Kettles Yard is now known for being the old home of Jim Ede, a gallery curator who collected art – displaying it in his home alongside antiques and objets trouvés.
Ede studied painting at Newlyn Art School and at the Slade. In 1921, he became assistant curator at the National Gallery of British Art (later the Tate Gallery). During his time at the Tate, he had formed friendships with avant-garde artists of the day, and collected their work. He married Helen Schlapp whom he had met in Edinburgh. After leaving the Tate and a stint abroad, he found a set of old cottages and converted them into a house with an architect friend in 1954, filling it with art, this forms the collection he left to Cambridge University, with his house, to form Kettles Yard.
From outside, I look at Northampton Street in Cambridge with it’s knoll of grass, and the view of Kettles Yard as something that must always have been that way. In Cambridge we have the luxury of green spaces all over the city and I always assumed this grassland had always been this way since the Saxon era where this side of the river in Cambridge was first populated. St Peter’s Church has elements of Saxon and Roman bricks recycled in its construction from older buildings in the area.
The photo above shows a little more history to the location of Kettles Yard. Taken in 1950, it shows the row of cottages pre-conversion. Without the bay windows and with their original front doors. There has been a bit of a myth that these houses had long been abandoned before Ede moved in with his architects, but this isn’t the case. The window is open upstairs in the attic room, there is a shed and they look in rather good order with good guttering. In this photo we can see the old road that was the access to the church with the end of the house to the left, this is pictured below.
In the photo above is the old view of Kettle’s Yard and St Peter’s church when it was a yard. A yard of shops, a pub and houses, with a line of houses all the way down Northampton Street too. The map below shows how dence the area was with properties. Around twenty-five on the area of the grass alone. The PH on the map is the Public House, The Spotted Cow.
Cambridge Council considered areas like this slums and it is likely they were, and in the 1950s with so much rebuilding of the UK, they pulled the lot down to build ‘better’ social housing.
In the photograph below, a corner shop has been built on the edge of Honey Hill, some of the windows have lost their original small-paned-windows. Photo from the adverts and bicycles are likely late 1920s.
Today we see this as perplexing, the modern tourist who would have sooner have boutique shops of surviving old streets like this (Brighton and Hastings) to shopping centres. But Cambridge City Council, who have proven themselves just as architecturally blind now as then, had a system of clearances all over the city and removed most of the domestic historic elements of life that would give the city character. They replaced the Kite area with the Grafton Centre, that is about to be demolished, and the Lion Hotel Yard area with a 1970s and 80s series of covered shopping centres.
It seems the four Kettles Yard cottages were saved by Cambridge Preservation Society, but likely because they would shield the new buildings view from St Peter’s Church on Castle Street.