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Rebuilding the Central Tower

1883

Information

The central tower of Peterborough Cathedral was rebuilt for a second time in 1883. After this the whole central and eastern area of the church required refurbishment. This provided an opportunity for the creation of the fine, hand carved choir stalls, cathedra (bishop's throne) and choir pulpit. The marble pavement and high altar which are at the centre of worship today, were also created. The works led to the discovery of some of the Saxon church foundations and Roman stonework under the central tower and south transept. A tunnel was left so that these could be accessed.  





Cubbit’s Iron Railway Bridge Built

1850

Information

Cubbit's iron bridge (The Nene Viaduct), is a railway bridge immediately south of Peterborough railway station that carries trains across the River Nene. It was built in 1850 by father and son Sir William Cubitt and Joseph Cubitt for the Great Northern Railway (GNR) and was constructed using cast iron. It spans the River Nene in three arches. It's design and construction is of such note that it is a Grade II listed building    





The Building of the Queensgate Centre

1978

Information

The Queensgate Centre was designed by Keith Maplestone the Development Corporation Architect and the main contractor was John Laing Construction Ltd. Initially there were two problems. For the project to proceed five major space users were needed and the contractor had to overcome the technical difficulties of constructing a basement with approximately 1 km of walling in an area of many old buildings. Eventually all the major space users were signed up: John Lewis Partnership, British Home Stores, C and A, Littlewoods and Boots, so the project could proceed. A special method was devised to provide the basement; it was called a diaphragm wall and consisted of piling 950mm diameter bores into the ground in panels approximately 10m long and going down 13m. On the completion the soil within the wall was removed and a concrete floor, service cores and a ramp was constructed. In the spring of 1978 the project started. The site which had been partly open car parks, old factory and shop buildings was now clear and flat. The site offices were constructed against the newly moved Bourges Boulevard roundabout. Dark green hoardings with a yellow band at the top were erected around the site. The excavators and cart-away lorries arrived and began to dig the site to level, and cart away thousands of M3 of spoil from excavations which were deposited on the south side of the Longthorpe Parkway adjacent to the rowing lake. This area is now wooded and is approximately 7m higher than its natural level. Queensgate consists of four buildings. John Lewis is a reinforced concrete building constructed separately from the rest of the centre. The Malls, central area and east end (Boots) structure is all founded on bored piles and pile caps. The car parks are reinforced concrete structures. The bus station is made of structural steel and glass. The Westgate elevation (John Lewis) is clad in Williamson Cliff hand made yellow bricks including many of special shape. Long Causeway Elevation is made of white Portland limestone cladding i.e. stone sheets fixed to the structure using metal ties. The basement was excavated and a temporary scaffold bridge was provided to allow pedestrians to pass from the Westgate Arcade to Cumbergate. Reinforced concrete columns rose and stair and lift towers appeared. The concrete upper floor slabs were poured onto moulds called waffles. Brickwork began to be built and gradually Queensgate took shape and became watertight, it was time for the fitting out to take place. The malls received a marble floor, ceilings went in and glass balustrades were erected around the balconies and escalators and lifts were installed. Queensgate was opened in 1982.





Resources

When Cow Dung Fuelled the City

1698

Information

When Celia Fiennes travelled through the city in 1698 she noted that local people near 'Mrs St John's house' (Thorpe Hall) were using cow dung for fuel: 'as I passed the Road I saw upon the walls of the ordinary peoples houses and walls of their out houses, the Cow dung plaister'd up to drie in Cakes which they use for fireing, its a very offensive fewell (fuel), but the Country people use Little Else in these parts.'  Cow dung was a free and effective fuel for the people of rural Peterborough, but the smell would not have been popular! There had been a shortage of wood since the 1550's, so burning cow dung was a sensible alternative for the very poor who were unable to afford expensive wood supplies, or cut down their own wood. Other alternatives for fuel would have included peat, charcoal and coal, none of which were particularly pleasant on the eyes or lungs. Animal dung has been used as a fuel since prehistoric times, with evidence from the Ancient Egyptians using dung as fuel and even references to it being used in the bible. Many areas of the world use animal dung as fuel.





John Forster, Graffiti Artist

1687

Information

The graffiti scratched onto the walls of the eastern end of the cathedral are numerous. They vary in size and form, but almost all contain initials or names of the artist. One of the best names to search for is John Forster, who rather enjoyed scratching his name in the walls. His letter form is rather impressive and he has had enough time to fully form his name and date it. We can assume that he enjoyed making his mark because his name appears twice on the wall of the New Building.
Where to find it
His first signature (should that be graffiti tag?!) was scratched at the north east end of the cathedral. It is dated 1687. Further east on the same wall you can find his second attempt from 1688. Rather pleasingly it is easy to see an improvement in his letter formation and a more confident signature. He used an I in place of J for John because the letter J hadn't come into use yet.
Who was John Forster?
John Forster was likely to have been a pupil of King's School, which was based in the cathedral grounds at that time. How he managed to find the time to mark his name in such detail, we will never know. We can only guess what his punishment would have been if he was caught doing it.





Death of John Thompson, Builder and Renovator

1897

Information

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)  





Resources

Laying of the Corner Stone

1884

Information

In the Peterborough Advertiser of 17th March 1933 was an article about the retirement of Mr Samuel Bird. He had worked for nearly 60 years for the Peterborough Building Contractor John Thompson. Mr Bird was interviewed by the newspaper at the age of 77. He was interviewed in his office situated in the extensive yards at the Thompson business premises in Cromwell Road. On 1st January 1883, Mr Bird took charge of the rebuilding of the Central Tower of Peterborough Minster. The work was so complex it took a total of ten years to complete. Mr Bird had vivid memories of the laying of the corner stone of the north east pier of the tower on 7th May 1884. He recalled that the chief stone was laid by the Earl of Carnarvon in the name  of H.R.H Prince Albert Edward of Wales. Mr Bird remarked ‘copies of the Advertiser and The Times together with current coins of the realm, from £1 to a silver penny, new from the mint, were placed beneath the stone. Mr James T. Irvine was the clever Architects clerk of the Works at the time’. This time capsule, presumably the first Peterborough time capsule, is still in place. After the ceremony a tea was arranged for people associated with the works. The image associated with this story is an admittance slip for the tea party.  





Resources

St Peter’s College Opens

1864

Information

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.  





Resources

The Remains of a 4,000-year-old House

2000BC

Information

During excavations in Fengate, to the east of Peterborough, archaeologists found the remains of a Neolithic house dated to 2,000BC. Although the structure had long vanished, evidence of people living there was found. A large circular ditch was discovered and in the area inside the ditch was domestic waste. There were several small pits into which the people had swept their household rubbish. The rubbish included charcoal, flint flakes, animal bones and pottery. Other evidence revealed that the home was set within a farm. There were animals and probably crops too. Possibly the best finds were a well and small pit. They remained wet, so the items inside them were wonderfully preserved. The well contained a woven-twig lining, possibly to keep the water clear. The pit contained a ladder made from the trunk of an alder tree with deep notches for footholds. For many years a replica was on display at Flag Fen and is featured in the roundhouse image on the Flag Fen website. This house was in use 1,000 years after the first evidence of a Neolithic house in Fengate and at a time when Fengate was getting very busy indeed.
Reference
A. Taylor, Prehistoric Cambridgeshire, (1977, Oleander Press)





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