• Karen Seiger

111 Places in Cambridge: Behind The Scenes


We are happy to announce the release of 111 Places in Cambridge That You Shouldn't Miss! Co-Authors Ros Horton and Sally Simmons, and Photographer Guy Snape share some of their experiences exploring their city to find the most compelling places and how they actually created this exciting book.

Ros Horton writes: Sally and I were ridiculously flattered to be asked to write 111 Places in Cambridge. We brainstormed ideas on the sorts of entries that we might include. Were some places too outlandish to put in? And what about the places we would no doubt find we had to leave out, for one reason or another? The first 50 or so were listed speedily, then we realised we were less than halfway to the specified 111 – and also had to identify the same number of places, activities or facts in the form of tips for each entry.

It was then the true enormity of the task struck us.

We are editors. We run a business and seem to be quite busy enough just getting through the day-to-day work of editing other people’s books, papers and reports. We had, in the past, written and produced several books for the publisher that became Quercus, and recalled how time-consuming all the research and writing had been. Could we really go through that again? Well, yes, we decided, we could. It would be hard work, but it would be fun.

Remembering our research approach to our previous books, among them Speeches That Changed the World and Women Who Changed the World, we started by telling everyone we knew about our new project. Suggestions flowed in, many for places we had never heard of or, in embarrassingly many cases, never visited. But you know how it is when you live somewhere for years – you pass places on your way to work and say to yourself ‘I really must go inside there one day,’ knowing that you probably won’t, or not until someone asks you to take their Australian cousin around the city to see the sights.

The Corpus Clock tells the time with no hands or numbers

One of our first tasks was to become tourists – to explore our city and to look at it with fresh eyes. The second was to try and find some expert help. This came in the form of the Cambridge History Festival, which provided many interesting talks and not a few leads to follow, and some excellent guided walks around the back doubles of the city, led by the estimable Allan Brigham, whose knowledge of the city is truly awe-inspiring.

And so our list of places to include grew, changed, and changed again as we found out more. As we accumulated more knowledge, we kept telling friends about the book, and would often hear them sigh as we said yet again, ‘Did you know…?’ Quite often they did know of course, since Cambridge is full of some very clever, knowledgeable people.

Sally Simmons writes: The real research and writing momentum began to build in the summer of 2016. I was in France, tied to my chair and screen by other projects, receiving daily bulletins from Ros about the places she had visited, people she’d met, cake and coffee and wine she’d tasted as she cycled and walked across the city. She was having enormous fun and I was suffering from acute envy.

Those weeks established the contents of the book and after that labour seemed to divide naturally. Ros managed the whole project while I took direction and tried to match her level of energy and rate of production. I did of course get a chance to do my own field research and that has left me with some eidetic memories – the glimpse of a kingfisher at Hobson’s Conduit, the extraordinary sensation of stepping into the immense space and glare of the Chalk Pits, and the unexpected emotional pull of the American Cemetery.

But the day I enjoyed most was one where we managed to get out to some places together and when I felt I was experiencing the sort of Cambridge I hope our readers will discover. Our schedule took us to Magdalene, a college I hadn’t visited before, to check some information about the Pepys Library and look for the pet cemetery in the Fellows’ Garden. We wandered through the college grounds and ended up on a lawn facing the quayside across the river. It was crowded and animated, with people chartering punts, eating and drinking, full of movement and noise while we stood surrounded by silence just a few yards away, almost in a parallel world. It struck me that this was an experience that Cambridge students and townspeople would have had for centuries, when that part of the city was a thriving inland port – commerce on one bank, scholarship on the other. Time seemed to collapse on itself for a moment.

The Magic Brick Tree at the Cambridge Botanic Garden

Guy Snape writes: Although I have lived in Cambridge for 25 years, photographing the 111 entries has been a voyage of discovery, taking me to many places I had never visited, and a few I’d never even heard of. I have found a new appreciation for this beautiful city, its history and the fascinating people who live here. Of all the photographs, I think the one I enjoyed taking most was of David Parr house, due to the remarkably moving stories our guide told us of the history of the house and its occupants.

Jesus Green Lido Outdoor Pool

The Cambridge Satchel Company

Cambridge Cheese Co.

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