Fitz war memorial in jeopardy

Jonathan Laurence 20 January 2008

Fitzwilliam college authorities have re-introduced controversial proposals to build on their war memorial field.

The playing grounds – located on the college’s Oxford Road site – are dedicated to the 43 students from the former Fitzwilliam Hall who died in the First World War.

Plans to develop the site were shelved three years ago following protests from students.

Matt Henderson, Junior Members’ Assocation (JMA) Vice President at the time of the last round of proposals, said: “There was an uproar three years ago – the pressure students put on the college meant that they didn’t go ahead with it”.

But under the current plans, some of the Oxford Road site would be sold and replaced with housing, whilst the rest could potentially be used by the college for graduate accommodation, according to current Fitzwilliam JMA President Adrian Pascu-Tulbure.

Pascu-Tulbure described the potential financial gains from the move as “undeniably attractive…from the point of view of a college which is, frankly, not rich”.

But he was also quick to acknowledge the various difficulties involved in selling the Oxford Road site.

“The most important one is the emotional significance of the site as the College’s war memorial and as the oldest part of the college”, Pascu-Tulbure said.

“Put simply, selling off part of the War Memorial – even if the new site is granted War Memorial status – does not have pleasant implications,” he added.

He also said that there would probably be difficulties for the college in obtaining planning permission.

A representative of Cambridge City Council’s planning department said “I think that there would probably be an outcry”, when The Cambridge Student (TCS) told him about the college’s proposals.

The council department said that no formal attempt to gain permission to build has yet been made by the college.

According to a leaflet produced by a group of current Fitzwilliam students on the history of the Oxford Road site, the playing field was first bought by a fellow of Fitzwilliam Hall in 1908.

After the end of the First World War, the leaflet states that “contemporaries of those who died decided that the Clubs would purchase the playing field at Oxford Road…for it to become a war memorial”.

The students’ pamphlet on the site’s history was written using quotations taken from the Fitzwilliam Hall magazine. One student said in 1920: “Our domestic efforts have lately been concentrated on the purchase of the playing fields by the clubs as a permanent memorial to their members fallen in the war. All their contemporaries here feel it is what they would most have rejoiced in had they survived”.

The playing fields’ pitches were built with voluntary student labour.

In 1922, when the project was finished, it was written that: “The purchase of the Playing field will be the abiding gift of the post-war generation”.

The students’ leaflet concludes by claiming: “Compared with other Cambridge colleges, Fitzwilliam does not have an extensive history.

“Historically it is a space members of Fitzwilliam have enjoyed since its initial purchase.

“Every time we play a match at Oxford Road or enjoy Billy Day we are actively enjoying something our student ancestors built for us.

“We are also honouring the memory of those who sacrificed their lives during the War.

“It stands uniquely as a living memorial”.

JMA President Pascu-Tulbure has called an open meeting of students which the college’s bursar will attend to discuss the plans.

It will be held on Thursday January 22nd, at Fitzwilliam College’s Reddaway Room.

“As JMA President, I do not intend to express any personal opinions.

“My aim is to ensure that the dialogue between students and College authorities – whatever their opinions may be – remains transparent, respectful, and productive”, Pascu-Tulbure said.

Fitzwilliam bursar Christopher Pratt was not available for comment on the college’s proposals for the war memorial field.

Jonathan Laurence