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World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945


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.

Quakers Move to Peterborough to Join Baker Perkins



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.


Opening of Peterborough Prison



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



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



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.  


Thomas Cook Moves to the City



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.