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Neville Place and the Ormes

1536

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In 1536 a Tudor house called Neville Place was built by Sir Humphrey Orme, who was a courtier of Henry VIII. The house was built on the site of current museum building. The Ormes were important in Peterborough for over 250 years. They were Members of Parliament, Magistrates and also Feoffees. They were royalist during the English Civil War and were involved in the building of the Guildhall after the Restoration.





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A Royal ‘Resident’

1646

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King Charles I was briefly held prisoner in the city. He was on his way to London to be imprisoned, prior to his execution. He was held in the Abbot’s Gaol, which is next to the west gate of the cathedral. There were many local supporters who included the Orme family.
Evidence of the Gaol
One of the old wooden doors of the gaol can be seen in Peterborough Museum. The goal is currently used as a retail space.  





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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.





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 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.





The Guildhall Completed

1671

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The Guildhall, also known as the Buttercross or Chamber Over the Cross, was built to commemorate the restoration of the monarchy and was paid for by public subscription. It was built by local builder John Lovin, who was partly paid by the minting of an octagonal Peterborough halfpenny. Many local influential families subscribed to the building of the Guildhall and several coats of arms can be seen on the side of the building. Peterborough Museum houses a turtle shell decorated with the arms of Sir Humphrey Orme, MP and owner of Neville Place (the site of the present museum). It is said that Sir Humphrey supplied the turtle for soup eaten to celebrate its completion.





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First Purpose-Built Prisoner of War Camp

1797

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The first inmates arrived at the Norman Cross Prisoner of War Camp in 1797, which was the first purpose built camp of its kind. Its location was chosen because it was within reach of London, close to the Great North Road and accessible from a river, but deemed too difficult to escape from easily. It was built primarily of timber in the style of an artillery fort and divided into quadrangles which contained barracks for the prisoners. During the Napoleonic Wars and at its height, it housed over 6,000 low-ranking soldiers and sailors from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, which dwarfed the population of Peterborough. Higher ranking and well-respected officers paroled outside the camp, mostly in Peterborough and local towns and were free to live as citizens. The camp was not designed as a correctional facility, so there was the chance for prisoners to make and sell goods locally, get access to education and entertain themselves with a theatre, drinking and gambling. All of the buildings and equipment were auctioned off in 1816 a couple of years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Many fine examples of the delicate bone, wood and straw work objects created by the prisoners to earn money can be viewed in Peterborough Museum in an interactive gallery dedicated to the Norman Cross prison.





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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.  





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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