Mary Beard warns about the widening gap between ‘town’ and ‘gown’

Joseph Winters 24 April 2014

Mary Beard has warned that Cambridge is becoming a “two-party town” as heightened security prevents residents accessing University buildings and land.

The Classics professor, who has been a fellow of Newnham College since 1984, made the claim in an article for Cambridge News, saying:  “The division of ‘town’ and ‘gown’ has grown in some ways more obvious over the 30 years I have lived here as a resident, rather than as a student.”

Beard cited the increasing concerns with security as a cause for the divide, as more college buildings, playing fields and through-ways are open only to those with an electronic University card. 

She added: “Maybe there still is some residents’ allowance for ‘access’, but they often don’t know it and it isn’t obvious. And it can make the place look (which it shouldn’t be) like a two party town.”

Yet she was keen to praise the University, blaming common misconceptions of the institution for much of the tension: “Overall, I’d like to think that we could get rid of this myth of Cambridge University as a port-swilling load of old men (and I mean ‘men’) or just leave it to the movies.

“Whatever the ‘elegant’, ‘languid’, ‘Inspector Morse-style’ image, we should be trying to get the truth across: Cambridge is a very good university indeed, an old one, but in all sorts of ways it is an ordinary one too.”

The professor argued that the University should work towards making Cambridge “a great place for everyone. Cambridge is a university and a town worth celebrating, and worth making even better.”

A spokeswoman for Cambridge University said: “Professor Mary Beard’s article is about challenging stereotypes and recognising the contribution the University of Cambridge makes both locally and nationally. It is worth reading in full.”