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A Royal ‘Resident’

1646

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King Charles I was briefly held prisoner in the city. He was on his way to London to be imprisoned, prior to his execution. He was held in the Abbot’s Gaol, which is next to the west gate of the cathedral. There were many local supporters who included the Orme family.
Evidence of the Gaol
One of the old wooden doors of the gaol can be seen in Peterborough Museum. The goal is currently used as a retail space.  





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Albert Place Tragedy

1914

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John Francis Eayrs aged fifty six years, a tinsmith, was charged before the magistrates with the murder of his wife, and attempted suicide. John Francis Eayrs had married his housekeeper, Sarah Ann Weldon, a widow with a ten year old son in 1907. By 1911 they were living at the School House in Albert Place, but the marriage appears to have been a tempestuous one, with the couple both drinking and quarrelling; their next door neighbour stated, “Both appeared to drink and at such times they quarrelled. She had often heard the prisoner say to his wife “I will do you in”. During his trial  on the 20th of October at the Northamptonshire Assizes witnesses gave their accounts of the family and the events of 22nd August. A neighbour living opposite said, “During the past two years he often heard them quarrelling. On 22ndAugust he saw them quarrelling in the street and they were struggling on the pavement”. Another neighbour also added she was bathing her children when, “Mrs Eayrs came in and played with the children then returned to her own house. She seemed to have had a little drink”. Another witness had seen Eayrs in the Bull & Dolphin, “he was complaining about his wife’s drinking habits, and that if she did not alter he would have to do something desperate.” The witness said, “I told him not to talk like that, I had heard it before so didn’t take much notice of it.” A further witness stated, “He heard moaning in the prisoner’s backyard and found the prisoner lying under the living-room window. He was without a coat, had a wound in the throat, and was covered with blood. He spoke to the prisoner who did not reply so he sent for P.C. Powley. He later saw the dead body of Mrs Eayrs.”. P.C. Powley reported Eayrs was semi-conscious and that he had a wound two-inches long in the left side of his throat and was taken to the Infirmary. The constable found the body of Mrs Eayrs at the bottom of the yard. There was a large gash on the right side of the face. In the scullery, he found blood in the sink, on the floor and in a tub. On the window-ledge was a blood-stained razor, closed. Dr R. Jolley, Police Surgeon at Peterborough stated the wound in Mrs Eayrs neck commenced under the left ear and extended down to the left side of the breast bone. It was an inch deep in the upper part and gradually became shallower. All the arteries and veins on that side had been severed, and Mrs Eayrs dress and jacket had been cut through. Considerable force must have been used to produce such injuries, which might have been caused by the razor. John Francis Eayrs was reported as saying “They had quarrelled over a halfpenny.” He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging and was executed at Northampton Gaol. In a situation of dramatic intensity, there was one fleeting moment of poignant pathos. As the little procession was reaching the doors of the execution shed, Eayrs saw a warder standing upright at the entrance, he nodded slightly and said very quietly, “Good morning.” Another three steps, and he was in full view of the gallows. Then he halted, half turned to the same warder, and in a low voice, which could be heard with perfect distinctness, said, “I am going to die for a bad woman, you know.” And without further word, and evidently expecting no reply, he walked on to the fatal trap-door. Ten seconds more and only a white-shrouded head, hanging listlessly to one side, was visible above the open pit. (Execution details taken from Northampton Mercury 13 November 1914. Page 6, Column 2.                                                          Quote’s taken from Peterborough Citizen 8 September 1914. Page 3 Column 3 and Northampton Mercury 23 October 1914. Page 6, Column 2)





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Last Public Flogging

1819

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Benjamin Ayres and John Wyles were both convicted of stealing malt from Edward Hall of Wansford on 21st April at the Peterborough sessions.  John Wyles was given three months imprisonment, but Benjamin Ayres, having previously been employed by Mr Hall, received three months imprisonment and was to be publicly whipped once. An account from 90-year-old Thomas White Holdich in the Peterborough Advertiser in March 1899 recounted his memories of, amongst other things, whipping or flogging in the market place. Mr Holdich claimed that the prisoner would have has hands and feet tied behind him, whilst he was pulled behind a cart, forcing him to kneel. The gaol keeper would climb onto the cart with a cat-o'-nine tails and would whip the prisoner at around 30 second intervals as they travelled around the market place.





Liberty Gaol Opened

1844

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A call was made by the Justices of the Peace for Peterborough for plans and specifications to build a new gaol for Peterborough in 1839. The Cambridge Independent Press claimed that the plans of Mr Douthorn of Hanover Street, Hanover Square, London, were chosen and the site for the new Liberty gaol was proposed to be 'at the Upper end of Westgate (known as Gravel Close)', but this was not to be the case. 1 An alternate site was suggested on Thorpe Road, but a complicated legal battle ensued over the cost of proposed new land, with the Dean and Chapter fighting the Magistrates of the Liberty of Peterborough to claim fair remuneration for the land they needed to sell them for the gaol. 2 Although the first stone was laid for the gaol in 1840, the first group of prisoners didn't move in until 1844. The first petty sessions held in the new Liberty gaol were on Saturday 23rd February 1844, but it was unpopular with the judges who complained at having to walk such a distance to the court rooms! 3         1,Cambridge Independent Press, Saturday 14th December 1839, p3, 2, Lincolnshire Chronicle Friday 17th April 1840 p4, 3, Cambridge Independent Press, Saturday 2nd March 1844, p 3,  





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Last Public Execution

1812

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David Thompson Myers was the last man to be publicly executed in Peterborough, hanged on 11 May 1812 at Fengate. He was born in 1771 in Cumberland but moved to Stamford where he was a milliner and draper. Early in 1812 he was arrested and charged with 'unnatural offences' (i.e. homosexuality, at that time a crime) with a boy named Thomas Crow. On 11 March 1812 he was tried at the Lincolnshire assizes and acquitted on all charges as the only witness was the boy Crow, who was held to be of a generally bad character, and to be a liar. Unfortunately for Myers, he was then taken to Peterborough and tried again, for another instance of the same crime with the same boy, said to have been committed in Burghley Park. This time, sadly for Myers' life expectancy, there were several respectable corroborating witnesses, and he was found guilty and sentenced to death. This was the era of the ‘Bloody Code’ where over 200 'crimes' had the death penalty, including homosexuality. A petition to the Prince Regent from his uncle, Rev John Myers was unsuccessful, and after being held in the Abbot's Gaol, he was hanged before a crowd (according to the Stamford Mercury) of 5,000 people, 1,500 more than the total population of Peterborough at the time! His confession to the crime was printed up and sold as a souvenir.        





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An Eye for an Eye

1786

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On the 13th May 1786 Mr Robert Shelston was found dead in his yard in Eye. An inquest revealed his death had been caused by a fatal blow to the head: he had been murdered. After an investigation and conversation with several witnesses, the conclusion was made that Henry Love, also of Eye, was the perpetrator. Henry Love was found playing ninepins in Market Deeping. He was arrested and taken to the Angel Inn in Peterborough, where he confessed to the murder quite freely. (1) He went before Justice of the Peace Robert Blake on 12th July, where he was sentenced for execution on Borough Fen common the week after. Love was described as 'most astonishingly illiterate and of a sanguine disposition.' He'd also confessed to planning to rob and murder farmer Mr Richardson, also of Eye, before he'd been arrested. (2) On Friday 21st July, Henry Love walked the five mile journey from the gaol in Peterborough to Borough Fen via Eye. He was attacked by angry villagers as he entered Eye. Henry was so badly beaten that he needed support to walk to the execution tree. He was hanged from the tree and from there his body was taken to an out building overnight in Peterborough. His body was used for dissection by doctors. (3)
References
(1) Stamford Mercury, Friday 19th May 1786, p3, column 3 (2) Stamford Mercury, Friday 14th July 1786, p3, column 3 (3) Stamford Mercury, Friday 21st July 1786, p3, column 3