Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Cambridge . . . shhhh don't tell – there's a secret Ark

I didn't have any high hopes about today . . . the Tardis needed its annual service, which meant driving to 'car land' on the outer fringes of Cambridge and while the mechanics tinkered with its bits, I could use a complimentary pass to catch the bus into town . . . probably a whole day traipsing around in the cold and rain – quite frankly I wasn't in the mood.

But then, I remembered somewhere I'd been meaning to find for years . . . I had a plan!

After some errands in town and a brief uninspiring wander around the clothes department of John Lewis, I headed off to the Fitzwilliam Museum for 'elevenses' – a pot of tea and a Duke of Cambridge Tartlet (not a euphemism) –  I felt better already :-)

So then, let me take you down some lesser known lanes of Cambridge . . .

Retrace your steps from the Fitz, back towards town and on your left set back behind trees you'll find Little St Mary's Church. Go down the lane, stopping to look through the railings at the charmingly wild graveyard; and you'll find this building tucked away down a little side lane . . . it is, or rather it was, the Ark.

Between 1884 and 1984, this was the Museum of Archaeology and it contained a collection of hundreds of plaster casts of Ancient Greek and Roman statues; students of Classics and Art History could study life size replicas of all the great sculptures from antiquity . . . and I have very fond memories of spending hours sitting with my sketch book among the crowded dusty plaster figures.

The old Ark is now Peterhouse Library, so where did the largest intact collection of 19th century plaster casts of antique statuary get moved to?

Follow me, and I'll take you there . . .

Past the boatyard and down Laundress Lane to Silver Street and over the bridge . . .

Cross 'The Backs' and carry on straight down Sidgwick Avenue, lined with stately London Plane trees; and you will get to the Sidgwick Site – an eclectic mix of modern buildings which house the HQs of various faculties of the University of Cambridge.

I found a suitably academic looking information board and worked out that the Classicists HQ is in SO50, which just happened to be the building I was standing next to. I found my way to the door via some very low-key signage, but don't let that put you off – go through the glass doors and up the stairs and . . .

OH! good gracious me! you'll find yourself in the most amazing gallery filled to the gunnels with every classical statue you ever saw in an Art History text book . . . and many more!

And what's more, there are comfy armchairs that you can sit in . . . it's as if I'd stumbled upon Professor Mary Beard's personal sitting room! Do you think she's trying to keep it a secret so she has it all to herself?

 Well, for an hour or so today, I had it all to myself :-) it was pleasantly warm (not hot like in John Lewis) and beautifully light; it was quiet and peaceful – I sat among the statues. Someone (maybe Mary?) had thoughtfully typed out some classical verse in either Ancient Greek or Latin (helpfully translated into English for people like me who didn't do Classics) neatly laminated the pages and blu-tacked them next to the relevant statues . . . so very 'Cambridge'.

This little chap caught my eye . . . I think he's Mary's pet owl ;-)

When you're feeling calm and refreshed enough to return to the real world out side the Ark, it's only a short walk through the Sidgwick Site and out onto West Road; turn right and you'll see the iconic Cambridge view of King's College across the meadows along the River Cam.

I took my usual route into town, along Garret Hostel Lane (probably the first time I've ever seen it completely deserted!) and then down Senate House Passage – stepping in the footsteps of probably every person who has ever studied at Cambridge University over the past 800 years.

I was really uplifted by finding the new Ark . . . don't tell anyone, it's our secret . . . and Mary's ;-)



  1. What a lovely way to spend the afternoon. Cambridge is a fascinating city, I mean Laundress Lane! I love that little owl. I am sure Prof. Mary would be pleased to have you in her parlor.

  2. When Celia says "I have a plan..." you can expect a good un!
    Thanks for another watery ramble around Cambridge. (I love the owl, too.)

  3. Ooh I've learnt something new about Cambridge - I shall be off to find the Ark next time I visit.

    Thanks :-)

  4. I'd take the car to be checked out weekly if there was such a treasure house waiting to be explored.

  5. Celia, how I did love reading every word of this post, and seeing every picture.

    Hope that I will eventually have the opportunity to tell you in person.


  6. I do love a wander around Cambridge - especially all the little back streets with their quirky signs & houses.

  7. Wow, how lovely! I love kindred spirits who go in search of the unusual and in the process open everyone elses eyes to what it right around them

  8. Well, you've taken me right down memory lane! I had a room facing out onto Garrett Hostel Lane in my first year... and I confess I had no idea about the Ark - but then, I was a science student..

  9. Love these little insights into Cambridge! Thanks Celia

  10. Think I am going to have to follow your suggestion for my next sneaky stolen day out

  11. I realised that despite being an academic I was not part of the University when I was upbraided for confusing the Sidgewick and Sedgewick sites. I mean, really!

    Have been meaning to visit the Ark for ages, My elder girl would love it!

  12. oh wow! Another lovely spot to visit next time I got to Cambridge - thanks Celia, I really enjoyed the tour!

  13. I have never been to Cambridge so this has been so interesting Celia. I love exploring little nooks and crannies and those oddly named streets must have a fascinating history attached to them. What a civilised way to spend your time when waiting for a car service. Thanks for the day out!

  14. What a great way to spend the day finding lots of secret places - didn't you just want to stroke some of those bottoms - irresistable.

  15. What an amazing place! I wish I was nearer to Cambridge just for a visit. Will have to put it on my list.

  16. What a good day that was Celia! Your walk reminded me of some very good parties I went to in that area! Amazing statues, a real treasure trove, I love the owl.

  17. Celia, this is brilliant. I feel as if I have joined you on a little adventure. Only having visited Oxford (where my parents live); I am now wanting to make the longer journey across to this great city. Maybe I should take a note of your tour for the journey?


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