WALK 8: HAMPTON VALE TO STANGROUND/BLACK BRIDGE
The final leg of the journey to complete the circle around the city, begins at Hampton Vale. The Serpentine Green shopping centre looms over the area as a wave of new housing developments fan out around it. The Shopping center’s influence on the landscape is perhaps similar to that of the Cathedral at its centre. Due to the flat landscape, Cathedrals like those in Peterborough and Ely can be seen for a good mile or two off and have a dramatic psychological pull and impact on the area around it. Unfortunately the shopping centre is of a very bland design and reminds me more of a Panopticon than anything else.
The Panopticon design was the idea of the English philosopher and theorist Jeremy Bentham. It was intended for institutional buildings such as prisons, where a central tower would allow a single watchmen to observe the surrounding buildings and prisoners. Clearly large buildings such as shopping centers and distribution centers have as much of a dramatic impact on the psychology of the residents as Cathedrals and other large buildings have.
Serpentine Green was opened in 1999, and therefore a type of millennium building project. The concept of super-sized shopping centers forming the communal heart of new townships now seems outdated. However, as shopping is still one of the major draws for bringing visitors into a city and still makes up one of our favourite pastimes, it is inevitable to find it as the central focus here. There is perhaps hope for us all yet though, as super-size supermarkets like the Tesco here are now less popular and many recent developments have stalled or have been cancelled entirely as discounted and independent retailers have become more popular. Back in 1999 this particular Tesco was the largest in the UK. Even at the time, I remember walking its cavernous aisles, some stocked high with hundreds of the same item and wondering how the hell they were going to shift all this stuff. Surely there are not enough people in the world, but there are. A bit of background research on Serpentine reveals that Serpentine Green was a joint venture between Tesco and ‘British Land’. British Land is now one of the largest development and investment companies in the UK. Interestingly, the origins of the company date back to 1856 and the National Freehold Land Society. The society was set up by the liberals and radicals Richard Cobden and John Bright. Back in those days in order to qualify for a parliamentary vote and influence policy, you had to be a landowner. British Land purchased large areas of land to sell on allowing the opportunity for more people to qualify to vote.
Serpentine is a strange name for a shopping centre, and perhaps refers to its snake-like shape. I cannot help, but associate the name of the place with cunning and treachery and of the Serpent in the garden of Eden whose voice of temptation leads Adam and Eve to eat the apple, become aware and be expelled from their innocent existence as part of Nature in the Garden of Eden. Surrounding the shopping centre are a variety of fast food outlets…Many of the green field areas around Hampton are in the process of development or have been marked out for future use. Moving away from Hampton I pass by a large reservoir, an industrial estate and the Ikea distribution centre before reaching Old Fletton. Under the Fletton parkway, next to another new housing estate is an abandoned road. The underside of the parkway tunnel has been elaborately graphitized by Polish artists. Via Google I try to translate the words which seem to say ‘We have arrived’ and ‘Will the city help us?. Peterborough Road leads to one of the newest developments that have now effectively joined Stanground village with Farcet village. The large new housing development, with schools and a supermarket is called Cardea and is a maze of lanes and roads.
Reaching the end of Cardea near Morrison’s leads back to the edge of Stanground and Park Farm. Here Kings Dyke leads into Back River, past the houses of Stanground which still have unparalleled views across open Fen fields with their view of the chimney stacks and wind farms. The final leg of the journey passes through old Stanground which has a weathered charm unspoilt by the influence of the modern developments creeping out into the landscape a short distance away.