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  • Writer's pictureDoug Chapman, MA

A Brief History of King’s Parade in Cambridge

What is King’s Parade?

King’s Parade is a famous central thoroughfare in Cambridge city centre lined by some of the university’s oldest and most famous colleges.

View of King's Parade

Txllxt TxllxT, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

King’s Parade History

The historic King's Parade has been home to several important Cambridge landmarks throughout history, providing a backdrop to significant events and changes in the city's cultural and social life. The White Horse Tavern, located on King's Lane, west of King's Parade, was one such landmark. Dating back to the 16th century, it served as a prominent meeting place for English Protestant reformers to exchange Lutheran ideas, starting from as early as 1521. The tavern met its end when the King's College screen was extended in 1870, leading to the demolition of the historic building. Today, the history of the tavern is immortalized by a blue plaque in the college's Chetwynd Court.

At 1 Trinity Street, which stands at the junction of King's Parade and St Mary's Street, Bowes & Bowes, a reputable bookseller and publishing company, once operated. The site, which has been associated with book selling since 1581, is considered one of the oldest bookshops in the United Kingdom. Although Bowes & Bowes closed its doors in 1986, the site continued its legacy of book selling by becoming the Cambridge University Press bookshop. The west side of the street, which had housed other buildings, was entirely demolished during the construction of the King's College Gatehouse and Screen in the 1830s. Now, the opposite side of King's College hosts a row of primarily touristic shops, contributing to the area's bustling atmosphere.

King's parade street sign

King’s Parade is one of the most recognisable locations in the city. It’s both the thriving core of the university and the pre-eminent street of Cambridge. The famous views of the colleges to be had along the west side of the thoroughfare – dominated by the soaring outline of King’s College Chapel – are iconic, and the scene is emblematic of Cambridge as a whole. To this side of the parade are the main façades and entrances to a number of the most renowned colleges of the university – King’s, Clare, Trinity, and Gonville & Caius – alongside the Senate House, the core building of the university and the one from which most students graduate. On the other side of the street is a selection of historic buildings, shops and restaurants separating the parade from nearby Market Hill.

The location of King’s Parade makes it a hub for both town and gown, but perhaps even more so for visitors to Cambridge. Students and members of the various faculties often pass along the street on their way to lectures and seminars, and many of the city’s tour groups offer walks that begin here in front of the beautiful front screen of King’s College. However, the parade didn’t always have such a stately and open appearance. The green spaces in front of King’s College were originally occupied by houses and buildings before these were demolished in the 1830s. It’s perhaps as well that they were – the walls and lawns to the west of the parade are popular places to eat lunch bought from the market on a bright Cambridge day. Crowds abound nearly year-round on this street, and for those interested in people-watching there is perhaps no better location in the city.

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