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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.





Foundation of the First Abbey

655AD

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A monastery was founded on the current Cathedral site on the north bank of the River Nene in Saxon times. At that time the area was called Medeswell, later Medehamstede. This translates as 'the home or farmstead in the water meadows'. The monastery was founded by Peada, son of King Penda of Mercia. It was completed by Peada’s brother Wulfhere. At that time Mercia was a pagan Saxon kingdom, but as part of a marriage contract with neighbouring Christian Northumbria, Christian missionaries were allowed to found a religious house here. The original monastery may have been built of timber, but seems to have been later replaced in stone. These original monks were Celtic Christians.





The “Great Drowning” of Thorney Fen

1770

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A large piece of Morton’s Leam, a proctective bank running along the River Nene south of Thorney, gave way leaving a gap 130 yards long and 36 feet deep.  Water rushed into the fen, and all the area for several miles was about six feet deep in water.  People fled for safety to the Abbey Church in Thorney, and also other buildings on the higher ground, and the whole area could not be farmed again until spring 1773.  It is recorded in Fenland Notes and Queries in 1893 by a local farmer, Samuel Egar.





Expanding Settlements in the Nene Park Area

800BC-43AD

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During the Iron Age, tribal culture began to take hold and people needed to defend their territory against their rivals. The tribe which held the Nene Valley, the Corieltauvi, may have had allegiances to the large and powerful tribe to the south, the Catuvellauni, but we don’t know about their other neighbouring tribes. The settlement within Nene Park (mainly on what is now Coney Meadow at Ferry Meadows) became more defensive, as we can see on geophysical survey results. Ditches almost a kilometre in length were built across a meander in the River Nene, so that the settlement would be protected on all sides. The Iron Age is also when we can first start to see similarities between how people lived then and now: the Celts wore linen and dyed wool, used coins as currency and enjoyed continental luxuries, including Roman wine.





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Early Roman Fortress

43-100AD

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Longthorpe Roman fortress sits underneath the present day Thorpe Wood Golf Course. It was built at the beginning of the Roman occupation in what appears to be a hurried way. This suggests that its purpose was to get Roman strength into the area quickly. It sat on a small ridge facing the river Nene, and could hold half a legion, in this case, the Ninth. Despite being built in a rush, it was the only Roman fort in western Europe to have an onsite pottery. It produced excellent quality wares a few metres east of the main fort. The Ninth Legion was sent to stop Boudicca’s rebellion at Camulodunum (Colchester) in around 60AD. The few soldiers who did return were unfortunately badly injured. With too few soldiers to sustain and defend the fort, it was redesigned to a much smaller scale. Archaeological evidence shows a later smaller fort built inside the first for the remaining soldiers.





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Farming at Nene Park

200-300AD

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A clue to life as a Roman in Nene Park are the remains of a large timber barn on Roman Point. It was probably used for furnace and smithing work for making small tools. Also close by are evidence of a well and a shallow tank. Experts think they could be for making salt from the then-tidal flow of the River Nene. These features were part of a larger farming complex, which is known to archaeologists as Lynch Farm. Roman Point can be visited at Ferry Meadows and is situated north of the visitors' centre.





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Bridging the Gap

1716

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Milton Hall was built in the 1590s to the west of Peterborough and periodic phases of work to the house and surrounding parkland continued until the 1790s. The bridge that straddles the Nene nearby was built in 1716 from Barnack stone and is a Grade II listed structure. It sits on the site of an old ferry crossing point (Gunnerswade Ferry) needed for the Barnack stone when local cathedrals were being built 900 years ago. The more modern bridge we see today, Milton Ferry Bridge, was an important transport link for those travelling onto the Great North Road from the south bank of the river, although there was a toll, with which Daniel Defoe was not pleased: “Near this little village of Castor lives the Lord FitzWilliams. His Lordship has lately built a very fine stone bridge over the River Nyne, near Gunworth, where formerly was the ferry. I was very much applauding this generous action of my lord’s, knowing the inconvenience of the passage there before, especially if the waters of the Nyne were but a little swell’d, and I though it a piece of publick charity; but my applause was much abated, when coming to pass the bridge (being in a coach) we could not be allow’d to go over it, without paying 2s. 6d. of which I shall only say this, That I think ‘tis the only half crown toll that is in Britain, at least that I ever met with.”





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Roman Fort at Water Newton

60AD

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The Roman fort at Water Newton was part excavated in 2012. It was originally thought to have been built as part of the Roman invasion to house troops conquering Britain. However, the excavation showed that it was constructed 20 years later. It was constructed in the aftermath of the Boudican revolt of AD 60. The fort only lasted for a matter of a few months as the Roman armies re-organised the road system in this part of the east Midlands and built a new stone bridge over the river Nene. Once built this bridge spawned a small, new settlement which developed into the Roman town of Durobrivae. The fort was initially discovered in 1930 and was confirmed in 1938 by the use of aerial photography. It covers an area over 5 acres and sits about 1,000 feet from the river.  





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The Roman Town of Durobrivae

65-450AD

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A bridge was built across the River Nene around AD 65, after which a small settlement grew to the south west of the bridge. This prospered as a market centre for trade along the important Ermine Street, the precursor to the modern A1. The town had walls around it for protection and status, and developed major public buildings where a town council met and organised local government, which had controls over roads, cemeteries, baths, water supply and all aspects of the daily life of the town. Added to the towns market importance was its rich sources of clay and iron which were the key resources of a major pottery and metal working industry. The importance of Durobrivae lies in the fact that although the town walls covered 44 acres, the industrial suburbs extended for another 450 acres making a major settlement in Roman Britain.





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Settlement in the Early Bronze Age

2500-1500 BC

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During the Neolithic the local population had grown from hundreds to perhaps a few thousand people. This process gathered pace in the Bronze Age, which is named after the arrival of metal-workers in Britain, around 2500 BC. As the population grew it became necessary to divide-up the landscape into field systems; some of the earliest fields in England are found in Peterborough. Meanwhile North Sea levels were steadily rising and the nearby floodplain of the River Nene became permanent Fen. Animals were grazed on its lush summer pastures. Major sites of this time have been found at Fengate, Must Farm and Bradley Fen.





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