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The Norman Conquest

1066

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The Norman Conquest was the invasion and occupation of England by Duke William II of Normandy. William claimed he was the rightful heir to the childless King Edward the Confessor. This was because Edward the Confessor’s grandfather was William’s great grandfather.  However, after Edward’s death in January 1066, the throne was seized by Edward’s brother in law, Harold Godwinson.
Other Claimants
William was not the only other claimant to the throne. In September 1066 King Harald Hardrada of Norway invaded northern England because he wanted to be king. Harold marched to meet Harald and on the 25th of September 1066 Harald Hardrada was defeated and killed at Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Victory
Within days of this victory William landed in southern England and Harold had to rush to meet him. However, he left a significant part of his army in the north, which meant he did not have enough soldiers to help him. Harold’s army confronted William’s invaders on the 14th of October at the Battle of Hastings. Harold was defeated and killed in the engagement which meant Duke William became King William the Conqueror.    





World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945

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The Town played a vital role with industry, airfields and a major railway centre. The flat landscape meant there were many airfields including RAF Peterborough, Westwood, which was a major RAF training centre. Local people volunteered for Military Service but those in ‘reserved occupations’, (jobs important to the war effort) were not conscripted but often spent their spare time in Civil Defence e.g. Home Guard and Auxiliary Fire Service. Businesses set up their own firewatchers while first-aiders and plane spotters were essential. National Service became compulsory for unmarried women aged between 20 and 30, then up to 50 in 1943, unless they had children under 14. Many joined the various women’s forces and nurses were attached to all the Services. Women worked in factories making war machines, ammunition, clothing or parachutes. Engineering industries such as Perkins Engines and Baker Perkins switched to wartime production supplying engines, guns, torpedoes and manufacturing machinery. Amidst this, dancing at local hotels and cinema-going were popular and there were several cinemas, showing films three times a day.  Foreign servicemen became familiar sights on the street. They included including Americans, French and Poles, many of the latter remaining in the city at the end of the war. Peterborough was not a prime target for bombs, so the city received 1496 London evacuees. Brick air raid shelters were built in the city centre. There were 644 Air Raid Alert warnings and bombs were hitting Bridge Street and the Lido. Raids of high explosive and incendiary bombs continued to 1942. Peterborough Cathedral was hit by incendiary bombs but damage was limited by the quick reaction of the fire-watchers.





Vikings Raid the Abbey

870AD

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Peterborough monastery is said to have been attacked and destroyed by Viking invaders in 870. These were most likely to be a group known as the ‘Great Heathen Army’. They were led by ‘Ivar the Boneless’ and also invaded East Anglia in this year. Some scholars have disputed the violence of this event, but other local monasteries were also attacked at the same time. Therefore the Viking attack in Peterborough seems more credible. A relic of this original monastic church is the ‘Hedda Stone’ displayed in the Cathedral today.





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The Arm of St Oswald

1000

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A monk from Peterborough Abbey stole the arm of St Oswald from Bamburgh Castle and took it to his abbot at Peterborough in an effort to gain favour. Oswald was a convert to Christianity and King of Northumbria from 634 to 642. He spent much of his early life in exile, but when he returned to fight for his throne, he raised a cross and prayed for victory. Oswald won the battle and ruled as king of Northumbria until his death. While Oswald was king, he became known for his piety and generosity. During the celebration of an Easter feast, he supposedly gave away all the silver plates along with the food to the poor. The chronicles say his chaplain; Bishop Aidan blessed Oswald, saying “may this arm that has been so generous never perish”. When Oswald died in battle against King Penda of Mercia in 642, his arm was taken to Bamburgh where it remained uncorrupted. The arm remained the primary relic of Peterborough and the chapel of St Oswald still has a watch-tower where the monks safeguarded it day and night. St. Oswald’s arm disappeared from the chapel during the reformation along with its silver casket.    





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Peterborough Revolts!

1381

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An assault was made on the monastery by local rebels during the Peasants’ Revolt. The rebels were put down by the intervention of troops commanded by the Bishop of Norwich, as described in a contemporary account by Henry Knighton: “Likewise at Burgh (Peterborough) the neighbours and tenants of the abbot rose against him and proposed to kill him – which they would have done without redress had God not laid his restraining hand upon them at the last moment. For help came in the shape of Lord Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich, who arrived with a strong force. He prevented the malefactors from carrying out their aims and scattered the mob, paying them back as they deserved. Sparing no one, he sent some to death and others to prison. Some were struck down with swords and spears near the altar and others at the church walls, both inside and outside the building. For the bishop gladly stretched his avenging hand over them and did not scruple to give them final absolution for their sins with his sword”  





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Early Roman Fortress

43-100AD

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Longthorpe Roman fortress sits underneath the present day Thorpe Wood Golf Course. It was built at the beginning of the Roman occupation in what appears to be a hurried way. This suggests that its purpose was to get Roman strength into the area quickly. It sat on a small ridge facing the river Nene, and could hold half a legion, in this case, the Ninth. Despite being built in a rush, it was the only Roman fort in western Europe to have an onsite pottery. It produced excellent quality wares a few metres east of the main fort. The Ninth Legion was sent to stop Boudicca’s rebellion at Camulodunum (Colchester) in around 60AD. The few soldiers who did return were unfortunately badly injured. With too few soldiers to sustain and defend the fort, it was redesigned to a much smaller scale. Archaeological evidence shows a later smaller fort built inside the first for the remaining soldiers.





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WUTAC at Peterborough East Railway Station

1915

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The Great Eastern Soldier’s and Sailor’s Rest Room opened on Christmas Eve 1915 at Peterborough East Railway Station.  The rooms were managed by the Women’s United Total Abstinence Council (WUTAC), supporters of the temperance movement popular at that time. During the first nine days alone, 321 servicemen called at the tea room. They were given food, drink and an opportunity to rest in comfort whilst waiting for their trains to and from the front.  The ladies who managed the tea room encouraged the men to write in the visitors’ books, only two of which have survived from 1916 and 1917. There are over 590 signatures in the books that reveal the servicemen came from across the United Kingdom and as far away as Australia.  They wrote messages of gratitude, poetry and drew pictures expressing their appreciation for the service that the ladies were providing. These two slim volumes provide a brief insight into the thoughts and feelings of the men transiting through the city during the Great War. The books have been digitised and transcribed and the servicemen’s personal histories researched in an effort to tell their story and trace their families.





Roman Fort at Water Newton

60AD

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The Roman fort at Water Newton was part excavated in 2012. It was originally thought to have been built as part of the Roman invasion to house troops conquering Britain. However, the excavation showed that it was constructed 20 years later. It was constructed in the aftermath of the Boudican revolt of AD 60. The fort only lasted for a matter of a few months as the Roman armies re-organised the road system in this part of the east Midlands and built a new stone bridge over the river Nene. Once built this bridge spawned a small, new settlement which developed into the Roman town of Durobrivae. The fort was initially discovered in 1930 and was confirmed in 1938 by the use of aerial photography. It covers an area over 5 acres and sits about 1,000 feet from the river.  





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Milton Hall and the Jedburghs

1943

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Built towards the end of the 16th century, Milton Hall is the largest private house in Peterborough.  Once home to the Fitzwilliam family, it is now resided in by the Naylor Leyland family who inherited it from the 10th Earl. The Hall was used by the military during both world wars, a hospital being established in World War I and initially in World War II, the Czech army occupied part of the house and stable block. In December 1943, 300 volunteers from the Special Operations Executive (SOE) were brought together and trained at Milton Hall.  From there they were sent to join small teams to arm, train and co-ordinate foreign resistance fighters in preparation for the D-Day landings in Normandy in May and June 1944.  Codenamed the Jedburghs, the volunteers came from army forces based in Britain, France and America with small contingents coming from Holland, Belgium and Canada.  Between D-Day and VE Day they carried out 101 operations in Europe. In May 1996 surviving members attended a special service at Peterborough Cathedral where a memorial plaque was unveiled to commemorate the 37 men who lost their lives during operations in Europe and the Far East.





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First Purpose-Built Prisoner of War Camp

1797

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The first inmates arrived at the Norman Cross Prisoner of War Camp in 1797, which was the first purpose built camp of its kind. Its location was chosen because it was within reach of London, close to the Great North Road and accessible from a river, but deemed too difficult to escape from easily. It was built primarily of timber in the style of an artillery fort and divided into quadrangles which contained barracks for the prisoners. During the Napoleonic Wars and at its height, it housed over 6,000 low-ranking soldiers and sailors from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, which dwarfed the population of Peterborough. Higher ranking and well-respected officers paroled outside the camp, mostly in Peterborough and local towns and were free to live as citizens. The camp was not designed as a correctional facility, so there was the chance for prisoners to make and sell goods locally, get access to education and entertain themselves with a theatre, drinking and gambling. All of the buildings and equipment were auctioned off in 1816 a couple of years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Many fine examples of the delicate bone, wood and straw work objects created by the prisoners to earn money can be viewed in Peterborough Museum in an interactive gallery dedicated to the Norman Cross prison.





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