The Cam river improvements of 1869

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A few years ago, while browsing in Cambridge market, I came across a half-page from the Illustrated London News of May 29, 1869. It contained an article about improvements being made to the river Cam between Cambridge and Fen Ditton, and an engraving depicting dredging work just upstream of the then-new railway bridge; the viewer looks downstream, towards the bridge and, in the distance, the church tower of St Mary The Virgin in Fen Ditton. At the time we were living aboard a narrowboat on the Cam, and I was interested in this tale of a piece of the river's history, so I bought the article. The text is reproduced below; the image links to a pdf of the page (slightly crooked; I hope to replace it with a better one at some point).

The Cam River Improvements: Dredging near Cambridge. Part of an engraving illustrating an article in the Illustrated London News of May 29, 1869


Some account was lately given in this Journal of the works undertaken by a committee, of which Lord Justive Selwyn is chairman, for the improvement of the narrow and shallow river at Cambridge, with a view to the exercise of rowing. The often-repeated failure of the crew of this University in its annual contest with Oxford upon the Thames at Putney is justly ascribed in a great measure to the extreme disadvantages of its own water for practice. With a breadth in general not much exceeding twenty yards, and with several awkward corners in the length of one mile and three quarters below the railway bridge, to which the racing-boats are now confined, the available depth of the Cam has been diminished, in some places to less than two feet, by the deposit of mud, three or four feet thick, upon its proper bed of gravel; and this process has been going on more rapidly since the current has become more sluggish, and the water has been stirred up less freely, because the traffic of barges to and from the town has been much reduced. It is therefore intended, by means of a fund subscribed for the purpose, and in execution of the designs kindly furnished by Mr. Hawkshaw, to dredge the river thoroughly for three miles and a half below Cambridge, so as to restore the channel to its former depth and width; the railway bridge is to be removed, and a new one to be constructed in its stead, without any piers in the river, so as to permit the boats to pass above it without shortening oars; and some of the corners will be rounded by cutting the bank in an easier line. Mr. Clarke Hawkshaw, whose engineering services, as well as his father's, have liberally been placed at the disposal of the committee without pecuniary remuneration, superintends the execution of these works. Two Illustrations in our paper of this week show the actual operations of dredging; in the one case at the bridge of St. John's College, and in the other at a place just below the railway bridge.

Helen Lynn    October 2010