Please rotate your device

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.





The Arm of St Oswald

1000

Information

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.    





Resources

Old Scarlett

1594

Information

‘Old Scarlett’ was Robert Scarlett, parish sexton and gravedigger throughout the Tudor period. He lived to the prodigious age of 98, dying in 1594, married twice and buried Katharine of Aragon and Mary, Queen of Scots inside the Cathedral. Amongst the hundreds of people that Scarlett buried during his lifetime was one ‘Edward the Foole’, a native of Crowland by birth and former court jester to King Henry VIII, laid to rest here in 1563. As was common practice at the time, and to allow for more burials in an already packed graveyard, the skeleton would have been exhumed some years later and the bones reburied in stacks. The image of an elderly gravedigger exhuming a royal jester’s skull might have stuck in the head of a Peterborough schoolboy, John Fletcher, the son of the then Cathedral Dean. Fletcher went on to become a noted Elizabethan playwright and worked with Shakespeare, even co-writing three plays with him, including the aforementioned ‘Henry VIII’. Is it possible that Fletcher may have suggested this scene to Shakespeare? Unfortunately ‘Hamlet’ was written between 1599 and 1601, and we have no evidence that the two men met until at least five years later, but it’s a tantalising thought nonetheless!





Resources

Saved by the Bells

1727-1781

Information

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.





Cross-Country Trade in Full Swing

4000-2000BC

Information

Although evidence of Neolithic people is light in Nene Park in comparison to other areas in the country, there are some tantalising clues to the lives of people who lived here several thousand years ago. During archaeological digs, knapped flints have been found, including some near to Longthorpe Roman fortress, suggesting that Longthorpe was considered an important place for people throughout a long period of time.   One particularly interesting insight into Neolithic people in the Nene Park area has been opened up by the discovery of an axe made out of greenstone, along with its polishing stone. In keeping with around a quarter of all Neolithic polished stone axes found in the UK, this one began its life at Langdale in the Lake District. This suggests that Neolithic Britain was more well-connected than we might first imagine.





Resources

Early Roman Fortress

43-100AD

Information

Longthorpe Roman fortress sits underneath the present day Thorpe Wood Golf Course. It was built at the beginning of the Roman occupation in what appears to be a hurried way. This suggests that its purpose was to get Roman strength into the area quickly. It sat on a small ridge facing the river Nene, and could hold half a legion, in this case, the Ninth. Despite being built in a rush, it was the only Roman fort in western Europe to have an onsite pottery. It produced excellent quality wares a few metres east of the main fort. The Ninth Legion was sent to stop Boudicca’s rebellion at Camulodunum (Colchester) in around 60AD. The few soldiers who did return were unfortunately badly injured. With too few soldiers to sustain and defend the fort, it was redesigned to a much smaller scale. Archaeological evidence shows a later smaller fort built inside the first for the remaining soldiers.





Resources

WUTAC at Peterborough East Railway Station

1915

Information

The Great Eastern Soldier’s and Sailor’s Rest Room opened on Christmas Eve 1915 at Peterborough East Railway Station.  The rooms were managed by the Women’s United Total Abstinence Council (WUTAC), supporters of the temperance movement popular at that time. During the first nine days alone, 321 servicemen called at the tea room. They were given food, drink and an opportunity to rest in comfort whilst waiting for their trains to and from the front.  The ladies who managed the tea room encouraged the men to write in the visitors’ books, only two of which have survived from 1916 and 1917. There are over 590 signatures in the books that reveal the servicemen came from across the United Kingdom and as far away as Australia.  They wrote messages of gratitude, poetry and drew pictures expressing their appreciation for the service that the ladies were providing. These two slim volumes provide a brief insight into the thoughts and feelings of the men transiting through the city during the Great War. The books have been digitised and transcribed and the servicemen’s personal histories researched in an effort to tell their story and trace their families.





Roman Fort at Water Newton

60AD

Information

The Roman fort at Water Newton was part excavated in 2012. It was originally thought to have been built as part of the Roman invasion to house troops conquering Britain. However, the excavation showed that it was constructed 20 years later. It was constructed in the aftermath of the Boudican revolt of AD 60. The fort only lasted for a matter of a few months as the Roman armies re-organised the road system in this part of the east Midlands and built a new stone bridge over the river Nene. Once built this bridge spawned a small, new settlement which developed into the Roman town of Durobrivae. The fort was initially discovered in 1930 and was confirmed in 1938 by the use of aerial photography. It covers an area over 5 acres and sits about 1,000 feet from the river.  





Resources

Notorious Highwayman Hanged

1605

Information

On this day the notorious highwayman Gamaliel Ratsey was hanged. He was born in Market Deeping, the son of wealthy Richard Ratsey. Unfortunately  as a young boy he went off the straight and narrow. In 1600 he enlisted in the army which accompanied Sir Charles Blount to Ireland but his time fighting did not cure him of his wicked ways. On his return to England in 1603 he robbed the landlady of an inn at Spalding. He was caught but escaped from prison, stealing a horse. He entered into partnership with two well known thieves named George Snell and Henry Shorthose and went on to commit many acts of highway robbery in Northamptonshire (which at the time included Peterborough). Ratsey’s exploits were notorious but were also characterised by humour, generosity to the poor and daring. On one occasion, near to Peterborough, he robbed two rich wool merchants then ‘knighted’ them as Sir Walter Woolsack and Sir Samuel Sheepskin. On another, whilst robbing a Cambridge scholar he extorted a learned oration from him. He usually wore a hideous mask leading him to be called ‘Gamaliel Hobgoblin’. Ben Jonson wrote in The Alchemist (Act I, Scene 1) of a “face cut….worse than Gamaliel Ratsey". Due to his generosity to the poor and the tales surrounding him, he became something of a folk hero and was the subject of several ballads. Sadly for Gamaliel, within two years his partners betrayed him to officers of the law and  on the 26th of March he was hanged in Bedford.





Birth of John Kippax

1915

Information

John Kippax was the pen name of science fiction writer John Charles Hynam, the author of many short stories and the Venturer Twelve series of novels, which tell the story of space going humans threatened by mysterious aliens.  Much of his work was done in collaboration with Dan Morgan. John Hynam was born on the 10th of June 1915 in Alwalton, Huntingdonshire the son of Percy and Jane Hynam. His first short story was published in the early 1950s whilst working as a master at The Deacon's school. Papers relating to John Hynam’s published works are held in the Peterborough Archives, all of which were completed on a typewriter. As well as his science fiction writing these include many radio and television plays one of which is ‘The Daffodil Man’ which he wrote for Morecambe & Wise.  A story, ‘Ali Barber’s Thieves’ was sold to the Daily Mail to be used in a children’s annual. Many of his short stories were either published in the Daily Mail Children’s Annual or Odham’s Children’s annual. ‘Galleon’s Key’ was his first piece of work to be televised in December 1956. The play originally began as a novel but was adapted into a children’s television play lasting just over thirty minutes. John was unfortunately killed on 17th of July 1974 when a lorry hit his car in Werrington. His death left his series of science fiction novels unfinished. In the postscript to "Where No Stars Guide" (Pan Books, London, 1975), published posthumously, Hynam's literary collaborator Dan Morgan wrote, "John had a larger-than-life physical and psychic presence. Likeable, eccentric, egocentric, kind, brusque, take your pick from the thesaurus to describe him, he was all of these and more. A man of enormous enthusiasms, he died as lived, at full speed".





Resources