Could The Sir Isaac Newton pub be on the site of Cambridge’s oldest inn?
In the second century AD, a Roman building ‘ which may have been a wayside pub or inn… lay partly beneath the Isaac Newton public house’ on Castle Street (Alison Taylor, Cambridge – The Hidden History). A deep cellar and drinking vessels were also found. It’s quite staggering to think that nearly 2,000 years ago, people may have enjoyed a brew in a pub on this very spot, near the crossing of two main Roman roads, Worstead Street (Via Devana) and Akeman Street.
The Sir Isaac Newton pub today has a modern extension which masks the history of the pub. A pub of that name has stood on this site since at least the 1870s, with a beer retailer here perhaps as early as the 1850s – around the same time as the adjacent Prince Albert, which closed around 1913. Ekin’s brewery on nearby Magdalene Street owned the Sir Isaac Newton until 1888 when it was sold to Hudson’s Cambridge and Pampisford Brewery. By 1890 Hudson’s brewery owned both the Sir Isaac Newton and the Prince Albert.
In the early 1980s, the pub and neighbouring buildings faced demolition when a new office development took place around it, but it escaped the bulldozer then. However, the modern extension to the building was carried out in 1987 during which part of the old building may have been demolished. The pub changed from a managed house to a leasehold in 2005.
The modern extension where the bar now sits has an interior balcony complete with ceiling painting of an apple tree. The oldest part of the building is a bit neglected though, mostly taken up with a pool table, a fruit machine and a store room. It’s a pleasant enough pub with friendly staff, and by far the nicest of the nearby buildings at the top end of Castle Street.
Beyond this point Castle Street is uninspiring, with a row of 1970’s flats opposite and an office development leading to a busy, awkward road junction. How has this spot, in a historic area of Cambridge, become such an eyesore.