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Laurel Court House

1870

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Laurel Court House for girls was founded by Margaret Gibson and Annette Van Dissel at first in premises on London Road in 1869 before moving to Laurel Court in the Cathedral Precincts. The school prepared pupils for university examinations and specialised in music and French and German. Miss Gibson had a forceful personality but she had eccentric tendencies. She eventually went blind but remained in charge of her school. Nurse Edith Cavell (executed by German firing squad on 12 October 1915) was a student teacher at the school before taking up nursing. In recognition of Miss Gibson’s almost 60 years as the school principal and of her services to the education of girls she was made an Honorary Freedman of the City of Peterborough in1926- the first woman to receive this honour. She died in 1928 aged 91.





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Creation of a Cathedral – and a School

1541

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To increase his control over the church in this area Henry VIII created a new bishop (the former abbot John Chambers) and Peterborough Abbey church became a Cathedral by letters patent. The foundation charter of the Cathedral, formally established on 4 September 1541, constituted a chapter of a dean (appointed by the crown) and six canons. In addition the charter established six minor canons, a deacon, sub-deacon, eight singing men, and eight choristers, two schoolmasters serving 20 scholars and six almsmen. Henry also created a grammar school in the precincts, the foundation of the King’s School.





Margaret Gibson, the First Freewoman of Peterbo...

1870

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The Laurel Court House Girls' School was first recorded in the house off the Cathedral’s cloister in 1862, one of the first girls' schools in the city. It was run for many years by the formidable Margaret Gibson and her Dutch colleague Annette van Dissel. Ms Gibson was originally from Ireland, and had settled in Peterborough in 1870, determined to run a school for young ladies. The school took both local and boarding students, taught art, music, literature and specialised in teaching French and German. Margaret Gibson ran the school with a strict discipline, but gained the respect and love of her students, particularly as she took a continuing interest after they graduated and offered help and support. In 1926 Margaret Gibson became the first woman to be given the freedom of the city of Peterborough. She is remembered for teaching Edith Cavell and for being a proud Peterborough citizen until her death in 1928.  





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Death of John Thompson, Builder and Renovator

1897

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The John Thompson saga starts in about 1820 when his father (also called John Thompson) came to Peterborough to carry our restorations to Peterborough Cathedral. With his stonework skill and his associate, Francis Ruddle’s woodworking skills the firm gradually took off.  He died in 1853 and John Thompson (Jr) took over and by 1860 he was constructing major buildings and restoring Cathedrals. At its peak the firm employed over a 1000 men. His success was such that he was Mayor of Peterborough four times! After his death the firm was carried on by his sons, so the John Thompson story involves more than just one man. In later years the firm of John Thompson (and associated companies) specialised in the provision of Church artefacts and furniture such as: altars, pews, lecterns, screens, war memorials, grave goods, organ cases, pulpits, clergy seats, desks, stools and alter rails, many fine examples of this work can be found in St Johns Church in Peterborough. The firm also built private houses and continued to build major projects but to a smaller scale (from about 1914) until in 1931 the firm went into voluntary liquidation and finally ceased trading in 1938. A quote from The Architect and Contract Reporter for 10th February 1888 says of the firm's work: ‘It is not only the structural work which is undertaken, but sculpture in wood and stone. Everything is done to ensure purity of style. Casts, photographs and drawings of the finest models are obtained, and the workshops at Peterborough are undoubtedly a most excellent art school’. The Peterborough archive houses the John Thompson archive, consisting of over 1400 photographs plus other documents. These clearly demonstrate the very special work of John Thompson and his associates. Projects include: Restorations of Cathedrals
  • Peterborough (Central Tower and West Front)
  • Lincoln
  • Rochester
  • Chester
  • Winchester (carried out major restorations including working with a diver to underpin the main walls which were about to collapse).
  • Hereford
  • Ripon
  • Litchfield
  • Bangor
  • Coventry (before it became a Cathedral)
Restoration of Churches
  • St Johns Peterborough
  • Paris: construction of the tower and spire to the American Cathedral
  • Orton Longville Church
  • Cromer Church: extending the Nave.
Plus many others New Build Churches
  • St Marks Peterborough
  • Tower of St Mary’s Church Peterborough
  • St Barnibus church Peterborough
  • St Pauls Church Peterborough
These are just the Peterborough churches, there are at least 50 others spread throughout the country Secular Projects
  • Glasgow University (two phases)
  • Selwyn College Cambridge
  • St Peters Training College Peterborough 1863
  • Extensions to the Infirmary (now Peterborough Museum)
  • Royal College of Music Kensington
  • Kings School Peterborough
  • Lonely Anzac Memorial
  (Research work done by Andrew Cole)  





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Peterborough Free Library Opens

1893

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Dr. Thomas J Walker, a prominent local member of the medical profession, was instrumental in persuading the City Council to establish a Public Library. As a consequence, the Peterborough Free Library opened on April 10th 1893 in the Fitzwilliam Hall, Park Road. The Hall began life in 1872 as a venue for entertainment, and later became known as “The Empire”. It was sited just north of the present Central Library. Applications for membership could be made on the opening day, but the first books were not actually issued until the following Thursday. Membership application was slow to begin with – apparently the opening of the library was not very well advertised in the local press. The first librarian was Mr. L Stanley Jastrzebski, who later became President of the Library Association. The library contained two sections; one for adults and one for children. The Dewey system of classification was adopted from the onset for cataloguing the books. (Mr. Melvill Dewey was Director of New York State Library.) This library was replaced in 1906 by a purpose-built library funded by the Scots-American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. References:
  1. Peterborough Standard, April 1893.
2. Peterborough Standard, August 1903. 3. Peterborough Standard, June 1906 4. Peterborough Advertiser, April 1893. 5. Peterborough Advertiser, June 1906.  





St Peter’s College Opens

1864

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St Peter's College in Midgate was opened as a teacher training college for men in 1864. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who designed many notable buildings. These including St Pancras station and the Albert Memorial in London. He was also a restorer of many churches, one of which was Westminster Abbey, where he is buried. The Midgate building is made of red brick and is a nice example of his Gothic revival style. It was enhanced, after World War II, with the addition of  a door from the bomb damaged Guildhall in London. In 1973 it was made Grade II listed. The college closed in 1914 and reopened in 1921 as a teacher training college for women. During the Second World War it was the American Red Cross Club, a centre for American servicemen in the city. One notable visitor was actor Clark Gable! After the war it was once again a training college for men. For a brief time it was use for training men and women, before it closed in 1950. In 1952 Perkins Engines bought the building and converted it into offices, renaming it Peterscourt. In its time it has also housed the Peterborough Development Corporation and, after a refurbishment in 1984, continues to be offices today. References: Secret Peterborough by June & Vernon Bull, Amberley Publishing, 2018.  





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