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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.





Market Makes a Medieval New Town

1143

Information

King Stephen visited and stayed at the monastery in 1143, granting a market charter. This allowed Abbot Martin de Bec to create a new market area to the west of the monastic precincts. He was then able to bankroll the building of the new monastic church. The monks created new commercial streets around the outside, leading to the first ‘new town’ development in Peterborough and effectively the street plan which still exists as the city centre today. The market square was later infilled with St John's church and the Guildhall or Buttercross. This almost halved the market square, but provided a religious centre for the townspeople.





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The Roman Town of Durobrivae

65-450AD

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A bridge was built across the River Nene around AD 65, after which a small settlement grew to the south west of the bridge. This prospered as a market centre for trade along the important Ermine Street, the precursor to the modern A1. The town had walls around it for protection and status, and developed major public buildings where a town council met and organised local government, which had controls over roads, cemeteries, baths, water supply and all aspects of the daily life of the town. Added to the towns market importance was its rich sources of clay and iron which were the key resources of a major pottery and metal working industry. The importance of Durobrivae lies in the fact that although the town walls covered 44 acres, the industrial suburbs extended for another 450 acres making a major settlement in Roman Britain.





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Roman Industrial Surburbs of Normangate Field

70-450AD

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The area to the south of Ailsworth and Castor villages is known as Normangate Field. It was the site of extensive Roman pottery and metal working workshops. The Roman road of Ermine Street runs through the area. It can be seen today as a massive bank of earth concealed underneath several hundred years of repeated road surfacing. The potteries here gave their name to the distinctive Roman pottery known at Castor Ware. Interpretation from 2018 has revealed that the Normangate Fields contained a complex and thriving community. The location of the fields put the pottery and metal workers in an excellent position. They were near the Praetorium, Durobrivae and Rive Nene for water-based transport. Also, not only were they straddling Ermine Street, but King Street too. It is possible that King Street was once much more important than Ermine Street based on the location of the workers.





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Mount Thorold (Peterborough Castle) Destroyed

1116

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There are varying accounts regarding the building of a castle in Peterborough. Most accounts agree that it was built by Abbot Thorold just after the Norman Conquest, in response to an attack by Hereward and a large group of Vikings (Danes). It was situated north of the abbey, close to the majority of the residents of the town, and was a simple wooden castle on a motte (hill). The castle was either destroyed in a fire in 1116 with most of the town, or was pulled down by Abbot Martin de Bec when he was rebuilding and redesigning the town: it was never rebuilt or replaced. The remains of the motte exist as a small hill in the cathedral grounds and in the street name Touthill Place. It was previously known as Mount Thorold or Turold and is a scheduled monument.





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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Quakers Move to Peterborough to Join Baker Perkins

1933

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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.





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Eccentric Astronomer Dies

1974

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Astronomer William Granger was best known by locals as the man who walked around with a cat on his shoulder,  however, he should be better known for his astronomical work. A member of the British Astronomical Association from the 1940s, he took such a great interest in astronomy that he built his own observatory in his back garden in Priory Road. He also ran an astronomy club at Orchard Street School, where he was a teacher, and turned his bathroom into a darkroom to develop astrological photographs. William's wife Ethel was famous for her record-breaking 13 inch waist, which many people have attributed to William's fetish for wasp-waisted women. They appeared as quite an eccentric couple, William walking around with a ginger cat named Treacle Pudding on his shoulder, next to Ethel with her miniscule waist, piercings and extreme high-heels, however they were spoken of fondly by the people who knew them. William died in 1974 aged 72.





Image of the River Nene & Broad Street

1902-1910

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This is a view of the River Nene looking north along Broad Street which led to Narrow Street. At this time Peterborough was an inland port receiving barges from the coast via Wisbech and Kings Lynn. The old iron bridge is clearly visible and the Customs House, which is out of view is still on the right hand side. On the left hand side today are flats and The Rivergate Centre. This image has been produced from an original postcard of the time. Publisher unknown, from the Jacqui Catling Collection.  





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Deer Park Created at Torpel Manor

1198

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The remains of Torpel Manor sit on the Western edge of Helpston on King Street. It is thought the first building was a wooden ring-work castle or fortified manor house, built by Roger Infans. He owned huge areas of the local countryside, but liked his house by the hamlet of Torpel the most, so he became Roger de Torpel. The early wooden building was surrounded by ditches, which still remain. There is some suggestion that it was once a motte and bailey construction, but this has been debated. The wooden building would have had a commanding position on King Street, with views over the Welland valley. It was later replaced by an impressive stone building made using local stone and slate. There was also a large deer park too, which was an important sign of wealth. The deer park was created in 1198; we know this because Roger de Torpel had to ask permission to create the park and pay a lot of money. Only the wealthy were allowed to create or own deer parks. They were built to provide a source of food and entertainment for the owners. The ability to hunt on your own land was a status symbol and a way for the rich to show off to their friends. Little remains of the buildings that were once on the grassy mounds, but there have been a number of recent projects to discover more about Torpel. This included a project with the department of archaeology and York University. The site is scheduled, but is accessible to visitors from either Helpston or Ashton along the Torpel Way route. This site should not be confused with the building remains SW of Torpel Manor, which have been referred to as Torpel Manor, Castle and hunting lodge.
References
Timeline for Torpel Manor Field and The Story of Torpel PDF both accessed from http://langdyke.org.uk/torpel-manor-field/ Photo credit cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Michael Trolove - geograph.org.uk/p/3252955