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Priestgate Mansion

1816

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The Georgian building known as Priestgate Mansion, which now houses Peterborough Museum was completed in 1816. It was created by wealthy magistrate Thomas Alderson Cooke, one of Peterborough’s most distinguished residents. The mansion was built on the site of the Tudor house known as Neville Place. It was built on top of the original building, which became the cellars of the new mansion. Some of the currently ground floor walls are possibly from the original house because of their enormous width. Priestgate mansion was originally built as a large symmetrical cube with an additional south-facing curved end. The curved end most likely contained a breakfast room to make the most of the rising sun on cold days and to enjoy the view down to the river Nene. The ground floor was designed for formal entertaining in the dining room and living room. On the first floor were the main bedrooms and on the top floor the nursery and servant rooms. There were not any bathrooms built in to the house originally, so portable water closets were used by people in the house.





Laurel Court House

1870

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Laurel Court House for girls was founded by Margaret Gibson and Annette Van Dissel at first in premises on London Road in 1869 before moving to Laurel Court in the Cathedral Precincts. The school prepared pupils for university examinations and specialised in music and French and German. Miss Gibson had a forceful personality but she had eccentric tendencies. She eventually went blind but remained in charge of her school. Nurse Edith Cavell (executed by German firing squad on 12 October 1915) was a student teacher at the school before taking up nursing. In recognition of Miss Gibson’s almost 60 years as the school principal and of her services to the education of girls she was made an Honorary Freedman of the City of Peterborough in1926- the first woman to receive this honour. She died in 1928 aged 91.





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World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945

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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.





Death of Thomas Alderson Cooke

1854

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Thomas Alderson Cooke was born into a rich family in Salford. He moved to Peterborough where he became a local magistrate, Sherriff of Northamptonshire and later High Sherriff. He married Julia Image, the daughter of the late vicar of St John's church John Image. Together they had 12 children, 10 of whom survived childhood. He had 4 wives in total, including a very public annulment of the marriage to his second wife Charlotte Squires. She was from a successful merchant family, but was many years younger than him. Thomas Alderson Cooke is best remembered for commissioning a large mansion on Priestgate in 1816, on Neville Place, which is home to Peterborough Museum. He is also credited with building the Dower House on the corner of Trinity Street. It was built in the 1840s for his fourth wife Mary. It was a church for some years, which is how it gained a spire, and is currently a nursery. A well-respected magistrate for many years, he continued to preside until the week before he died, despite being incapacitated. He died in December 1854, after which his house was bought by the Fitzwilliams in an auction and gifted to the city as an infirmary.  





The National Health Service is Born

1948

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On the 5th of July 1948, Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan launched the National Health Service (NHS) at Park Hospital in Manchester. Its ethos was to provide health services for all, free at the point of delivery.  For the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists  were brought together, nationally,  in one organisation.





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Execution of Edith Cavell

1915

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Edith Cavell is the World War I British nurse who is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers in Brussels from all sides without distinction. Along with Belgian and French colleagues she helped over 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. She was arrested and tried with 33 others by a German military court. She was found guilty of ‘assisting men to the enemy’ and shot by a German firing squad on October 12, 1915. Edith had attended the Laurel Court girl’s school in the Cathedral Precincts 1885-6 as a ‘Pupil Teacher’. In modern terms she was a cross between a teaching assistant and a sixth former. She learnt to speak French fluently whilst at Laurel Court, which equiped her for working in Belgium. Initially she worked as a governess and later as nurse. There is a memorial to Edith Cavell in the south aisle of the Cathedral.





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