The Kite area of Cambridge

The Kite is bounded by East Road, Newmarket Road, Maids Causeway, Short Street, Emmanuel Road, Parker Street and Parkside - see the maps below.

The area has a distinctive character, though much muted since the Grosvenor Developments construction of the Grafton Centre in 1981-1983. This ripped the community heart out of the area and destroyed a lot of terrace housing, shops and popular meeting places.

Belatedly, the City Council is trying to restore the area with the help of English Heritage - much of it is a conservation area.

Steps to Redevelopment

The history of the redevelopment is closely tied to the Lion Yard development and The Holford Report of 1950. This was the start of the planning blight in the area.

In 1959 Cambridge University proposed that the whole of the Kite become a regional shopping centre with parking for 10,000 cars, as an alternative to developing the City centre for shopping. By 1962 the University was proposing a smaller redevelopment of the Kite and that the Lion Yard area be for civic facilities, such as a library and arts centre. The City Council broadly agreed to this in 1966.

Jesus College (a major landowner in the Kite), the City Council and Samuel Properties produced detailed proposals in 1971. Some of the major buildings such as the Burleigh St. Co-Op and Laurie and McConnal's would be retained but Fitzroy Street would be covered by a translucent covering as a pedestrian route. A restaurant was suggested at the Fitzroy Street/Burleigh St. junction [where the Eden Baptist Chapel still exists as Footlights restaurant]. The famous architects Piano & Rogers [Pompidou Centre...] drew up plans which were adopted by the City and County Councils. They were considered at a Public Enquiry in 1973 and approved.

Around this time (early 1970s) the City Council swung from Labour to Conservative control, due partly to the student vote. Kite Community Action was formed to fight this scheme: a small but extremely effective pressure group who generated a lot of high-profile publicity. They chose the Little Kettle cafe as HQ.

The Parry Report of 1973, studying the sub-region around the City, concluded that a new major centre should be developed around Trumpington, to match the existing City within 20 years, but that this would only be viable if the Kite development did not go ahead. The City and County rejected the idea due to cost.

The developers backed out due to lack of finance and cost also led the City Council to reject the 1971 plans in 1976. The scheme was shelved for a while...

Meanwhile many people had been moved out of the area to the new suburb of Arbury since the 1950s and the Council was now finding that the lack of facilities in Arbury was a major problem. [A Community Centre was at last built in 1974 and the Arbury Court shops in 1976.]

The situation in 1976-1980

Whilst the Victorian terrace houses of the Fitzroy St./Burleigh St. area were indeed relatively run-down, leading to the tag as "slums", and the shops generally small compared to modern needs, all those problems could have been fixed by a gradual process of sympathetic renewal.

But for the planning blight of 30 years of indecision, this probably would have happened. As things were, landlords and retailers were not prepared to invest: blight made repairing property uneconomic and once empty, properties were demolished. Buildings in Gold St. near Waffles were gone by 1974. Against the trend, The Free Press was refurbished, reopening in 1978.

[Habitat] Laurie & McConnal's in Fitzroy St. closed in 1977 due to the planning blight. The original 1883 store had burnt down 1903, to be replaced by the distinctive building with a bandstand in the roof. The building was sympathetically restored by Habitat in 1982-3.

Short-term leases allowed small shops to set up in Kite and provided cheap accomodation for Tech students. There were still many pensioners living in the houses in which they were born. This may have led to the redevelopment of the Prospect Row area around the mid-70s as warden-controlled accommodation. Generally the western and northern side, outside the main blighted area, is unspoiled.

The Council reached agreement with Grosvenor Developments in 1978.

Memories from 1980/81

By 1980 there were ugly tracts of bulldozed land, some seemingly semi-permanent by then.

The City Council (it was said) had to proceed with the redevelopment in spite of the intense campaigning and protests by City residents, as it had signed a binding agreement with Grosvenor Developments. The Conservative leader of the Council, John Powley, pushed through the scheme.

Pat & Virginia from Waffles plus their Kite Community Action friends were very active, trying to find new ways of preventing or delaying the development and in particular at least one sympathetic Don at Jesus College tried to stop the scheme. There was a real determination to avoid a second Petty Cury/Lion Yard abomination. There were even benefit concerts with the likes of Clive James, Michael Palin & Terry Jones.

However in late 1980/early 1981 most of Gold Street and eastern Fitzroy Street was demolished. Waffles and some businesses in western Fitzroy Street held out, Waffles finally closing on 30th Oct. 1981 [as I recall].

At the time all this seemed very long drawn out though it was nothing compared to the 30 years of wrangling.

Photos from Martin Hodge

The Kite about 1980 and in 1995

In 1994/1995 the Grafton Centre Extension was built and as of 1997 the Centre is owned by the Prudential.
1980 1995

Hand-drawn sketch maps - reasonably accurate. See also streets on the 1980 map.

Some of the much-missed features

The quiet streets of terraced housing (though the County Council would probably have installed Traffic Calming by now)
Waffles Cafe
Potter Products
Strudels Restaurant
About 4 doors further down Fitzroy Street from Waffles
The Ancient Druids
? next door to the restaurant
Very Irish - a real community pub (nothing like its replacement). Mary the landlady went on to The Geldart and then the Man On the Moon.

Not missed

New Square [New Square]
.. as a cement-surfaced car park, with an ugly foot-bridge for the pedestrian route towards Christ's Pieces where it crossed over the slightly-sunken main lane of the car park. It had been converted from rough pasture in 1932-4.


John Powley

became MP for Norwich South between 1983-87 and in 1997 returned to politics as the county councillor for Soham. He then became Chairman of the Social Services Committee from April 1998.

Don at Jesus College

If I remember correctly, this was Dr Lisa Jardine, now [c2000] Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary and Westfield College, London.


The Varsity Handbook 1976/77, Town section.

Cambridge : History : The Kite - Early History