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Notorious Highwayman Hanged

1605

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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.





First Distress Signal Sent at Sea

1909

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The first ever distress signal at sea was sent by John (Jack) Robinson Binns. Early Life: Jack was born in Brigg Union Workhouse, Lincolnshire, in 1884, but moved to Peterborough in 1885 to live with his uncle, William. He left school when he was aged 14 and gained employment as a Telegraph Clerk with the Great Eastern Railway. Unfortunately for Jack, not long after he started work he sustained serious injuries to his legs in a railway accident and spent six months recuperating in Peterborough Infirmary. He continued working for the GER but eventually left to attend the Marconi Radio Company Training School and ‘graduated’ as a ‘Marconi Man’ in the merchant marine. Heroism at Sea: After serving on board various German ships and doing a spell of shore duty in Ireland Jack joined the White Star Line as a Telegraphist (Wireless Operator). Jack was on duty on the RMS Republic in January 1909 when the liner was in collision with the Italian liner Florida in the North Atlantic. The Republic sustained serious damage but John was able to transmit a Morse code distress signal, 'CQD' (CQ being a call for any ships or land-based radio operators, and the 'D' being the all-important signal for distress), which was picked up by the Marconi Radio shore station on Nantucket Island. This signal is acknowledged to be the first ever distress signal sent at sea. The signal was re-transmitted to the SS Baltic which, together with other vessels, was able to steam to the assistance of the stricken ships, guided by the radio signals sent out by Jack who stayed at his post for nineteen hours, in the biting cold (part of the radio cabin had been ripped away in the collision leaving it open to the elements) working with crude equipment running on emergency back-up batteries. Six people died in the accident; all surviving passengers and crew from the Republic were transferred to the Florida which made it safely into port. The RMS Republic, however, was too badly damaged and sank in 40 fathoms south of Nantucket. Life After the Sinking: Jack was welcomed as a hero when he returned to New York where he was subjected to much unwanted publicity and inducements to profit financially from his experiences but these were rejected and Jack returned to England. He arrived back in Peterborough, which he considered to be his home, on Feb. 9th, where he was greeted by the Mayor and presented with a scroll of honour. Marconi presented Jack with a gold watch in recognition of his heroism.  He had suggested after the 1909 collision that every merchant ship should carry two wireless operators and this principle was incorporated into the US 1912 Radio Act. In 1939 he received a medal from the ‘Veteran Wireless Operators Association'. Jack continued his employment with the White Star Line and, in 1912, was offered a job on the company's newest liner, the Titanic. By this time, however, the young 'Marconiman' was engaged, and his American fiancee didn't want him to return to sea.  He resigned his position and went to work as a journalist in New York. Ironically, his first journalistic assignment was to report on the loss of the Titanic! Jack died of a stroke in New York in 1959. He bequeathed his gold watch, medals and scroll to the citizens of Peterborough and they are now in the possession of Peterborough Museum. References: Peterborough Archives





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Jimmy the Donkey: War hero or Super Hoax?

1943

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Jimmy the Donkey was born in the early Twentieth Century and used to raise money for the RSPCA. He is commemorated in Central park, where he was laid to rest in 1943. His journey to Peterborough, however, is either one of heroic endeavours or a great hoax. Jimmy was supposedly born in the trenches of World War I in 1916. He was rescued from No-Man's Land and adopted by the Cameronian Scottish Rifles who cared for him with their rations. He supported the soldiers by pulling and carrying what he could. So valuable was he to the regiment, that they made him a Sergeant and gave him three stripes. After the war the donkey was bought by local RSPCA inspector, Mrs Heath, who took pity on him. The Cameronians were based in Peterborough for a short while in 1920 and that was when she bought him. She wanted to give him a good life and use the war hero to raise money for the charity. They offered rides in a small carriage pulled behind Jimmy and raised a huge amount for the RSPCA until his death in 1943. However, George Wilding the son of a horse dealer, revealed that Jimmy's story had been a hoax. His father had bought the donkey and was having difficulty selling it, so he created its back story in the hope of a sale. This called into question whether Jimmy was the celebrated hero, or just an average donkey. But the donkey raised so much money for charity over the years, that he should be remembered, regardless of his birth. The memorial is accessible in Central Park every day





Lolham Manor

1485

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Lolham Manor or Hall is a grade II listed building with Tudor features. Dated to the early years of the Tudor period, it contains a fireplace from the time and also wooden panelling. The manor was long associated with the Claypoles of Northborough Manor, especially Adam Claypole. He was living in Lolham Hall in 1622 when he gifted Northborough Manor to his son John Claypole. The hall is also associated with the Clitheroes/Clitherows and there is a reference to Christopher Clitheroe's Estate at Lolham in 1693 in the Fitzwilliam papers in Northamptonshire Archives. There is also a reference to a mortgage for Leonard Gale of the Manor of Lolham. Leonard Gale was father-in-law to James Clitheroe the second. Lolham Manor is a private property and cannot be viewed by the public. The supporting picture is an example of Tudor panelling only. References: London Metropolitan Archives ACC/1360 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/b292a2ca-9c28-4b37-8265-cf3875816561