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John Clare, Poet



John Clare, the poet, was born in Helpston on 13th July 1793 and became one of our leading environmental poets. Despite having had little education he went on to write over 3500 poems. His poems are very descriptive of the wildlife, the people and the way the people lived in the rural 19th century villages. The works were created by a man who lived and worked in that environment and was able to relate to his surroundings. His first book of poems, 'Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery' was published to great acclaim in 1820, he went on to have three more books printed. He left Helpston in 1832 to go to Northborough, from where he went into High Beech mental asylum in Epping in 1837. He walked home, back to Northborough in 1841, taking 4 days. Later in 1841 he was sent to Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, now St Andrews, in Northampton. This is where he died in 1864. His body was brought back to Helpston, where he is buried in the churchyard.


Birth of John Kippax



John Kippax was the pen name of science fiction writer John Charles Hynam, the author of many short stories and the Venturer Twelve series of novels, which tell the story of space going humans threatened by mysterious aliens.  Much of his work was done in collaboration with Dan Morgan. John Hynam was born on the 10th of June 1915 in Alwalton, Huntingdonshire the son of Percy and Jane Hynam. His first short story was published in the early 1950s whilst working as a master at The Deacon's school. Papers relating to John Hynam’s published works are held in the Peterborough Archives, all of which were completed on a typewriter. As well as his science fiction writing these include many radio and television plays one of which is ‘The Daffodil Man’ which he wrote for Morecambe & Wise.  A story, ‘Ali Barber’s Thieves’ was sold to the Daily Mail to be used in a children’s annual. Many of his short stories were either published in the Daily Mail Children’s Annual or Odham’s Children’s annual. ‘Galleon’s Key’ was his first piece of work to be televised in December 1956. The play originally began as a novel but was adapted into a children’s television play lasting just over thirty minutes. John was unfortunately killed on 17th of July 1974 when a lorry hit his car in Werrington. His death left his series of science fiction novels unfinished. In the postscript to "Where No Stars Guide" (Pan Books, London, 1975), published posthumously, Hynam's literary collaborator Dan Morgan wrote, "John had a larger-than-life physical and psychic presence. Likeable, eccentric, egocentric, kind, brusque, take your pick from the thesaurus to describe him, he was all of these and more. A man of enormous enthusiasms, he died as lived, at full speed".


Charles Kingsley’s Childhood Home



Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) was born in Devon, the son of Reverend Charles Kingsley, but spent much of his childhood in Barnack, where his father was the rector. The family lived in Barnack Rectory, now renamed Kingsley House in their honour. He was said to enjoy the natural landscape around Barnack and took inspiration from it for his later literary works. He attended Bristol and Helston Grammar Schools and later studied at King's College London and Magdalene College Cambridge before becoming a clergyman. He is best known for his literary works, of which there are a many. His most popular include Westward Ho! (1855) and The Water Babies (1863).

People Living in Tudor Peterborough



Thanks to the Churchwardens Accounts of St John's Church in Peterborough, we know some of the people living in the city in Tudor times. The church recorded how much rent was paid on property and who paid it. Most of the names are of men, but there are some women. Some people are only recorded by their surname. A few of the names seem rather odd to modern eyes because they are spelt very differently to today, so alternatives are given. The four districts recorded relate to streets or areas that you might not recognise today, so their modern equivalent is provided. Dogsthorpe was included as a district, but has been missed off this list. Prestgatt (Priestgate) Fraunces (John Francis), Edward Bellamy, Elexaunder Mylner (Alexander Milner), Joanne Fletcher, Robart Pynnyng (Robert Pinning), Agnys Coper (Agnes Cooper), Sawnder (Alexander?) the labourer Markettsted (Cathedral Square) William Haw, George Spenser, Thomas Whyght (White), [Mistress Baley deleted], Sir William Bell, Allys Padman (Alice Padman) Hygatt (Bridge Street) Bygges Wyffe (Bigge's wife), John Houndysley (John Houndesley), John Pattenson Westgatt (Westgate) Wylkynson (Wilkinson), Joanne Cosson, William Farssett (possibly Farcet) Bowngatt (Boongate) John Monesty, The Myller (Miller)  
W. T. Mellows (ed.), Peterborough Local Administration Chruchwarden's Accounts 1467-1573 with Supplementary Documents 1107-1488, Northamptonshire Record Society, 1939

Notes and Queries About the Fenlands



The journal 'Fenland Notes and Queries' was first published in April 1889 and printed in Peterborough by George Caster. The journal, published quarterly, was created to bring together facts and stories relating to the fens. The information was provided by a large group of contributors, many of them clergy, some women and some anonymous. The fenland area covered by the journal included the counties of 'Huntingdon, Cambridge, Lincoln, Northampton, Norfolk and Suffolk.' (1) Intended to be of interest to antiquarians, the journal also proved popular with 'others interested in the history and folklore of the district.' (2) The journal, or magazine as it was termed, was compiled into volumes, the first covering the years 1889 to 1891. In total seven volumes were created, the last completed in 1909. The first issues were edited by W. H. B. Saunders, who was succeeded by Rev. W. D. Sweeting of Maxey. Thankfully all of the volumes are available to read online and can be searched easily for places and people. There are many references to Peterborough and surrounding villages which can tell us more about life in the past. In Volume Seven the lyrics and notes are written relating to a May Day Garland Song which it was claimed was 'sung by the children when carrying the garlands round the city'. (3) The recording of songs is an often forgotten element of recording and one of the many features that makes the volumes so valuable.
(1) Fenland Notes and Queries, Vol I, Ed W. H. Bernard Saunders, Publisher G. Caster, 1991, preface (2) Fenland Notes and Queries, Vol I, Ed W. H. Bernard Saunders, Publisher G. Caster, 1991, p2 (3) Fenland Notes and Queries, Vol VII Ed. Rev. W. D. Sweeting, Publisher G. Caster, 1909, p24-25

John Forster, Graffiti Artist



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.

Birth of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu



Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was born in May 1689, the eldest child of the future 1st Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull. She married, against her father's wishes, Sir Edward Wortley Montagu, who was later twice MP for Peterborough. Lady Mary is today chiefly remembered for her letters, particularly her letters from travels to the Ottoman Empire, when her husband was the British ambassador to Turkey. These witty and well observed missives, as well as her other writings demonstrate that she deserves to be better known as a great writer. Aside from her writing, Lady Mary is also known for introducing and championing smallpox inoculation (variolation) to Britain, which she had seen demonstrated during her time in Turkey. She had a great interest in the disease as she herself had suffered from it and was left badly scarred, and her brother died from it. Innoculation remained controversial and in later years was replaced by Edward Jenner's much safer technique of vaccination using cowpox rather than smallpox itself. Lady Mary died on 21st August 1762 of breast cancer having recently returned from Venice to London. Edward Wortley Montague had died the year before. Their names are remembered in the Wortley Arms, originally the Wortley Almshouse.


A Hill in the Middle of Peterborough!



For some time during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the market place in Peterborough was known as Market Hill. The earliest reference from the papers is an advert from 1736 for the letting of 'An old-accustom'd Grocer's Shop... situate upon the Market Hill in Peterborough'. A reference to the Talbot Inn from 1774 states it is 'on the market hill'. This continued until an 1898 reference to J. A. Bingham, Auctioneer of Market Hill, Peterborough. Currently the area is known as Cathedral Square. Cambridge and Chatteris still use the word for their market places. It certainly is an odd choice of word for towns in areas with little or no hills! Source: Stamford Mercury, Thursday 5th August 1736, page 4, col 1

Sennianus Fired a Mortarium



A fabulous fragment of Roman pottery was discovered in Water Newton. It is a piece of a mortarium, which is kitchen ware used for grinding and pounding food. This piece is remarkable because of the painted text near the rim of the pottery. The text was likely to have been painted by the potter who made the pot. His name was Sennianus and he lived in Durobrivae. We know this because he painted 'Sennianus Durobrivis Urit', which is Latin for 'Sennianus of Durobrivae fired this.' This is a very valuable piece of pottery because there are very few references to the name Durobrivae. This is the only British example of the name Sennianus, but a German funerary stela also bares the name. The stone object was discovered in Cologne in 1650, is mid third century, and can be seen in the link provided. The height of the pottery making industry at Durobriave was in the late 2nd century (175-199AD). Pottery created around Durobrivae is known as Nene Valley Ware. The most common type of Nene Valley Ware is colour-coated ware, which has distinctive white decoration on a black coloured pot. However, the mortarium that Sennianus created was a light brown colour. It was designed to be used in the kitchen, so did not require elaborate decoration.