DCS1311 Local Heritage

DCS Local Heritage Event: Darwin's Cambridge with Mike Petty

Saturday 11th November 2013 Return to Alumni Events


The D.C.S. Audience Prepares!


Mike Petty Answers Questions



At the start of the Darwin College 50th Anniversary celebrations, the newly launched anniversary book looked back at the college history and to a certain extent the life of a past Cambridge, so it seemed apt that D.C.S. should also look back to the Cambridge of Charles Darwin. We were extremely fortunate in having Mike Petty accept our request as a guide as he is an, if not the, authority on the history of Cambridge and the Fens. He has won a national award for his lectures and articles which have included daily and local columns in local newspapers and regular contributions to radio and television. He was Librarian of the Cambridgeshire Collection for 35 years in which time he not only built it up hugely but also assisted thousands of researchers. He was awarded an M.B.E. and a Cambridge University Honorary Degree for his contributions. Despite this fame he is probably best known for his talks which have famously been described as "Not so much a lecture, more a performance". This promise was all fulfilled in a fascinating lecture full of facts, stories and anecdotes and delivered in his own unique, sparkling fashion which was part expert, part storyteller and part actor. It was titled "Darwin's Cambridge : Elephants, Blue rabbits and Flying Horses", all of which were explained in his talk. Surprisingly this was not a talk that Mike had recycled from before but one he had designed specifically for our request and illustrated profusely with documents, paintings, drawings and sketches from the time.

Mike started with the views and landscape features that Charles Darwin might have seen as he approached Cambridge, the stagecoach in which he may have travelled and even a little about the stagecoach driver who may have been driving. Then he embarked on the Cambridge that Darwin may have seen, the local news stories that he might have heard of and the activities in which he may have taken part. This was a time of great expansion in Cambridge with the local poor being moved so that new university buildings could be constructed and of course, Mike had stories about these. One Darwinian remarked that she thought she knew a lot about Cambridge until she had been to the lecture. The talk generated so many questions and discussions afterwards that we only had lunch on time by judicial termination by the chair. Lunch as ever was presented beautifully by Paul and his staff and, during it, the discussion continued!

Pictures by Helen Moore above (Click on the picture for larger a versions)

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