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Priestgate Mansion



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.

House to Hospital



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.  


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



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.


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.  


Priestgate Explosion



On 4th May a large explosion occurred in Priestgate between the Phoenix Brewery and Angel Inn. Reports claimed that fumes from the Phoenix Brewery had mixed with sewer and coal gases. It's then thought these were accidentally ignited by a discarded cigarette.
The Explosion
The explosion was dramatic and affected both Priestgate and Narrow Bridge Street, but the effects were worse in Priestgate. Paving stones were thrown high up into the air and all of the windows were smashed in Priestgate, with more in Narrow Bridge Street. To make things worse the contents of the sewers, including thousands of dead rats, were thrown up against the buildings. People were particularly alarmed because there had been a recent threat to blow up the Cathedral. There were no records of any deaths, other than the rats, and no record of how long it took to get rid of the smell!

Peterborough Infirmary Fire



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.


Death of Thomas Alderson Cooke



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.  

A Jack the Ripper Victim?



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.  

People Living in Tudor Peterborough



Thanks to the Churchwardens Accounts of St John's Church in Peterborough, we know some of the people living in the city in Tudor times. The church recorded how much rent was paid on property and who paid it. Most of the names are of men, but there are some women. Some people are only recorded by their surname. A few of the names seem rather odd to modern eyes because they are spelt very differently to today, so alternatives are given. The four districts recorded relate to streets or areas that you might not recognise today, so their modern equivalent is provided. Dogsthorpe was included as a district, but has been missed off this list. Prestgatt (Priestgate) Fraunces (John Francis), Edward Bellamy, Elexaunder Mylner (Alexander Milner), Joanne Fletcher, Robart Pynnyng (Robert Pinning), Agnys Coper (Agnes Cooper), Sawnder (Alexander?) the labourer Markettsted (Cathedral Square) William Haw, George Spenser, Thomas Whyght (White), [Mistress Baley deleted], Sir William Bell, Allys Padman (Alice Padman) Hygatt (Bridge Street) Bygges Wyffe (Bigge's wife), John Houndysley (John Houndesley), John Pattenson Westgatt (Westgate) Wylkynson (Wilkinson), Joanne Cosson, William Farssett (possibly Farcet) Bowngatt (Boongate) John Monesty, The Myller (Miller)  
W. T. Mellows (ed.), Peterborough Local Administration Chruchwarden's Accounts 1467-1573 with Supplementary Documents 1107-1488, Northamptonshire Record Society, 1939

The Loss of a Wonderful Image



Judith Image was the daughter of Reverend John Image and his wife Mary. She was baptised on 12th February 1775 in St. John's Church, Peterborough, by her father. She was one of at least seven children born to the Images, most of whom died in infancy. Her father was vicar of Peterborough, so the family lived together in the rectory, which was in Priestgate. Fortunately Judith, or Julia as she was often known, survived to adulthood and married well. Her husband was Thomas Alderson Cooke, who was originally from Salford in Lancashire. Together they had 12 children, 10 of whom survived into adulthood. The family are best known as the residents of what is now Peterborough Museum. Thomas commissioned the building of the house on the most impressive site in the city, which just happened to be opposite the old vicarage, Judith's childhood home.
Sadly Judith died after only a few months of living in the mansion. Her death was unexpected and a terrible loss to both her husband and 10 children. She was remembered in an inscription: Judith Cooke, wife of Thomas Alderson Cooke, Esq., and daughter of the late John Image, clerk, many years vicar of this parish, whose virtues she inherited, on the 15th February 1817 and in the 42nd year of her age, she was so suddenly snatched from a numerous and affectionate family, whose consolation under so heavy an affliction is the humble confidence that she is taken to a region where pain and sorrow are known no more. She was buried next to her children Mary Caroline and Thomas Henry, who both died at 6 months old in 1800 and 1806 respectively. She was joined later by Thomas' third wife Mary Joanna (died 1825) and Thomas himself in 1854. All of the Cookes were buried in Cowgate Cemetery which was located where the Crescent Bridge roundabout is now located. All the remains were moved to Broadway Cemetery.

The Phoenix Brewery Gets A Considerable Addition



The Phoenix Brewery was based at the eastern end of Priestgate, opposite the Angel Inn. It was managed by Fredrick Markby initially, before he became bankrupt. It was then sold in 1844 and continued by J. G. Atkinson, a solicitor. He advertised the sale of Guiness, as well as Stout, Pale Ale and Bitter made at the brewery, with a 25% discount given to 'The Trade'. (1) In 1847 a useful addition was made to the premises: 'a very considerable addition has been made to the brewery at Priestgate-Street, a large yard with stables and outbuildings, having been added thereto. This is an improvement in this part of the city which was much needed, and will add materially to the liveliness and business-like appearance.' (2) He continued to manage the business until it passed  to Charles Cutlack and his family. Many bottles marked with Phoenix and Cutlack have been found throughout the city and both names are synonymous with brewing in the city.
(1) Stamford Mercury, Fri 6th December 1844, p1, col 2 (2) Cambridge Independent Press, Sat 7th Aug 1847, p3, col 7