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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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A Museum for Peterborough

1931

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When the infirmary moved to the newly completed Memorial Hospital in 1928 the Infirmary building was acquired by Percy Malcolm Stewart. He was Chair of the London Brick Company, who donated it to the Museum Society to house their collection. At that time it was known as the Natural History, Scientific and Archaeological Society. It was opened in 1931, with the art gallery added in 1939. Everything has been owned by the Council since 1968, when the Museum Society gave them to the city. In May 2010, management of the building and its collections was taken over by Vivacity.





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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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The Black Death

1349

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The Black Death (or the Great Pestilence as it was known then) hit Peterborough. This is a terrible disease carried by the fleas on black rats, though at the time it was thought to have been caused by bad air. Approximately a third of the townspeople and 32 of the 64 monks at the monastery perished in a matter of weeks, and many of those who died were buried in mass burial pits to the west of the town, in the burial ground of the leper hospital of St Leonard. A higher proportion of monks died perhaps because they were helping tend to the sick. The plague returned to Peterborough on many occasions causing a great deal of death and suffering until the last outbreak in 1665.





Dissolution of the Monastery

1539

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The great abbey of Peterborough was closed and its lands and properties confiscated by the king, Henry VIII. Orders had come the previous year to get rid of any relics, and the Abbey’s collection was destroyed. In the spring of 1539, Henry called a Parliament, and legislation was passed to enable all monastic property to be conferred on the crown: all the remaining monasteries were to go. Whilst some monasteries offered resistance, and the monks were dealt with harshly, Abbot John Chambers surrendered the Abbey seal with no resistance when Henry’s commissioners arrived on 29 November 1539. Chambers received an annual pension of £266, 13s 4d. Many monastic buildings were pulled down, with lead from the roofs melted down into lead ‘sows’ for sale.





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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Dean Peter Peckard Dies

1797

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Peter Peckard was the intellectual father of the movement for the abolition of the Slave Trade. Born in Lincolnshire in 1717, he attended Oxford University, served as vicar to several local parishes, and was an army chaplain for the Grenadier Guards. Peckard was an outspoken liberal, and by the 1770s spoke out in his sermons against the Slave Trade. In 1778 he published a pamphlet anonymously entitled ‘Am I not a Man and a Brother?’ articulating the arguments against the evils of slavery. The title of the pamphlet and the image on its front page became iconic for the abolitionist movement and were even used on china produced by Josiah Wedgewood promoting the anti-slavery cause. Peckard became master of Magdalen College in Cambridge in 1781, becoming Vice-Chancellor three years later. He started an essay competition for students on the subject of ‘Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?’ The first winner was Thomas Clarkson, inspiring him on his path to become one of the leading activists in the abolitionist movement. In 1792 Peckard was appointed as Dean of Peterborough Cathedral, a position he retained until his death five years later. He died fifteen years before the Slave Trade was outlawed in 1807.





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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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The First Farmers of the Neolithic (New Stone Age)

4000 - 2500 BC

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Farming arrived in the Peterborough area around 4000 BC. The first farmers were a mix of in-comers from Europe and local people who had acquired the new skills of agriculture and animal husbandry. They grew wheat, barley and oats and kept cattle, sheep and pigs. Their farms – and several are known - were mostly confined to the east of Peterborough, around Fengate, Whittlesey and Eye. They consisted of small oval houses, within garden-like plots where crops were grown. Animals were kept in larger open areas away from the crops. Pigs would have roamed the woodlands around the farms. They buried their dead beneath mounds, known as barrows, or in open graves. The first farmers introduced pottery-making to Britain and also produced fine flint tools with long, knife-like blades. By 3000 BC they had felled most of the trees that grew in the area and the landscape was dominated by large, open pastures.





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Metal Work in the Early Bronze Age

2500-1500 BC

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With the arrival in Britain of skilled metal-workers from mainland Europe around 2500 BC, metal technology began. These people are called the Beaker People, the name arising from their particular style of pottery. The first metal used was copper, but this was soon replaced by the harder bronze (an alloy of 90% copper with 10% tin), for which the time period, the Bronze Age, is named. Smiths working in the Peterborough area, mostly in the east, produced hundreds of swords, daggers, spearheads, axes, pins, ornaments and jewellery, such as rings. The production of metal led to greater control of fire and with it, improved, harder pottery.    





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