Eleanor Sidgwick’s hidden figures


Portrait of Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick painted by Sir James Jebusa Shannon, 1889; (c) Newnham College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

During the 1890s Eleanor Sidgwick (always known as ‘Nora’ as by her friends) loved taking part in the regular Cambridge Ladies’ Dining Society discussions. ‘I have never anywhere else seen her more alive & interested,’ her friend and fellow-member Louise Creighton recalled. ‘She used to quite flush with excitement.’ (Creighton, 97) It’s a delightful image that seems to contradict the serious face of the woman in the portrait that hangs in Newnham College, Cambridge today (see above). She was the college’s first Vice-Principal and its second Principal at the end of the Victorian era, and taught mathematics to its students. ‘We had immense respect for her,’ one of them later recalled, ‘she was soft-voiced, slight in figure and generally pale in colouring, but in her grey eyes shone the light of the pure intellectual, quite unconscious of itself, but making one painfully aware of one’s own amateurish inferiority.’ (Phillips, 54)

Although she was known for her ‘fastidious austerity’ (Fowler, 7), Nora’s students knew that she could take a joke. One college production in 1895 featured a lively song with the lines: ”Mrs Sidgwick she up an’ sez ‘Look at the fax/…the one thing we ax/Is – do treat a girl as a rational creature.” (Fowler, 20) Her marriage to Newnham’s co-founder Henry Sidgwick was both an affectionate and a deeply rational partnership, based on working together to promote equal higher education opportunities for women. (They also shared a lifelong passion for psychical research, and probably met during a séance at her brother Arthur Balfour’s house: see Jane Dismore’s excellent guest post from 2017 here.) Eleanor Sidgwick’s ODNB entry notes that ‘her concern for women to be regarded as rational creatures naturally led her to support the growing campaign for women’s suffrage.’

Growing up in the Balfours’ stately home in East Lothian, Nora had always been treated as a rational creature herself. She showed an early aptitude for mathematics, so her mother Lady Blanche insisted that she should be taught Euclid alongside her brothers Arthur, Gerald and Frank. While they all went off to study at Eton and Cambridge, Nora stayed at home to manage the three large family estates, giving her a practical education in finance that would come in useful later. At Newnham she personally micro-managed the college accounts (‘chasing twopences’) and also had the far-sighted strategy to ensure the future of its campus site by purchasing adjoining land and organizing a new road, Sidgwick Avenue, planted with plane trees that she paid for herself.


A new book by Susannah Gibson, The Spirit of Inquiry: how one extraordinary society shaped modern science (OUP, 2019) shines light on another, less well known aspect of Nora’s work in Cambridge: as a physicist who contributed to Rayleigh’s discoveries. The Philosophical Society, the subject of Gibson’s excellent book, was a scientific society for Cambridge graduates which has had a worldwide influence since 1819, but for over a hundred years it did not accept women as members because they were not permitted to hold Cambridge degrees. In my recent Times Literary Supplement review (currently only available in print or to subscribers) I wrote how my favourite chapter in the The Spirit of Inquiry is ‘A Workbench of One’s Own’ about what the Philosophical Society was missing in terms of the scientific work that Cambridge women were doing in their segregated, poorly equipped laboratories. Earlier in the book Gibson explores the work of Lord Rayleigh, who in 1904 became Cambridge University’s first Nobel Prize winner for his study of the density of gases and the discovery of Argon (see Katrina Dean’s ‘Discovery’ blogpost here). In the 1870s and 1880s Rayleigh worked alongside Cambridge graduates, but his ‘closest collaborator’, according to Gibson, was his sister-in-law Eleanor Sidgwick, ‘a brilliant experimenter ‘who co-published several papers with him and

‘worked painstakingly with Rayleigh and the others to set up the great spinning coils of wire, the scales and magnetometers, the Argand lamps, the looking glasses, and the telescopic eyepieces needed to record their measurements. The researchers often worked overnight, toiling away when the laboratory was silent and still, exhausting themselves in pursuit of the elusive numbers.’ (Gibson, 166)

Currently in Cambridge there’s a great opportunity to get a flavour of this fascinating historical scientific work in the ‘Discovery‘ exhibition at the University Library, which runs until the end of August. You can see Rayleigh’s hand-crafted bird whistles and other apparatus that he devised to detect ultrasonic waves, including a box full of bright green iridescent beetles and even a delicate blue butterfly wing used in his experiments on light waves (see photographs here).  There is Newton’s own annotated copy of the Principia, a letter that Darwin wrote from the Beagle and an early typescript of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (intriguingly with a different title). Also on display, for the first time ever, is the 1967 pulsar chart reading made by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who rolled out her experimental charts on the long floor of the old Cavendish Laboratory where she was working on her PhD. Seven years later it was her supervisor Anthony Hewish who was awarded the Nobel Prize, but despite this, Bell Burnell’s continuing work and influence have made her a role model for female scientists throughout the world. In 2018 she donated her $3 million Breakthrough Prize to the Institute of Physics to fund PhD studentships for people underrepresented in physics.

It’s not hard to imagine Nora Sidgwick’s serious face lighting up at this news. How interested she would be to see, and hear about, the scientific discoveries that male and female Cambridge scientists have made – and continue to make – by working together. Eleanor Sidgwick’s own ‘hidden figures’, like those of other women scientists, are part of that story.

© Ann Kennedy Smith, May 2019 (Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘Eleanor Sidgwick’s hidden figures’: https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

Sources: Louise Creighton, Memoir of a Victorian Woman ed. J. T. Covert (1994); Katrina Dean, ‘Discovery: 200 Years of the Cambridge Philosophical Society’ blog post at https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=17330 (accessed 11.5.2019); Helen Fowler, ‘Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick (1845-1936)’ in Cambridge Women: Twelve portraits, eds. Edward Shils and Carmen Blacker (1996) & ‘Eleanor Sidgwick (1845-1936)’ in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Susannah Gibson, The Spirit of Inquiry: how one extraordinary society shaped modern science (OUP, 2019); Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘The Ladies Dining Society 1890–1914’ in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2016); Phillips, Ann (1979), ed., A Newnham Anthology (Cambridge: CUP); E. Sidgwick, Mrs Henry Sidgwick: a memoir by her niece (1938)

Figuring Out Popova



If you picked up a copy of Figuring in something as old-fashioned as a bookshop and had never heard of Maria Popova, it would be hard to fathom exactly what you were looking at. It’s a hefty book with a bright yellow cover adorned with a mysterious flower-trumpet-diagram. On the back, instead a snappy blurb, there’s a meandering quotation from the book’s introduction that leaves you none the wiser. A glimpse inside gives few clues to the book’s contents, with lower-case chapter titles like “unmastering” and “that which exhausts and exalts”. It’s a disorientating experience, but the message is clear: Popova wants readers to abandon their preconceptions and simply dive in.

In my review of Figuring for this week’s Times Literary Supplement I did place it in a category, describing it as an unusual form of group biography (there’s a snippet of my review below – the rest is behind a paywall, but there’s an excellent essay by Ruth Scurr in this special ‘life writing’ TLS, free to read here.) My view of Popova’s book reflects my own interest in the stories of the women she describes (Margaret Fuller, Maria Mitchell, Rachel Carson) and the author herself might disagree with me about labelling it as a biography. She’s a Bulgarian-born writer who lives in New York and is the author of a popular blog ‘Brainpickings.org’ that has been covering a wide range of subjects for 13 years.


Paradoxically perhaps, the Brain Pickings website is an up-to-the minute format that goes against what Popova sees as the Internet’s tendency to place a high value on everything new. “It suggests that just because something is more recent, it’s more relevant,” she says, “yet, in culture, the best ideas are timeless, they have no expiration date.” (Guardian interview, 30.12.12)

Popova’s new book Figuring also aims to spark interest in what links a wide variety of ideas and people over a period of four hundred years. She tells the intermingled stories of individuals who refused to conform and passionately defends their choices. It’s a “cosmos of connections” with Popova as the astronaut author-pilot and personal guide. Fasten your seatbelts, readers.

©Ann Kennedy Smith (27 April 2019)

Cosmos of connections

An invasion of croquet

A new version of one of my first blogposts – about the father of Virginia Woolf, Leslie Stephen’s years as a fellow at Cambridge. He objected to fellows getting married, but later changed his mind.

The Ladies' Dining Society

Long before he became famous as the co-founder of the Dictionary of National Biography in 1885 (and as the father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell), Leslie Stephen (1832-1904) was a teaching fellow at Trinity Hall, Cambridge from 1854 until 1864. During his ten years there, he wrote a series of affectionate and sardonic essays about university life, published anonymously in 1865 in a little book called Sketches From Cambridgeby A. Don.

In the first chapter, Stephen describes Trinity Hall as ‘the ideal of a college’, with its ancient cloisters and courts surrounded by tall trees, organ music drifting through the air and the sounds of high-spirited young men making their way to lectures, as they had done for centuries. Now this scholarly idyll was under threat: women were encroaching on its hallowed ground.

We have a lawn of velvet turf, hitherto devoted to the orthodox game of bowls…

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Caroline Jebb’s calculations


It was a bright morning in late March 1875, and sunlight slanted into her bedroom. Caroline Jebb had woken early, thinking about the roll of carpet from Thomas Tapling’s in London that had been delivered to their new house the day before. She and her husband Richard, a classics don, would soon be moving into St Peter’s Terrace, a row of seven tall houses near the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It was fashionable address, but the owners, Peterhouse College, had allowed the interiors to fall into disrepair and pear trees to colonise the back garden. Caroline advised Richard to refuse to sign the lease until the college agreed to take the garden in hand and redecorate the house from top to bottom.

Six months on, the work was almost finished, with Caroline supervising every step of the process, from the most flattering shade of grey on the drawing room walls to the culling of the pear trees. The carpet was the last thing to be fitted. It was a ‘tapestry Brussels’, not expensive at only two shillings eleven pence a yard, and certainly good enough for the upstairs rooms, she thought. She had ordered a hundred yards which was plenty for three bedrooms, but after ordering it she realized that she had forgotten about the dressing room. She told Mr Burnett, her upholsterer, that she was sure that if he cut it a certain way there would enough leftover strips to cover the dressing-room. He had shaken his head and said that she would need another ten yards at least. There was always waste with carpets like that, he told her, it was to be expected. His wife might be able to do something with the off-cuts, he added, as if he was doing Caroline a favour. He was coming to cut the carpet that day and would bring his cart.

Caroline had always prided herself on being careful with money, as she had to be, with an itinerant preacher for a father. The family had lived in several American states as she grew up, but only Nashville was as cold as a English winter, she told her sister Ellen. Caroline was good with figures, even though she had left her school in Philadelphia at fifteen; calculations came naturally to her. She decided that she would get to the house before Burnett and the other workmen got there and see for herself. As she let herself out of the front door onto their quiet Cambridge street, she thought about her husband Richard, who was spending his Easter vacation visiting his elderly parents in Ireland. He would not have liked her walking through the streets at six o’clock in the morning (or indeed any time), and would have insisted on ordering a carriage for her. The expense of such a thing was ridiculous.

Parker’s Piece stretched green and fresh into the distance. Delivery boys pushed heavy barrows across the paths, and a handful of young men were up early to play football before their working day began. Outside St Peter’s Terrace, the cherry trees were in glorious blossom and inside the house smelled of fresh paint and sawdust; the decorators had been hard at work. Gardeners too, Caroline noted, looking out of the landing window, pleased to see that a dozen rosebushes had been planted around the planned croquet lawn as she had instructed and the pear trees had been forced into retreat at the bottom of the garden.

She turned from the window and walked up to her bedroom. The carpet lay rolled in its wrappings of brown paper and strings, Mr Burnett’s tool-bag on the floor nearby. I shall just have a look at it, she thought, taking his large scissors out of the bag.

Poppy Blue & Sage

‘I was very busy and very happy cutting off the lengths of carpet for my own room, when my upholsterer and factotum Mr Burnett came in, and caught me in the very act,’ she later wrote to her sister Ellen in Philadelphia. ‘He looked so shocked that I yielded my scissors and my position at once, and took on myself the harder work of putting my ideas into his head.’

Caroline was aware of how undignified she must have appeared, on her hands and knees cutting her way through carpet, with dust in her hair and smudges on her face. Whatever would Richard say? That this was not suitable work for a lady. He frequently reminded her that as an American she should take extra care in keeping up appearances in the highly traditional university town that was Cambridge.

Caroline listened politely, but suited herself. That evening she took off her street dress and instead of dressing for dinner as she did when Richard was at home, put on a loose jacket and warm woollen skirt and had her supper on a tray, sitting comfortably by the fire with her book. There was enough carpet to fit all the rooms, as long as it was cut the right way, as she knew there would be. ‘Burnett will never think so well of me again,’ she told Ellen. ‘Luckily, I don’t care.’

Ann Kennedy Smith, March 2019

Information for this scene is based on Caroline’s letter to Ellen Dupuy, 21 March 1875 from the Lady Caroline Lane Reynolds Slemmer Jebb Papers held at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.

Better Known

Rathlin Island

What does the Ladies Dining Society have in common with Rathlin Island, or adult education with Teddy Robinson?

Well, they’re just some of my choices for things I think should be better known, on this week’s episode of the ‘Better Known’ podcast series by Ivan Wise.

I recommend the interviews with Catharine Morris, Imogen Russell Williams and Emily Midorikawa & Emma Sweeney (and a whole episode dedicated to things that should be less well known) – it’s a lovely, entertaining and informative series and it was great fun taking part.

Click on the link below to listen:

Ann Kennedy Smith

An Unusual Lexicographer

Foxed 61

In the early 1980s, my summer job was helping out at the local newsagent’s in my home town, a small seaside resort in Northern Ireland. Apart from dusty tourist guides and Old Moore’s Almanack, there weren’t many books for sale. Tidying the shelves one day, how­ever, I came across a slim volume with an important-sounding title. Something told me that The Spoken Word: A BBC Guide was the book I had been wanting for a long time, without realizing it. I handed over £2 of my hard-earned wages, and took it with me when I went back to university that autumn.

Ever since then, books about words have piled up on my desk, including Fowler’s Modern English Usage, a Roget’s Thesaurus and the 1987 ‘Compact Edition’ (still huge) of the Oxford English Dictionary which came with its own magnifying-glass. But over the years Robert Burchfield’s little book – you might even call it a booklet – is the one that I have turned to most often. It helped me to learn how to write.

The Spoken Word, published in 1981, was produced in response to a wave of complaints to the British Broadcasting Corporation about falling standards in spoken English. A new era of broadcasting had begun in the 1970s, as the BBC changed from being the Reithian home of ‘received pronunciation’ to something broader, permitting more regional accents and informal language. Many people felt that the move towards linguistic diversity had gone too far, resulting in what the critic Anne Karpf so eloquently described in 1980 as ‘English as she is murdered on radio’.

The BBC felt that its broadcasters needed help in deciding what was acceptable and what was not, and commissioned a brief, no-nonsense guide from Dr Robert Burchfield. There was probably no one who knew the English language better, or how it had changed in recent times. Burchfield was the editor of the supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, the great twelve-volume dictionary that had been published between 1879 and 1933. When he first took charge in 1957, Oxford University Press estimated that the work would produce a single volume within seven years. Instead the Supplement comprised 60,000 new entries, took up four large volumes and was not completed until 1986.

Robert Burchfield was, on the face of it, an unlikely lexicographer. Born in Waganui, New Zealand, in 1923, he later claimed that his parents had just one book in the house, a socialist tract. In 1944, while on wartime service in Italy, he stumbled across Frederick Bodmer’s The Loom of Language: A Guide to Foreign Languages for the Home Student. It was a book that changed his life, sparking off a fascination with words and their origins. After the war, he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and moved to Oxford, where he was taught by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Burchfield might easily have opted for a quiet, scholarly life working on Old Norse poetry, but instead he accepted the challenge of bringing the Oxford English Dictionary into the twentieth century.

Updating the OED was a monumental task, requiring dogged patience and a team of dedicated workers, one of them the young Julian Barnes. The first two volumes of the Supplement (A–G and H–N) appeared in 1972 and 1976 respectively and, to his surprise and delight, Burchfield became something of a celebrity. He was a genial figure who featured on Desert Island Discs and regularly appeared on radio and television to give his views on current trends in spoken English. ‘I can’t understand what the young are saying any more,’ the former Prime Minister Edward Heath grumbled to him on the BBC’s Nationwide in the summer of 1979.

In The Spoken Word, Burchfield managed to offer soothing reassur­ance to the querulous while politely confirming that the English language was in flux, just as it always had been. ‘In what follows’, he says at the beginning of the book,

it is assumed that the speaker uses received Standard English in its 1980s form. The form of speech recommended is that of a person born and brought up in one of the Home Counties, educated at one of the established southern universities, and not yet so set in his ways that all linguistic change is regarded as unacceptable.

Although I hadn’t at that time set foot in England (and I was a ‘she’ not a ‘he’) it was clear that The Spoken Word was aimed at anyone who was interested in speaking and writing more clearly. Rather than strict rules of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar, the book has ‘preferences’. Burchfield is like a knowledgeable friend who keeps a steady hand on the tiller, pointing out the occasional treacherous current and rocky outcrop while reassuring us that the boat is sea­worthy and safe. You feel you can trust him.

Much of his advice on pronunciation is still pertinent: ‘be careful not to garble words’, ‘avoid the use of reduced forms like “gunna, kinda, sorta, wanna”’. Other recommendations are showing their age, as you might expect. Who now places the stress on the first syllable of ‘despicable’ and ‘temporarily’, or makes the final ‘t’ in ‘restaurant’ silent? And, for that matter, does anyone now worry about the correct pronunciation of ‘contumely’? (Three syllables, not four, if you’re wondering.) Burchfield is sanguine about such changes, pointing out that ‘the pronunciations that are not recommended may well prevail, as time goes on, within a period of about half a century’.

In the things that matter, The Spoken Word has stood the test of time well. Burchfield recommends avoiding clichés (‘at the end of the day’) and using an unnecessarily long word when a short one will do (‘severe, harsh, cruel are better than “Draconian”’). Be precise, he advises broadcasters: instead of ‘industrial action’ ‘specify the type: strike, work to rule, overtime ban, etc’. Such echoes of long-ago bat­tles can be heard in his advice on how to pronounce ‘dispute’ (noun and verb). Burchfield prefers the stress on the second syllable for both but notes that ‘the influence of usage by northern trade union leaders is tending to bring the form with initial stress into prominence’. It is a reminder of how our spoken language is a reflection of our times, in this case the early 1980s stand-offs between the trade unions and Margaret Thatcher’s newly elected Conservative government (‘first ‘n’ fully pronounced and never ‘guv-ment’).

As a lexicographer, Burchfield was aware that the English language was becoming increasingly informal. ‘Slang is the language of the future,’ he told those who questioned its inclusion in the OED. Some uses of vocabulary were less negotiable than others, however. He notes that using disinterested to mean uncaring ‘attracts more comment from listeners than any other word in this list with the possible exception of hopefully’. In the sense of ‘it is to be hoped [that]’ this dangerous word is deployed ‘only by the brave or by young people unaware of public hostility to the use’, he warns. And even the bravest or most informal speaker should be aware of grammatical gaffes such as false concord. ‘Every one of those present were members of the union’ (Correctly: ‘Every one of those present was a member of the union’).

It is hard to disagree with this (did broadcasters really need reminding?), but one wonders how necessary it was in the 1980s to be able to carry through a sentence with ‘one’ as a subject. Just in case, Burchfield quotes Iris Murdoch to show how it should be done.

One’s best hope is to get into one of those ‘holes’ where one’s two neighbours are eagerly engaged elsewhere, so that one can concentrate upon one’s plate.

Relevant or not, such quotations make The Spoken Word a con­tinuing pleasure to read. Although the guide is ostensibly about the spoken language, Burchfield’s examples show how writers like George Bernard Shaw make anything possible. ‘If it doesn’t matter who any­body marries, then it doesn’t matter who I marry and it doesn’t matter who you marry.’ Language, in the right hands, can do any­thing it wants.

The duality of his approach can be seen in the section in which Burchfield sides with Fowler in making the case for the occasional split infinitive, and offers his own preference:

Avoid splitting infinitives wherever possible but do not suffer undue remorse if a split infinitive is unavoidable for the natural and unambiguous completion of a sentence already begun.

Then the schoolmaster gives way to the romantic, and he gives Iris Murdoch’s words as a ‘model example’ of a perfectly deployed infin­itive: ‘I wanted simply to tell you of my love.’

Robert Burchfield’s job as a lexicographer was to be dispassionate about language, but The Spoken Word reveals him to be a lover of words and literature. He quotes from writers as disparate as Fielding, Carlyle and Jowett, and Dryden rubs shoulders with Graham Greene and Martin Amis. His enjoyment in writing the book is plain to see, and it is infectious. He would have agreed with Virginia Woolf who said that words are, by their nature, impossible to pin down:

you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabet­ical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind.

Her own spoken words – the only known recording of her voice – were captured by a radio broadcast in 1937, when the BBC still saw itself as a guardian of the language. In The Spoken Word Burchfield reminds us that words, like butterflies, should never be imprisoned. They will always escape in any case.

Ten years after I bought The Spoken Word, I replied to an adver­tisement requesting ‘a harmless drudge’ and soon afterwards joined a team of lexicographers at Cambridge University Press. The first edi­tion of the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, aimed at students of English as a second language, appeared in 1995 and was, I am pleased to say, a modest success. Nowadays, most people tend to consult an online dictionary or thesaurus, and it’s easy to find free advice on grammar and ‘good English’ via the Internet. But for some of us, there will always be room on our desks for books about words.

Ann Kennedy Smith is a writer and researcher in Cambridge. She is no longer a harmless drudge, but still loves words.

Extract from Slightly Foxed Issue 61 © Ann Kennedy Smith 2019

This article first appeared in Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly, Issue 61, Spring 2019.

The independent-minded quarterly that combines good looks, good writing and a personal approach, Slightly Foxed introduces its readers to books that are no longer new and fashionable but have lasting appeal. Good-humoured, unpretentious and a bit eccentric, it’s more like a well-read friend than a literary magazine. Single issues from £12; annual subscriptions from £48. For more information please visit www.foxedquarterly.com



Looking back at the Ida Darwin

Ida Darwin siteThese are the last days of the Ida Darwin site, next to Fulbourn Hospital a few miles south of Cambridge. I went to have a look around there recently. It was a cold Sunday afternoon, and the wintry sun was just setting, throwing long, soft-edged shadows across the frosty grass and lighting up the low redbrick buildings dotted about the complex. A small plane glinted silver as it buzzed overhead, and the branches of the tall trees glowed apricot against the bright blue sky. At my feet, tiny red and green flags on the lawns showed the way for the bulldozers that will soon be arriving.

The original hospital was built in the 1960s, commissioned as a series of inpatient wards for the care of 250 children and adults with learning disabilities and named after Ida Darwin in recognition of her pioneering, but little known, work in mental welfare. She died in 1946, the year that the NHS was formed, and years before mental health services  became the national organization known as Mind today. “Reform of the legislation around mental illness had to wait until the Mental Health Act of 1959” as one informative website puts it. In 1965 the Ida Darwin was hailed as a progressive establishment, but by the 1980s the model of institutional care that it provided had become outdated. Residents moved in increasing numbers to supervised domestic housing in the community, and it was decommissioned as a hospital. Over the past twenty-five years the site has continued to operate, instead, as a collection of separate clinics, day-care centres and community services.

There are still three NHS mental health inpatient units for children and young people based there: the Darwin Centre for Young People, the Phoenix Centre and the Croft Child and Family Unit. On my walk that Sunday I could see a faint curl of smoke from a chimney from the Darwin Centre, one of the larger and more recently renovated buildings on the complex, and cars parked outside. The rest of the site looks as if it was abandoned long ago. High fences protect empty buildings from vandals and intruders, and weeds are already twining green strands through the metal bars.

I followed the path towards Block 10, the former home of Headway Cambridgeshire, the charity for brain-injured adults that moved to the Ida Darwin in 2012. It was never likely to be their permanent home, because that was the year that the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) sold the entire site to Homes England. The 1960s redbrick buildings were no longer considered ‘fit for purpose’ and were too expensive to renovate, and it was argued that the money raised by selling the estate would be used more usefully to develop NHS services elsewhere. Outline planning permission has now been granted for two hundred new houses to be built there, and the services based on the Ida Darwin site are one by one moving to new locations.

During the six years it was based at the Ida Darwin, Headway Cambridgeshire made Block 10 a pleasant and comfortable space, with a much-loved garden, small gym and bright day rooms with large windows giving views of the changing colours of the many trees on the site. In 2017 I spent an afternoon there, invited to give a talk to a group of service-users and staff who had been researching a project about the life of Ida Darwin and why the site was named after her. Along one wall was a brightly coloured mural marking the stages of Ida’s life, up to and after she co-founded the Cambridgeshire Mental Welfare Association in 1908, one of the first organizations of its kind. It formed part of the research group’s exhibition and timeline presentation, and the excellent short film ‘Looking Back at Making Headway’ (2017).

‘We’ve made this amazing project’, as Nick says. ‘So look.’

The Headway Cambs research group’s work will continue in 2019 with a centenary project, aided by National Lottery funding, exploring and interpreting the history of people with brain injuries in Cambridgeshire as a result of the First World War. It will focus on the untold history of the soldiers of the Cambridgeshire Regiment who received brain injuries, and the hospitals in Cambridge where they were treated. The work will be presented in an exhibition and book and all progress will be reported in a podcast run by Cambridge 105 Radio Station. I wish Headway Cambs all the best for their new research project, and their new home.