Cambridge Edition May 2023 - Web


A right royal knees-up! CROWNING GLORY

Food historian Sue Bailey looks back at coronation celebrations and feasting in Cambridge

I magine being tasked with organising a celebration for the whole population of Cambridge to dine on the historic turf of Parker’s Piece – and only having 13 days to bring it all together. This was the tall order for the extreme event planning committees of the new Victorian age. Walking over this giant green square from Regent Street to the lime trees planted over 150 years ago on Parkside, you can conceive of the enormous challenge that was hosting over 30,000 people: the whole population of the city at the time. Victoria’s coronation date of 28 June 1838 was only announced one-and-a-half months before. Throughout the country,

of 1814 on Parker’s Piece, which saw more than 6,000 people at 24 tables eating cold boiled and roast beef, vegetables and plum pudding, with more than 15,000 spectators. Now food costs were lower, the meeting finally agreed on Friday 17 June 1838 that a celebratory dinner would be a splendid and memorable event for the rising generations to recall. So, no pressure! What resulted was one of the largest and most impressive free outdoor feasts for the public in the country – before or since. Fittingly for Cambridge, the 70 tables seating 15,000 ‘deserving poor’ adults and Sunday school children, were laid out around the central, flower-decorated,

cities, towns and villages started to plan their own celebrations. In Cambridge, many ideas were proposed, but by the end of May nothing had happened. Eventually, the mayor and the worthies of the town council discussed how to celebrate the event, but could not make up their minds. First, the town hall was proposed. But then a bigger, town-based feast was suggested. Vociferous debates discussed dividing the event up into different districts on other greens as Parker’s Piece was too small, and for over 10,000 people there would be a risk of unruly behaviour. However, the older generation remembered the Cambridge Peace Festival


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