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Sawston Village History Society

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About SVHS
The Sawston Village History Society normally meets on the second Thursday of every month (see diary for upcoming meetings). There's a wide range of speakers and subjects related to the history of Sawston and Cambridgeshire.

The next meeting, on September 8th 2016, will be the Annual General Meeting: Your chance to find out what's been happening behind the scenes and to suggest speakers for the next year's programme. See the diary for more details.

Check out our FAQ for more information

A note from Bryan Howe: The Sawston Village History Society is helping with a project to remember names of evacuees who came to Sawston in WWII - 1939-45. For those of us who were at school then, the mention of a name that we recognize often recalls a picture of what they looked like, how they dressed or other memories. Contributions will be welcomed either by dropping a note to, or visiting the Parish office on Monday mornings, or by email to just heading 'evacuees'. We've already had about a dozen names so far, from only three people interviewed.
SVHS notices:
Comments from visitors

Geoff wrote: I looked up your site after seeing an old newsreel from 1925 about the pea custom. I just thought I would drop you a line with the link in case you don't already know of it. As it may be an extra weapon to help you fight the bureaucracy that is threatening the event. British Pathe film of Sawston Peas.

Dot wrote: I am trying to trace the Samuel family for a friend. James Samuel lived in Great Shelford and was a miller and I believe there was a steam flour mill there. His children moved to Sawston and also became millers and one ran the pub in Sawston High Street. Could you tell me please - are you aware of any flour mills in Sawston? I have seen mention of the Dernford one and wondered if they ran that? Thanks for a wonderful site.

Can any of our readers and members help Dot? We look forward to publishing any of your contributions. Our thanks to Geoff for pointing us towards the fascination film - a real window on our past. Ed

The Sawston Community Archive Group (SCAG) now has a strong nucleus of members drawn from the Society, but is also open to non-SVHS members. Our mission (as they now say) is to create a digital archive of anything relating to Sawston, under the auspices of the Cambridgeshire Community Archive Network (CCAN), web site: We usually meet at the Sawston library (for times please contact Liz Dockerill on 835127) for on-line archiving sessions

An archive of former notices is available.

Recent Meeting Reports
June 2016 Meeting Report

The Cambridge Bonfires by Sean Lang

If you think students in Cambridge today rule the roost, you don't know you are born. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries undergraduates had complete contempt for all forms of authority.

This was the age of the cult of manliness, sports clubs, and the Cambridge Union, and attitudes were perhaps personified in Kipling's poem "If". The British Empire was a fact of ordinary life, and Empire Day was widely celebrated by all sections of the community, and is still remembered by some older people today.

The first big bonfire was in the market square in 1897 and was part of a protest against women being awarded degrees rather than just tripos certificates. Newnham and Girton Colleges were exclusively female. Bicycles liberated them, but they were not full members of the University, and had to wait until 1948 to be awarded full degrees at Cambridge, long after other universities were awarding degrees to women.

There was another and bigger bonfire in the market square in 1898 to celebrate Kitchener's award of an honorary degree following his victory at the Battle of Omdurman. The students were completely out of control, but were supported by the public. Punching was considered acceptable but kicking fallen victims was not. Some students were charged with theft but the Home Secretary pardoned them all. So much material for the bonfire was taken from nearby buildings and gardens that they managed to melt a street light.

The Boer War provided further opportunities for bigger and better bonfires particularly on the relief of Ladysmith in March 1900. Bonfire material in the form of market stalls, advertising hoardings and hotel chairs was readily available and fully utilised.

When the relief of Mafeking in May 1900 was imminent, the deputy mayor, Horace Darwin (son of Charles Darwin) established a bonfire committee including all the sports captains to provide a controlled bonfire on Midsummer Common, together with a torch-light procession, and in the event all went peacefully.

Finally in 1902 when the peace was signed ending the Boer War, the students wanted to hold another bonfire night, but the town was now against it, which enabled the authorities to regain control, and the era of student mayhem was at an end.

Jim Butchart

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