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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Marks, MA

A Brief History of Midsummer Common in Cambridge

What is Midsummer Common?

Midsummer Common is an area of common land in Cambridge that borders the River Cam and holds many major events.

Midsummer common in Cambridge

Midsummer Common

Midsummer Common is one of the most ancient points of interest in Cambridge, and an area of land which has historically been used for grazing livestock, as well as for holding events, gatherings, and recreational activities. The area is famously the venue for one of England's oldest and longest-running fairs: the Midsummer Market. This fair marks an important custom for the Romany and Irish traveller communities, having been held annually on the common since at least the 13th century, though its heritage likely predates this. The event provides an opportunity for commerce, but also a place in which to celebrate and share their culture.

The best time to experience Midsummer Common is early morning. Here, whilst walking across the lush grass, you’ll likely see students rowing up and down the river, residents walking their dogs, and locals casting their fishing rods.

During your walk, you’ll be following in the footsteps of the Romans, who set up fort in Cambridge, just across the river at Castle Hill, in the year AD 70. Amazingly, the site has remained largely unchanged ever since, having been established as a common in the 13th century. In this period, the field was known by the name of Greencroft, and was home to the Nunnery of St Rhadegund, a religious community that was dissolved in 1496, the year Jesus College was established. Upon its founding, Jesus College took over the nunnery grounds. Subsequently, the westernmost part of the common became known as Jesus Green. The remaining land has since been known by several names, including Midsummer Common, Butt’s Green, and Midsummer Fair Green.

This is not to say that the adjacent park, Jesus Green, is not also worth visiting. During the summer, the green is a flurry of picnickers, sunbathers, and is even occasionally used as the training ground for the Cambridge University Ultimate Frisbee team. In the western corner of the green, just across the river from Magdalene College, you’ll find a fleet of docked punting boats. Here you can book both guided and unguided punting tours of the city. Paddling down the River Cam, you’ll be able to view both the common and the green from the comfort of a boat – just be careful not to get your pole stuck in the mud!

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