Home to one of the oldest and grandest universities in the United Kingdom, Cambridgeshire is a centre of culture and education. But one should not overlook the many other historic sites, ranging from magnificent medieval cathedrals to modern museums.
Most people will know a thing or two about the historic city of Cambridge, with its beautiful university buildings, fascinating museums and some lesser-known gems like the Mathematical Bridge. But it’s worth venturing beyond Cambridge and paying a visit to sites like Ely Cathedral, Anglesey Abbey and even Oliver Cromwell’s former family home.
Here are 10 of the most unmissable historic sites in Cambridgeshire.
King’s College Chapel at King’s College in the University of Cambridge is unspeakably magnificent and considered to be one of the world’s finest examples of Perpendicular Gothic English architecture.
It was built between 1446 and 1515 by a succession of English Kings starting with Henry VI who laid the foundation stone and intended his chapel to be without equal in beauty and size.
The chapel is a working place of worship today, and remains a popular tourist destination in Cambridge. The majority of visits are self-guided: allow a couple of hours to take in all the information, visual beauty and the grounds. Exhibitions within the chapel detail the history of King’s College itself.
2. Ely Cathedral
Considered by some to be a marvel of medieval engineering, Ely Cathedral is one of the most famous landmarks in Cambridgeshire. The current building dates back to 1089 with it being recognized as a Cathedral in 1109. It is rumoured that over 300 workers died in the construction process.
With the arrival of Protestantism the monasteries at Ely were dissolved. The building itself survived thanks to being used by the Church of England from 1541 onwards.
The Cathedral remains incredibly popular with tourists, who are stunned by its beauty. Visitors may also recognise the interiors from movies or TV, for example ‘The Crown’.
Duxford Imperial War Museum in Cambridge is dedicated to exploring Britain’s military history, with a particular focus on air and maritime warfare. Fittingly located at at Duxford Airfield, one of the best preserved First World War airfields, the Duxford Imperial War Museum is one of the best places to explore the history of aviation in the country.
Most of the exhibits at the Duxford Imperial War Museum are contained in hangars, with each hangar exploring a different aspect of military history. For example, hangar 1 tells the story of British and Commonwealth aviation history, hangar 2 is a “flying museum” where operating aircraft are held and maintained, and hangar 3 holds a maritime collection.
It is believed that the site of Anglesey Abbey was first used as a monastery around 1100, and grew to become a thriving monastic settlement throughout the early Middle Ages. However, like many similar sites across England, Anglesey Priory was dissolved in 1535 during the reign of Henry VIII.
Becoming a private house, the site was modified several times over the next 400 years, including its conversion to the Jacobean-style building seen today and its renaming as Anglesey Abbey.
Today, visitors to Anglesey Abbey can explore both the beautiful gardens and the grand house – including surviving elements of the original Augustinian monastery, such as the chapter house and monk’s parlour.
5. Peterborough Cathedral
Peterborough Cathedral is an architectural marvel with its three enormous arches located in the West Front of the complex. Built between 1118 to 1237, It is one of the grandest examples of Early English Gothic architecture.
Famously the former wive of King Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon is buried in Peterborough Cathedral. Her grave can still be seen and is still honoured by visitors who decorate it with flowers and pomegranates (her symbol).
6. Wimpole Hall
Built between 1640 to 1670, Wimpole Hall is an impressive manor house from the Stuart period. The building was extended during the Early Georgian era in 1713 to 1721. Its interiors are mainly from the 18th century with one of the most noteworthy rooms being the Baroque chapel with its magnificent wall paintings.
These days some of the rooms inside the manor house are open to the public. Visitors can also enjoy the Wimpole gardens, which are at their visually most impressive in the summer months.
7. Oliver Cromwell's House
The beautiful half-timbered building was the home for Oliver Cromwell and his family from 1636 to 1647. Parts of the house are much older, with the kitchen section being from the early 13th century. Besides Hampton Court, the building is the only residence of the former Lord Protector that still stands today.
These days Oliver Cromwell’s House is displaying a Civil War Exhibition and giving in depth information about Cromwell himself. The building also houses an escape room experience.
8. Elton Hall and Gardens
Elton Hall was the ancestral seat of the Proby family, with the earliest plots of land being purchased by them in the late 16th century. The building itself was constructed between 1665 and 1668. In the 18th century the house was ‘Gothicised’ giving it more dramatic architectural elements. Further alterations were added in the mid 19th century.
The grounds of the estate are just as impressive as the main building itself. The current gardens are based on a design made in 1911.
Visitors can explore a selection of rooms inside the manor house and enjoy the scenic grounds of the estate. Throughout the year a variety of events are being held in Elton Hall and Gardens.
One of the most diverse museums in the UK, the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is one like no other, housing a variety of exhibitions showcasing history from every corner of the globe.
The museum was founded in 1884 using local artefacts gathered by the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, as well as a number Polynesian items collected by Alfred Maudslay and Sir Arthur Gordon.
Over the years, interest in anthropology and archaeology began to increase, with its study becoming more widespread and archaeology more accessible. Thus, more and more items began to be brought back to Cambridge, helping to further expand the collection.
10. Mathematical Bridge
The Mathematical Bridge is a popular wooden footbridge in the city of Cambridge. It was designed by William Etheridge, and built by James Essex in 1749. The name comes from the unusually sophisticated engineering design, comprising of entirely straight timbers, while still looking like an arch.
Throughout the years there have been multiple myths related to the famous bridge. One of the most popular ones is that it was designed and built by Sir Isaac Newton without the use of nuts or bolts.