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More Holy Relics for Peterborough’s Abbey

1174

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Construction of the Becket Chapel and adjacent hospital began in 1174. They were built to house many of the monastery’s holy relics, not least the relics of the newly canonised St Thomas Becket. Becket had visited the abbey with King Henry II in 1154, but was later murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. Abbot Benedict acquired some of Becket’s relics for Peterborough Abbey which were to encourage pilgrims. These included the flagstone his head laid on as he died; a bottle of Becket’s blood (said to never congeal); and furthermore Becket’s bloodied undergown he was wearing as he was murdered. The latter was ceremonially washed on feast days; the washing water was then collected and sold to pilgrims as a cure-all. The Becket Chapel survives today as the Cathedral’s tea-room.





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A Highwayman in Dogsthorpe

1821

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A highwayman stopped a farmer on Lincoln Road near Dogsthorpe and threatened to murder him if he didn’t pay up. Another traveller happened to be passing on horseback and together with the farmer gave the highwayman ‘a thorough thumping’. The farmer beat him with his own bludgeon and the traveller whipped the clothes off the highway man's back before letting him go, so badly beaten they hoped it would mend his ways.





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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A Jack the Ripper Victim?

1849

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Alice McKenzie was born at Drapers House in Priestgate in 1849, but moved to the East End of London, where it is likely that she worked as a prostitute. She was murdered at about 12.40am on Wednesday 17th July 1889 in Castle Alley, Whitechapel by a method very similar to that used by Jack the Ripper, the infamous Whitechapel serial killer. Many believe she was one of his last victims. An interview with John McCormack, the man Alice had been living with in London, stated he thought she was from Peterborough. They had been living together for about seven years and he thought she was quite respectable. This was echoed by her friend Margaret Franklin, who claimed she was also known as Alice Bryant.  





Stone Age Burial – Was it Murder?

4000-2500 BC

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A Neolithic grave  found in Fengate contained a man who had been killed by being shot with a flint arrow, the head of which was found lodged between his ribs. He was accompanied by a woman, a baby and a child, with unknown cause of death.  The skeletons are on display in Peterborough Museum. Why did all four individuals die at the same time and be buried in the same grave? Were they a family? Was this a very early multiple murder?





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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





The First Neolithic Lowland Hut Built

3000BC

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The first people to discover the benefits of Fengate were Neolithic farmers in around 3,000BC or 5,000 years ago. Fengate is to the east of modern Peterborough, now mainly industrial land, but perfect farmland in the past. The neolithic people farmed the area and built a small rectangular lowland hut. The hut was wooden and around seven metres square, so large enough to be a home, although there is no evidence to prove this. However, a few years after the hut was discovered, archaeologists found a family of Neolithic skeletons in a grave nearby. It is likely that they were the people who lived in the hut, or at least used it. The adult male in the group of skeletons appears to have been murdered: was he killed defending his wooden hut? The hut is the only Neolithic example found in the Fens, but similar huts have been discovered in other parts of England, primarily in the south and east.