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The Norman Conquest

1066

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The Norman Conquest was the invasion and occupation of England by Duke William II of Normandy. William claimed he was the rightful heir to the childless King Edward the Confessor. This was because Edward the Confessor’s grandfather was William’s great grandfather.  However, after Edward’s death in January 1066, the throne was seized by Edward’s brother in law, Harold Godwinson.
Other Claimants
William was not the only other claimant to the throne. In September 1066 King Harald Hardrada of Norway invaded northern England because he wanted to be king. Harold marched to meet Harald and on the 25th of September 1066 Harald Hardrada was defeated and killed at Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Victory
Within days of this victory William landed in southern England and Harold had to rush to meet him. However, he left a significant part of his army in the north, which meant he did not have enough soldiers to help him. Harold’s army confronted William’s invaders on the 14th of October at the Battle of Hastings. Harold was defeated and killed in the engagement which meant Duke William became King William the Conqueror.    





House to Hospital

1857

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Following the death of Thomas Alderson Cooke in 1854 his Priestgate Mansion was bought by the 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam in 1856. He gifted it to the city to be used as the city’s first hospital, the Peterborough Infirmary. It was ready to be used as a hospital by 1857, accepting both male and female patients. The infirmary was run by a charitable trust who relied on donations. The house remained Peterborough's Infirmary until 1928.  





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The Arm of St Oswald

1000

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A monk from Peterborough Abbey stole the arm of St Oswald from Bamburgh Castle and took it to his abbot at Peterborough in an effort to gain favour. Oswald was a convert to Christianity and King of Northumbria from 634 to 642. He spent much of his early life in exile, but when he returned to fight for his throne, he raised a cross and prayed for victory. Oswald won the battle and ruled as king of Northumbria until his death. While Oswald was king, he became known for his piety and generosity. During the celebration of an Easter feast, he supposedly gave away all the silver plates along with the food to the poor. The chronicles say his chaplain; Bishop Aidan blessed Oswald, saying “may this arm that has been so generous never perish”. When Oswald died in battle against King Penda of Mercia in 642, his arm was taken to Bamburgh where it remained uncorrupted. The arm remained the primary relic of Peterborough and the chapel of St Oswald still has a watch-tower where the monks safeguarded it day and night. St. Oswald’s arm disappeared from the chapel during the reformation along with its silver casket.    





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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.





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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Saved by the Bells

1727-1781

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Living on Westgate in the Mansion House, Matthew Wyldebore was Peterborough’s MP. He lost his way in the Fens in the dark and fortunately heard the bells from St. John’s Church and was able to find his way home safely. To give thanks to the church he bequeathed £1 for the bell ringers to ring the bells on the anniversary of his death and for the vicar to give a sermon to give thanks for his safe return home. He died on 15th March 1781 and the bells still ring on that date to remember him.





Priestgate Explosion

1883

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On 4th May a large explosion occurred in Priestgate between the Phoenix Brewery and Angel Inn. Reports claimed that fumes from the Phoenix Brewery had mixed with sewer and coal gases. It's then thought these were accidentally ignited by a discarded cigarette.
The Explosion
The explosion was dramatic and affected both Priestgate and Narrow Bridge Street, but the effects were worse in Priestgate. Paving stones were thrown high up into the air and all of the windows were smashed in Priestgate, with more in Narrow Bridge Street. To make things worse the contents of the sewers, including thousands of dead rats, were thrown up against the buildings. People were particularly alarmed because there had been a recent threat to blow up the Cathedral. There were no records of any deaths, other than the rats, and no record of how long it took to get rid of the smell!





Stories From Skeletons

200-400AD

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We have a fascinating insight into Roman lives in what is now Ferry Meadows thanks to the Coney Meadow Cemetery, which was in use around 200-400AD. Over 40 skeletons were discovered of men, women and also children from Roman Peterborough. Archaeologists discovered that the people who were buried here had tough lives, through analysis of the skeletons.  These skeletons give us an understanding of death and disease in Roman Britain. They discovered a family with arm abnormalities and children with ear infections. They also found women with new-born babies, who may have died from complication associated with birth. Recently 3 of the skeletons were subjected to DNA analysis. Scientists were able to date the skeletons to the mid to late Roman period. One of the skeletons, know as 'skeleton 24' was identified as a woman. She had a bone bracelet and bone comb with her when she died, which were both dated to the fourth or early fifth centuries. DNA analysis revealed that she was alive somewhere between 240AD and 390AD. Combined with the bone objects, this reinforces the likelihood that the woman was alive in the late fourth century. There were also fragments of cheap, rough pottery close to the burials on Coney Meadow Cemetery. The lack of expensive pottery suggests these were everyday Romans and not the elite and therefore better representative of other Romans.





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