Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Mitcham's Corner: A Brief History...

The original Mitcham's Corner c. 1940s.

Photograph by Charles Mitcham, copy supplied by Norah Wolfe.

The original Mitcham's Corner today.

The Two Seasons Sports Shop occupies the original Mitcham's Corner premises at 34, Chesterton Road. The shop was built in 1909 in the garden of "Bridge House", the Mitcham family home. The idea came from Charles Mitcham's father, James, who ran a butcher's shop in Victoria Avenue. Charles began his Chesterton Drapery Stores in the new premises.

The business expanded over the years, occupying the ground floor of Bridge House and several premises in Victoria Avenue.

Mitcham's Modern Men's Store traded for some years in the 1930s and 40s at 24c Chesterton Road.

For many years, a sign proclaiming "MITCHAM'S CORNER" was slung above the corner premises at 34, Chesterton Road. As time went on, the original junction was dubbed the "Mitcham's Corner roundabout", "Mitcham's roundabout", "Mitcham's Corner junction" or simply "Mitcham's Corner" by motorists, and the names were then applied by many to the 1967 gyratory traffic system, which incorporated Croftholme Lane into the scheme of things.

The name was often seen in print as "Mitchams Corner" (note missing apostrophe), following a change in the lettering style of Mitcham's newspaper advertisements in the 1930s. This has influenced the names of several bus stops near the Corner today - "Mitchams Corner", and the two recently re-named stops - "Mitchams towards city centre" and "Mitchams outbound". 

A recent study - The Mitchams Corner Area Strategic Planning and Development Brief draft, produced by Faber Maunsell of Bristol and Andrew Martin Associates of Chelmsford for Cambridge City Council also drops the apostrophe, and suggests that the site of the original Corner premises are a major development opportunity.

Their significance as the original Mitcham's Corner are not alluded to, although the study attaches great importance to the name throughout.

The authors conclude that the original Mitcham's Chesterton Drapery Stores building is "a relatively weak feature on such an important junction".

To return to the more distant history of the Corner, Charles Mitcham sold his Chesterton Drapery Stores in 1944 to Dupont Brothers of London, but the shop continued to trade as Mitcham's until its closure in December 1977.

I recall, as recently as the early 1990s, arranging to meet friends at the original Mitcham's Corner - it was quite a landmark years after the shop had closed. Many local people still remember the original Mitcham's Corner fondly... 

"A lot of us didn't have cars in those days and there weren't all those traffic islands like there is now. Mitcham's Corner was Mitcham's Corner to me - it was where the shop was. We're talking late '30s... before the war. I used to meet my husband-to-be there when we were courting. My mother didn't approve of him, she had very strict ideas, so I'd meet him on Mitcham's Corner because he couldn't come to our house. He was always there waiting for me. When we announced our engagement, Mum was disgusted at first but she and Bob got on like a house on fire after that. So, Mitcham's Corner, the real Mitcham's Corner, is a bit romantic to me!"

Mrs E Wright, June 2005

"You'd get over to Mitcham's Corner when they had a sale, because they had lovely bargains. The things you'd buy there, coats, dresses, material, would last a long time. It wasn't like now - things fall apart a year or so after you buy them. In those days things were made to last, and they had to last because we didn't have a lot of money to fork out. Mitcham's was lovely, it was our shop - all the people that lived in that bit of Chesterton. We were lucky to have such a lovely shop on the doorstep."

Mrs V Williams, July 2005

The history of Mitcham's and its Corner can be found in my Cambridge Town Histories volumes When Mitcham's had a Corner (which includes Norah Wolfe's memories of Charles Mitcham) and More from Mitcham's Corner.


  1. We were trying to remember what the road layout was originally like, before the 1967 "improvements". Do you have a bit of a map of the area? Mandy (whose grandmother lived in Victoria Road and frequently shopped at Mitchams).

  2. Thanks for writing, Mandy. I don't actually have a map to hand, but the traffic island houses were then on the corner of Milton Road and there was a small traffic island at the junction of Milton Road, Victoria Road, Chesterton Road and Victoria Avenue, with underground public conveniences. Croftholme Lane was not part of the scheme of things until 1967.