is a reminder that animals in city environments are vulnerable if enclosed in a walled garden as they can easily be cornered by predators and the whole population instantly destroyed.  

Charlotte de Blois
Mill Road Resident


Garden Birds

Which have you seen, recently? The RSPB bird identifier lists 408 species of birds found in the UK, including some rare overseas visitors. It’s simple to use – give it a try.


Birdwatching is enjoyed by millions of people throughout Britain and just because the Mill Road neighbourhood is an urban one, doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a variety of birds too. The winter months provide the opportunity to see birds very well, not least because of leafless trees. Birds come readily to bird feeders especially at this time of the year, so why not hang up some suet balls or nut and seed feeders. This is particularly important in very cold weather when birds need more energy. My garden is small but because it has trees and bushes it has already attracted more than 20 species in early December including Blackcap and Siskin. Rotting apples readily attract wintering Fieldfare and Redwing and well as resident Blackbird and Song Thrush. The Mill Road Cemetery is a great place to birdwatch especially when they are actively feeding in the early morning or afternoon dusk. 

Different species need different foods: seeds for sparrows and finches, nuts and suet for tits, fruit and worms for thrushes. Try to place them where squirrels can’t easily get to them or buy a squirrel proof feeder. Keep bird tables and bird baths clean to prevent spread of disease. Remember to add hot water if the ice freezes! Birds will welcome leftover fruit cake, mince pies, dried fruit and over ripe fruit. Mild cheese on the ground is good for Wren and Dunnock which are unlikely to come to the bird table. Do avoid turkey fat (which can stick to their feathers) and salty food (which can poison small birds). Put out small amounts of food regularly so that all of it is eaten by birds and not by rats.

Winter is a good time to get to know your garden birds. The RSPB provides lots of identification advice online and why not take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch which takes place at the end of January, over three days, every year.

Andrew, local resident


Even birds Reuse and Recycle

Look at the plastic in this abandoned blackbird’s nest from Mill Road. Of course we know that plastic is dangerous for small birds. Let’s hope that the parent birds do not repeat this mistake too often.

Swifts.

Every summer, Swifts travel thousands of miles to Britain. Since the Roman era they’ve found homes in nooks and crannies of British buildings. [1] But the design of new buildings means these homes are rapidly disappearing – and so are the Swifts. In the past 20 years, the number of swifts has halved.

But there’s a simple and easy solution. By adding special ‘Swift bricks’ into new build houses, we can make sure Swifts have somewhere to nest. Germany and Poland have already changed the law to make sure every new house has one of these bird nest bricks – there’s no reason we couldn’t do the same.

Swift bricks in a gable-end

So 38 Degrees member and bird-lover Norman has set up a petition calling on the minister for housing to make sure Swift bricks are in new homes across Britain. But the minister will only listen if he knows the public are behind Norman. 

More information from the RSPB.


Gulls and Pigeons


Eating a la Fresco in Mill Road

If one lives on Mill Road and one wakes before sunrise on a winter’s morning, it is not necessarily traffic that rouses one but the dark shapes of low flying gulls.  They can cruise at a height of no more than one or two metres and are surprisingly silent, possibly that is because there is enough food for everyone and they have no need to squabble. What their food is I am not sure. The RSPB website states that they eat rubbish, fish, small animals and smaller birds. So possibly they are clearing up the previous night’s takeaways before the rats get there – or possibly they are eating well stuffed rats.

 As dawn gives way to daylight they become fewer but a small number continue to glide up and down the road as traffic becomes heavier, just above the car roofs. They do not seem to stray into the surrounding streets but remain focussed on finding food in the gutters and on the pavement of the High Street. From their size I think they are herring gull, a species protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, their wing span is larger than that of a normal gull, possibly up to a metre and half. 

It is interesting to see how pigeons behave in their presence. Pigeons are perceived to be real town birds but they do not like Mill Road, preferring instead life in Station Square. This might be because our pavements are narrow but could it be because of the gulls? I have seen a flock of pigeons perching on the ridgepole of the old Sally Ann shop, as still as statues while the gulls fly by. But as soon as the gulls have passed, the pigeons frantically whizz off to the north, possibly to the cemetery or to some other less hostile environment.

By the time the school run starts there is not a gull to be seen, nor a pigeon.

Mill Road resident


Mill Road Cemetery


Managing a cemetery: past meets present 

I never expected to receive a letter with a Victorian stamp. But I knew of the sender: John Claudius Loudon, the famous landscape architect. While designing the Histon Road Cemetery, opened in 1843, he heard that Mill Road Cemetery was being planned, to provide extra burial space for the city-centre churches. He was now curious to know which of his principles for laying out cemeteries had been followed. 

I was naturally keen to show him Mill Road Cemetery, opened in 1848. He was easy to identify among other visitors, who probably thought that he was taking part in a drama project. 

‘I’m delighted to see how this cemetery has become a park,’ he said. ‘This is exactly what I recommended should happen to a closed cemetery!’ 

We walked down the main central path so that he could see the Irish yews, as old as the cemetery itself. ‘Excellent!’ he exclaimed. ‘But you have too few cypresses and pines for a place of mourning.’ 

I explained that times have changed, so we have deciduous varieties as well. He seemed unconvinced, but he was even more astonished to see areas of long grass with wild flowers. Why was the grass not mown, and these weeds removed? Surely this was no place for a meadow? 

‘When you were last in Cambridge,’ I protested, ‘this area was surrounded by fields, but now it’s all built up. It’s the same everywhere: real meadows have been disappearing, and the habitat of butterflies, bees and other insects is being lost. Leaving some areas unmown in rotation can offer refuge for flowers and insects.’ 

‘If that is indeed the case,’ Mr Loudon conceded, ‘then this makes sense. But you must remove all the undergrowth and brambles!’ 

‘Not if we want to keep any hedgehogs, field mice, birds or other wildlife,’ I said. ‘We must keep cover and food for them; it’s a County Wildlife Site. We aim to balance orderliness and the needs of wildlife. Some people say we’re not respecting the dead. Others say that we’re not caring for God’s creatures. What would you do?’ 

He shook his head. ‘I know how strongly people feel about cemeteries,’ he said. ‘We ensured dignified burial for everyone when cholera and other diseases had filled up the churchyards, and people expected the graveyard landscape to be sombre. Your problems are different. Yet in my day, many clergymen were naturalists, and managing cemeteries for wildlife could be their legacy.’ 

‘Indeed,’ I said, ‘and it was because of your belief in cemeteries as future parks that cemeteries acquired and developed their grassland and plantings. You expected the living to benefit from these places as schools of many things, including botany.’ 

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘The Prayer Book Burial Service says, “In the midst of life we are in death”, but in cemeteries like this we can also say, “In the midst of death we are in life”.’ 

And with that interesting thought, we parted and returned to our own times. 

The Revd Margaret Widdess
Secretary, Parochial Burial Grounds Management Committee 

Notes:
John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), botanist, agriculturalist, landscape architect, educationalist. His views in this piece are deduced from his book, ‘On the laying out, planting and management of cemeteries’ (1843). For information on the history and wildlife of Mill Road Cemetery visit their website. For guidance on environmentally-managed churchyards visit the Caring for God’s Acre website
.


New Paths in Mill Road Cemetery: Q&A

Thanks to a major grant from money that developers are obliged to give to the Council for open spaces (Section 106), the restoration of the paths in the Cemetery is now complete and appreciated. We now have safe surfaces that are accessible to all. Here are some answers to questions you may have.

Q: Why are the paths narrower?

A: To conform to the conditions of restoration, the paths have been reduced to the width they originally had. The old paths became wider because their poor state encouraged both pedestrians and cyclists to use the verges on either side. Here and there they have been widened slightly to provide ‘passing places’.

Q: My favourite path has been fenced off! Where’s my short cut?

A: The old paths were in such a bad state that in some places people had no choice but to walk on the grass. And yes, people love to take a short cut! But there are many of these informal paths, that were not part of the original layout and encroach on graves. We want to reclaim this land for grass that will produce wild flowers, and food and habitat for many birds, small animals and insects. The fencing that you be will finding on these informal paths is a sign that they are to be left alone, and that we are asking you to use the new paths instead. You will lose hardly any time at all, and you’ll have a nice surface to walk or cycle on. Notices by the Cemetery gates have always asked people to keep to the paths, and now there are proper paths to keep to! The Council will be improving signage to remind everyone.

Q: What’s happened to the grass verges beside the paths? They’ve gone to mud!

A: The major work on the paths could not be done without losing some grass. It has been reseeded, so that grass will grow and improve the paths’ appearance. So please keep off the verges: there are obvious signs of walking and even cycling on the reseeded areas which is delaying the restoration of the grass.

Q: I’ve noticed the new paths were quite soft and muddy again in the recent bad weather. What can be done about this?

A: The material used continues to harden over quite a long period, so the surface is expected to improve. There may still be some softening following rain or snow, but the situation is being monitored by the Council.

Q: Is there a speed limit in the Cemetery?

A: No, but we have always asked people to be considerate. Please don’t take advantage of the excellent surface to cycle or run in a way that might cause an accident.

Q: Who owns the paths?

A: While the burial plots are owned by the parishes, the paths and the Avenue are owned by the Bishop of Ely. The Council is responsible for maintenance.

Q: Can I park my car in the Avenue?

A: No. This is not public parking space. Like the rest of the Cemetery, it is in church ownership. The surface has never been designed for regular car use. The only vehicles allowed are a few with official access, including Council vans, rarely a hearse, and vehicles needed for Cemetery works or occasional events. 

Summary: Please keep to the paths, and enjoy them!

Cambridge City Council, together with the Parochial Burial Grounds Management Committee (representing the churches with plots in the Cemetery)


K9 espirit-de-Corps

Many dog-owners like me are grateful to live close to the Mill Road Cemetery. From dawn to dusk, the Cemetery is the focus of intense concentration by perhaps a hundred dogs and their walkers. No blade of grass goes unsniffed, no oddly-behaving person is left unbarked at, no squirrels unannounced. One or two muntjac deer are sheltered by the larger bushes, and are sighted and scented. Our dog-walking community has been called ‘the eyes and ears’ of the Cemetery, by one City Council volunteer gardener who appreciated our constant vigilance.

Woof Tweet Woof

So I’m astonished that last summer a small encampment of immigrants was discovered by the Council living in dense growth in a far corner near Norfolk Street – with mattresses, barbecue, and tents – as apparently none of our customarily curious canines had alerted their owners!

Dog-walkers can be gregarious, seeking each other out for a daily bit of light chat. Others prefer their earphones and peaceful environs, and we leave them untroubled by the ennui of our bonhomie. I count on a few regulars to jumpstart my day; we are from every ‘dog-walk of life’ and exchange observations I would never hear from anyone else. Some of our friendships have spilled past the gates into each other’s homes, but in general this random and diverse cross-section of Cambridge society enjoys independence. Walk-times are never coordinated, tweeted or texted in advance. 

Illustration by Klerwi Dowson-Le Lay, then age 8 (2016)

The Summer of 2015 saw a special crop of pups, more than a dozen, meeting to play in the centre while we cheered on their antics from the sidelines. They’ve grown up, sobered down and dispersed, but some of the Old Guard still sniff rears and frisk a bit just to show they remember the old days (the dogs, not their walkers.)

Poop and Scoop

And a word about poo: 90% of us are obsessed by our dogs’ leavings and swoop in immediately with baggies. Unfortunately it seems that the other 10%, who also have the largest dogs, leave their leavings. These endanger and annoy those volunteer gardeners who grope the ground every day to create a managed lively wilderness, and disgust those who stroll down the lovely new paths in this fascinating and beautiful Cambridge landmark.

Pam Wesson


Urban Foxes


A Fox at School

I saw a fox at my school, it was standing in front of the bike shed. Some people were eating lunch and the teachers said they might call the zoo to talk about the fox. 

Everybody liked having him there and he was alone. At first I thought he might be a baby because he was smaller than I thought foxes are.  It is the first time I have seen a fox. I have heard stories about foxes and seen pictures. I think a fox is a sensible animal; it plans, has cunning ideas and it is sneaky.

Mill Road News’ Correspondent
Morley’s Crimson Class.


A Fox on top of the cafe.

I saw it a couple of years ago, really early in the morning, when our family was walking to the station to take a train, to catch a plane, to Majorca.

It was standing on the flat roof of a Mill Road café absolutely still; it was literally on the edge, but not fazed. At first I thought it was a wolf but then I thought that is a silly guess because wolves do not live in this country. It began to walk along the bricks at the very edge, it balanced well and I thought maybe it’s a big cat escaped from a zoo – some sort of panther or something – there was something about its walk, it loped, it prowled, it meant business. Then it turned from the edge of the roof and, like, trotted away and I realised it was probably a fox although it was greyish.

My Mum, Dad, brother and sister yelled at me that I would make them miss the plane, I said I was looking at a fox on top of the café and they yelled that there wasn’t a fox on top of the café, that there never had been a fox on top of the café, nor would there never be a fox on top of the café, and I was going to make them miss their holiday.

Of course it was there and I had seen it really clearly.  I think it may have been a British Grey Fox. I have spent a lot of time looking online at photographs of foxes to see if I can identify its species.

A 14 year old kid who would like his identity to be withheld


Web-manager’s note: Maybe it was like this impressive-looking, rare silver fox found in a Cheshire garden in November 2018.

The impressive-looking animal was roaming in a garden in Dunnocksfold Road, Alsager, shocking the homeowner.

Horses


Mill Road’s vanished working class

Apart from pollinators, worms that work the soil, and other mini-beasts who promote the healthy growth of plants in a variety of ways – oh, yes, and at least one guide dog and possibly some guard dogs – Mill Road is no longer home to working animals.

At the turn of the last century our horse population was significant as photographs from Cambridgeshire Collection testify and these horses worked for their living.

Working horse Mill Road (Cambridgeshire Collection)

They would have needed stabling and shoeing and it is strange that the whereabouts of their stables are not widely known. Dales Brewery kept horses and local history enthusiast Sheila Cane reports that they were stabled on the site that is now the Gywdir Street car park. Stable to car park is a logical transition but where did these horses get shoed?

Horse-Drawn hearse (Cambridgeshire Collection)

There is some evidence that as horseless carriage took over from horse drawn carriages blacksmiths retrained themselves as mechanics and smithies became garages. Did this happen in Mill Road? It is as if the age of the horse has vanished without trace but possibly we do retain one relic. Set into the wall of 55 Mill Road on the corner of Emery Street there is a slab of stone, it has been suggested that it be the remains of a stone trough. Is this where our horses were watered? Or maybe it is some form of drainage system. Any thoughts please.

Charlotte de Blois


Victorian Day at Mill Road Cemetery (Carol Ann Wood)

Tyring Smith in Perowne Street

The (now, sadly, derelict and neglected) buildings at 47-59 Perowne Street

The land buildings at 47-59 Perowne Street have a story to tell, from the listings below.

(No Nº) Paul, T. C., stables, horse and carriage proprietor [Spalding’s Street Directory 1891, 1895]

(No Nº) Paul, T. C., stables, horse and carriage proprietor; Slingsby, R., builder’s workshop [Spalding’s 1898, 1901, 1904]

57 & 59 Watts, J.A., wheelwright and blacksmith; 61 Slingsby, R., builder’s workshop [Spalding’s 1907, 1910]

Note: until a partial collapse near the turn of the millennium is was still possible to make out a sign J&AWatts – Tyring & General Smiths.
(A tyring smith would have fitted iron tyres to wooden cart-wheels.)

(No Nº) Slingsby, Reuben, builder, etc. (workshops); Watts, James and Watts, Arthur, wheelwrights (workshops) [Dixon, 1910]

57 & 59 Watts, J.A., wheelwright and blacksmith; 61 Slingsby, R., builder’s workshop [Spalding’s 1911, 1913, 1914, 1915-16, 11919-20, 1920-21, 1921-22, 1922-23, 1923-24, 1924-25, 1925-26, 1926-27 , 1927-28, 1928-29, 1929-30, 1930-31, 1931-32, 1932-33, 1933-34]

57 & 59 Watts, J.A., wheelwright and blacksmith 538; 61 Slingsby, R., storeroom [Spalding’s 1934-35, 1935-36, 1936-37, 1937-38, 1938-39, 1939-40]

57 Bloy Albt. C. commssn. agt*; 57 & 59 Walker Ray, motor engnr [Kelly’s Street Directory, 1948]

Note: * aka ‘turf accountant’, bookmaker, betting office

There were further listings for Messrs Bly and Walker up to…

57 Bloy A. C. turf commission agt; (No Nº) Walker Roy, motor engnr [Kelly’s 1975]

Ray Walker’s Garage continued for many years after. Here are two photos of its heyday.

Perowne Street resident


Add your comments to the page, send us a piece to publish here, or a link to a great website which we ought to know about.

Foxes and Dogs

A letter to the editor

Dear Editor,

I have today received the March edition of Mill Road News and am interested to read of sightings of foxes in the area. Some time ago, one day I was walking towards Mackay’s store in East Road and suddenly a little brown fox loped past me, so gracefully and confidently. As he neared the roundabout, to my horror, he suddenly plunged into the traffic to cross the road. I did not hear any squeal of brakes or scream, and so do hope he safely reached Elizabeth Bridge and the common after, apparently, a ‘night on the town’.

Another time, when the Methodist Church [in Sturton Street] was standing redundant, late one night, I suddenly saw a fox cross the road and disappear behind the church building, but he made a quick sortie and then returned and trotted up the street townwards. I understood, later, that squatters had been sleeping behind the church until mattresses were discovered and removed by workmen. Probably the fox had previously found food there.

We did see one once, in the rear gardens in the street, on the opposite side from the church premises.

I was very interested to read of the dogs who go to run and play in the cemetery. I used to see them every morning, en route, when I fetched newspapers from the newsagents in Norfolk Street. Alas, the newsagents is no more and I am less mobile, so do not pass that way, and I do so miss seeing the dogs coming and going.

One often carried his own frisbee toy, so I called him “Frisbee“. One day I was about to get out of a friend’s car and a man and dog walked by. I recognised the dog and said, “It’s Frisbee!“ And he ran back and jumped in the car onto me. Alas, he has now left the area (with his master).

I have enjoyed reading about the foxes and the dogs.

Yours faithfully,
Daphne Foreman (Miss)
Sturton Street
22nd March 2019

P.S. re: Horses in old Cambridge. The office complex in Sturton Street, called “The Courtyard” was originally the Co-op stable yard.


Dear Editor,

In your last issue of Mill Road Bridges, you asked for ideas about the horses of Mill Road.

At the back of our house is a wide area between Catharine Street and Thoday Street. One evening I was playing out there with my friends when I got side-tracked and saw a piece of metal sticking out of the ground so I dug it out and it was a really old, thin and rusty horseshoe.

I showed it to my Mum and Dad and they told me that on the 1901 census there was a blacksmith living at number 94. We also looked on a map and we saw that at that time there was a big gap between our house and his. Maybe that is where he shoed the horses.

We’ve always wondered if the blacksmith was the reason why our part of Romsey Town is the only area that has a wider gap at the back of the houses – We don’t know, but maybe it was to get the horse and carts down there.

Eaden Hart – aged 10

One thought on “Mill Road Wildlife”

  1. re. squirrels: I watched a Come Dine With Me a while back and one of the dishes being served was squirrel. It seems not even covering their flesh in batter and frying made it palatable.
    I lose time watching them in my garden.
    They (more than 3 sometimes) seem to dare each other to get closer and closer to the cat flap.
    They and the cat know they’re not at threat!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *