The Flying Pig

The Flying Pig stands next to the former Osborne Arms on Hills Road. Both pubs date from the 1830s but the Osborne Arms closed earlier this year and will soon be demolished to make way for more development.

Flying Pig, Osborne Arms

This fate also threatens the Flying Pig – Punch Taverns sold both pubs to Pace Investments who want to ‘build flats above and a basement below, so one idea is to dismantle the pub brick by brick and then reinstate the exterior and interior, surrounded by new development’ (Cambridge News).

Osborne Arms, Flying Pig

Whether it is demolished or dismantled and rebuilt, it’s hard to see how it won’t feel altered and overshadowed by the 150+ flats and several shops that are set to join the large new office block recently built next door. With this in mind, we decided to pay another visit to enjoy the ambience before it changes.

Flying Pig

And the ambience inside is what makes this pub. The wooden floors, poster covered walls and ceiling, yellowed from the years as a smoky bar, and rows of bottles are dimly lit by red lights, and in the evening, candles. The music is just at the volume where it improves the conversation, and few conversations aren’t improved with a background of Al Green, Muddy Waters and Canned Heat. Certainly the ambience is better than that described in a guide from 1975 when ‘the public bar suffered from the same piped music as the lounge’.

Pool room

The back room is just about large enough for a few people around the pool table. It feels like the kind of place where smoking should still be allowed.

Flying PigThe Flying Pig seems to have at one time been called the Engineer, more often named as the Crown Inn from c.1870s, keeping that name for over a hundred years.

In the nineteenth century patrons of the two pubs probably included workers on the nearby railway and station, opened in 1845, and later those from the cattle market, opened in 1885 – a row of cattle pens are shown behind the Osborne Arms on a map from the 1880s. In 1975 a pub guide says custom of the Osborne Arms was then mainly drawn from an adjacent bus depot, no longer there.

Pig Heads

When we visited we enjoyed a fine couple of pints of Moonshine Once In A Blue Moon. Also on were Crouch Vale Brewers Gold, Elgoods Beach Collieball and Black Sheep Best Bitter.

Maybe the Osborne Arms didn’t deserve to stay open. The place had seemed unloved for years, the ‘arm’ having fallen off a while ago, and prior to closing it served only uninspiring lagers. The same can’t be said of the Flying Pig. It deserves to stay open – needs to stay open – a laid back, characterful retreat from the encroaching modern development.

Other relevant links:
Cambridge CAMRA article
Osborne Arms signboard
Flying Pig pub games


10 responses to “The Flying Pig

  1. I visited this pub recently, probably the best one I went to in Cambridge. A couple of pictures here:

  2. Thanks for the link – I’ve added it to the post and I’ll keep a look out for any interesting pub games I see

  3. I wrote a review of this most excellent pub for ALE a couple of years ago.
    I really must do a blog post on the sign (old and new) at some point . . .
    Never heard of it being called the Engineer before, though. Can you expand on that?

  4. Thanks for your comment Steve, I’ve added a link to your article, perhaps you could help shed some light on this?

    I made the assumption that the Flying Pig had at one time been called the Engineers, based on the Spalding’s Street Directory from 1878 and 1881. These show a Thomas Richardson at Crown (number 42) then the Engineers (43) respectively. I know that some Cambridge streets were renumbered between those dates, so considered it possible this was the same landlord in the same building but the building was renumbered.


    42 Richardson, Thos, Crown Inn
    43 Ranson, John, Railway Vue

    41 Richardson, Thom, innkeeper, “Engineers”
    42 Ransom, John, innkeeper, “Osborn Arms”

    Adding to this the information on (Kellys Directory and Census) which, if correct, seems to suggest that Thomas Richardson was the landlord of the Crown during at least the period 1878 to 1883, but that it was recorded as the Engineers in 1881. It also seems to show that the Osborn(e) was previously called the Railway Vue.

    Thomas Richardson:
    1878 Crown – Spaldings (42)
    1879 Crown – Kellys
    1881 Engineers – Spaldings and Census (41)
    1883 Crown – Kellys

    John Ranson:
    1878 Railway Vue (43)
    1879 Osborne – Kellys (43) (Ransom)
    1881 Osborne – Spaldings and Census(43) (Ransom)
    1883 Osborne – Kellys (43)

    It is of course possible that these were three or four differnt pubs, in that immediate area, and that landlords moved between them, and then back again during this brief period, and that renumbering has added to the confusion. It’s also possible that there was more than one Thomas Richardson or that John Ransom and John Ranson were two different people and not just mispellings of the same surname. I’d be very interested to know what your reading of this all is?!

  5. Thanks for the extra detail! I was going by the info on the pub history site plus a couple of old Post Office directories (which don’t include street numbers, annoyingly), none of which mention an Engineer at all, so that fills in a few gaps. And I’d never made the link between the Obsborne and the Railway Vue, so thanks for that.

    Based on your extra info I think I agree with your reading. Interesting that ‘Engineer’ seems to be such a short-lived rebranding, though, especially as there is no change of licensee. There is a more recent example (King Street Run reverting briefly to Horse & Groom in ?the late 1980s?) but normally renamings tend to stick. Maybe it was a semi-official nickname for a short period.

    There was certainly a wholesale renumbering of Hills Road at some point, hence the Crown/Flying Pig now being at 106; but just changing one figure looks more like an error, or possibly hints at an expansion into an adjacent plot.

    1878 seems to be the earliest recorded date for both of these as pubs, then: neither appears in the 1869 PO directory, or anything I’ve got access to from before then. But the buildings are obviously older than that.

  6. Thanks for your comments and the extra info.

    It’s still a bit of a puzzle. However, I’ve looked at all the dates again (mostly from pubshistory) and it appears to correct one thing:

    The Railway Vue and the Osborne were almost certainly two different pubs and not, as I supposed, a renaming of one pub. They are both recorded in 1852 (Slaters) and 1871 (Census) .

    The Osborne could be the earliest of the pubs, recorded in 1839 (Robsons). John Ransom (or Ranson) seems to have moved from the Railway Vue to the Osborne between 1878 and 1879.

    There are a two dates when three of the pubs are recorded:
    1852 (Slaters) – Engineers, Railway Vue and Osborne.
    1871 (Census) – Crown, Railway Vue and Osborne

    The Engineers and Crown are not recorded together on any date, and the dates given might lead one to believe that it started out as the Engineers (1851 Gardners) then became the Crown from 1871 (Census) onwards. What’s puzzling is that the 1881 Spaldings and Census both record an Engineers. This leads me to think the Engineers and Crown were either:

    – two pubs, not named together because of errors or gaps between known records etc
    – one pub, the Engineers, becoming the Crown by 1871, briefly renamed Engineers around 1881 then reverting to Crown by 1883 (and later, the Flying Pig presumably).

    I hope to find records that might solve it! In the meantime I’ll amend this blog post to reflect the above.


  7. The deeper you look, the more confusing it gets . . .

    I’ve had a sharper-eyed look at the Post Office Directories and come up with this to add to the tangled skeins:

    Railway Vue, 44 Hills Rd. Wm Ransom
    No mention of Crown, Engineer or Osborne.

    Crown, Hills Rd (no street number), Thos Richardson
    Osborne Arms, Hills Rd (no street no), John Ransom.

    Curiouser and curiouser

    • Some further data.

      PO directory 1847:
      Railway Vue – Mary Ann Halls
      Osborne Arms – James Tofts
      Engineer – George Traise

      Slaters 1850:
      Railway Vue – Simeon Easy
      Osborne Arms – Abraham Prime
      Engineer – George Traiser

  8. I remember the Osborne Arms from schooldays, as that was where most of the 13/14-year olds tried to get served (often successfully). The Flying Pig was avoided, quite simply because it didn’t want to attract a crowd of underage drinkers asking for snakebite or lager, because we didn’t get served if we were noticeably under age, and because it wasn’t the sort of pub one went to if one wanted to get horrendously drunk & pretend to be cool.

    Well done, Flying Pig!

    Years later, those points still applied, although now, being of legal drinking age, I began to see them as positives. Here was a pub where one could have long, uninterrupted chats, have an excellent selection of real ales, and escape from the non-description dullness of the chains, each serving up the same bland mix of characterless decor, indistinguishable squirts of yellowish liquid masquerading as beer, and populated by braying oiks.

    Were one to compare it to literature, the Flying Pig would be an Ernest Hemingway, upholding standards amidst a flood of Jeffrey Archers, Dan Browns or Alexander McCalls. Were one to compare it to food, the Pig would be an Anthony Worrall Thompson Steak & Kidney pie, rather than a McDonalds Cheeseburger or an Iceland frozen kebab.

    I no longer live in Cambridge, but whenever I am back, I look forward to a visit to the Flying Pig, a pub that oozes character & good beer in equal measure.

    I wish you the best of luck and hope that you will still be there when I next alight at Cambridge train station.

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