Parker's Piece - The history of the Victorian Feast, the story of Football and more

Nov 20, 2017, 05:26 PM

This history trail audio is narrated by the poet Michael Rosen, with script researched by Helen Weinstein and the team at Historyworks. This recording is part of a series of Cambridge history trails which have lyrics inspired by 'history beneath our feat' performed by local schoolchildren, with poems by the top poet Michael Rosen and songs by the funny team at CBBC's songwriters commissioned by Historyworks. To find more trails and further information, go to

Parker's Piece is one of Cambridge's most famous open spaces. Originally part of Trinity College, it was acquired by the town of Cambridge in 1613 as pasture land and named after a college cook, Edward Parker. In the 19th century, it was used as a first-class cricket-pitch and a sports ground for Varsity matches between the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. In 1838, a feast for over 15,000 people was held in honour of Queen Victoria's coronation. There were bands, choirs, sports and games, fireworks, and even a hot air balloon. In 2012 the Olympic Torch was brought to Parker’s Piece on its way to the Olympic Stadium in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics and 2014 isaw the start of the Third Leg of the Tour de France cycle race. Today, this green space continues to be a popular place of recreation for football, cricket, fairs, picnics and events. The story of the Victorian Coronation Festival on Parker’s Piece On the 28th of June, 1838, the Municipality of Cambridge organised something that truly went down in history; one of the largest banquets ever prepared, hosting 15,000 diners and 17,000 spectators, which was set up at Parker’s Piece to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Victoria! The total number of participants was 32,000, at a time when the population of Cambridge was less than 30,000! The “Coronation Festival” is even more impressive if we consider that the plan was finally approved on the 15th of June, only 13 days before the event. At first, the Organising Committee wanted to simply put on some fireworks; but the Mayor had other ideas: something unique that would engage the entire population of the town, from the aristocracy to the poorest classes, and allow the rich people to be kind to the poor by feeding them and providing activities and entertainments. At 2pm the 15,000 sang grace led by the choirs of Kings College and dinner began: meat, bread and pickles, some water and a lot of ale; last but not least, plum-pudding “in a supply that has never been witnessed in this kingdom before”. The amount of food is hard to imagine, and every Cambridge College kitchen must have been busy baking the meats and puddings to feed such a huge crowd. You can see in the pictures of the time, tables laid out with hundreds at a sitting on the Parker’s Piece grass. In total, the diners consumed 14,000 pounds of meat, 72lbt of mustard, 140 lbs salt, 125 gallons of pickles, 4,500 loaves of bread, 1,608 plum puddings of 6.5lbs each and 99 barrels of ale. Naturally, the only toast allowed for the whole day was “The Queen”. Queen Victoria had not yet visited Cambridge but she came to the throne in 1837 and ruled for more than 63 years, so there was time yet for her to arrive in person to meet both town and gown. For the special Coronation Feast there was a bandstand placed where the ‘Reality Checkpoint’ lamp-post now stands in the centre of Parker’s Piece. From this platform, music played to those feasting that included an Overture and a Choral Finale performed by the choirs of Trinity and King’s College. At the end of the meal, after the national anthem, a massive balloon was raised into the air. This day would have been the biggest community event in anyone’s lifetime. At this event, the poorer people of Cambridge were not only given a day off work, but they were treated to free food and drink. Imagine if you were an inmate at the Workhouse, what it must have felt like to have a day where the rich ...