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Peterborough Under Water

165 million years ago


Peterborough was much closer to the equator in Jurassic times and a shallow sea covered the area. Together with warmer global temperatures, the local climate would have felt as balmy as the Bahamas. In the 145 million years since the Jurassic Period, the continents have moved hundreds of miles. Ever since the Earth formed, the rocky plates on its surface have moved around very slowly, powered by the heat in the planet’s core. Today, the continents continue to move as they collide and separate very slowly. Peterborough’s Jurassic sea was packed with creatures of all sizes, from microsopic to monstrous. The small fish, ammonites and belemnites feasted on shoals of plankton. They in turn became food for larger creatures. At the top of the food chain were the large ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs and crocodiles. The shallow sea supported a huge variety of fish of all sizes and shapes, adapted for life at different depths in the water. Near the surface, shoals of fast-swimming Caturus hunted smaller fish. The vast Leedsichthys – the biggest fish ever known – cruised harmelssly among them, gulping in water and filtering plankton to eat. When these creatures died they sank to the bottom of the sea where some of them became fossilised. Peterborough Museum houses a magnificent collect of these fossils.

The “Great Drowning” of Thorney Fen



A large piece of Morton’s Leam, a proctective bank running along the River Nene south of Thorney, gave way leaving a gap 130 yards long and 36 feet deep.  Water rushed into the fen, and all the area for several miles was about six feet deep in water.  People fled for safety to the Abbey Church in Thorney, and also other buildings on the higher ground, and the whole area could not be farmed again until spring 1773.  It is recorded in Fenland Notes and Queries in 1893 by a local farmer, Samuel Egar.

An Immense Icy Flood



In February 1795 a large flood affected many parts of the country, due to a combination of thawing snow, ice and torrential rains. Peterborough's story reads like something out of a Hollywood movie: "We learn from Peterborough that the flood in that neighbourhood is so immense as to threaten several villages. The ice had formed a complete bank across the coast, from the South bank to the North bank, and consequently stopped the current of water. A gentleman there, however, at the risk of his life, contrived to dispel the ice by gunpowder, contained in oilskin bags, in the execution of which he was assisted by two barges; but he had the misfortune to be left upon a large shoal of ice; the boats being driven away, it was impossible for any person to render him assistance, and in this dangerous situation, with the momentary apprehension of the ice separating, he floated down to Whittlesea bridge, and then jumped to one of the pillars, which was expected every minute to give way. From this situation he was released by some men who put off in a boat to save him. Soon after this the South bank gave way; and so terrific was the effect, from the shrieks of the multitude near it, and the explosion so tremendous, that the noise was heard by persons stationed four miles below the spot. The number of lives lost has not been ascertained: the damage exceeds calculation."1 Other information relating to the flood suggested that 30,000 acres of Deeping Fen were flooded and that many bridges had been damaged or destroyed, including those of Wansford and Northborough which 'blew up'! Peterborough's wooden bridge was saved.
  1. Northampton Mercury, Saturday 21st February 1795, p3, column 4

The Ice Ages

2.5 million years ago - 9 600 BC


The Ice Ages began in Britain just over two and a half million years ago. They were characterised by periods of extremely cold weather, when glaciers formed and when most of the land that was later to form the British Isles was uninhabitable. The earliest humans arrived in Britain around a million years ago, but would only have been able to live here, sometimes in sheltering caves, in the warmer spells, known as interglacials, between the glaciers. The last interglacial ended about 72,000 years ago and the human who lived here were close relatives known as Neanderthals. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) arrived in Britain as the climate began slowly to warm up towards the end of the last glacial period, from about 40,000 years ago.

Peakirk Wildlife Park Opens



Peakirk Wildfowl Park was situated to the north of Peakirk. It owes its existence in part to a natural spring on the site and the building of the adjacent railway line. The spring had provided a wetland perfect for osier beds. In the 1840s the Lincolnshire Loop railway line was constructed next to the site. Gravel was extracted from the land in Peakirk for its construction. As the gravel was extracted, small islands were left behind in the main lake. This allowed the land to be used again as osier beds. In 1957 the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust opened a wildfowl park on the site, utilising the unique landscape features of the site. It was home to around 700 water birds, some of which were exceedingly rare or endangered. At its peak visitor numbers were around 64,000 per year. By the late 1980s visitor numbers tailed off and the business was sold in 1990. In 1991 it was renamed the Peakirk Waterfowl Gardens whilst run by the East of England Agricultural Society, but it was not a successful business. It eventually closed in 2001, the birds being transferred to other parks. It is now a private home.


A Snapshot of Thorney Wildlife Park



Thorney Wildlife Park existed in the 1970s and 80s. Run by the Roberts brothers, the park contained a wide mix of exotic animals. The animals ranged from lions and tigers to elephants, birds and kangaroos. Unlike modern zoos and parks, Thorney Wildlife Park closed during the winter season. It was during this closed season that video cameras visited the site. The park was situated in the grounds of Thorney Manor, originally home to the Dukes of Bedford. The house, featured in the film, was used as a cafe and as shelter during the winter. In 1971 a large fire in the house killed three monkeys valued at £150 each. Thankfully it was brought under control before the house or other animals were destroyed. The video attached is part of a 'Portrait of a Place' series, which was produced by Anglian Television and is now part of the East Anglian Film Archive. It shows several local people, some of the most note-worthy buildings and the wildlife park.

Edward Thurlow Leeds and the Ashmolean Museum



Edward Thurlow Leeds was born in 1877 at Eyebury Grange near Peterborough. His father was the geologist Alfred Nicholson Leeds who had also been born at Eyebury. Born in Peterborough, he was educated at Uppingham School before heading to Cambridge. He had started his career in China, but returned to England following ill health. Whilst recovering he returned to Eyebury where his interest in archaeology was ignited by digging in the archaeologically rich area. He accepted a position at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1908 and quickly found himself progressing to the role of Assistant Keeper of the Department of Antiquities. There he remained until his retirement, becoming head Keeper in 1928. Edward Thurlow Leeds left a legacy of not only papers but also artefacts at the museum. His work on the Anglo Saxon period is one of his best known achievements. He was honoured with a gold medal by the Society of Antiquaries in 1946. During his life he published many works including The Archaeology of the Anglo Saxon Settlements in 1913. He died in 1955 at the age of 78. His works can be viewed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Photo credit: © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0)