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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.





House to Hospital

1857

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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.  





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Laurel Court House

1870

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Laurel Court House for girls was founded by Margaret Gibson and Annette Van Dissel at first in premises on London Road in 1869 before moving to Laurel Court in the Cathedral Precincts. The school prepared pupils for university examinations and specialised in music and French and German. Miss Gibson had a forceful personality but she had eccentric tendencies. She eventually went blind but remained in charge of her school. Nurse Edith Cavell (executed by German firing squad on 12 October 1915) was a student teacher at the school before taking up nursing. In recognition of Miss Gibson’s almost 60 years as the school principal and of her services to the education of girls she was made an Honorary Freedman of the City of Peterborough in1926- the first woman to receive this honour. She died in 1928 aged 91.





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

1896

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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.

Radiography

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.  





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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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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.





Vikings Raid the Abbey

870AD

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Peterborough monastery is said to have been attacked and destroyed by Viking invaders in 870. These were most likely to be a group known as the ‘Great Heathen Army’. They were led by ‘Ivar the Boneless’ and also invaded East Anglia in this year. Some scholars have disputed the violence of this event, but other local monasteries were also attacked at the same time. Therefore the Viking attack in Peterborough seems more credible. A relic of this original monastic church is the ‘Hedda Stone’ displayed in the Cathedral today.





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