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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.





Railway Subway Opened

1881

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Marion Ann Lloyd Dunn was knocked down and killed whilst crossing the railway on Thorpe Road on 7th January 1881. There was a huge outcry at how dangerous the crossing was and a decision was made to create a subway to pass under the railway lines instead. It was finished in 1885 and was 284ft long and 10ft wide. It was lit by several ‘Steven’s patent burner lamps’, decorated inside with white glazed bricks (the same type of tiles used in the London Underground) and the floor was paved with Wilke's patent metallic flooring laid on Eureka concrete.





Resources

WUTAC at Peterborough East Railway Station

1915

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The Great Eastern Soldier’s and Sailor’s Rest Room opened on Christmas Eve 1915 at Peterborough East Railway Station.  The rooms were managed by the Women’s United Total Abstinence Council (WUTAC), supporters of the temperance movement popular at that time. During the first nine days alone, 321 servicemen called at the tea room. They were given food, drink and an opportunity to rest in comfort whilst waiting for their trains to and from the front.  The ladies who managed the tea room encouraged the men to write in the visitors’ books, only two of which have survived from 1916 and 1917. There are over 590 signatures in the books that reveal the servicemen came from across the United Kingdom and as far away as Australia.  They wrote messages of gratitude, poetry and drew pictures expressing their appreciation for the service that the ladies were providing. These two slim volumes provide a brief insight into the thoughts and feelings of the men transiting through the city during the Great War. The books have been digitised and transcribed and the servicemen’s personal histories researched in an effort to tell their story and trace their families.





St Leonard’s Leper Hospital Established

1125

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Founded before 1125,  St Leonard's Hospital was a leper (or lazar) house supported through almsgiving by Peterborough Abbey. Leprosy was particularly prevalent at this time though such houses also provided for other categories of ill and destitute people. St Leonard’s became known as “The Spital”. [Spital was a Middle English term used to describe a hospital or its endowed land.] It was still in existence in the 16th century and is assumed to have closed at the time of the dissolution of the monastery. It was probably located close to the northern end of Peterborough railway station with its own cemetery to the west. It gave its name to St Leonard’s Street which was the section of Bourges Boulevard which now runs past the station. Associated with the hospital was a healing spring or well which was still documented in the mid 17th century.    





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Food Machinery Company Moves to Peterborough

1904

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In 1904 Werner Pfleiderer and Perkins established a new factory close to the railway on Westwood Bridge Road (now Westfield Road). The factory was built to manufacture bakery and chemical machinery. They relocated from London to make use of the excellent transport links, which still draw companies to Peterborough today. A further tranche of employees relocated from the Willesden factory in 1933. This was a strong move and the company grew to be one of the most respected suppliers of specialist process equipment worldwide. The company went on to become Baker Perkins and later Perkins Engines. Throughout the 20th century Baker Perkins was a major Peterborough employer. Anyone who can recall the 'Perkins Fortnight' will remember how quiet the city was whilst Perkins employees were on holiday! The business moved to its current state of the art facility beside Paston Parkway in 1991. The previous site in Westwood was demolished and Peterborough Prison now occupies the site, although some listed buildings remain. It has the capacity to produce 500,000 engines per year and around 2,500 people are employed there. The Peterborough factory is part of a network of factories, which are located as far away as America and Singapore.





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Andrew Percival Arrives in Peterborough

1833

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Andrew Percival came to Peterborough from Northampton to start his professional career. He went on to become a prominent citizen and he has left us a unique record of the transformation of Peterborough in the 19th century, his "Notes on Old Peterborough". When he arrived the population was 6,000. There were no railways; no cars; no gas; the bridge was a “shabby, ramshackle concern”. There were toll booths all round the town; barges were found in great abundance on the Nene; there were two large breweries in the centre of town; the hospital was a private house; sedan chairs flourished; Whittlesey Mere was “charming for skating”; Long Causeway was a smelly cattle market.





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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.





Peterborough North Station Opens

1850

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In 1850 the Great Northern Railway opened Peterborough North Station to service the line it was building between London and York. It was built on the site of the present mainline station. From the 1850s to the 1960s Peterborough was a nationally important railway centre with a locomotive depot and engineering works, plus 80 miles of sidings, creating many new jobs and bringing huge growth and prosperity to the city. By 1901 the railway industry employed 25% of the city's adult male population.





Visiting the Great Exhibition

1851

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The Great Exhibition, sometimes called the Crystal Palace Exhibition due to the temporary glass building constructed to hold it, was an international exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851 organised by Prince Albert and Henry Cole. The magnificent building was designed by Joseph Paxton. It was very fashionable to visit the exhibition and due to the arrival of the railway in Peterborough, the city's inhabitants had the opportunity to attend. Day trippers could leave Peterborough at 7 a.m. on the Great Northern Railway for a visit paying 5s (25p) for a second class ticket.





Cubbit’s Iron Railway Bridge Built

1850

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Cubbit's iron bridge (The Nene Viaduct), is a railway bridge immediately south of Peterborough railway station that carries trains across the River Nene. It was built in 1850 by father and son Sir William Cubitt and Joseph Cubitt for the Great Northern Railway (GNR) and was constructed using cast iron. It spans the River Nene in three arches. It's design and construction is of such note that it is a Grade II listed building