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Abbey Church Spectacular Wooden Ceiling

1238

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The new abbey church was consecrated in 1238 and the structure of the building has remained essentially as it was on completion. Most significantly the original wooden ceiling still survives in the nave. It is the only ceiling of its type in the whole country. Furthermore, it is one of only four wooden ceilings of this period surviving in the whole of Europe. It was completed between 1230 and 1250 by skilled painters working by hand, which is not easy at that height. The ceiling has been over-painted twice, but retains its original style and pattern.





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John Clare, Poet

1793-1864

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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.





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Bridging the Gap

1716

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Milton Hall was built in the 1590s to the west of Peterborough and periodic phases of work to the house and surrounding parkland continued until the 1790s. The bridge that straddles the Nene nearby was built in 1716 from Barnack stone and is a Grade II listed structure. It sits on the site of an old ferry crossing point (Gunnerswade Ferry) needed for the Barnack stone when local cathedrals were being built 900 years ago. The more modern bridge we see today, Milton Ferry Bridge, was an important transport link for those travelling onto the Great North Road from the south bank of the river, although there was a toll, with which Daniel Defoe was not pleased: “Near this little village of Castor lives the Lord FitzWilliams. His Lordship has lately built a very fine stone bridge over the River Nyne, near Gunworth, where formerly was the ferry. I was very much applauding this generous action of my lord’s, knowing the inconvenience of the passage there before, especially if the waters of the Nyne were but a little swell’d, and I though it a piece of publick charity; but my applause was much abated, when coming to pass the bridge (being in a coach) we could not be allow’d to go over it, without paying 2s. 6d. of which I shall only say this, That I think ‘tis the only half crown toll that is in Britain, at least that I ever met with.”





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Birth of John Kippax

1915

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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".





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Charles Kingsley’s Childhood Home

1824

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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).





Fletton Church Fascinations

c.800

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St Margaret's Church in Fletton was identified in the Domesday Book of 1086, but some of its features are considerably older. Safely protected inside the church are Anglo-Saxon carvings, presumed to be 8th or 9th Century, consisting of a frieze and two separate figures. The frieze contains images of saints, angels and mythical beasts, set amongst typical Anglo-Saxon woven designs. The images are thought to be of St. Michael and an Evangelist. All of the stonework is a light pink colour suggesting that it was once in a fire. One theory is that they had been moved from Peterborough Abbey during the great fire of 1116. Another feature of the church is a large cross in the churchyard which may have Anglo-Saxon origins. The cross has had several additions and alterations and contains a rather peculiar Latin inscription at its base.
Access
The cross can be easily accessed in the churchyard, but the internal features can only be viewed when the church is open. Photo credit: St Margaret's Church, Old Fletton, Peterborough cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Julian Dowse - geograph.org.uk/p/147475





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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Opening of the Hippodrome Music Hall

1907

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The Hippodrome music hall opened on Broadway. In 1908 it was taken over by Fred Kelso and under his management leading stars of the time including Marie Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Vernon Watson (Nosmo King) trod the boards there. With the coming of motion pictures music hall became less popular and in 1922 the theatre was modified to show films and renamed the Palladium then later the Palace. The building was demolished in 1937 following the building of the Embassy Cinema next door. References: Peterborough Evening Telegraph, 27 July 1955; The Peterborough Book of Days, Brian Jones, The History Press 2014





Award Winning Violin Maker

1884

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Mr Jeffrey James Gilbert was the son of Jeffrey and Eliza Gilbert from New Romney in Kent. Jeffrey senior was a watchmaker who played the Cello and was an amateur Cello maker. By 1871 Jeffrey junior was an assistant for Whatley Paviour, a watchmaker, along Narrow Street in Peterborough. As a young man Jeffrey studied the fiddle and decided that if his father could make a Cello, he should be able to make a fiddle. Jeffrey’s father did not encourage him, as being an amateur Cello maker he knew the pitfalls. Jeffrey, however, persevered; he located the finest sycamore from Czechoslovakia and began to make his first instrument. Jeffrey continued creating violins and gradually improved until, in 1884, at the International Exhibition at Crystal Palace he was awarded a silver medal for his first exhibit. Five years later he was awarded a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Edinburgh. Jeffrey Gilbert believed that to produce a beautiful violin, firstly, you required handsome wood; secondly artistic carving of the plates and scroll; thirdly a beautiful varnish and lastly, the tone of the instrument had to be good. He became a maker of national importance, many well-known musicians owned one of his instruments and praised the fine workmanship and beauty of the tone. Jeffrey was particularly proud of the beautiful varnish and continually experimented on improving it. Mr Gilbert is described in the Directory of Beds, Hunts and Northants, 1890, as a ‘Violin maker & repairer, unequalled for brilliancy of tone & artistic finish of Bridge-street Peterborough’. By 1901 he and his family were living at 2 New Priestgate where Jeffrey had his own business, this was nationally known as the ‘Gilbert Violin Studio’.

References: -

Peterborough Standard 24 August 1928. Posh Folk: Notable Personalities (and a Donkey) Associated with Peterborough by Mary Liquorice, 1991.





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Birth of Thomas Worlidge

1700

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Thomas Worlidge was born in Peterborough in 1700 to Roman Catholic parents. He studied art in London as a pupil of the Genoese refugee Alessandro Maria Grimaldi. He went on to study with engraver Louis-Philippe Boitard. About 1740 Worlidge settled in London in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, where he remained for the rest of his life. He spent the winter social season in Bath, painting the portraits of society members. His most popular work consisted of heads in pencil, for which he charged two guineas. The dominant force in his work was Rembrandt. His imitations of Rembrandt's work in etching and dry point sold well and remained popular after his death. He married three times and is said to have had thirty-two children by his three marriages. Sadly, only Thomas, a son by his third wife, survived him. He died on 23 September 1766, and was buried in Hammersmith church. Image from the National Portrait Gallery collection.