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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.





King John and the Great Charter

1216

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King John stayed at Peterborough's monastery in 1216. He used it as a base of operations to attack his enemies in the region during the Civil War. The war followed his agreement to the text of the Magna Carta and then ripping up of it. He may have left a draft copy of the Magna Carta here, hence the inclusion of it in one of the monastery’s cartularies, known today as ‘the Black Book of Peterborough'. Magna Carta means Great Charter in Latin.





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Start of the Battle of Britain

1940

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The Battle of Britain was a major air campaign fought over southern England in the summer and autumn of 1940.  Germany aimed to invade Britain but in order to do so they had to secure control of the skies over Southern Britain and remove the treat of the Royal Air Force (RAF). The battle for control lasted from July 1940 until October 1940 and airfields around Peterborough were much involved. The men of the RAF who fought were named 'The Few' by Winston Churchill. They numbered nearly 3,000 and while most of the pilots were British, Fighter Command was an international force, men came from all over the Commonwealth and occupied Europe, from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Belgium, France, Poland and Czechoslovakia. There were even some pilots from the neutral United States and Ireland.





Peterborough East Station Opens

1845

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Opening on the 2nd of June 1845, Peterborough East was the first railway station in Peterborough, built by the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR). It linked Peterborough with the London and Birmingham Railway. It was located on Station Road just off the Town Bridge south of the River Nene. A section of the now defunct railway line to Northampton still survives as the Nene Valley Railway. It was closed to passenger traffic in June 1966. With the arrival of the railway a new age began for Peterborough, it was the catalyst for turning a small market town into the city we know today.





Ptolemy’s Geographia

150AD

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Claudius Ptolemy was born in Greece and lived in Alexandria. He was a very talented man and was credited as an astronomer, geographer, mathematician and astrologer. He created several works including a book known as Ptolemy's Geographia, which incorporated knowledge from gazetteers, astronomers and other academics to craft maps and indexes of the known world. The original book was thought to contain maps too, but all of the existing maps are from Medieval Europe. The map of the British Isles is a rather crude interpretation of the area, but it indicates the most important towns in Roman Britain. Roman Leicester (Ratae) and Caistor in Norfolk appear to be on the map and the town between them on the map might just be Durobrivae sitting by the River Nene. As one of the largest towns in Roman Britain, it should be on the map!





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The London Brick Company

1877

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Peterborough benefitted from a type of clay that provided an ideal raw material for brick making – first exploited by the Romans, abandoned after they left and again revived in the 1400’s by local craftspeople who created the material for building locally. In 1877 James McCallum Craig bought a property at auction near Peterborough, known as Fletton Lodge. He decided that the site was ideal for local brick making and started a small company. When excavation of the surface clay at Fletton began, a much harder clay was found deeper down, the unique Lower Oxford Clay. It was locally known as the ‘Fletton’ because of its original place of manufacture, but its main market was in London, transported there on the Peterborough to London rail line, so giving the name London Brick. The end of the First World War in 1918 brought a huge demand for London Bricks to fulfil the massive increase in house building and in the late 1920s there was an amalgamation of several small companies into a larger, more efficient company, London Brick. By 1931, 1,000 million bricks a year were being produced. After World War II there was another building boom and this increased the success of the company; demand for bricks far outstripped supply and by the early 1950s many workers were being recruited from as far afield as Italy to satisfy the need for London Bricks.





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Airbases in World War 2

1940s

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As the East of England is very flat and because of its relative closeness to mainland Europe, many airfields were established or enlarged during the Second World War, roughly one every seven miles. Several of these were around Peterborough, amongst them were: RAF Peterborough (now the Westwood area of the city) was used as a training base for pilots. American servicemen were stationed there during the war and post-war French airmen were also trained there. It was not used for operational missions but was bombed several times. RAF Wittering, established in 1916 as a fighter station for the Royal Flying Corps. In 1938 it became a fighter base, with Spitfires and Hurricanes based there taking part in the Battle of Britain. It was bombed at least 5 times, one attack in March 1941 resulting in the deaths of 17 servicemen. Post war it was a home for the British nuclear deterrent and a base for Harrier jump jets. The American Air Force also had bases in this area, including at the villages of King's Cliffe, Polebrook and Glatton from which they launched daylight bombing raids over Germany in their B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. Clark Gable, the Hollywood star did his military service from Polebrook in 1943, flying combat missions as Major Clark Gable. In his time off duty he was very popular with the female population of Peterborough!  Peterscourt in Midgate was the base for the American servicemen when off duty, being known as, 'The American Red Cross Club'.  





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Image of Narrow Street

1902-1910

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Narrow street led from Cathedral Square past the current Town Hall to Broad Street which started near the current road crossing near TK Max. Narrow street was deemed to be far too narrow to cope with the increased traffic levels and the continuing expansion of Peterborough as an industrial city. All of the buildings on the left hand side were demolished to widen the street. As a result many old and historic buildings were lost. This image has been produced from an original postcard of the time. Publisher unknown, from the Jacqui Catling Collection.    





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John Forster, Graffiti Artist

1687

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The graffiti scratched onto the walls of the eastern end of the cathedral are numerous. They vary in size and form, but almost all contain initials or names of the artist. One of the best names to search for is John Forster, who rather enjoyed scratching his name in the walls. His letter form is rather impressive and he has had enough time to fully form his name and date it. We can assume that he enjoyed making his mark because his name appears twice on the wall of the New Building.
Where to find it
His first signature (should that be graffiti tag?!) was scratched at the north east end of the cathedral. It is dated 1687. Further east on the same wall you can find his second attempt from 1688. Rather pleasingly it is easy to see an improvement in his letter formation and a more confident signature. He used an I in place of J for John because the letter J hadn't come into use yet.
Who was John Forster?
John Forster was likely to have been a pupil of King's School, which was based in the cathedral grounds at that time. How he managed to find the time to mark his name in such detail, we will never know. We can only guess what his punishment would have been if he was caught doing it.





The Peterborough Rat

1931

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In 1931 a small church museum was established by Canon Peel of the Cathedral of St John, Newfoundland, who wrote to 56 English Cathedrals requesting contributions for the collection in recognition of the ties between Newfoundland and the English Church. Among the objects donated was a copy of the 1699 deed establishing the parish, historic bibles, stonework, grave rubbings and a petrified rat. The rather unusual donation of the rat came from Peterborough Cathedral where the creature was found in the church rafters! The rat may have been found during John Thompson’s roof works in 1925 where timbers were replaced due to an infestation of deathwatch beetles.





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