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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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Knights and a Castle

1071

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William I imposed the living of sixty knights onto Peterborough Abbey and its monastic estates in 1071. He ordered the construction of a motte and bailey castle on the north side of the monastic precincts. This  was a Norman Castle of timber and earth. The motte remains today in the Deanery Gardens as Tout (Tower) Hill, whilst many of the manors in the area given to the knights now bear their names in the villages – Helpston, Longueville, Waterville and so on.





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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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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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Mount Thorold (Peterborough Castle) Destroyed

1116

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There are varying accounts regarding the building of a castle in Peterborough. Most accounts agree that it was built by Abbot Thorold just after the Norman Conquest, in response to an attack by Hereward and a large group of Vikings (Danes). It was situated north of the abbey, close to the majority of the residents of the town, and was a simple wooden castle on a motte (hill). The castle was either destroyed in a fire in 1116 with most of the town, or was pulled down by Abbot Martin de Bec when he was rebuilding and redesigning the town: it was never rebuilt or replaced. The remains of the motte exist as a small hill in the cathedral grounds and in the street name Touthill Place. It was previously known as Mount Thorold or Turold and is a scheduled monument.





Boudicca’s Revolt.

60 AD

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Queen Boudicca  was married to Prasutagus ruler of the Iceni of East Anglia. When the Romans conquered southern England in AD 43, they allowed Prasutagus to continue to rule. However, when Prasutagus died the Romans decided to ignore his will, which left his kingdom shared between his daughters and the Romans, and to rule the Iceni directly. They confiscated his property and are also said to have stripped and flogged Boudicca and raped her daughters. These actions exacerbated widespread resentment at Roman rule. In 60 AD, while the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paullinus was on campaign in North Wales, the Iceni led by Boudicca, rebelled and were joined by other tribes. In response the Ninth Legion based at Longthorpe Fortress and led by Quintus Petillius Cerialis marched to meet her army, but they were defeated and she went on to destroy Camulodunum (Colchester) the capital of Roman Britain. Boudicca's warriors then destroyed London and Verulamium (St Albans) killing thousands. Suetonius marched back from Wales and finally defeated her. She is thought to have poisoned herself to avoid capture. The site of the battle, and of Boudicca's death, are unknown.





Death of Sir Harry Smith

1860

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Harry Smith was born in Whittlesey in 1787. In 1805 he joined the 95th rifles as a lieutenant serving in South America and from 1808 in Spain and Portugal. In 1812 he married a well-born Spanish girl, Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon, and she remained with him on nearly all his subsequent travels. Before fighting at the Battle of Waterloo as a Brigade Major, he served in America and was present at the burning of Washington. After the Napoleonic War he served in South Africa as a provincial governor then in India as deputy-adjutant-general. He was made Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, then served as High Commissioner and Governor of Cape Colony where he and Juana are memorialised in the names of the towns of 'Harrismith' and 'Ladysmith'. In this country he is remembered in the name of the Sir Harry Smith College in Whittlesey. As an interesting aside, his love story with Juana was the basis of a novel, 'The Spanish Bride' by Georgette Heyer (1940).    





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