Southacre, Latham and Chaucer Residents’ Association


Coins and artefacts found in the vicinity show occupation of this historic area as far back as the first century A.D.

The area was included in the purchase of the parish of Trumpington on 1st April 1675 by Sir Francis Pemberton. 

The famous milestone seen on the cover of Rus in Urbe, a history of the two roads published by SOLACHRA in 1996, was erected beside Trumpington Road bridge over Vicar’s Brook in 1728, as part of a bequest from Dr William Mowse, Master of Trinity Hall. Each Cambridge milestone is measured from the S.W. buttress of Great St Mary's Church in the centre of the city. The Vicar’s Brook milestone reads, "1 mile to Great Saint Mairies Church Cambridge A.D.1728", and features the arms of Trinity Hall impaling those of Mowse.

It was under the Enclosure Act of 1801 that the northern area of the Pemberton Estate up to the Vicar's Brook and to the west of Trumpington Road, while remaining the property of Francis Pemberton, was divided into separate allotments -- these allotments underlie the development of the area when houses began to be built. From 1878 onwards, the Pemberton family began to sell off allotments of land with 99-year leases and covenants to ensure that houses were built to the best standards and with well-designed and laid out gardens.


Founding of Chaucer and Latham Road

From the late 1870s many colleges began to allow dons to marry and the demand increased for building plots.

The first of these plots went to the Revd Henry Latham, who in 1880 built Southacre and gave his name to the road.

By 1886 Nos 1, 2, 3, 5 & 6 Chaucer Road had been built with the remaining plots leased or rented for agricultural purposes.

Plots in Chaucer and Latham Road saw the development of more substantial houses during the period of 1891-- 1940 until halted by the Second World War.

From 1940 through to 1988 plots were acquired and developed by the University of Cambridge, including the demolition of Nos 1 and 3 Chaucer Road.

During 1989 the area saw an unprecedented level of development, with building and redevelopment continuing through to today.


Social scene in the 1930s and 40s

The character of Cambridge was, until 1939, that of a small market town, dominated by the colleges (not the University) and with agriculture and its produce given time and space only on market days. The corn exchange was a part-time institution. Cambridge, in contrast to Norwich, was poor and liked outsiders to believe this; the city had never paid for much except cemeteries. Certainly it had no great parks but had a notable water company and after Victorian times, an adequate sewerage system. No one regularly commuted to London by rail to work and few went there during the daytime for meetings. Sir William Dampier Whetham went out hunting with the Fitzwilliam and would travel with his horse by train to Huntingdon. In fact, few travelled far and the degree of sophistication was small (partly because not many ever took a holiday and if they did, it was seldom overseas); no commercial enterprise, save two, looked beyond the city for sustenance.


The social scene in the city depended upon colleges; although fewer and fewer brides attended dinner parties in their wedding dresses for the year after the great event (see Gwen Raverats book for detail), and did not go so dressed to College Ladies’ Night dinners should the husband be a Fellow of a college that felt that it could spend the money annually on such an event.  The grand roads of Cambridge were (in no particular order of importance) Chaucer, Latham, Cranmer, Madingley, Lady Margaret, Adams, Sylvester, Herschel and Grange Roads. Chaucer Road was the only such that had houses with ballrooms and billiards rooms and in one case, bedrooms for as many as 10 servants.


It was quite all right for a woman to walk into the city centre to shop but (i) she always needed to wear a hat and gloves and (ii) never carried anything home; it had to be delivered. Except with childhood friends, trivial topics of conversation were avoided and some were forbidden (money and taxes were allowed as was gardening, fine arts and some books); but politics, religion, many books, food and cookery and usually, wines were not safe. The majority of residents in the Chaucer-Latham Road environs were serious and productive scholars and it is notable that females (in law and science) were part of this.  One or more large rooms were devoted to the library as so many worked at home. When they had an evening free only the few who could play a musical instrument joined in; the intense interest in, (an approved subject of conversation) and the making of music, has been a post – 1945 phenomenon however. Quite a few houses in the Roads had gramophone evenings and there was jockeying for the chance to be the person (s) who changed the 78 r.p.m.  records. There is plenty of evidence that more than one successful romance began, not on the dance floor, but over Red Seal Records.


Founding of SOLACHRA

When the University showed the rabbit of the building sites at 1 (Vicar’s Brook) - 3 (Southacre) Chaucer Road, it paved the way for developers to show interest in the land, with King Street Housing Association in 1979 being the first. The City threw out their planned development of flats but the controversy that had begun continued for a further nine years, paving the way for a residents' permanent committee; the Southacre, Latham and Chaucer Residents Association was formed, the name SOLACHRA in 1985. Founding members included William Elliot (Chairman until 1990), John Rose Keith Haarhof, Donald Denman and Ian Gaseltine who still serves today. Born out of necessity, it is a way for residents to have a unified voice, whether speaking with the City Planning Authority, the Transport Department of the County Council, the University, the Government or competing builders.


Rus in Urbe

The history detailed here is taken from Lady Renfrew's book and used with her kind permission. If you would like to purchase a copy of the book, please fill in our contact form.

© Southacre, Latham and Chaucer Residents’ Association 2024