A Brush with the Past

Since our memorial event to celebrate Allan’s life in March 2021, the committee of the Mill Road History Society have been thinking about and receiving ideas for a more lasting public statement of our affection for him. We want to honour Allan in a way which acknowledges his very significant role in the community, with his various hats on, and we have also received some generous donations to help us do something. 

We have been liaising closely with Janice Western, Allan’s widow, and can tell you about a couple of projects now.  

Allan’s Broom

In 2021 the MRHS Committee was approached by Clare Phillips, Curator of ‘Resonance-Cambridge’ the Public Art programme for the Cambridge Investment Partnerships (CIP) programme of new housing.

CIP is building the housing development called Ironworks on the former site of the City Council Depot where Allan worked. Clare spoke to us about a memorial piece,  supported by investment into the community engagement programme at Ironworks.

Together with Janice, we came up with the idea of creating a metal version of Allan’s famous City Council broom, to be fixed propped up against a wall in a public area on the development.  We wanted to commemorate the way Allan frequently leant his broom against a wall while he talked to people who passed by!  Caro Wilson was keen to explore whether Mackays on East Road would be able to make it, and, with Janice, they took the original broom to the shop to see what could be done. To cut a long story short, the Mackays team were excited by the idea, and delighted to be involved.  Tas Claydon volunteered to design and manufacture a copper-finished metal version, and he and his colleague Scott Bailey have created a brilliant artwork which will be fixed in a public space, up against a wall.

A plaque on the wall will have the following wording:

In memory of Allan Brigham, 1951-2020
Road sweeper for Cambridge City Council, trade unionist, historian, tour guide and community enthusiast.
Allan loved Mill Road and Mill Road loved him.
Broom designed and made by Scott Bailey and Tas Claydon of Mackays, Cambridge
Concept: Mill Road History Society

This is a really nice example of local organisations working together and we are extremely grateful to Cambridge Investment Partnership for supporting the project. 

Allan’s Bench

We would also like to place a memorial bench in a public area, and, again with Janice, we think the best position is the summit of Mill Road Bridge next to the bench dedicated to Suzy Oakes.  Suzy’s bench is well used and there is room for another alongside it.  This seems to be a good place for several reasons:  Allan and Suzy worked closely together over many pan Mill Road projects including, before she died, the early stages of the Mill Road History project. Like Suzy, Allan believed the bridge should be seen as uniting Romsey and Petersfield rather than dividing them. And, importantly, the site overlooks the Depot site where he worked, Mill Road which he loved and the Railway which featured heavily in most of his tours.  If you went on one you will remember that question, aimed directly at one of his punters, perhaps even you, to make sure we were all concentrating:  ‘When did the Railway come to Cambridge?’  We are delighted that City Councillor Richard Robertson has emailed us to sayI’m sure that Allan would very much approve of the idea of a second bench next to Suzy’s. Like her, he saw Mill Road as one community and this proposal will help endorse that.

Whilst this is still very much in the planning stage, we are pleased to say that officers at the City Council have confirmed that they are happy to work with us to achieve this. 

The heading for this post acknowledges the title of Allan’s last book, A Brush with the Past, Cambridge local history, edited by Becky Proctor, 2020. This is available at the Museum of Cambridge, the CUP bookshop, David’s and the bookstalls on the market. Waterstones also have copies (apparently in the UK travel section!) and it’s still available to order on line at –  https://hannahbrigham.wixsite.com/allanbrigham