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Peterborough Under Water

165 million years ago

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Peterborough was much closer to the equator in Jurassic times and a shallow sea covered the area. Together with warmer global temperatures, the local climate would have felt as balmy as the Bahamas. In the 145 million years since the Jurassic Period, the continents have moved hundreds of miles. Ever since the Earth formed, the rocky plates on its surface have moved around very slowly, powered by the heat in the planet’s core. Today, the continents continue to move as they collide and separate very slowly. Peterborough’s Jurassic sea was packed with creatures of all sizes, from microsopic to monstrous. The small fish, ammonites and belemnites feasted on shoals of plankton. They in turn became food for larger creatures. At the top of the food chain were the large ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs and crocodiles. The shallow sea supported a huge variety of fish of all sizes and shapes, adapted for life at different depths in the water. Near the surface, shoals of fast-swimming Caturus hunted smaller fish. The vast Leedsichthys – the biggest fish ever known – cruised harmelssly among them, gulping in water and filtering plankton to eat. When these creatures died they sank to the bottom of the sea where some of them became fossilised. Peterborough Museum houses a magnificent collect of these fossils.





Leedsichthys, the Big Jurassic Fish

150 million years ago

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The Jurassic sea was home to the biggest species of fish ever known, Leedsichthys problematicus This bony fish would have grown up to 16 metres in length, and is thought to have been a filter feeder, living on plankton and krill. In 2001, the most complete skeleton of Leedsichthys was discovered in the Star Pit brick quarry near Peterborough. A team of fossil experts excavated the creature, over a period of 2 years.  Over 1800 bones were collected. The specimen is now part of the Peterborough Museum collections.





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Birth of Alfred Leeds, Fossil Dealer

1847

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Alfred Nicholson Leeds was the first person that found Leedsichthys fossil fish bones. He was a pioneer in methods of collecting and preserving fossil skeletons in the latter half of the 19th Century. For nearly half a century he devoted his leisure to recovering the remains of fossil reptiles and fishes. He collected the specimens from the brick pits in the Oxford Clay near Peterborough. By his death in 1917, Alfred Leeds had excavated and sold literally thousands of Oxford Clay vertebrate fossils. He sent his finds to museum collections in countries around the world including Germany, Sweden and the United States. His name is now in the fossil he first discovered - he is the Leeds in 'Leeds'-icthys.





Eyebury Monastic Grange

1295

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Eyebury Grange has been in existence since medieval times. It belonged to Peterborough Abbey and is similar to Oxney Grange, which is very close by. Evidence remains of a moat, dovecote, brewhouse, warren and large deer park, which suggest the grange was quite sufficient and productive. The first abbot to take an interest in Eyebury is purportedly Abbot Walter of Bury. He supposedly built a hall surrounded by a moat and drawbridge in the 12th century of which the octagonal column exists in a cellar. This makes it similar in date to Oxney Grange, which dates from the early 12th century. The Victoria County History of Northamptonshire suggests the main hall was built around 1295 by Abbot Godfrey of Crowland. He continued to add further buildings over the next 20 years which included a windmill and lime kiln. It was an important site for the abbey, providing plenty of food, drink and income for the monks. Unsurprisingly, Eyebury Grange was sold on after the dissolution of the monasteries. It eventually became home to the Leeds family, whose children became famous geologists and archaeologists after exploring the local clay and gravel pits. Eyebury Farm is currently a private home and is not open to visitors. References: http://www.eyepeterborough.co.uk/heritage/eyebury/ R M Serjeantson and W Ryland D Adkins, eds., The Victoria history of the county of Northampton: volume two (1906) p491 Photo credit: © Richard Humphrey  





Edward Thurlow Leeds and the Ashmolean Museum

1877

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Edward Thurlow Leeds was born in 1877 at Eyebury Grange near Peterborough. His father was the geologist Alfred Nicholson Leeds who had also been born at Eyebury. Born in Peterborough, he was educated at Uppingham School before heading to Cambridge. He had started his career in China, but returned to England following ill health. Whilst recovering he returned to Eyebury where his interest in archaeology was ignited by digging in the archaeologically rich area. He accepted a position at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1908 and quickly found himself progressing to the role of Assistant Keeper of the Department of Antiquities. There he remained until his retirement, becoming head Keeper in 1928. Edward Thurlow Leeds left a legacy of not only papers but also artefacts at the museum. His work on the Anglo Saxon period is one of his best known achievements. He was honoured with a gold medal by the Society of Antiquaries in 1946. During his life he published many works including The Archaeology of the Anglo Saxon Settlements in 1913. He died in 1955 at the age of 78. His works can be viewed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Photo credit: © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0)