Monday, 2 September 2013

Is there art in Arbury?

Is there art in Arbury?

Every town has a neighbourhood where art is not expected.  In Cambridge, this is Arbury.

street in arbury
A street in Arbury

Arbury is an area to the north of the centre and the river.  It is still sometimes called 'the Arbury', after the Arbury Estate developed there in 1957.   It's a low-income area, and in Cambridge it has a reputation for having a high crime rate (although statistics show that this is somewhat unfounded).

It's also an area with no reputation for art at all.  It's not listed in the 2012 Cambridge Walks nor in the Cambridge Sculpture Trails.   There are no galleries there, and the BBC Your Paintings database includes no works kept here.  This year, Arbury did have a couple of Open Studios (Derek Batty and Mohammed Djazmi), and last autumn, it did have one of the Street Pianos.

cb open studios arbury 2013
Cambridge Open Studios, July 2013, detail from the brochure

Street Piano (part of Luke Jerram's project), Arbury Court, Oct. 2012

Finding art in Arbury

Two studios and one piano that is no longer there:  that's not a lot of art.

But I was convinced there had to be more.  So I set out with my bike on a warm summer afternoon to discover if the perception of 'no art in Arbury' is based in any fact.  I went in quest of art in Arbury.

This is what I found:

Meadows Community Centre

I started out at the Meadows Community Centre on St Catharine's Road.  A very nice receptionist showed me to the hallway where there is a haunting exhibition of photographs from the University of Cambridge archives. What a surprise!!

The exhibition is called Dark Strangers and was originally curated by the artist Abdul Hakim Onitolo for the Black & Minority Ethnic History season in 2009 -- but it's now on permanent loan to the Community Centre.

A sign on the wall explains (in Onitolo's words):

The photographs in the show are from a mixed variety of sources and influences in how they are taken and their purposes.  They serve an anthropological, historical and referential purpose and are a legacy of times past that we are still reconciling and trying to relate to our present situations.  The photographs are taken by a variety of explorers, historians, social anthropologists and enthusiasts.  T. J. Alldridge being one of the more prominent even had a book published:  The Sherbro and its Hinterland (1901).

arbury meadows dark strangers 03
Photo from the Dark Strangers exhibition, Meadows Community Centre, Arbury, Cambridge
I like this image of a studious man.

arbury meadows dark strangers 05
Dark Strangers exhibition
So strange, these relics of an indeterminate past.  Not dated, not captioned.  Where are these men?  And what are they doing with those suit jackets?  Amazing pin-striped trousers.

arbury meadows dark strangers 04
Dark Strangers exhibition

Eyes from a colonial past.

arbury meadows dark strangers 02
Dark Strangers exhibition
And where is this lonesome building, photographed as if in the middle of nowhere?

arbury meadows dark strangers 01
Dark Strangers exhibition
I am intrigued by the German pharmacy:  Deutsche Apotheke, run by "W. Richter & Co."

There is more art outside the Meadows Community Centre:  Graffiti by the committed and enthusiastic Blight Society.

arbury meadows comm ctre blightsociety graffiti wall
Graffiti by the Blight Society, Meadows Community Centre, Arbury, Cambridge

Graffiti by the Blight Society
arbury meadows comm ctre blightsoc flash cu
Graffiti by the Blight Society, detail
arbury meadows comm ctre blightsoc mushroom
Graffiti by the Blight Society

I couldn't find out who made this mosaic wall, with its little mosaic people.  Parts of it (the ovals showing sports activities) were crumbling which was a bit sad.
Meadows Community Centre mosaic wall
Mosaic wall, Meadows Community Centre, Arbury

arbury meadows comm ctre mosaic men
Mosaic, Meadows Community Centre, Arbury, Cambridge (detail)

I walked through the Community's Centre café, past the childcare rooms, and found some rather good ironwork.  I don't know who made it or when (the Centre was founded in 1997 so perhaps it dates to that year?).

arbury meadows comm ctre gate
Wrought iron gate, Meadows Community Centre, Arbury
Lovely nature symbolism.  If only I could do botany and identify flowers...!

arbury meadows community centre iron scrolls
Wrought iron work, Meadows Community Centre

arbury meadows comm ctre iron circles
Wrought iron work, Meadows Community Centre

arbury meadows comm ctre iron bluebells
Wrought iron work, Meadows Community Centre

Arbury Court Library

If you ever want to find art, two good places to start are with a local library and a local school.  Look what there is in the inner courtyard of the Arbury Court Library!

arbury court library, tony hillier, owls
Owls by Tony Hillier, Arbury Court Library

arbury court library, tony hillier, owls faces
Owls by Tony Hillier (detail)
The sculptor of these owls, Tony Hillier, is a bit of a Cambridge eccentric and maintains a large ramshackle studio in Histon (to the north of Cambridge), full of his iron creatures and quirky beasts.  It's open to the public, too.  

I have no idea who sculpted this jolly buddha:

arbury court library, buddha
Buddha, Arbury Court Library

Arbury Schools

I didn't go into any schools so saw only the outsides but even so I was pleased to find quite a bit of art.  Here's a mosaic (possibly showing the school's emblem?):

arbury mosaic mayfield primary school
Mosaic, Mayfield Primary School, Arbury
And this dashing bird of paradise:

arbury mayfield primary school mural bird
Mural, Mayfield Primary School, Arbury

The dragon seems very much in the style of Tony Hillier (sculptor of the Owls in the library) but I don't know if this is one of his.  It's a fun logo for a school.

arbury primary school dragon poss tony hilliers?
Dragon, Arbury Primary School (possibly by Tony Hilliers?)

Orchard Park Community Primary School has this fun gate.  It reminds me of Matthew Lane Sanderson's gate for St Faith's School on Trumpington Road.

Orchard Park Community Primary School gate Adam Booth 2008
Orchard Park Community Primary School, gate by Adam Booth

Wrought iron with colourful enamelled "monsters".

Orchard Park Community Primary School gate detail
Orchard Park Community Primary School, gate (detail)

Orchard Park

I had read about this new development in north Arbury, started around 2007 by Gallagher Estates.  I was excited to be cycling around this new estate and seeing the variety of architectural styles employed (the developers' website doesn't name individual architects).

arbury orchard park blue
Orchard Park, Arbury, house

arbury orchard park house
Orchard Park, Arbury, another house
Considering that Cambridgeshire's public art policy requires 1% of a property development budget to be spent on public art, I found very little art in Orchard Park.  I did, however, discover three works that might qualify:

Some coloured glass stuck to the façade of the Premier Inn.

arbury orchard park premier inn  coloured glass sculpture (2008-2009, by Chris Wood
Coloured glass sculpture by glass artist Chris Wood, 2008-2009, Premier Inn, Orchard Park, Arbury
A bronze deer in front of the Travelodge (lots of hotel art here).  Some joker had stuck a lime green sponge onto the sculpture's horns:  clearly there's interaction going on with the art.  No idea what the tyre symbolises or if the deer has local connotations for what used to be Arbury Park.

arbury orchard park urban deer or 2nd glance at a roe deer, by kenny hunter travelodge
Urban Deer or Second Glance at a Roe Deer by Kenny Hunter, Travelodge, Orchard Park, Arbury

Finally:  two groups of stones.

arbury orchard park stones
Stones by Unknown, Orchard Park, Arbury

Art or nature?  They remind me a lot of the rocks at the Classics Faculty.

arbury orchard park stonez
Another view of stones, Orchard Park, Arbury

arbury orchard park stone
One of the stones by Unknown, Orchard Park, Arbury

I ended the day with a refreshing fruit salad in the shade, just a bit further from the  groups of stones.

arbury orchard park fruit salad
Lunch at Orchard Park

Is there an 'art-less' area where you live?  Why not go there on an expedition?  You never know what you might find...  :-)

More about Arbury:

Related posts:



  1. Hello, I am an Arbury girl and arts and crafts person... I loved this little blog about art in arbury, I found this by accident trying to find out if there are any art groups in cambridge because I would like to start one! So if anyone would like to join me on my mission to start a new art group then message back!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm so happy that you enjoyed reading this. I really had a great time cycling round Arbury and discovering all this art. I wish you great success in starting your art group!

  2. This is a lovely blogpost and really interested to read about your responses to the works. I thought you might like to have a nose at Home Grown which is a publication about the public art programme for Orchard Park. You should be able to get it from the library but have a look at

    Claire, I work at Kettle's Yard and we are partnering with Park Arts Group in Orchard Park doing monthly adult workshops called Try Your Hand. The next one is Tues 10th Dec, 7.30pm at Orchard Park Community Centre and we'd love to welcome you:


    1. Dear Karen, thanks for the comment and the update! I had no idea that the Orchard Park programme had a special publication; that's really interesting.


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