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World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945

Information

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.





Start of the Nene Park Story

1968

Information

Prior to the creation of Nene Park, there were very few recreational green spaces in Peterborough. In 1968, a year after the New Towns Act, the Peterborough Development Corporation was established and land from the Embankment in the city centre to Wansford, seven miles west, was purchased from landowners including Earl Fitzwilliam. Gravel extractors Amey Roadstone approached the Corporation and negotiations began to ensure that the resulting lakes were planned and landscaped carefully for the best possible visitor experience. Plans also included space for car parking, a water sports centre, a lake specifically for water sports and facilities including a café and shop.





Resources

Borough Fen Iron Age Fort

300BC

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In the Middle Iron Age a local tribe established a fortified enclosure on the Fen edge between the Welland and the Nene. With an internal area of 3.8 hectares it was a significant feature of the local landscape. Today the fort can be clearly seen in aerial photographs. The site is bisected by Decoy Road; to the west the site is on protected land, under pasture. To the east it has been more affected by plough damage.





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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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Settlement in the Early Bronze Age

2500-1500 BC

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During the Neolithic the local population had grown from hundreds to perhaps a few thousand people. This process gathered pace in the Bronze Age, which is named after the arrival of metal-workers in Britain, around 2500 BC. As the population grew it became necessary to divide-up the landscape into field systems; some of the earliest fields in England are found in Peterborough. Meanwhile North Sea levels were steadily rising and the nearby floodplain of the River Nene became permanent Fen. Animals were grazed on its lush summer pastures. Major sites of this time have been found at Fengate, Must Farm and Bradley Fen.





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Later Bronze Age Population

1500-800 BC

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By 1500 BC the lower Nene Valley and Fen-edge regions of Peterborough had become one of the most prosperous landscapes in prehistoric Britain, fertile and rich in resources. The local population was well into the thousands and there were tens of thousands of cattle and sheep grazing the elaborately arranged field systems around the Fen margins. Most of the farms and settlements were on the drier, flood-free margins of the wetlands, but a few were constructed over the water on wooden piles, such as the one at Must Farm.  





Resources

Charles Kingsley’s Childhood Home

1824

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Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) was born in Devon, the son of Reverend Charles Kingsley, but spent much of his childhood in Barnack, where his father was the rector. The family lived in Barnack Rectory, now renamed Kingsley House in their honour. He was said to enjoy the natural landscape around Barnack and took inspiration from it for his later literary works. He attended Bristol and Helston Grammar Schools and later studied at King's College London and Magdalene College Cambridge before becoming a clergyman. He is best known for his literary works, of which there are a many. His most popular include Westward Ho! (1855) and The Water Babies (1863).





Borough Fen Burials

2400-1500 BC

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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.





A Prospect of Peterborough

1731

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In the Eighteenth Century a popular purchase by the wealthy was of a view of the town or lands that they lived in. They were known as a prospect. In 1731 an engraving of Peterborough was created titled 'A South West Prospect of the City of Peterborough, In Northamptonshire.'
The View
The artwork was created by Nathaniel and Samuel Buck, two brothers from Yorkshire who specialised in topographical engravings. They created a series of interesting vistas of different areas across the country. The engraving is taken from a realistic view point, but the artist has created the scene. It includes features that cannot normally been viewed together or viewed in such fullness. It could be considered an early form of photoshopping. Some features can be found in contemporary maps and include the trees by the river and some of the buildings.
Features of the Prospect
Some of the most interesting features include Neville Place, St John's Church and the buildings near the bridge. There are no other pictures or photographs of these buildings at this time, so these are very valuable images. Peterborough Cathedral takes centre-stage in the picture and dominates the landscape. It is drawn in great detail and true to life, unlike other buildings that were drawn. This is likely to be because it is the most recognisable building in the city and the artist would be judged on how well they drew the cathedral.





Holy Waters Run Deep

1397

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A peculiar landscape feature in Longthorpe has been the source of several myths and tall tales over the years and debate is still ongoing as to its origins. The holywell, situated in land to the west of Thorpe Hall, is also known as St Cloud's well. It was said to have been the home of hermit St Cloud in the past. It's first reference as a holy well is from a document dated to the Abbotship of William Genge (1396-1408), although the location was referenced earlier than that. (1) The well is in fact a natural spring which was contained under a mound in the eighteenth century to form a grotto. One myth surrounding the well is that the mound contained an entrance way to tunnels that led to the Cathedral. Although the land was once controlled by the Cathedral, it is geographically impossible for a tunnel to have existed between those two sites. Similarly the myths about hermits living there cannot be true due to the date that the mound was built. The spring feeds a series of medieval fishponds, which are still in place. Again there is some uncertainty about their origin. One idea is that they were used originally by the Cathedral and later by occupants of Thorpe Hall. Another argument is that they were created by the occupants of Longthorpe Manor. This suggestion is the favoured option because the Cathedral had their own fish ponds. Although eating fish that had swum in the waters of a holy well might have appealed to the religious community.
Reference
(1) http://people.bath.ac.uk/liskmj/living-spring/journal/issue2/dipping/rparlon1.htm#anon