Allan Brigham on Castle Hill, Cambridge
Clean sweep of the city
By Katy Holbird
Having lived in the city for 30 years, street sweeper Allan Brigham shares his unique perspective on all things Cambridge.
As soon as we meet, Cambridge resident Allan Brigham is quick to say that he ‘is just a street sweeper’. However, after a tour of his favourite city sites, it’s clear that Allan is not ‘just’ anyone.
Thirty years ago, he came to Cambridge from the Yorkshire Dales and ‘didn’t like it at all’. Having got used to the flat city ‘surrounded by muddy fields’, Allan is now an official Blue Badge Guide and unofficially, spends his time trying to get local people to see just how privileged they are to live in this city.
King's College, Cambridge
Not just for tourists
It’s a bit like the Desert Island Discs of Cambridge, but I’ve asked Allan to take me to his two favourite sites. So, on a grey morning, we’re sitting in King’s College Chapel – perhaps one of the city’s most visited tourist sites. Allan, though, is not concerned with the tourists as much as he is concerned with people who live within a stone’s throw of the chapel and have never experienced the wonder of the building.
Allan talks in such detail about the chapel that I wonder why he doesn’t shut himself in a study and write books about this and other Cambridge sites. But all becomes clear when we get into the chapel and at least three people come and say hello to this local figure.
Allan’s job as a street sweeper gives him a view of the Cambridge streets that no-one else has and, when he shares it, people are caught up in his way of seeing.
Allan regularly gets invitations to speak to local schools about his job. It makes sense really – a man who spends his time picking up other people’s litter gets a chance to talk to children about how they can care for their city and keep it beautiful.
The Roman equivalent of Little Chef!
From the street level, Allan’s Cambridge is far more than the tourist sights and the University. He’s fast to point out that the city was here long before some students left Oxford for the new ivy-league university.
It isn’t until later, on the top of Castle Mound, that Allan admits, bashfully, that he’s in line for an honorary degree from Cambridge University for the work that he has done in opening up the city to the people who live here.
This hill - just about the only one in a predominantly flat landscape - is, says Allan, the site of the ‘original Cambridge’. This mound, he explains, was the Roman equivalent of the Little Chef - the fort where people stopped for refreshment on their route across the Fens.
From Castle Hill, the city extends outwards along the ‘spine’ of Hills Road and past the Museum of Technology - one of the few surviving buildings from Cambridge’s industrial past. This is an imposing reminder that there was, and is, more to this city than academia and, as Allan emphasises, not everyone and everything depended on the university for work.
This is Allan Brigham’s city, a city that he is determined to reclaim in the imaginations of those that live here and inspire both young and old to explore and enjoy.
Listen as Allan takes reporter Katy Holbird on a tour of his favourite city:
After a year off city tours, Allan hopes to return this summer. Details can be found on his website:
last updated: 16/06/2009 at 11:36
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