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

Cambridge Festival Video: Best foot forward – From Arbury to Romsey with many stops along the way

Cambridge Festival Video: Best foot forward – From Arbury to Romsey with many stops along the way

We recorded our talk for the Cambridge Festival 2022 last week and it is now available for all to view on YouTube. We hope to record all our in-person events in future, where possible, and will upload them to our YouTube channel and link them here.

As part of Cambridge Festival 2022, Mill Road History Society presented an alternative tour of Cambridge through time and place. Join Kay Blayney as your tour guide through an evening of entertainment that focuses on Cambridge through her eyes and experiences from the 1960’s to the present day. Kay from the town meets Kay in the gown.

This live performance piece features imagery, props, monologues and maps. Kay is well known in Cambridge both as an educationalist and creative writer and performer. Kay says “My passion is life writing and my inspiration is drawn from an array of hidden and forgotten characters, events and places that are waiting to be revived.”

You can watch the event at https://youtu.be/tnQuc712qXk

Video: Military Town and Gown of Mill Road

We’ve now uploaded the video of Tuesday’s talk to YouTube and you can watch it at https://youtu.be/bn-SLoZgnuk

The Cambridgeshire Regiment recruited local men from all walks of life, and many served side by side on the field of battle. John Mansfield, and George Bowes were two such men, from different walks of life but both from the Mill Road area. John, decorated for gallantry, was Elsie Palmer’s father and thus connected to David Parr House, and George was a member of the Bowes family who owned the historic publishing company and bookshop now owned by the Cambridge University Press.

On Tuesday 8 March 2022 Robin James gave this talk to the Mill Road History Society to introduce you to both men and tell you a little bit more about their interesting lives.

A reminder that you can watch recordings of most of our online talks in our channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcqjbs4-6aAyNrapPs0v3bA/videos

An Evening for Allan Brigham

An Evening for Allan Brigham


On Tuesday 30 March 2021, as part of the Cambridge Festival, we organised an evening to pay tribute to Allan Brigham, who passed away in September and over 200 people joined us on Zoom and Facebook.

Allan Brigham was one of the founder members of the Mill Road History Society and a valued contributor to Capturing Cambridge, the website where our research is posted. Allan was active throughout the city in many roles, but the Mill Road area was always particularly special to him.

The evening included tributes from some who knew him at work, as an author, a social activist, a historian and an inspiring tour leader. We also showed some rarely seen filmed material made by Allan and invited anyone attending to share their memories and stories.

We would like to offer our thanks to University of Cambridge for inviting us to be part of the Festival, ITV plc for permission to use the Anglia TV clips, and all those who spoke about Allan at the event.

The Allan Brigham Story

On Christmas Day Leigh Chambers of Cambridge 105 Radio presented a tribute to Allan Brigham including memories and reflections from those who knew him best. Contributors include his brothers Robert and Nigel, his niece and nephew, those who worked with him at the Cambridge Folk Museum and the Mill Road History Project, friends from the Cambridge Labour Party and others whose lives he touched.

Allan Brigham 1951-2020

Allan Brigham 1951-2020

Mill Road History Society is extremely sad that local champion, historian and founding member, Allan Brigham, has died this week.  He was an inspiration and friend to so many and found ways of connecting with most people he met. He was a valued and active member of the committee, always seen at and contributing to meetings. He also helped shape the preceding NLHF funded Mill Road History Project.

In spite of his long battle with cancer he managed to gather his detailed research on places and topics on Mill Road into several very readable publications. These are available on the Capturing Cambridge website and include the early history of Mill Road, Donkey Common, the Mill and the Depot amongst others.  He wore his expertise lightly, and was always ready to share his knowledge and skills. The encouragement he gave to other members of the society has been invaluable.

Allan was a long term trustee of the Museum of Cambridge and valued researching and showcasing the history of the town rather than the gown. But as a Blue Badge guide he was also very able to bridge the gap and lend the same authority to both worlds. He delighted in talking about and demonstrating the architectural detailing and infinite social nuancing in a terraced street off Mill Road with the same architectural historian’s eye as when talking about King’s College Chapel or any other prestigious building or street in the city.  

Allan also had another passion however – the building and protection of successful local communities, with housing and amenity space for all. He had both an historian’s eye and also that of a street-sweeper and local activist. Visitors and residents loved his walking tours not only because of his ability to shed intriguing light on so many aspects of Cambridge life – opening our eyes to the wealth of social and economic history that is preserved in our built environment – but also because they were always laced with views on planning history and present day issues.  We will miss him very much, and send our condolences to his wife Janice, and his family.

You can watch a 2013 interview with Allan talking about his life at https://www.sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1609674.

Selected writing

Online Events

As it looks like social activities won’t be getting back to normal any time soon now then Mill Road History Society has decided to take a step into the future and move our programme online.

Our first event is an online version of what we were originally planning to present as part of our AGM last month. In remembrance of the recent VE Day we have members of the society talking about WW2 objects they have “brought along” to show you.

See the event page at https://millroadhistory.org.uk/event/agm-and-a-special-event-to-mark-the-75th-anniversary-of-ve-day-2/ or on Facebook for all the details. The event is this Tuesday 9 June, at 7:30pm on Zoom.

We hope to bring you more online events, please sign up to our mailing list to be the first to be informed.

Events Suspended

We are sorry to announce that, due to the government advice to practice social distancing for the duration of the Coronavirus outbreak, we have decided to cancel our upcoming events for April, May and June.

We hope to rearrange these for the 2020/2021 season, assuming that life is back to normal then. We will update this website, and send information out to our mailing list and social media, as things change.