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A Royal ‘Resident’



King Charles I was briefly held prisoner in the city. He was on his way to London to be imprisoned, prior to his execution. He was held in the Abbot’s Gaol, which is next to the west gate of the cathedral. There were many local supporters who included the Orme family.
Evidence of the Gaol
One of the old wooden doors of the gaol can be seen in Peterborough Museum. The goal is currently used as a retail space.  


A Monk Drowned in the Fens



The Annals of the Abbey of Thorney recorded important events for the monks of Thorney Abbey. In 1104 they stated a monk named Master Walter, and five servants, were shipwrecked and drowned in the mere called Saltana. Mere is an old name for a lake. The lake, now drained, was probably south of Whittlesey. The annals do not state how the monk drowned, but monastic clothing is not particularly well-suited to swimming.

The Black Death



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.

Old Scarlett



‘Old Scarlett’ was Robert Scarlett, parish sexton and gravedigger throughout the Tudor period. He lived to the prodigious age of 98, dying in 1594, married twice and buried Katharine of Aragon and Mary, Queen of Scots inside the Cathedral. Amongst the hundreds of people that Scarlett buried during his lifetime was one ‘Edward the Foole’, a native of Crowland by birth and former court jester to King Henry VIII, laid to rest here in 1563. As was common practice at the time, and to allow for more burials in an already packed graveyard, the skeleton would have been exhumed some years later and the bones reburied in stacks. The image of an elderly gravedigger exhuming a royal jester’s skull might have stuck in the head of a Peterborough schoolboy, John Fletcher, the son of the then Cathedral Dean. Fletcher went on to become a noted Elizabethan playwright and worked with Shakespeare, even co-writing three plays with him, including the aforementioned ‘Henry VIII’. Is it possible that Fletcher may have suggested this scene to Shakespeare? Unfortunately ‘Hamlet’ was written between 1599 and 1601, and we have no evidence that the two men met until at least five years later, but it’s a tantalising thought nonetheless!


A Jack the Ripper Victim?



Alice McKenzie was born at Drapers House in Priestgate in 1849, but moved to the East End of London, where it is likely that she worked as a prostitute. She was murdered at about 12.40am on Wednesday 17th July 1889 in Castle Alley, Whitechapel by a method very similar to that used by Jack the Ripper, the infamous Whitechapel serial killer. Many believe she was one of his last victims. An interview with John McCormack, the man Alice had been living with in London, stated he thought she was from Peterborough. They had been living together for about seven years and he thought she was quite respectable. This was echoed by her friend Margaret Franklin, who claimed she was also known as Alice Bryant.  

Stone Age Burial – Was it Murder?

4000-2500 BC


A Neolithic grave  found in Fengate contained a man who had been killed by being shot with a flint arrow, the head of which was found lodged between his ribs. He was accompanied by a woman, a baby and a child, with unknown cause of death.  The skeletons are on display in Peterborough Museum. Why did all four individuals die at the same time and be buried in the same grave? Were they a family? Was this a very early multiple murder?


Borough Fen Burials

2400-1500 BC


The landscape in the area north-east of Peterborough, incorporating Borough Fen, Milking Nook and Newborough would have looked very different in the late-Neolithic and Bronze Age to the present agricultural scene. Archaeological investigations have discovered that the landscape contained several bowl barrows and ring ditches, now buried below the surface. Bowl barrows were part of funeral rituals and contained single or multiple burials. They are common in lowland areas, although Borough Fen is remarkable for the number clustered along the prehistoric fen edge. The majority are approximately 5m in diameter, but the scheduling area around them is much more extensive.

Mystery of the Girl in the Glass Panelled Coffin.



On Monday 21 May 1906 the body of a young lady was found in the Sheep Wash in Werrington. The day before had been cold & miserable but the girl had no coat or cloak. A hankie in her pocket had “F Arnold” inked on. Her attire would suggest she was a domestic servant. Suggested age 25 years. No one of this name was missing in Peterborough. The body was placed in a coffin at the Blue Bell, with a glass panel over her face.

As nobody knew who the girl was, her photograph was put in the national papers in the hopes someone would recognise her. At the last minute, just before the funeral service, her parents arrived and identified her as Miss Florence Arnold, she had been engaged as a maid in Nottingham. She had a sweet & even temper, but in March had slipped in the snow and hit her head on a mangle. This led to her feeling “queer” at times and displaying fits of bad temper. She decided to discharge herself. Her clothes had arrived home but not Florrie. The father wrote to her employer who confirmed Florrie’s departure. Mr Arnold went up to Nottingham and evidence convinced him, that of only two women booking onto the London train, one of these was his daughter. In which case she would have got off the train at Walton and walked up through Werrington village. Had she done so she would certainly have drawn attention. She was a tall girl with very dark hair and pale skin, but nobody saw her.

The police theory is of suicide during temporary insanity to which her father agreed.

However, the story doesn’t quite end there. Villagers reported hearing a motor car that night drive up the road in the direction of the sheep wash and returned a short while later. Several accounts were given about a car or cars. The police made strict investigations into the matter but attached little significance to the rumours.

Her parents removed her body for burial at Lakenheath. (McKenzie, R.,Werrington Local History Group Newsletter no.15)


Body Snatching!



Body snatching was a fairly common practice in the 18th century and 19th centuries. Doctors were in need of human corpses to study, but these were in short supply since the common religious belief at the time was that the body must remain intact for the Day of Judgement. Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in Britain was those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.  Body snatchers (or resurrection men) were the entrepreneurs who filled the demand! Interfering with a grave was only a misdemeanour at common law, not a felony, and therefore only punishable with a fine and imprisonment rather than transportation or execution, so the lucrative trade was worth the risk. In Peterborough the first instance of body snatching was in 1828. It happened in Cowgate cemetery which used to stand at the top of Cowgate (it was completely removed in the 198os with the development of Queensgate Shopping Centre). One evening a cart was seen outside the cemetery with two men loading suspicious sacks onto it. The alarm was raised and the men fled, with a cart-chase ending near Norman Cross, where the men abandoned their getaway cart with its grisly cargo and fled over the fields. Body snatching continued to be a problem until about 1860. To prevent it relatives would watch over the graves and guard huts were set up in the cemeteries, one of these from Eye cemetery can be seen in Peterborough Museum.    

Conington Level Crossing Tragedy



On 30 April 1945 a lorry taking German prisoners of war from Glatton camp to work on nearby farms crossed Conington Level Crossing in thick fog; in the very poor visibility it was hit side on by a railway engine. Six of the prisoners were killed and five more injured. To add to the tragedy a lorry carrying the injured away from the scene hit a bus in the fog badly injuring two more people. This level crossing was notorious as an accident black spot, combining a narrow road, limited view of the line and gates operated by the public.