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A Fox Hunt Through the City



One plucky fox garnered its own special mention in the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal in 1843. The paper recounted how a fox hunt had started in Norwood, which was open country between Paston and Eye, and from there took a remarkable journey. The riders and dogs chased the fox from Norwood to Fengate and then to Boongate. From there the fox fled into the cathedral grounds, but finding no salvation, continued on to Bridge Street. It hurried along Bridge Street, crossing over the bridge to Fletton, where it tried to hide in the parsonage of Rev. Edward Theed. Sadly, there was no one home, so the fox was flushed out and the chase was over. It's thought that between 200 and 300 people were there to see the spectacular chase. Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, November 1843

Holy Waters Run Deep



A peculiar landscape feature in Longthorpe has been the source of several myths and tall tales over the years and debate is still ongoing as to its origins. The holywell, situated in land to the west of Thorpe Hall, is also known as St Cloud's well. It was said to have been the home of hermit St Cloud in the past. It's first reference as a holy well is from a document dated to the Abbotship of William Genge (1396-1408), although the location was referenced earlier than that. (1) The well is in fact a natural spring which was contained under a mound in the eighteenth century to form a grotto. One myth surrounding the well is that the mound contained an entrance way to tunnels that led to the Cathedral. Although the land was once controlled by the Cathedral, it is geographically impossible for a tunnel to have existed between those two sites. Similarly the myths about hermits living there cannot be true due to the date that the mound was built. The spring feeds a series of medieval fishponds, which are still in place. Again there is some uncertainty about their origin. One idea is that they were used originally by the Cathedral and later by occupants of Thorpe Hall. Another argument is that they were created by the occupants of Longthorpe Manor. This suggestion is the favoured option because the Cathedral had their own fish ponds. Although eating fish that had swum in the waters of a holy well might have appealed to the religious community.

Notes and Queries About the Fenlands



The journal 'Fenland Notes and Queries' was first published in April 1889 and printed in Peterborough by George Caster. The journal, published quarterly, was created to bring together facts and stories relating to the fens. The information was provided by a large group of contributors, many of them clergy, some women and some anonymous. The fenland area covered by the journal included the counties of 'Huntingdon, Cambridge, Lincoln, Northampton, Norfolk and Suffolk.' (1) Intended to be of interest to antiquarians, the journal also proved popular with 'others interested in the history and folklore of the district.' (2) The journal, or magazine as it was termed, was compiled into volumes, the first covering the years 1889 to 1891. In total seven volumes were created, the last completed in 1909. The first issues were edited by W. H. B. Saunders, who was succeeded by Rev. W. D. Sweeting of Maxey. Thankfully all of the volumes are available to read online and can be searched easily for places and people. There are many references to Peterborough and surrounding villages which can tell us more about life in the past. In Volume Seven the lyrics and notes are written relating to a May Day Garland Song which it was claimed was 'sung by the children when carrying the garlands round the city'. (3) The recording of songs is an often forgotten element of recording and one of the many features that makes the volumes so valuable.
(1) Fenland Notes and Queries, Vol I, Ed W. H. Bernard Saunders, Publisher G. Caster, 1991, preface (2) Fenland Notes and Queries, Vol I, Ed W. H. Bernard Saunders, Publisher G. Caster, 1991, p2 (3) Fenland Notes and Queries, Vol VII Ed. Rev. W. D. Sweeting, Publisher G. Caster, 1909, p24-25

First Distress Signal Sent at Sea



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