The history of Owlstone Croft is part of the history of Paradise. In The Cambridge Nobody Knows, F.A. Reeve wrote:
Today, the name Paradise designates the small island beside the nature reserve adjoining Owlstone Croft, but formerly it embraced the whole area up to the Lammas Land. There were once tennis courts known as the Paradise Courts on the University Hockey Ground. [This hockey ground, located at the junction of Barton Road and Grantchester Street, has since been developed for housing].
References to Paradise go back a long way. The earliest mention of bathing in Cambridge records that in 1567 the son of Walter Haddon, while at King's College, was drowned "while washing himself in a Place in the river Cham called Paradise", and William Stukeley, the eighteenth century antiquary, when at Corpus College in 1704 wrote:
"I used to frequent, among other lads, the river in Sheep's Green, and learnt to swim in Freshman's and Soph's Pools, as they are called, and sometimes in Paradise, reckoning it a Beneficial Exercise".
And it was here, in 1811, that Byron's brilliant friend Matthews became entangled in weeds and was drowned. ....
The larger area now called Owlstone Croft was formerly called Paradise Garden. In 1740 it was taken over by Mr Rowe, who had introduced into Cornwall a system of forcing early vegetables for the London market, and here he produced them in a scientific way. His son Richard became associated with a Dutch bulb grower, outstripped all competitors in the production of beautiful flowers, and invented the hyacinth glass for growing bulbs in water only.
In the Grantchester Parish Enclosure Award 1802, the site now known as Owlstone Croft is shown as plot 96, and listed as a Garden of 2 acres 0 roods 38 poles (2.24 acres, slightly smaller than the present site), owned by Mary Harrison, "in the Occupation of Rd Row". Of the roads, only those now known as Grantchester Street (extending to Paradise Island) and Grantchester Meadows are shown, together with a branch from Grantchester Street to the site now known as Owlstone Croft. This branch survives today as a track for part of its length, connecting to the south end of Owlstone Road, which did not then exist. The branch road connecting Grantchester Street to Owlstone Croft is described in the Award as:
"One other Private Carriage and Drift Road of the like breadth of twenty Feet leading from and out of the last described Private Road [Grantchester Street] and extending in a North and North West direction through and over an Allotment [now part of Paradise Nature Reserve] hereinafter awarded to the said Master Fellows and Scholars of Benet College [Corpus Christi] into the said Garden Ground [Owlstone Croft] belonging to Mary Harrison now in the Tenure of Richard Rowe ... "
The directions "North and North West" appear to be errors (consistent with the equally erroneous earlier description of Grantchester Street as extending Eastward!), but the existence of two directions is accounted for by the turn in the road in front of the present cottage, before heading towards the Garden site proper.
The site was sold by auction on May 27th 1879, and the accompanying site plan is titled:
Plan of an Estate at Grantchester, Cambs, known as "Paradise".
The site is still shown as 2 acres 0 roods 38 poles. There is a house on the site of the later house, but smaller, and various other outbuildings. F.A. Reeve continues:
When the estate was bought in 1879 by Major R. Calvert, Chief Constable of the County Police, the grounds were described as "not to be surpassed in the Neighbourhood for Growth and Beauty" and they had "upwards of 355 square yards of Brick Walls all clothed with choice Fruit Trees". The house was rebuilt, with cottages for a coachman and a gardener, in 1881.
It is not clear how extensive the rebuilding of 1881 was. Careful scaling from the 1879 plan shows that all the external walls of the pre-1881 building correspond to external or internal walls of the later building, so the 1881 work might have been just a major extension to the north of the old building, more than doubling the size of the house.
The site, now described as Owlstone Croft, Grantchester, was sold again in June 1892. The plan shows the 1881 house labelled "Owlstone" and the cottage described as "Two Lodges". Behind the cottage is shown a "Carriage House", and beyond that "Stables, Harness Room and Loft over". These survive as part of the later Nurses Training School. The 1892 plan shows the original site of 2 acres 0 roods 38 poles as being sold Freehold, with an additional area of 30 poles along the south side shown as Leasehold. It is on this leasehold southern extension that the cottages, carriage house and stables were built. F.A. Reeve notes:
In 1914, A.B. Lassiter used it as a school for young women.
From the 1920s to the 1940s, the site was owned by Theodore Fyfe, M.A., F.R.I.B.A. who was for a time Professor of Architecture at the University. During his time, the first extensions to Owlstone were made.
In 1919, the room now known as OCA22 was extended beyond the original front of the house (marked by the eastern walls of OCA21 and OCA27).
In 1929, a new three-storey extension was added to the south of the house, forming the rooms now known as OCA1-2, OCA35-38, OCA54-56.
In 1936, a ground floor service block was added to the north of the original house.
In 1938, the room now known as OCA20, and equivalent area on the ground floor underneath, was added on the north-east corner to the 1919 extension.
In the late 1940s, the site was purchased by Addenbrooke's Hospital, for use as a Nurses' Hostel. The single storey extensions which now comprise the Common Room, the disused dining rooms, and the former Sisters' Dining Room (now Computer Room) were erected quite soon after, and the stables were extended to become a Nurses' Training School.
Around 1955 the four-storey building now known as Block B was erected to the south of the 1929 extension. It originally had 75 bedrooms, but 10 were subsequently converted to self-catering kitchens and a launderette.
In 1963, a new single storey block of light-weight construction was erected in an L-shape surrounding a tennis court. It provided a further 48 bedrooms, together with bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. A glazed corridor connected it to Block B.
As Addenbrooke's Hospital moved out of the city centre to its new site south of Cambridge, the usage of Owlstone Croft began to diminish. The communal kitchens and dining halls closed, and were replaced by self-catering arrangements. The Nurses Training School closed, and for a while in the 1980s it was leased to the Social Services department of the County Council. The 1963 Block C closed at the end of 1986. For a period, some of the rooms in Blocks A and B were let to students of the C.C.A.T. (now Anglia Ruskin University).
Owlstone Croft was purchased by Queens' College in July 1988. A campaign began to refurbish Blocks A and B for post-graduate accommodation, but this could not be completed in time for the new academic year starting in October 1988. Block A and part of Block B were made ready in time. Because of an accommodation crisis, Block C was re-opened for a short but memorable period. Following that, Block C was finally de-commissioned, and the connecting corridor demolished. The whole of Blocks A and B were occupied for October 1989.
In 1997, all bedrooms were supplied with telephone service (since discontinued), and an entryphone system from the main front door.
In 1998, the former Sister's Dining Room was set up as a computer room, refreshed with newer Macs in 2000, and in 2001 this was further enhanced by being upgraded and incorporated into the University's PWF system, now the Managed Cluster Service.
In the summer of 2001, Block B was refurbished. The self-catering kitchens were relocated and extended, and the launderette was closed, with a net gain of two new student bedrooms (which necessitated a complete re-numbering of rooms). All baths, showers, and WCs were scrapped and renewed in an improved layout. A new launderette was built in the refurbished 1936 extension north of Block A. The derelict Block C was demolished down to its foundation slab. The cottage was re-roofed to prevent further interior decay, and internally stripped out.
In 2014, the disused dining room attached to Block A was converted to new en-suite student accommodation, and the old nurses' training school begun conversion to a college nursery, with five new en-suite student bedrooms above.