Medieval pits and the ‘Spinning House’, Cambridge

By 03/08/2021September 9th, 2021News

PCA are currently undertaking excavations in the rear courtyard of Hobson House, Cambridge.

Henley Construct are the contractor delivering the project to Rogue City Hotels who will run and manage the hotel. The Hobson will be a 56-suite luxury hotel and meeting space centred around an atrium space housed in a Grade II listed former police station. The hotel sits in a prime location on St Andrew’s Street in Cambridge’s city centre, opening in September 2022.

The excavations are located in the former drill yard of the 1901 police station. The removal of the modern concrete flooring revealed previous cobbled surfaces of the drill yard and a range of walls relating to the rear extension of the Spinning House in the 19th century, as well as the old town jail and police station.

The excavations also revealed a series of medieval and possible Saxo-Norman pits, most likely quarry pits to extract gravel for building activity in the vicinity. The pits were covered by a dark cultivation soil and suggest that the area was open and cultivated land, either at the back of properties along St Andrew’s Street, or prior to their construction.

Hobson House is a Grade II listed building, built in 1901 as a police station to replace a previous smaller police station and county jail as well as the ‘Spinning House’ on the same site. The Spinning House is the first recorded building on this site at St Andrew’s Street and was built in the mid-17th century as a workhouse for the unemployed, by a charity funded by Thomas Hobson (which also funded the construction of Hobson’s Conduit). The name ‘Spinning House’ referred to the occupation provided for the inmates, it was also known as the ‘Cambridge House of Correction’ or ‘Hobson’s Bridewell’. In 1788 century the town jail and small police station was added to the south side of the Spinning House.

In the 19th century the Spinning House was extended toward the rear and infamously received women who had been accused by University Proctors of corrupting male students, held until the University Vice Chancellor decided that they should be released. Reference is made to the ‘confinement of such lewd women as the proctors apprehend in the houses of ill fame, though sometimes the corporation send small offenders thither, and the crier of the town is often there to discipline the ladies of pleasure with his whip’

The power of the University Vice Chancellors right of ‘arrest and expulsion of lewd women’, continued unabated until it was finally abolished, following public outcry, and particularly the case of Miss Daisy Hopkins, by a statute of Parliament in 1893. The Spinning House was taken over by the borough and demolished along with the adjacent Police Station in c.1901. It was replaced by Hobson House, a new combined Police and Fire Station, designed and purpose-built by the architect John Morley. Click here for more history of St Andrew’s Street.