Parkers Piece is one of the best-known open spaces in Cambridge. Located in the centre of the city it is bordered by Park Terrace, Regent Terrace, Parkside and Gonville Place.
The site was acquired by the city from Trinity College in 1613 and is named after Edward Parker who held the lease at the time of the transaction.
During the Civil War Cromwell erected defensive earth banks through Parkers Piece and along Lensfield Road. Prior to 1831 the site was struggling to accommodate a range of uses. A grassed open space, still with ridge and furrow, was divided into two fields by a hedge, and a pond dug for cattle and horses near the south-west corner, had became a hazard for children who played near it.
In 1827 permission was given to fill in the pond, and in 1831 for the levelling of a 60-yard square for a cricket ground so long as it was used by 'town and gown'. Mr. Watford of Gonville Place produced a layout in 1832 proposing a horseway 22 yards wide around the perimeter when the ditches were filled.
In 1839 Charles Humfrey proposed further improvements by making proposals for a broad footpath on all four sides of the Common and a single row of elms spaced 40 feet apart along three sides, omitting the Park Terrace side to the north.
In 1868 the Council thanked Mr. John Odell Pain for planting the 30 lime trees along Parkside at his own expense. These trees still stand today. By 1878 the Commons Committee resolved that Parkers Piece was to be kept solely for recreation and no horses were to be exercised or cattle grazed there. An attempt to surface the cross paths and install a perimeter iron fence was vigorously opposed by 2,014 people in 1880.
It was agreed in 1881 that the turf should be maintained by grazing sheep from May to November. A 'Curator of Parkers Piece' was appointed to take charge of cricket and other games. A horse mower and roller were obtained in 1890 to be shared with Christ's Pieces.
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Parkers Piece was originally part of Middlefield in the Open Field of Barnwell, situated between two tracks: Hintuneweie and Hadestokweye. This important open space is named after Edward Parker, a cook, who had leased part of the land from Trinity College.
Between 1612 and 1613 a transfer took place between the City Corporation and the College. The City acquired land which included the major part of Parkers Piece, giving some former common land to the west of Trinity College in exchange. Parkers Piece was used throughout the 19th century for religious services, public meetings, election hustings, celebrations and games; it was also used for soldiers' drill during the First World War.
On 28th June 1838 the coronation of Queen Victoria was celebrated by a dinner for 15,000 in the presence of 25,000 spectators. They consumed 1,608 plum puddings, 1,013 stones of meat, 72lbs of mustard and 99 barrels of best ale (each of 26 gallons).
In 1840 Parkers Piece was the location of the first ever Royal Agricultural Show. Queen Victoria's Jubilee Year celebrations were held over several days in 1897, culminating with a Treat for School Children of tea and amusements, for 5,000 children.
Over a long period Parkers Piece remained a Common for recreation. As with Jesus Green it is listed in the Corporation's Year Book as Recreation Grounds. Before 1846 all County and University cricket matches were played on Parkers Piece and in 1930 a cricket pavilion was opened in honour of the famous Cambridge cricketer Jack Hobbs.
Henry Charles Malden, an undergraduate of Trinity College in 1847, introduced football games with other undergraduates, as an alternative to the popular hacking games on Parker's Piece. To overcome the ensuing chaos, Malden and his colleagues agreed to a set of rules for the game, which were printed as 'The Cambridge Rules'. In October 1863, these were adopted by The Football Association at their meeting at Freemason's Tavern, Great Queen Street, London, and have been used ever since.
In 1893 the Council agreed to the installation of an electric light in the centre of Parkers Piece. The light was refurbished in 1999. During the 1960s the light was nicknamed 'Reality Checkpoint' by students and is still known by this name today.
There was much local unrest in the 1950s over a series of proposals: to widen Regent Terrace for a car park (1951), to build a car park for 800 cars beneath Parkers Piece (1957, revised in 1968) and to build ramps for a multi-storey car park on Queen Anne Terrace. Subsequently the Council was asked to confirm the status of the land. After much deliberation the County Council as the registering authority recognised the validity of the claim for common status even though time for registration of the category of existing commons had expired.