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House to Hospital

1857

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Following the death of Thomas Alderson Cooke in 1854 his Priestgate Mansion was bought by the 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam in 1856. He gifted it to the city to be used as the city’s first hospital, the Peterborough Infirmary. It was ready to be used as a hospital by 1857, accepting both male and female patients. The infirmary was run by a charitable trust who relied on donations. The house remained Peterborough's Infirmary until 1928.  





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Alfred Caleb Taylor and the First X Ray Machine...

1896

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Alfred Caleb Taylor was born in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire in 1861 and came to Peterborough aged ten. He worked at the Peterborough Infirmary on Priestgate from 1880 as a dispenser. He also served as Secretary of the Infirmary from 1889 until his retirement in 1926. Mr Taylor had a keen interest in photography and chaired the Peterborough Photographic Society. This carried over into an interest in X-rays being an early advocate of X-ray technology. In 1896 he designed and built his own equipment under the stairs in the infirmary. This device, the first X-ray machine in the United Kingdom outside London, was powered by accumulators. They were recharged at a local flour mill as there was no public electricity supply at that time. When an electricity supply was available in Peterborough, Mr Harry Cox, from London, was consulted regarding a larger installation. Many people made donations towards the new x-ray apparatus; Mr Andrew Carnegie, Peterborough’s first Freeman kindly donated £125 towards the installation.  As with the photography of the time the images produced by the X-ray machines were positives rather than negatives.

Radiography

As the science of radiography was so new, the danger of exposure to X-rays was unknown.  Taylor worked with the x-rays so often, that it badly affected his health.  He contracted radiation poisoning resulting in the loss of four fingers, three on the left hand and one on the right. Despite this he never expressed any regrets and said, “I have only done my duty, and if I have sacrificed bits of my fingers so that I am not able to tie up my shoes laces, I feel I have been compensated, for I have loved the x-ray work and its excitements. For all the trouble I had at the beginning I have been more than compensated by your appreciation, and although I have lost bits of fingers, I would still do the same if I had my life to come again.” Alfred Caleb Taylor died on the 6th of July 1927, a pioneer and martyr.  





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Victorian Operating Theatre

1897

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The first purpose-built operating theatre was opened in 1897. It was built as an extension to Peterborough Infirmary. It provided state of the art care for the people of Peterborough, incorporating the most up to date medical ideas. These ideas included the use of anaesthesia and keeping the theatre meticulously clean.  So many things we take for granted in the twenty-first century were new ideas to the Victorians. However, these new ideas still save lives now. It was originally lit by gas lighting and had a glass roof to maximise light. The funds to build the operating theatre came from two Peterborough women who chose to remain anonymous, they went by the name 'Heliotrope'. The Victorian operating theatre is open to visitors to Peterborough Museum. It still contains many of its original features including the glazed white tiles. Replicas of the tools used in the past are also on show. A small case details some of the people who worked in the operating theatre.





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A Museum for Peterborough

1931

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When the infirmary moved to the newly completed Memorial Hospital in 1928 the Infirmary building was acquired by Percy Malcolm Stewart. He was Chair of the London Brick Company, who donated it to the Museum Society to house their collection. At that time it was known as the Natural History, Scientific and Archaeological Society. It was opened in 1931, with the art gallery added in 1939. Everything has been owned by the Council since 1968, when the Museum Society gave them to the city. In May 2010, management of the building and its collections was taken over by Vivacity.





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Peterborough Infirmary Fire

1884

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At midday on 9th May 1884 there was a disastrous fire at Peterborough Infirmary in Priestgate. The infirmary contained 100 patients who were hauled outside onto the grass to safety, along with as much medical equipment as could be saved. Some of the first newspaper reports suggested that patients were still inside the building when the roof collapsed, but these rumours were unfounded and everybody was accounted for; the patients were driven away in cabs or moved to a building supplied by the Dean and Chapter.  The fire was caused by an overheated flue and caused £5,000 worth of damage. The lack of accessible water to extinguish the fire and deficiencies of the Fire Brigade led to the formation of the Peterborough Volunteer Fire Brigade.





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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.  





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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Thomas Hunter, the Lonely ANZAC

1916

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Thomas Hunter was born in County Durham in 1880 but emigrated as a young man to Australia where he worked as a coal miner. At the outbreak of the First World War, he, like many young men enlisted, in his case in the 10th battalion of the 10th division, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces. He fought at Gallipoli and then in the trenches of France and Belgium. In 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, Sgt Hunter was badly injured, so severely that he was shipped back to England for surgery. He was put on a train for Halifax with other wounded but on the journey his condition worsened badly so he was taken off the train at Peterborough and brought to the infirmary where, sadly, on the 31st of July 1916, he died. As he died away from home and his comrades he came to be known as the 'Lonely Anzac'. His death touched the hearts of Peterborians, in a way he came to represent their young men away fighting. A public subscription fund paid  for his funeral and a memorial. The mayor and civic dignitaries led the funeral procession to the Broadway Cemetery and the entire town came to a stop to pay their respects. A two metre tall granite cross was placed on his grave, and a brass plaque to his memory mounted in the military chapel in the cathedral. Every year on ANZAC day, April 25th, a civil ceremony is held at his graveside, attended by the mayor, civic dignitaries and a representative from the Australian High Commission.





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Peterborough Memorial Hospital Opens

1928

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The Memorial Hospital was opened by Field Marshal Sir William Robertson in 1928, as a memorial to those of the city and the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment who died in the First World War, it replaced the Peterborough Infirmary; the building that had housed the infirmary becoming  Peterborough Museum. When the Memorial Hospital opened it had six wards in three blocks: separate male and female surgical and medical wards, an accident ward and a children's ward. It had 150 beds, two operating theatres, a radiology department, a small casualty department, and outpatients, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy departments. A separate hospital at Fengate was used to treat infectious diseases. The Memorial hospital was transferred to the newly formed National Health Service in 1948.





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Death of John Thompson, Builder and Renovator

1897

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The John Thompson saga starts in about 1820 when his father (also called John Thompson) came to Peterborough to carry our restorations to Peterborough Cathedral. With his stonework skill and his associate, Francis Ruddle’s woodworking skills the firm gradually took off.  He died in 1853 and John Thompson (Jr) took over and by 1860 he was constructing major buildings and restoring Cathedrals. At its peak the firm employed over a 1000 men. His success was such that he was Mayor of Peterborough four times! After his death the firm was carried on by his sons, so the John Thompson story involves more than just one man. In later years the firm of John Thompson (and associated companies) specialised in the provision of Church artefacts and furniture such as: altars, pews, lecterns, screens, war memorials, grave goods, organ cases, pulpits, clergy seats, desks, stools and alter rails, many fine examples of this work can be found in St Johns Church in Peterborough. The firm also built private houses and continued to build major projects but to a smaller scale (from about 1914) until in 1931 the firm went into voluntary liquidation and finally ceased trading in 1938. A quote from The Architect and Contract Reporter for 10th February 1888 says of the firm's work: ‘It is not only the structural work which is undertaken, but sculpture in wood and stone. Everything is done to ensure purity of style. Casts, photographs and drawings of the finest models are obtained, and the workshops at Peterborough are undoubtedly a most excellent art school’. The Peterborough archive houses the John Thompson archive, consisting of over 1400 photographs plus other documents. These clearly demonstrate the very special work of John Thompson and his associates. Projects include: Restorations of Cathedrals
  • Peterborough (Central Tower and West Front)
  • Lincoln
  • Rochester
  • Chester
  • Winchester (carried out major restorations including working with a diver to underpin the main walls which were about to collapse).
  • Hereford
  • Ripon
  • Litchfield
  • Bangor
  • Coventry (before it became a Cathedral)
Restoration of Churches
  • St Johns Peterborough
  • Paris: construction of the tower and spire to the American Cathedral
  • Orton Longville Church
  • Cromer Church: extending the Nave.
Plus many others New Build Churches
  • St Marks Peterborough
  • Tower of St Mary’s Church Peterborough
  • St Barnibus church Peterborough
  • St Pauls Church Peterborough
These are just the Peterborough churches, there are at least 50 others spread throughout the country Secular Projects
  • Glasgow University (two phases)
  • Selwyn College Cambridge
  • St Peters Training College Peterborough 1863
  • Extensions to the Infirmary (now Peterborough Museum)
  • Royal College of Music Kensington
  • Kings School Peterborough
  • Lonely Anzac Memorial
  (Research work done by Andrew Cole)  





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