Carte de visite depicting a house in Cambridge

This interesting carte de visite by Mr Stearn of 72 Bridge Street Cambridge depicts a splendid Victorian town house, identified as what is now No 1 Chesterton Road Cambridge.


This house was purchased by Magdalene College in the 20th century and now forms part of their Cripps Court complex. The appearance of the house has altered somewhat and it currently sports not one, but two, large bay windows at the front and the balcony above the front door has been removed.  From the dress of the figures in this image and the reverse of the mount, this appears to be a fairly early photograph by Thomas Stearn, perhaps from the 1870s.


It is of similar age to cartes de visite with views of Cambridge colleges featured on this site, and is on a similar mount. It was initially thought to be another souvenir offering for students and visitors. It was therefore anticipated that this house may have had a famous occupant or some other reason to attract purchasers of the carte. Research so far has failed to find any such connection and it now seems more likely that the photograph was commissioned by the occupant of the house for his or her own personal use, perhaps to give to friends and relations for inclusion in their family albums. The occupant of this splendid property may have been particularly proud of his residence as evidence of his upward mobility if he had come from more humble beginnings.

It is impossible from local directories or the 1871 census to be sure who were the first occupants of this particular house. However, assuming that the one male and five females in the photograph are residents, it seems likely that they may be Cambridge solicitor William Henry Lawrence (1832-1895), his wife Ellen and four of their six daughters. Lawrence and his family were living at 28 Green Street Cambridge in 1871, but by 1881 they were living in this house, which was then called “Highclere” or “High Clare”. The family was still there in 1891, but by 1901, after her husband’s death, Ellen Lawrence had moved to Clarendon Street Cambridge.

Lawrence, born in Cambridge, son of a college porter and a college seamstress, started his legal career as a clerk to solicitor Edmond Foster. Later when he had qualified the firm became Foster and Lawrence and their office was, until 1876, at 28 Green Street  which was Lawrence’s address. The firm’s office moved to 10 Trinity Street in 1876 and this may therefore be the date that Lawrence moved his family from Green Street to Chesterton Road.

Lawrence may well be the gentleman in the top hat in the photograph. In 1876 Lawrence and his wife were both 44 and their daughters: Martha Annie, Ellen Kate, Emma Susan, Maria Louise, Rosa Alexander and Flora Amelia, ranged in age from 21 to 11 years.

Although this photograph already tells quite a story, we would welcome any further information on this house and its occupants.

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