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Uncomfortable Cambridge: Launch of tours exploring uglier sides of city’s history

By Siobhan Middleton

The city’s residents will be invited to discover stories of inequality, discrimination and empire during ‘Uncomfortable Cambridge’ walking tours.

Starting on Saturday April 2 and Sunday April 3, these will be free, with a suggested donation of £5 to homelessness charity Jimmy’s Cambridge for the first two weekends, after which the money made will be given to the charity.

The tours form part of the Cambridge Festival, which the Cambridge Independent is supporting.

An aerial view of Cambridge
An aerial view of Cambridge

Naoise Murphy, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge and researcher for the project, said: “A lot of the stories I’ve found out have been extremely moving.

“What has stuck with me the most from my research is the depth of involvement in the empire and the transatlantic slave trade, including the way colleges benefited from investment.

“One story that surprised me was about a bell that used to hang at St Catharine’s College, which was from a plantation from South America.

“Hopefully our tours will promote greater understanding, as people take the time to process these stories.

“It’s important that we think about how these uncomfortable histories connect to our present, as these stories absolutely aren’t over.”

The route will run through central Cambridge, stopping off outside sites such as some of the university’s colleges – including King’s, Queen’s and St Catharine’s – and the main university buildings.

As they look around them, participants will be encouraged to consider questions like: how should nations teach their histories? And who has access to university education?

Another topic touched on during the tour will be how to deal with statues of people involved in uncomfortable aspects of history, such as the slave trade.

Following the pulling down of the statue memorialising slave trader Edward Colston, the question of whether we should continue to allow a celebration of such figures to be built into our environment has spread across the country.

And it’s particularly pertinent in Cambridge now, coming after the Diocese of Ely confirmed its decision on March 23 that Jesus College could not move a memorial in its chapel to benefactor Tobias Rustat, who had involvement in the slave trade through the Royal African Company.

Jude Clarke, fundraising and communications manager at Jimmy’s Cambridge, said: “We are delighted that Uncomfortable Cambridge has chosen to support our charity.

“Our work seems to align quite nicely with the project.

“People from outside the area can have this idealised vision of Cambridge, with King’s College and punts.

“But obviously there are many different sides to the city, including homelessness, and perhaps that is one of the more uncomfortable facts.”

Uncomfortable Cambridge plans to run tours every weekend, and to launch more specific tours on subjects such as Cambridge and Empire in the coming weeks.

Tickets for the two-hour tours are £15 each after 10 April, and they can be found on the website at https://www.uncomfortablecambridge.co.uk/walking-tours.

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Diocese of Ely refuses request to move Rustat memorial from Jesus College Chapel

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