We used to play in the woods where Waitrose is now.
And that’s just the beginning. Step out of the back door and you are transported to another world still. There’s a model railway track around the edge of the garden – complete with tiny stations, houses and passengers – which Steve has lovingly created with his son Sam over the past four decades for their own home-made model steam engines. There’s Steve’s workshop where he whiles away many hours working on his intricate models (and in fact, where he made the old Trumpington village sign). And right at the very end of the garden, there’s a garage where Sam spends much of his spare time tinkering with an impressive collection of classic cars and motorbikes.
Steve and his wife Dee – a repertory actress, who trained in London alongside the likes of Julie Christie, Pauline Collins and close friend Jennie Linden – moved to Shelford Road from Hertford in 1972 with their two oldest sons. At the time, Steve worked in an antique shop in Hertford and decided to open up a shop in Royston, with the backing of a wealthy benefactor, who bought the three-bedroom terrace on Shelford Road for the family to live in for the princely sum of £14,000.
The characterful row of typical Victorian terraces (finished in 1902, the year after Queen Victoria died) was built for the railway workers, according to Steve. The guard who originally lived in the Harris house used to run across the fields to the station back in the days when the steam railway ran along the tracks where today’s guided busway shuttles backwards and forwards between Trumpington and the station. But in spite of Steve’s fascination for steam railways, it wasn’t this particular connection that drew him to the house in Trumpington – it was simply the location.
“It was convenient for Royston,” he says. “And we were also going to open another gallery in Cambridge. So it was a nice halfway. I could get up in the morning and roll out of bed to Royston or roll out of bed to Cambridge in the other direction.”
Steve eventually ended up buying the house from his boss, as well as buying the lease on the shop in Magdalene Street in the centre of Cambridge where he ran an antique store for many years before he had his first hip operation in the 1980s. Sam and Dee joke that many of the antiques seemed to have found their way into their own living room rather than being sold. Dee also remembers – when Sam came along in 1980 – wheeling him into the shop in an old 1950s pram, only to find when she came back that one of Steve’s customers wanted to buy the pram, not realising there was a baby asleep in it!
Today, Steve and Dee share their home with Sam, now 35, and his wife Fran and their two daughters, 13-year-old Katie and 7-year-old Amy. Sam has lived in this house all his life with views from his baywindowed-bedroom across to the cemetery on the other side of the road (this is now the bedroom his daughters share). And he remembers playing as a boy in the woods where Waitrose now stands in the shadow of the late 17th century mansion, Anstey Hall.
“It was lovely and peaceful,” recalls Sam. “I had lots of friends round here and we used to play out the back all day long because there were never really any cars out there. We used to go over the road and play in the woods where Waitrose is now. That was a nice little wooded area. There were lots of places to play. It was very pleasant indeed.”
The changes started to happen in Trumpington, says Sam, when the woodland was cleared to make way for Waitrose at the beginning of the new millennium.
“That was end of play,” he says.
“It’s almost hard to imagine what it was like now,” he adds. “When you used to walk down to where the Park and Ride is now, that was a field with tennis courts and all sorts. If I’d moved away from Trumpington and come back, I wouldn’t even recognise it. It’s only because I’ve seen it happen that it doesn’t seem so painful. It’s unbelievable, the change.”
Although Sam isn’t the biggest fan of change, he doesn’t see the new additions to Trumpington life necessarily as a bad thing. Although everyone complained about Waitrose at the time, he says, it’s very useful to be able to pop over the road when you’ve run out of milk.
“It’s handy, I have to say,” he adds. “I don’t do weekly shops there but my Mum goes there every day, and if you need a pint of milk or something it’s very convenient. They say Waitrose is expensive but you can usually get some good deals. So that’s the thing – it has been very convenient it being there, in hindsight. I know everyone was against it at the time, but there’s no point not using it when it’s there!”
The things that Sam misses most about the Trumpington of his youth include the Hobby Store model shop on Trumpington High Street – where he worked as a manager in his twenties and where he and his dad used to be regular customers until it closed its doors 18 months ago. (Last year, the shop – which Sam also remembers as a Co-op supermarket in his childhood – reopened as Cooke Curtis & Co. estate agents.) Sam also misses the Tally Ho pub, where he worked for many years as well.
“In my twenties, I used to work at the Unicorn (now the Lord Byron pub),” says Sam. “Then I was manager of Hobby Store. When the Tally Ho opened, I always fancied having a go at bar work. So I ventured the question and I got a job there. So I did evenings at the pub and days at the model shop just over the road. That was really handy!”
“Bar work doesn’t set the world on fire from a monetary point of view,” he admits. “But it’s just such a friendly sociable thing to do. And I’m very friendly and sociable. Some of my best deals have been done over the bar – buying or selling the odd classic car. The good thing about a pub is that anything you need, someone who comes in the pub has the skills to do it. So if you need a window cleaner or a plasterer, they’re usually having a pint at the bar. You can usually chat them up and do a deal. So even though you don’t get many wages, it’s extremely beneficial. Or you could just sit there all afternoon talking about classic cars, which I could quite happily do without batting an eyelid.”
Sam – who studied engineering at college and also works for Cambridge Motorcycles in Cambridge as his day job – worked on and off at the Tally Ho until it changed hands and reopened recently as Hudson’s Ale House (which was the pub’s original name).
“Again, not being a massive fan of change, when the Tally shut and we heard about the new venture, everyone was a bit perturbed by it because obviously it was another lovely old drinking hole that’s turned into some sort of gastro modern thing,” says Sam. “But I do go into Hudson’s and it’s very pleasant. The Tally Ho did need some work. It was falling apart. The trouble is that all the managers over the last few years were just fill ins. So no one put any money up because it wasn’t really their concern to do so, they were just basically renting it. But the new guy has obviously bought in so it’s in his best interest to do something to it. And what they have done to it is nice. If the Tally Ho was still next door, it would be like the perfect pair of pubs. But unfortunately it’s replaced the Tally Ho, which is a shame really.”
Despite his reservations, the newly reopened pub is still Sam’s favourite local watering hole.
“I put my head round there a fair bit and you still see the same faces,” he says. “The beer’s a bit more expensive but they have eight real ales now whereas the Tally Ho only had three and they never used to sell that many. But he seems to be able to shift real ale on a regular basis. The whole idea behind the pub is it’s local so all the real ales are from the local area, which is good. Nothing’s from further away than Norfolk.”
The former coaching inn – which has been serving beer since 1846 – braced itself for an influx of new drinkers when the new houses were first built, says Sam, but they mainly got contractors popping in after a hard day’s labour.
“I think you could count on one hand the amount of new people who actually came through the door from those thousands of new houses [to the Tally ho],” he says. “I think it’s because most of the people living in them are young people that are working and they’re up early in the morning and off to London, or off here and there. It’s just basically somewhere to sleep and live. And they don’t seem to wander down to the pub.”
So what does Sam think of Trumpington as a place to bring up his daughters, who have both been to the same local Fawcett primary school around the corner that he and his older brothers attended?
“In a way it’s nicer than it was, funnily enough,” he adds. “You’ve lost the walk through the woods and we used to love walking to the old railway line. But there are some parks being built and areas for children and obviously we’re very near the new [secondary] school. For them actually it’s probably beneficial. Because they don’t know what it was like, they don’t miss it. I enjoyed it but it was a different situation back in my day.”
“Even though I’ve seen major changes in Trumpington, it’s still not actually that major,” says Sam. “Apart from the fact that you pass a lot of houses on the way in and way out, I’ve already forgotten what it did look like.”
Trumpington residents always knew that houses were going to be built, agrees Steve, but the scale took them all by surprise.
“We didn’t think it was going to happen on the scale it has,” says Steve. “The scale is astronomical. We thought a few hundred houses might come but not thousands and thousands.”
But on a day to day notice the new developments are not affecting the Harris household too much, although Sam relies more and more on one of his 15 motorbikes these days to avoid the slow-crawling traffic along Trumpington High Street.
“My idyllic place would be somewhere in the country with all my collection in a great big barn with a big workshop where I could go out and tinker and play,” says Sam. “But maybe that’s an idyllic dream. Maybe the fact that this place is so handy, so near Cambridge, so near all the facilities like the hospital etc, maybe that’s more of a benefit than having large amounts of space. If I had a big barn attached to a large manor house, it would be full of classic cars. But the more space you have, the more you fill.”
“For being in Cambridge we’re very lucky the amount of space we actually do have,” he adds. “If you live in the centre of town, you have to park your one car on the street with your wing mirrors knocked off every week. So we are lucky to have so much parking and so much space really. But more would be nice.”
Steve agrees: “If you compare this house with the new ones that are going up, they haven’t got the space. They’re getting smaller and smaller and more and more cramped. We’ve watched them building them and they went up overnight. When we built a house years ago, you’d build it and let it settle. Today they’ve done it in a night. You’re thinking, ‘hang on that didn’t have a roof on it yesterday’. It’s a space thing. Space is money.”
Like his Dad, Sam wouldn’t be keen on living in one of the new houses they can just see from their front bedroom.
“Looking at those new houses, I could never live in a place like that,” he says. “It’s all so clinical and boring and everything looks the same. Every single house looks identical. There is no character, no nothing. And there isn’t room to swing a cat. So when you look at that, you’re quite grateful for what you’ve got.”
“If we sold this house, we could probably buy one outright,” adds Sam. “But we wouldn’t really ever want to. I mean yes, I could go down the road of getting a mortgage, I assume. I’d have to change my lifestyle and sell quite a lot of my collection, but it is possible. But I never would in a million years. I’d rather live in a tent on the green.”
In spite of their reservations about the new developments and the changes going on all around them, Steve and Sam are mostly relieved that Trumpington seems to be retaining its own identity even as it grows.
“Thank God they kept the name Trumpington,” says Sam. “There was talk of Trumpington not existing. But Trumpington is Trumpington.”
“Trumpington has always been Trumpington,” agrees Steve. “Since Roman times.”
I’d rather live in a tent on the green.