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World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945

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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.





Food Machinery Company Moves to Peterborough

1904

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In 1904 Werner Pfleiderer and Perkins established a new factory close to the railway on Westwood Bridge Road (now Westfield Road). The factory was built to manufacture bakery and chemical machinery. They relocated from London to make use of the excellent transport links, which still draw companies to Peterborough today. A further tranche of employees relocated from the Willesden factory in 1933. This was a strong move and the company grew to be one of the most respected suppliers of specialist process equipment worldwide. The company went on to become Baker Perkins and later Perkins Engines. Throughout the 20th century Baker Perkins was a major Peterborough employer. Anyone who can recall the 'Perkins Fortnight' will remember how quiet the city was whilst Perkins employees were on holiday! The business moved to its current state of the art facility beside Paston Parkway in 1991. The previous site in Westwood was demolished and Peterborough Prison now occupies the site, although some listed buildings remain. It has the capacity to produce 500,000 engines per year and around 2,500 people are employed there. The Peterborough factory is part of a network of factories, which are located as far away as America and Singapore.





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Quakers Move to Peterborough to Join Baker Perkins

1933

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In 1933 Joseph Baker Engineering of Willesden moved to be Baker Perkins in Peterborough and a significant number of Friends (Quakers) moved with them. As the time for the move from Willesden to Peterborough approached, many weekend trips were organised to enable the Willesden employees to find accommodation. Some of these were undertaken by bicycle. Satisfactory arrangements were made for the necessary housing at no cost to the Company. Between March and September 1933, most of the Friends (Quakers) who had agreed to make the transfer were re-housed in a new development in Willesden Avenue. On 18th June 1933 meetings for worship started in an upstairs room of a warehouse in King Street.





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Opening of Peterborough Prison

2005

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HMP Peterborough was opened in March 2005 on the former site of the Baker Perkins engineering works. It is a local category B prison and is the country's only dual purpose-built prison for men and women. The prison also has a 12 place Mother and Baby Unit. The prison is operated by Sodexo Justice Services.  





Peterborough North Station Opens

1850

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In 1850 the Great Northern Railway opened Peterborough North Station to service the line it was building between London and York. It was built on the site of the present mainline station. From the 1850s to the 1960s Peterborough was a nationally important railway centre with a locomotive depot and engineering works, plus 80 miles of sidings, creating many new jobs and bringing huge growth and prosperity to the city. By 1901 the railway industry employed 25% of the city's adult male population.





Founding of Perkins Engines

1932

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Perkins engineering was founded in a small office in Peterborough, UK, in 1932. It was founded by two men, Frank Perkins and Charles Chapman; Frank a superlative salesman and Charles an engineering genius. Their focus was on the diesel engine and their belief that it could revolutionise the motor industry with high performance and low running costs. Peterborough was the perfect place to start the business as it had excellent transport links and so could ensure rapid delivery of products. Its first high-speed diesel engine was the 4 cylinder Vixen followed by the  more powerful version, the Wolf. With its success in the motor industry it expanded into the agricultural industry. During the Second World War Perkins was instrumental n its production of diesel engines for the war effort. In 1947, production was moved to the Eastfield site in Peterborough.  





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Peter Brotherhood Comes to Peterborough

1907

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The firm was founded in London in 1867 by Peter Brotherhood, an engineer. In the early days it mainly produced equipment for the brewery industry but in 1872, Peter Brotherhood invented a three cylinder, radial engine. This led to them making turbines, pumps and steering gear for ships, and even torpedoes and so massively diversifying the business. They were originally based in London but in 1907 the company was brought to Peterborough by Peter’s brother Stanley and occupied a 20 acre site on Lincoln Road, which now houses the Brotherhood Retail Park. The company played a large part in the war efforts in the twentieth century.





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Thomas Cook Moves to the City

1977

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In 1977 Thomas Cook, the travel agent opened its administrative headquarters at Thorpe Wood in Peterborough. This was part of the move from engineering and the brick industry being the major employers in Peterborough to the service industry being the major employer. The company has been based at the Lynch Wood Business Park since 2016.





Royal Mail Centre Opens

1995

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The Royal Mail Centre at Papyrus Road, Werrington opened on 2 October 1995. Papyrus road runs parallel to the main railway line into and out of Peterborough. When looking for a name for the road it seems likely that the name of a steam engine was chosen. Steam engine no. 2750 Papyrus ran between Kings Cross and Newcastle on 5th March 1935, in a trial testing the potential of running a high speed passenger service on the east coast main line. Other roads in Peterborough, particularly near the line in Bretton, have railway links. It is also very apt because papyrus is a material for writing on as used by the ancient Egyptians. Today the road ends inside the main Peterborough sorting office. (Townsin, R.,Werrington Local History Group Newsletter 23 p13)  available in Werrington Library.







Conington Level Crossing Tragedy

1945

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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.