Hidden Art in Cambridge


The entrance to Kettles Yard.

Kettle’s Yard looks like a nice modern gallery from the street. They generally have interesting art exhibitions, and the quality of light is the gallery is lovely. So far so good, an ornament to Cambridge.

A while back, after visiting, I followed a sign out the back to the house at Kettles Yard, and fell down a rabbithole into somewhere extraordinary. 

Like all the best private houses turned museums, you have to knock at the door, and a kindly little old lady opens and settles you in, pops your bag in a cupboard and invites you to wander wherever you like, sit in the chairs, read the books. Then you are let loose into this lovely place. Originally four cottages, they were knocked together in the fifties to make one large house, open yet higgledy piggledy, full of light and wonderful objects.

The atmosphere is comfortable but informal. People really do sit in the comfortable armchairs and read, wander and chat. There are concerts there, the occasional talk. I left wanting to know more about who had put together such a wonderful home and then offered it up to the university.

It turns out Jim Ede trained as a painter and became assistant curator at the Tate in the 1930’s. He championed modern art, got to know everyone in the field, visited Brancusi’s studio in Paris, was a key part of it all. He became dissillusioned with the conservatism of management and about 1936 moved to Tangiers, where he built an early minimalist house, travelled a lot with his wife and continued to collect his favourite painters.

In 1956 he and Helen moved back to Cambridge, where he had grown up, and converted the houses and filled them with art and interesting objects. They ran an open house every afternoon, so people could knock on the door and he’d show them round (legend has it he even lent paintings for students to hang in their rooms during term time). Eventually they gave the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge, so that people could continue to enjoy it long after they were gone, and moved on to Edinburgh to start the next stage of their lives.

The upshot is that this warm and welcoming space is still open, up the only hill in Cambridge, and it’s a perfect place to spend some time of an afternoon – being surrounded by so much beauty must be good for the soul. Artists represented include Ben Nicholson, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi and Joan Miró, but that is only selected highlights.

Another nice thing is the natural objects – a basket of rounded pebbles arranged as a gradient from grey to white, the wooden cider press screw that is several hundred years old and reads as a perfect plinth, a magnifying lens hanging in front of the house plants.

Go seek out this quiet gem. Knock on the door any afternoon except Mondays. http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/

Castle Street, Cambridge CB3 0AQ UK

telephone: +44 (0)1223 352124


Pebble Spiral Kettle's Yard
Magnifying lens


Museum entrance by Andy Field
Museum interiors from Kettle’s Yard website   
Spiral of Pebbles by Ayres no graces   
Lens photograph by Major Clanger   

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

One response to “Hidden Art in Cambridge

  1. Love this blog. Makes me homesick. I was recalling the beautiful areas of England yesterday and today found your site.
    Will visit again.

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