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  • Writer's pictureDoug Chapman, MA

A Brief History of Magdalene Bridge in Cambridge

What is Magdalene Bridge?

Magdalene Bridge is a 19th-century cast-iron bridge in Cambridge that’s named after the nearby university college.

Magdalene Bridge

Magdalene Bridge History

The area surrounding Magdalene Bridge has been the crossroads of Cambridge since the very earliest days of the city. This bridge marks the original crossing point over the river used in Roman Britain, and it was this site that established Cambridge’s importance for both trade and travel in the early Middle Ages. References are made to the ‘Great Bridge’ constructed in this location from at least as early as the 8th or 9th centuries, and subsequent wood and stone bridges have been constructed here up until the present iron one was completed in the 19th century.

From 1092, much of the surrounding land now held by Magdalene College (found on the north side of the bridge) was owned by the Augustinian Order, and later passed to the Benedictines before the college was formed in the 16th century. One can easily imagine this area as it might have looked in the Middle Ages, in the shadow of the castle and teeming with both tradespeople and monks. It fell out of favour when the market and university areas to the south grew in significance, and because of this the buildings to the north of the bridge are among the oldest and best-preserved in Cambridge. The Pickerel Inn, the oldest licensed ale house in Cambridge, is located here between the buildings of Magdalene College. The pub is one of the most famous in the city and visitors are likely to find students in gowns mingling with locals and visitors under its low ceilings.

Magdalene Bridge is a central route for students moving between the various colleges and faculties, with the Backs and University Library a short walk away. The southern side of the bridge gives access to Quayside, one of the best locations from which to punt in the city. On busier days, there will routinely be crowds standing along the sides of the bridge, watching the innumerable punts and small boats below attempting to avoid colliding with each other. The bridge is a fantastic location from which to take pictures of the river, and it’s especially worth a visit in the holiday season when it’s usually decked out with lights that shimmer and reflect in the waters of the Cam.

Dive deep into the city’s rich history with our comprehensive Cambridge audio tour.


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